Does the Shafiʿi Madhhab Say That an Arab is Not Suitable to Marry a Non-Arab and Why?

Question Summary
Does the Shafiʿi Madhhab say that an Arab is not suitable to marry a non-Arab and why?

Question Answer
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. I pray that Allah guides us all to the truth and removes us from the darkness of ignorance, amin.

Superiority in Islam
Islam disregards differences in color, race, and lineage. Islam teaches that all people are created equal, descended from Prophet Adam, and Allah created him from the earth. The only factor that distinguishes superiority in Islam is piety or consciousness of God (taqwa). Allah says, “Oh people, indeed We have created you from a male and female and made you nations and tribes so you may know one another. Indeed, the noblest of you by Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Well-Acquainted.” [Qur’an 49:13]

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Oh people, verily Allah has removed from you: the arrogance of pre-Islamic ignorance (jahiliyya); and its pride in the nobility of one’s forefathers. People are two types: the righteous and pious who are dear to Allah, and the wretched evildoers, who are insignificant by Allah. People are all the descendants of Adam, and Allah created Adam from dust”. [Al-Tirmidhi, Jamiʿ]

During the Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Oh people, surely your Lord is One and your father [Prophet Adam] is one. Verily there’s no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, non-Arab over Arab, red man over black man, or a black man over a red man, except in terms of piety or consciousness of God (taqwa). Have I conveyed the message?” The Companions affirmed. [Ahmad, Al-Musnad]

Non-Arab Companions (Sahaba)
There is much more evidence to prove the equality of people before Allah. Still, we conclude this discourse as follows: there were a number of non-Arabs who were the Companions of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace). There is no disagreement among orthodox scholars of Sunni Islam in the supremacy of the Companions of the Prophet after the prophets. Among them were: Salman and Miqsam (Persians), Bilal al-Habashi (Ethiopian), Zunayra Ar-Rumiyya (Byzantine), Baraka Al-Habashiyya (Ethiopian), and others.

Suitability in Marriage (Al-Kafa’a)
A problematic and oft-misunderstood concept within the classical Shafiʿi legal texts is ‘suitable match’ (in marriage) or ‘al-kafa’a.’ Without context or explanation, ‘al-kafa’a’ appears to restrict marriage between Arabs and non-Arabs, some Arab tribes from others and people with “higher” professions from people with “lower” ones. Since ‘piety’ is the only criterion for superiority in Islam (a fact which the great Shafiʿi scholars were undoubtedly aware of), one can only assume an alternative explanation to the concept of ‘al-kafa’a’ exists. One which does not amount to what appears to be a form of nationalism, racism, or other ‘isms.’

The contemporary Shafiʿi scholar, Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Kellar states that:

The definition of a suitable match should not be misunderstood as a recommendation for whom to marry. It is merely a legal restriction to protect a woman’s interests when the father or grandfather of a virgin marry her to someone without her consent. As for when she wishes to marry someone who is not a suitable match, and her guardian has no objection, there is nothing wrong or offensive in her doing so. [Keller, Reliance of the Traveller]

We believe that the explanation by Shaykh Nuh is valid, and we pray that Allah opens up our hearts and grants us guidance and understanding.

I pray that this is of benefit, that Allah guides you and opens His doors of Islam to you.

[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.