Are Too Many Muslims Marrying Non-Muslims?

In a country like India where Muslims are only 15 per cent of the population and of the remainder 80 per cent are Hindus, 3 percent are Sikhs and 2 percent Christians, it is expected that some Muslim men and women will marry non-Muslims. It has happened from about five hundred years ago when Muslim kings and noblemen during the Muslim rule took Hindu wives for political reasons. It is well known that most Mughal kings had Hindu wives, Hindu mothers, and even Hindu brothers and sisters. In South India there is the legend of the Deccan king Quli Qutub Shah who lived about five hundred years ago, marrying Bhagyamati, a Hindu woman, in whose honour he is reported to have built the famous Char Minar monument. Many other Muslim kings, including Tipu Sultan, had Hindu wives.

Most of these Hindu wives did not convert to Islam and lived as Hindus. That is often cited as the great tradition of secularism practised by Muslim kings stretching over more than five hundred years. Yet today very few Hindus in India are willing to accept that these Muslim kings were secular and tolerant in their religious belief and practices.

Starting with the independence of India as Muslims became inferior to Hindus in socioeconomic and educational arena, a few Muslims started to think that despite several unwieldy, confusing and impractical rituals in the Hindu religion, in order to get ahead in life it was all right to marry Hindus. Thus several Muslim political leaders, movie actors, writers and poets married Hindu women who did not convert to Islam. The taboo on Muslim women marrying Hindu men remained relatively strong and only a few Muslim women married Hindu men. 

However, as globalisation and modernisation have haven hold in India and economic factors have become more important, the incidence of Muslim men and women marrying Hindus has increased manifold in the last 25 years. In this modern cultural sweep the hold of religion has slowed down much on those Indian Muslims who are finding alibis for why it is not so bad to marry non-Muslims and why it is not necessary to convert your spouse to Islam. On my recent visit to India I heard from inter-faith couples I met on how humanism and secularism were more important than religious belief and practices. I began to wonder if atheism was replacing religion for a lot of people in India. Some of them told me that the fact that many Hindus had diluted their practice of Hinduism, it may not be so bad if Muslims reciprocated in like manner.

For sure, the wholesale popularity of a permissive culture is impacting many aspects of life in India. In India permissiveness is not there only in matters of culture, entertainment, literature, music, style of life, sexual affairs but is also in matters of religious practices. One type of permissiveness soon leads to other types of permissiveness. And pretty soon variations and deviations from religious practices are rationalised.

As many Muslim young men and women have acquired modern education, good jobs and an upper class lifestyle, the combination of permissive culture, and they themselves being from weak socioeconomic backgrounds and awed by the economically stronger and more modern Hindu young men and women, many Muslims think that marrying non-Muslims is not a big deal. From what I observed a much larger number of Muslim young men and women have now started marrying Hindus. Compelled by this situation many Muslim parents have started accepting the notion of their sons and daughters that interfaith marriages are not a big deal.

This problem is compounded by the fact that most mainstream media outlets in India are dishing out Hindu cultural practices daily in the garb of Indian cultural practices. Many Muslim youth are willingly accepting this transformation of the composite multireligious Indian culture into a predominant Hindu or atheist culture without much resistance. To someone like me who visited India from the outside the situation did not look good.

For sure, Indian Muslims should be friendly with Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and be secular and modern. But to do that they do not need to marry non-Muslims. Aside from violating the guidelines of Islam [Quran 2:221] they put their own and their children’s future in confusion. Their children grow up being either atheist or confused in matters of religion and culture. Also in many instances as children of interfaith marriages grow into teenagers, the identity crisis reaches such a level that it results in domestic conflicts and divorce.

In contrast to the thinking that Muslim-Hindu marriages reduce communal tension and hostility in society, actually it significantly increases tension and gives an opportunity to religious bigots to create mayhem and make life far more difficult for minority Muslims. The nefarious ‘Love Jihad’ phenomenon is one very harmful consequence of the significant increase in Muslim-Hindu marriages. We have seen in recent years that such interfaith marriages have caused communal riots, and significant growth of anti-Muslim feelings in the society. Furthermore, this situation is greatly undermining the identity and lifestyles of Indian Muslims. If this continues it may result in the disappearance of the Indian-Muslim culture from the country.

Without making a religion-oriented pitch or making loud pronouncements banning such occurrences, Muslim organisations should conduct advocacy in the Muslim communities focused on the youth to make them realise the harm such adventures cause to their families and communities and their future.