In the News: Interfaith Marriages and Islamic Law in Tunisia

Last fall, Tunisia overturned a 1973 law that banned Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. (It is generally accepted by Islamic scholars that men are permitted to marry women of certain monotheistic faiths that predate Islam, such as Judaism and Christianity; however, the opposite scenario—Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men—is a source of contention.) Supporters of this change argued that it was consistent with Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring 2014 Constitution, which states that “all citizens, male and female, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination” (Article 21).

However, some religious groups claimed that because marriage is mentioned in the Qurʾān, any laws concerning marriage should be based on Islamic law. Since the Constitution also calls for “the protection of the sacred” (Article 6), some local government officials have been refusing to issue marriage certificates, labeling these marriages as un-Islamic and therefore unconstitutional.

This disagreement over constitutional interpretation and whether there should be an Islamic basis for laws exists in other North African and Middle Eastern countries as well: As Nathan Brown wrote in a SHARIAsource policy brief in April 2017, “Arab constitutions generally grant Islam some kind of official status. But they generally give no guidance whatsoever as to what that means in practical terms.”

Regarding interfaith marriages, SHARIAsource’s collection of contemporary primary sources from Indonesia includes fatwās issued by Indonesia’s top clerical body in 1980 and 2005 banning interfaith marriages for both men and women, as well a 2010 Indonesian Supreme Court case that found that a woman was entitled to inherit from her husband’s estate even though he was Muslim and she was non-Muslim.

Other family law material can be found using the interactive tool on our Portal.