Q. I am wondering if you will be able to give me some advice on a problem of mine. I live in the United States and I have many friends that are Christians. Some of these friends are male. Recently, my feelings for a male friend have grown deeper. I feel I am falling in love with him. It is at the point where I want to marry him, since he also has feelings for me. However, I do not want to commit anything that is against Islam. Why is it okay for men to marry Christian women yet Muslim women not to marry Christian men? That is what my parents have told me. I don't know what to do. Can you please give me some assistance? (Neena)

A. You should not have taken Muslim or non-Muslim males as your friends. The Qur'an and Sunnah have given us rules about relations between men and women. There are two types of people: Mahram and non-Mahram. Mahram are those relatives between whom marriage is not allowed. Non-Mahram are those among whom marriage is permissible. (See Al-Nisa' 4:23) Muslim men and women can socialize among the Mahrams, but not among the non-Mahrams. When men and women are in the presence of non-Mahrams then they must lower their gaze (Al-Noor 24:30-31), talk to them in a formal manner (al-Ahzab 33:32). Hence it is clear that Islam does not allow Muslims to have friends from the opposite gender. Males should not have female friends and females should not have male friends. Non-Mahram males and females may talk to each other, but should not socialize or go out in parties. A single male and female should never be together in a place where they are all alone, isolated without the access of any one else. Islam has given these rules to save the men and women from committing sin or getting involved in situations where they might commit sin.

As far as the interfaith marriages are concerned, Islam does not encourage them. The general rule of Islam is that Muslims should marry Muslims. A Muslim male or female should not marry a non-Muslim male or female. (al-Baqarah 2:221). The only exception is given to Muslim men who are allowed to marry the girls from among the People of the Book (al-Ma'idah 5:5), but Muslim women are not given this permission. So it is Haram (forbidden) for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. This is the law of Allah and a Muslim when he or she learns about a law of Allah and His Messenger should only say, "I hear and I obey."

For the satisfaction of your heart, let me explain why Muslim men are allowed to marry women from among the People of the Book and why Muslim women are not allowed to do so. First of all, it is not an honor or a privilege to marry a non-Muslim. It is a burden and a big responsibility. It is better to abstain from such marriages. Muslim men who are living in non-Muslim countries in particular should not marry non-Muslim women. However, man being the head of his household is more capable to handle the needs and problems of his non-Muslim (Christian or Jewish) wife. Muslims believe that Moses and Jesus were prophets of Allah and so they give them full honor and respect. Jews and Christians do not consider Prophet Muhammad as the prophet of Allah. Thus they are unable to give the same respect and honor to him and to his followers. A Jewish or Christian woman with a Muslim husband will be in a much better position than a Muslim woman with a Jewish or Christian husband will. Even then, there are many non-Muslim women who married outside their faith say that they wish their religion too had forbidden them, because they know how difficult and hard it is to be the wife of a husband who has a different faith.

A Muslim woman should know that Allah has really honored her and made it easy for her by not allowing her to marry a non-Muslim man. According to the Qur'an, the husband is the head of his household, his wife should obey him. Allah does not to put the Muslim woman in a position that a non-Muslim become her head in her own private life. Allah has spared her from being under the authority of a non-Muslim husband.

Please abandon the idea of marrying a non-Muslim, unless he truly accepts Islam. If you marry a non-Muslim, this will be a major sin. You will be living in sin and your relationship with that non-Muslim will be illegitimate in the eyes of Allah. May Allah protect you from all sins.

Answer by Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi. Reprinted with permission of Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi.