Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
Dear Sir or Madam,
I have a question concerning religious education of children in Muslim-Christian partnerships.
I know that the dominant opinion among the Muslim community is that these children have to be raised solely as Muslims. As far as I am aware, this is not explicitly stated in the Qur’an, but based on the following assumptions:
1) Every child is a Muslim at birth. Only the parents and/or its environment make it to follow any other religion than Islam. Thus, the inherent and therefore right religion of every child is Islam.
2) The Qur’an explicitly states how children should be taught about religion e.g. with regard to learning prayers at a certain age etc. Because these are general statements, children born to parents who are not both Muslims are no exception either. These rules also exclude the Christian partner from teaching the children about her religion in the same way as the Muslim partner is obliged to do.
3) A Muslim man can marry a Jewish or Christian wife, but not the other way round. In the male-dominated society at the time of Prophet Muhammad, it was supposed that a Muslim woman might experience difficulties in practising her religion having a husband who would not acknowledge Islam and its Prophet, whereas a Muslim husband would appreciate Judaism and Christianity and thus ensure that his Jewish/Christian wife could continue practising her religion. However, the husband’s dominance over his family would also imply that children would be brought up in his religion. Thus, the tolerance of a Muslim husband towards his wife practising her religion would not entail her passing on this religion to the children.
Leaving aside all practical and emotional difficulties arising from this “Islam only” stance with regard to education of children for Muslim-Christian marriages, I am aware that there are also Islamic theological positions justifying the teaching of both religions to children (and subsequently allowing them to choose one themselves once they are old enough).
Would you, please, let me know what verses in the Qur’an these are based upon and how their theological reasoning is? I would be grateful if you could, please, go into some detail in this. Also, it would be interesting to know which respected scholars hold this opinion.
Thank you very much for your help.
In the Name of God, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Thank you for your question. I pray that this message finds you in the best of health and spirits.
The tolerance of Islam to other religions is–as you point out in your question–borne out in the permissibility of Muslim men to marry Christian or Jewish women. The nature of a successful marriage relationship is one of friendship, love, and genuine concern for one’s spouse, and non-Muslim wives are not an exception to this rule.
However, there is a difference between one’s non-Muslim wife and between one’s child from the non-Muslim wife. The wife is a mature adult who has the ability to reason things for herself and then choose her own belief. Her God-given ability to reason implies the freedom to choose her faith. God Almighty says in the Qur’an, “Let whosoever wishes believe, and let whosoever wishes disbelieve.” (18:29)
Children do not have the ability to reason independently. Rather, they are innocent pieces of clay waiting to be moulded into whatever form their parents desire. Parents are responsible to give them the best upbringing possible to best prepare them for their lives as adults. It is not, for example, acceptable for the father to neglect educating his child and to say instead that “he can grow up and learn to read and write if he wants to.” For him to not educate his child would put the child at a tremendous disadvantage when he grows up. This would constitute parental neglect.
Muslims believe that God gave all humans the ability to freely choose whatever faith they please. This freedom of choice does not, however, imply that they believe every choice to be equally good. A Muslim father believes that his Christian wife has the freedom to choose her faith. But he also believes that her choice is not the best one–that’s why he retains his Muslim faith.
For a Muslim father not to give his child a Muslim upbringing would therefore constitute parental neglect on his part because the child will be at a disadvantage compared to other children who will have a “head start” over him through their Muslim upbringing. For this reason, Islam does not permit the father to neglect giving his children a Muslim upbringing.
It is important to remember, though, that a Muslim upbringing does not force a child to live his entire life as a Muslim. A Muslim upbringing simply prepares the ground for the child’s adulthood. Ultimately, when the child reaches maturity, he will make his own decision regarding which faith to follow. Belief is something in people’s hearts and is beyond the reach of compulsion.
I hope this answer helps clarify matters for you. Please don’t hesitate to follow up with further questions if something remains unclear.