In Islam, “People of the Book” are the Jews and the Christians, those who believe in the Books of Allah like Taurat and Injil revealed to Prophets Musa(P) and Isa(P) respectively. Marriage with women of the people of the Book if [sic] permitted in Islam according to the following injunction in the Qur’an:
“This day are all things good and pure made lawful to you. The food of the people of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. Lawful unto you in marriage are not only chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the people of the Book revealed before your time, when you give them their due dowers, and desire chastity and not lewdness nor secret intrigues”1
There is a consensus of opinion of the Ulama of the Ahl al-Sunnah Wal-Jama’ah that marriage with Jews and Christian women is permitted as was the practise of the Companions of the Prophet(R) (sahabah) like Uthman, Talha, Ibn Abbas, Hudhaifah and their followers (tabi’un) like Saad bin al-Musayyab, Said bin Jubair, Al-Hasan, Mujahid, Tawus, Akramah and others.
In spite of the practise of the Sahabah, and the Tabi’un, Abdullah bin Umar(R) was of the opinion that one should not marry a Jewish or a Christian woman. He used to say: “Allah has forbidden to marry polytheists, and I do not understand anything other than greater polytheism when a woman says that her Lord is Isa(P) who is a servant from the servants of Allah.”2
Although there are examples of the pious Sahabah and their followers (tabi’un) who married the Kitabiyyah, one has to take enough caution before contracting such marriages. The Sahabah had exemplary characters and their lives were full of righteousness and piety (taqwah). After marrying such women who followed different religions and celebrated different festivals, they knew how to keep them under proper control so that their children were not influenced by their mothers. There is not a single example of the Sahabah or the Tabi’un whose children ever transgressed from the limits of Allah or changed over to the mother’s religion. Therefore, marriage with such ladies is permitted but is generally discouraged as Makruh.
I have seen in many such marriages the food problems, when the mother even at times brings forbidden food and children partake of it. Likewise, she would sip wine as part of her religious ritual, and the habit slowly finds its way into the house. In some houses, I have even seen Christmas and Muslim festivals celebrated simultaneously. In extreme cases, boys of such marriages bear Muslim names, while girls bear the names common among the Christians and Jews.
If there are a good number of Muslim women to get married with, in any given country, it will be considered unlawful, according to the Ijtihad of certain Ulama3, to marry the Kitabiyyah women. Since Muslim women cannot marry the kitabi men, who will marry them in those circumstances? It is better then that Muslim men marry Muslim women. The jurists of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence have discussed the marriage with the Kitabiyyah women and given their juristic views. According to the Hanafi school it is unlawful to marry a Kitabiyyah women if she is in the country which happens to be an “abode of war” (Dar al-Harb) because that can open up a door to mischief. In such conditions, the children by that marriage will be more inclined towards the religion of their mother.4
The Maliki school on the other hand, has two opinions. The first is that the marriage with a Kitabiyyah is completely disapproved (makruh) whether she is a Dhimmi or one belonging to the abode of war. The dislike for a woman of the latter category is greater. The second opinion is that there is no complete disapproval in marrying a Kitabiyyah because the Qur’anic words has given a tacit approval. They show disapproval of such a marriage in the abode of Islam because it is not forbidden for a Kitabiyyah woman to drink wine or eat the flesh of a pig or going to the church and this affects the religious belief and behaviour of her children. It is not essential for a Kitabiyyah that both of her parents are ahl al-kitab. Her marriage will be valid even if her father is a kitabi and her mother is an idol-worshipper. The Shafi’i and the Hanbali schools believe that both her parents must be ahl al-kitab in order to have a valid marriage. If her father is a kitabi and her mother is an idol-worshipper the marriage is unlawful even though she has reached the age of puberty and has accepted the religion of her father.5