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Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Administration at odds over ban on interfaith marriages

Source: TASS
Egor Aleev / TASS / Vida Press

Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Administration (DUM RF) is facing internal controversy after its Ulema council (advisory body of Muslim scholars) issued a decision banning believers from marrying followers of other religions. The decision — which has no legal implications — has provoked mixed reactions from other Muslim organizations, as well as within the leadership of the DUM itself at both the national and regional levels. While some Muslim jurists maintain that this prohibition has always been in effect, others describe it as a flexible appeal to individual believers.

On November 10, the DUM RF published a decision from its Ulema council on its website, stating that Muslim men should not marry non-Muslim women. As it turns out, this theological conclusion was reached during a meeting that took place a year ago, in November 2019. The decision states that inter-faith marriages “are possible only in certain isolated cases according to the decision of a local mufti, who considers and takes into account all of the circumstances of the particular case in question.” 

The reasoning behind the decision is attributed to the belief that spouses ought to have common life values, including “similarities on questions of religion and spirituality.” 

Commenting on the decision, the Ulema council’s Deputy Chairman, Mufti of Moscow Ildar Alyautdinov, said that the decision was adopted “to preserve national and religious identity, as well as to reduce the number of divorces.” “Often this [marriage to non-Muslims] leads to misunderstandings between family members, children do not receive a proper religious education, and the spiritual foundations of the family weaken,” the Mufti explained. At the same time, he stressed that if a woman is “close to Islam and she respects its cannons,” there are no obstacles to marriage and, moreover, she can even retain another faith. 

A few hours after the decision was made public, it received criticism from the Ulema Council of the Muslim Spiritual Administration of Tatarstan — the region home to Russia’s largest Muslim population. Tatarstan’s DUM recalled that according to the provisions of the Hanafi legal school (a branch of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence common in Russia), Muslim men can marry Christian or Jewish women. “In matters of publishing theological conclusions it’s extremely important to try and maintain interfaith peace and harmony in the Russian Federation,” Tatarstan’s DUM underscored. Another influential organization refused to support the ban — Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Assembly, which operates independently of the DUM.

In turn, Mufti of Chechnya Salah-Hadji Mezhiyev approved of the decision, noting that this ban has always existed. “Everyone knows that in Islam [marriage] with non-Muslim woman is prohibited, there’s no need to discuss and talk about this, there are no disputes and disagreements on this issue,” Mezhiyev said

That said, even the leadership of the Russian DUM has distanced itself from the ban. Deputy Chairman Damir Mukhetdinov pointed out that the Ulema Council is just one of the DUM’s bodies and has the right to an opinion that doesn’t correspond with organization’s general position, adding that the truth and correctness of this or that opinion is “left to the judgement of God.” 

Mukhetdinov also underscored that Muslim believers are not required to comply with the decision opposing interfaith marriages. “Under the conditions of a secular state, the Ulema’s decisions have no power in the legal system’s reference frame, they appeal to the believer, his conscience, fear of God, and responsibility to the Creator,” Mukhetdinov said. 

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Story by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Eilish Hart