Various views regarding marriage to Kitaabi women from verse 5:5

3 months 2 weeks ago #1058 by Imam Rassi Society

I’ve read through the forum posts on on the prohibition of marrying women from the Ahl al-Kitab. However, I’ve been struggling to see how the verse in question is referring to a group of the Ahl al-Kitab who embraced Islam:

{Today all good things are made lawful for thee. And the food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for thee, and thy food is lawful for them as well as the chaste women of the believers and the chaste women of those who received the Scripture before thee...} (Q. 5:5)

The reason why this doesn’t seem apparent to me is because unlike the following verse: {Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand and recite the verses of Allah all night long and prostrate} (Q. 3:113) - in which it can be argued that “the People of the Book” here refers to Muslims who were former Ahl al-Kitab due to the context of the verses beforehand, there appears to be no context or indication from either the verse itself, the verses before or after which would suggest that 5:5 is not simply about ordinary Christians and Jews. Moreover, the verse says “chaste women who received the Scripture” if the purpose of the verse was to assure the Muslim community that there is no issue with marrying converts to Islam from the Ahl al-Kitab, then why is this clarification restricted to women only with no clarification on it equally being permissible for Muslim women to marry these men who embraced Islam?

This is not to argue, but simply highlighting my obstacles in understanding this. I feel that it’s an important topic which I would be grateful for assistance in understanding.

Barakallahu feek!


Thank you for your question! I would first like to say that the methodology promoted by our imams and scholars is that a Qur'anic verse must be understood in light of other verses and confirmed narrated reports. Otherwise, one would make the Qur'an subject to contradictory interpretations. As for the verse in question, there are actually more than one explanation narrated from the imams of Ahl al-Bayt, upon them be peace. We will take a look at the various interpretations and see which is more plausible when confronted with other verses and authentic Prophetic reports.

One, the verse says that it is permissible to marry Jewish and Christian women absolutely.
Two, the verse permitted marriage at one point but was later abrogated.
Three, the verse refers to the women among the People of the Book who became Muslim.

As for the first view, there are some narrations in which Imam Ahmed b. Isa (as) related on the authority of Imam Zayd (as) that Ali (as) said that it is permissible to marry Jewish and Christian women.

As for the second view, there are narrations in which the imams (as) said that the verse originally referred to the women of the Jews and Christians but it was later abrogated by another verse. Abul-Abbaas al-Hasani (ra) narrated in his Sharh al-Ahkaam with a complete chain of narrators to Imam Muhammad al-Baaqir (as) that the aforementioned verse was revealed when the number of Muslim women was low. Allah allowed the believing men to marry the Kitaabi women; however, this verse was later abrogated by the verse {Marry not the idolatresses until they believe...} (Q. 2:221) when the numbers of Muslim women increased. This view was also narrated from Ataa, a classical exegete. Abul-Abbaas al-Hasani also relates that Imam Muhammad b. Abdullah Nafs az-Zakiyya (as) said the same thing regarding this verse. He (as) added that the verse was also abrogated by the verse: {Hold not to the marriage bonds with disbelievers} (Q. 60:10).

As for the third view, it is narrated on the authority of our imams (as) and scholars that the verse refers to the Kitaabis who embraced Islam. This is the view of Imam al-Haadi (as) as articulated in his Al-Ahkaam. He said that it was no contradiction to refer to the Muslim women as {those who have the Book} because of verses such as Q. 3:199 that use the words {People of the Book} to refer to those who embraced Islam. Similarly, Imam Ahmed b. Suleiman (as) in his Usuul al-Ahkaam says that this refers to the Kitaabi women that embraced Islam. He narrated that the ِArab Muslim men used to stay away from the Kitaabi women who embraced Islam. This is the reason why the verse specifies women. Imam al-Mu'ayyad Billah (as) in his Sharh at-Tajreed conveys the same idea. Sayyid Ahmed b. Musa at-Tabari (ra) similarly said in his Kitaab al-Muneer that the verse was revealed regarding those Jewish and Christian women who became Muslim.

As for the weakness of the first view, we say that despite the existence of reported statements that supports it, there is really no other Qur'anic verses or agreed-upon authentic Prophetic hadith that proves it. On the contrary, there are verses that categorically prohibit marriage to disbelievers, such as the verses we cited above. Also included with that, we have ahadith in our books in which Ka'b b. Maalik wanted to marry a kitaabi and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, forbade him. Furthermore, we say that those narrations that seemingly support marriage with kitaabis are contradicted by reports to the contrary. For example, we have a narration from Imam Zayd (as) in which Imam Ali (as) said: "It is not halaal to marry a woman from the Ahl al-Kitaab over and Muslim woman." This narration is in agreement with verses such as: {The believing slave woman is better than an idolatress} (Q. 2:221). This also corresponds with the verse in Q. 4:25 that says: {...and if ye are unable to marry free believing women then marry those whom your right hand possess among the believing women}. So this emphasises that we are to choose believing slaves over non-believers. If we were permitted to marry kitaabia, the verse should have said: "If you are unable to marry free believing women, then non-believing women..." but it didn't. Lastly, Imam Ahmed b. Suleiman (as) says in his Usuul al-Ahkaam that there is consensus among the Ahl al-Bayt that marriage with a kitaabi is prohibited.

As for the second view, this seems to represent the earliest opinion of the Ahl al-Bayt as it is narrated from al-Baaqir and Nafs az-Zakiyya, upon them be peace. However, Imam Ahmed al-Murtada (as) narrated in his Al-Bahr that some opponents pointed out that the verse that permits marriage with kitaabis abrogates the verse the prohibits marriage because the latter is in Surah Maa`ida while the former is in Surah al-Baqara. And it is generally held that Maa`ida was revealed after al-Baqara. However, this is countered by the fact that there were verses in al-Baqara that were said to be revealed after a-Maa`ida. This view would also take into account the differentiation of kitaabi women from men as you mentioned.

As for the third view, this is also logically plausible due to the fact that some Muslims are referred to as "People of the Book" in the Qur'an as mentioned above. As for why the women are specified in the verse, as we explained above, it is narrated that the early Meccan Muslims refrained from those Medinian convert women from the People of the Book; however, this verse came to say that their women and food were permissible.

Hopefully, I addressed your question. Sorry for the seemingly scattered ideas! I was just mulling over the idea of writing a larger more extensive article on the issue. So your reply gave me the chance to organise my thoughts.

And Allah knows best!


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