45% US Muslims marry outside their faith

The Changing Landscape of Muslims in America: A Survey of Interfaith Marriages Authors: Dilip Amin and Shafaq Mayet
Interfaith marriage is more than steadily increasing among all faiths in America. From 1996-2001, 47 percent of marriages involving Jews in America were interfaith marriages (1). Another survey showed that more than 40 percent of couples married in the Catholic Church were of "mixed" religions (2, 3). In line with such reports, we reported earlier that 38% of Dharmics (Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist) in America married to Abrahamics
(Muslims, Christians and Jews) (4). While there is a lack of sufficient information on interfaith marriages of Muslims in America, one report states that over 91% of Muslims were married to other Muslims (5). Reasons for such a high percent of within faith marriages outcome could be that this survey may have used mostly immigrant Muslims or the non-Muslim spouses may have converted to Islam for the marriage. However, contrary to conservative outcome of this report, in a 2007 Pew Research Center poll, 62% Muslim Americans say it is acceptable for a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim (6). This moderate view of Muslims is also reflected in our recent independent marriage survey of young adult Muslims.
For our marriage survey, common family names of Muslims were picked from the Macy's marriage registry (7) Though individual's religious preference was not verified, the consistency of results across these common family names gives validity to our conclusions. The results clearly show, in line with findings of other faiths, that 45% these Muslim- Americans have selected a non-Muslim as their life partner.
This survey covered 230 males and 266 females with three very common Muslim last names, Khan, Ali and Ahmed, who planned to marry or recently married. Of these, the percentage of male and female Muslims plan to marry or married to non-Muslims was exactly same (45.2% and 45.1%, respectively). The high interfaith marriage rate of Muslim women found here is not in line with Islamic law that prohibits a Muslim woman - but not a man - from marrying outside the faith.
Historically in India and Pakistan, interfaith marriages of Muslims to Dharmics are low due to fundamental religious differences and community pressure. In this survey, we found that 1 out of 23 young adult Muslims on this list married to a Dharmic. Furthermore, the percent of males and females Muslims married to a Dharmic was the same (4.3% and 4.5%, respectively).
We project that most young adult Muslims covered in our survey are educated and second generation immigrants. It is expected that an interfaith marriage survey outcome of the first generation immigrant Muslims would reflect normal practices in their home countries and will be different than what we have observed here.
In general, increased interfaith marriages are due to increased globalization and increased secularization (8). Today's young Muslims who grew up as a minority religion in American schools and are continuously exposed to multicultural open societies as portrayed by the media or as experienced in colleges have more chance of selecting their life-mates outside their own faith.
Fundamental religious beliefs between Islam and other faiths (9, 10) could certainly bring complexities to many interfaith marriages. In most Islamic communities it is believed that a marriage must be "accepted" by Allah. For this reason, a Muslim would expect the non-Muslim spouse to convert to Islam before a Nikaah, the Islamic wedding ceremony. The same can be said for orthodox Christian or Catholic communities prior to a church wedding.
For marriage, not all Christians or Jews marrying to a Muslim have to convert to Islam because there is flexibility in Islam for a man to marry a Christian or Jew without conversion, as they are considered, al-kitab, or "People of Book." However, Islamic women are forbidden to marry outside the faith. This can be overcome if the non- Muslim boy friend converts to Islam before the Nikaah. A different set of rule applies for Dharmics or other "People Not of Book." For example, any male or female Hindu intended spouse must convert to Islam before the Nikaah. Above are Islamic rules and communities' expectations, however, there is no recent survey done to show how many of interfaith marriages involving a Muslim in America follow these rules.
After the marriage, it remains to be seen how many of these newly married interfaith couples will manage their fundamental religious differences and expectations. Young adults should understand that any religious commitment for marriage is not a hollow ritual devoid of any meaning or consequences. Let's take Muslim-Christian marriage as an example. As per the Shahadah oath to convert to Islam for Nikaah, one accepts and declares that there is only one God and Muhammad is his messenger. Further, one acknowledges that associating God to humans and declaring Jesus as his son is the greatest of all sins. Similarly, Baptism before a church wedding means conversion to Christianity and a commitment to repudiate former practices and to have faith in Christ and belief in the trinity. One must decide what is the real intention of the conversion (11).
The challenges will get even harder when time comes to decide the religious fate of children for the inter-religious couple. For example, the Islamic law requires that children of mixed marriages must have Sunat, religious circumcision, and be raised in the Islamic faith only (12). A Jew may expect child to have a Bris ceremony to announce the child as a Jew (13). In Christian denomination, a child is dedicated to Jesus by sprinkling water Baptism, and later when the child is older chooses to accept Jesus as his savior he would decide to have an immersion Baptism (14). Communication on where each individual stands on what their expectations are for self, spouse, and raising kids, in addition to what compromises they are willing make may give couples the strength to overcome challenges.
Spouse's religious belief and commitment may bring clashes later in married life. A common belief in old times was that those who engage in marriage outside of their faith do not have strong beliefs in their own faith (8). Even today, those who have a strong conviction for their own faith may by default not even consider a potential spouse outside their own faith. On the other extreme, for an atheist in a relationship with a person with strong religious beliefs may bring conflict on faith issues. For a true non-religious person, an interfaith marriage is less an issue. However, in most cases, the strength of one's religious beliefs evolves over the years as one approaches marriage age and more so when the couple reaches to the parental stage. It is hope that all young love-birds think through all these religious complexities before committing to an interfaith relationship.

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