By His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)
Allah says: “Do not marry polytheist women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than a polytheist woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to polytheist men until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than a polytheist, even though he allures you. Polytheists do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may remember or reflect.” (02: 221)
This Ayah confirms the legislative basis of the ruling which forbids marriage between polytheist women and believing men and the marriage between polytheist men and believing women. This basis is built on the difference in the viewpoint of the believers and polytheists that leads to a difference in their behaviors and goals, which is undoubtedly reflected on the marital life that ought to be founded on amiability and mercy that emanate from the sameness of the perceptions as well as the goals. Believers pursue what leads them to Heaven which demands behaving and thinking in a manner that differs from that which leads the unbelievers to the Fire. So how can devotion to the marital life be achieved amid all the spiritual, intellectual, and living commitments imposed by faith? It must be noted that the forbiddance in this Ayah does not emanate from arbitrariness, as some might imagine considering that the ruling is final even if it was against the people’s desire and aspiration. Rather, this forbiddance aims at making man reach a state of balance between his emotional desires and the realistic interests of his faith and life; thus, eventually, being convinced that the desire seems petite when compared to the issue of man’s fate in this world and in the Hereafter.
In this context, it is apparent that polytheists are those who ascribe partners to Allah in a direct manner and it does not include those who are polytheists yet in an indirect manner, as in the case of the People of the Book who believe in the Lordship of Jesus or in the trinity yet not in a way that contradicts with the concept of oneness. The Quran makes a distinction between the polytheists and the People of the Book in terms of the rulings concerning both parties and the terms it uses for each of them, for Allah says in His Glorious Book: “Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, were not going to depart (from their ways) until there should come to them Clear Evidence,” (98: 01), and: “It is never the wish of those without Faith among the People of the Book, nor of the Pagans, that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But Allah will choose for His special Mercy whom He will - for Allah is Lord of grace abounding;” (02: 105); thus, the conjunction signifies that there is a difference between the two. In the light of this, the evidence of the forbiddance of marriage between Muslims and the People of the Book cannot be derived from this Ayah; but rather, it must be derived from another source which is the consensus among Muslims on the [absolute] forbiddance of marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man, whether from the People of the Book or others, although they differ concerning the marriage between a Muslim man and a woman from the People of the Book, as some deem it allowed while others deem it forbidden.
Actually, some interpreters reached the conclusion that this Ayah revokes the Ayah in Al-Maeda Surah, where Allah says: “This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto 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 ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” (05:05).
But this opinion is wrong based on what we mentioned about what is meant by the term polytheist in the Quran and which does not include the People of the Book; thus, there would be no relation between the two Ayahs in their signification, for the Ayah in Al-Baqarah Surah mentioned the forbiddance of marrying the polytheist women who ascribe partners to Allah in a direct manner; whereas, the Ayah in Al-Maeda Surah mentions the allowance of marrying women from the People of the Book and not other polytheists.
One can refer to the jurisprudential books that touch on this issue in detail. Thus, this Ayah lays emphasis on the line of faith that governs the marital relations that should be the main pillar in the construction of an Islamic house founded on the traits of kindness and love as demanded by Allah in the atmosphere of total faith and submission.
“Do not marry polytheist women (idolaters), until they believe,” for Allah does not want Muslim men to marry women who worship idols and ascribe them as partners to Allah in worship, for the marital relation is based on the spiritual union and intellectual harmony between the couples, not to mention the physical chemistry. Could a state of union be established between the thought of unification and that of idolatry, or could a state of harmony be reached between the values of oneness and the values of idolatry? However, if these women forsake idolatry and they become believing women and open up to Allah and His religion, then it becomes allowed to marry them, due to the achieved intellectual harmony that is open on the spiritual union in the life that brings them together.
“A slave woman who believes is better than a polytheist woman, even though she allures you” meaning the polytheist woman who attracts man’s attention who would admire her for her money, wittiness, beauty, good lineage or social status. However, this Ayah clarifies that faith surpasses all these materialistic things as it infiltrates into one’s deepest perceptions, expectations, feelings, thoughts, traditions and customs as well as his spirituality, which leaves a deep impact on one’s personality as it witnesses the openness of the mind to the mind, the soul to the soul, the heart to the heart and life to life; thus, the two personalities would fuse into each other and consequently become one personality despite certain singularities.
The invaluable faith, with all its elements, extensions and spiritualities is the basis that ensures the stability of the marital life between the believing men and women. It is narrated that once a man came to the Messenger of Allah (p.) consulting him in regards to marriage, and the Messenger (p.) said: “Yes, marry and upon you be the women of religion.”
“Nor marry (your girls) to polytheist men until they believe:” for a believing woman can never feel reassured for the polytheist’s polytheism or secure for her religion with him and she can never lead a marriage that is flourished with spiritual and intellectual tranquility and serenity… “A man slave who believes is better than a polytheist, even though he allures you,” meaning the polytheist man who attracts woman’s attention who would admire him for his money, wittiness, beauty, good lineage or social status. The same idea exemplified in the aforementioned Ayah applies in this case. It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah (p.) said: “If a suitor whose religion and character please you approaches, then let him marry. Otherwise, there will be a lot of immorality and corruption in the world.”
Family and children play a big role in ensuring spiritual uprightness and making sure that the couples treat each other well. Man’s belief prevents him from offending his wife, just as the woman’s faith prevents her from cheating on her husband, for belief is strongly correlated with the moral value and religious responsibility; whereas, polytheism deprives the polytheist men and women from this value and such morals. The reason is that idolatry makes its followers in a limitless pursuit of any materialistic benefits and interests that control man’s movement without any restraints, which subjects the marital relation to continuous and persistent disturbances, since the matter is subjected to the emergent individualistic moralities this polytheist man or that polytheist woman might enjoy by chance and away from any spiritual profoundness.
The marital relation is an internal relation in the first place before being an external one. Allah based this relation on amiability and mercy for which a spiritual basis should be ensured to produce these two spiritual elements that protect the marital life from any disturbances and even failure. Thus, it is necessary for the Muslim man or woman to think of all the internal spiritual elements that could create a positive impression at the level of the mind and faith as well as the emotions…
[Source: (Interpretations) inspired from the Quran]