Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Quran and in the Bible

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Appendix: Ezra and Nehemiah

In this final section we want to focus our attention on MENJ’ slander of Ezra and Nehemiah. MENJ asserts that Ezra’s command to the Israelites to abandon their Gentile wives and children is not only cruel, but also racist (cf. Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 9:1-2; 10:30; 13:1-3, 23-31), so we must correct this lie and slander.

God’s love for non-Israelites

To begin with, the Torah of Moses is clear regarding God’s love and impartiality towards non-Israelites. The Israelites had to treat the alien resident equally and both parties had to observe one and the same law:

"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:33-34

"You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native; for I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 24:22

"For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the sojourner be before the LORD. One law and one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you." Numbers 15:15-16

"For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NASB

The prophet Ezekiel is given a revelation that even the Gentiles have a share in the promised land:

"You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as native-born sons of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, says the Lord GOD." Ezekiel 47:22-23

God’s protection for non-Israelites

God even speaks of other nations being his people and how he fought for them much like he did for Israel:

"Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have been going about this mountain country long enough; turn northward. And command the people, You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren the sons of Esau, who live in Se'ir; and they will be afraid of you. So take good heed; do not contend with them; for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Se'ir to Esau as a possession. You shall purchase food from them for money, that you may eat; and you shall also buy water of them for money, that you may drink. For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands; he knows your going through this great wilderness; these forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing. So we went on, away from our brethren the sons of Esau who live in Se'ir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and E'zion-ge'ber. And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the LORD said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot for a possession.’ (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; like the Anakim they are also known as Reph'aim, but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horites also lived in Se'ir formerly, but the sons of Esau dispossessed them, and destroyed them from before them, and settled in their stead; as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the LORD gave to them.) ‘Now rise up, and go over the brook Zered.’ So we went over the brook Zered. And the time from our leaving Ka'desh-bar'nea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. For indeed the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished. So when all the men of war had perished and were dead from among the people, the LORD said to me, ‘This day you are to pass over the boundary of Moab at Ar; and when you approach the frontier of the sons of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’ (That also is known as a land of Reph'aim; Reph'aim formerly lived there, but the Ammonites call them Zamzum'mim, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the LORD destroyed them before them; and they dispossessed them, and settled in their stead; as he did for the sons of Esau, who live in Se'ir, when he destroyed the Horites before them, and they dispossessed them, and settled in their stead even to this day. As for the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caph'torim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their stead.)" Deuteronomy 2:2-23

"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt MY PEOPLE, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.’" Isaiah 19:23-25

"‘Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel?’ says the LORD. ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?’" Amos 9:7

In fact, the entire book of Jonah is about God’s great love and mercy for the Assyrians and how he saved them.


Furthermore, Israelite men and women were even allowed to take non-Israelite spouses:

"When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hands, and you take them captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you have desire for her and would take her for yourself as wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and pare her nails. And she shall put off her captive's garb, and shall remain in your house and bewail her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. Then, if you have no delight in her, you shall let her go where she will; but you shall not sell her for money, you shall not treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her." Deuteronomy 21:10-14

In the above text, God accords captive Gentile women the same status of Israelite women!

One of the books of the Bible is even named after a gentile woman. The Moabitess Ruth was married to two Israelite men. After the death of her first Israelite husband, another Israelite man married this great woman of faith, and she became the great-grandmother of King David.

A few other examples include:

"Now an Israelite woman's son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel; and the Israelite woman's son and a man of Israel quarreled in the camp," Leviticus 24:10

"The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, and Shelah; these three Bath-shu'a the Canaanitess bore to him. Now Er, Judah's first-born, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he slew him. His daughter-in-law Tamar also bore him Perez and Zerah. Judah had five sons in all… and their sisters were Zeru'iah and Ab'igail. The sons of Zeru'iah: Abi'shai, Jo'ab, and As'ahel, three. Ab'igail bore Ama'sa, and the father of Ama'sa was Jether the Ish'maelite… The sons of Nadab: Seled and Ap'pa-im; and Seled died childless. The sons of Ap'pa-im: Ishi. The sons of Ishi: Sheshan. The sons of Sheshan: Ahlai. The sons of Jada, Sham'mai's brother: Jether and Jonathan; and Jether died childless. The sons of Jonathan: Peleth and Zaza. These were the descendants of Jerah'meel. Now Sheshan had no sons, only daughters; but Sheshan had an Egyptian slave, whose name was Jarha. So Sheshan gave his daughter in marriage to Jarha his slave; and she bore him Attai. Attai was the father of Nathan and Nathan of Zabad. Zabad was the father of Ephlal, and Ephlal of Obed." 1 Chronicles 2:3-4, 16-17, 30-37

"The sons of Ezrah: Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. These are the sons of Bith'i-ah, the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered married; and she conceived and bore Miriam, Sham'mai, and Ishbah, the father of Eshtemo'a." 1 Chronicles 4:17

"Now I have sent a skilled man, endued with understanding, Huram-abi, the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and to do all sorts of engraving and execute any design that may be assigned him, with your craftsmen, the craftsmen of my lord, David your father." 2 Chronicles 2:13-14

God did put a specific restraint or condition on marrying non-Israelites, namely that they could not be practicing pagans lest they lead Israel astray:

"Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither you go, lest it become a snare in the midst of you. You shall tear down their altars, and break their pillars, and cut down their Ashe'rim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they play the harlot after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and one invites you, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters play the harlot after their gods and make your sons play the harlot after their gods." Exodus 34:11-16

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Gir'gashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per'izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them. You shall not make marriages with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons. For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Ashe'rim, and burn their graven images with fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth." Deuteronomy 7:1-6

Here is an example of Israelites who failed to heed God’s advice and suffered because of it:

"While Israel dwelt in Shittim the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Ba'al of Pe'or. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel; and the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.’ And Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Every one of you slay his men who have yoked themselves to Ba'al of Pe'or.’ And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Mid'ianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting. When Phin'ehas the son of Elea'zar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation, and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room, and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through her body. Thus the plague was stayed from the people of Israel. Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Phin'ehas the son of Elea'zar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, "Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; and it shall be to him, and to his descendants after him, the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the people of Israel."’ The name of the slain man of Israel, who was slain with the Mid'ianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, head of a fathers' house belonging to the Simeonites. And the name of the Mid'ianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the head of the people of a fathers' house in Mid'ian." Numbers 25:1-15, cf. 1 Kings 11

God put a further restriction on the priests since they had been told that they could only marry Israelite women:

"And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people," Leviticus 21:13-14

"They shall not marry a widow, or a divorced woman, but only a virgin of the stock of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest." Ezekiel 44:22

Now let us see who were the women whom the Israelites of Ezra’s day had married:

"After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, ‘The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands WITH THEIR ABOMINATIONS, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Jeb'usites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.’ When I heard this, I rent my garments and my mantle, and pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat appalled." Ezra 9:1-3

The men had married women from some of the very nations which God had specifically told them not to marry lest they be corrupted by their abominable idolatrous practices. In light of the foregoing the reader should be able to see that there was nothing racist or wrong with what Ezra or Nehemiah did. The Israelites knew that they couldn’t marry women who were still clinging to their paganism, and priests were more than aware that they were not to marry a non-Israelite. Thus, these persons received the just consequences of their disobedience that unfortunately had become the cause of suffering for their families because of their willful neglect of God’s commands.

Is MENJ saying that this was wrong for the Israelites to be justly punished for their disobedience to an express command of God? Is he further insinuating that our sinful actions do not impact those closest to us, our families, friends etc., so that even the innocent suffer because of our negligence?

He dare not say this if he wishes to be an honest and consistent Muslim since he knows full well that Islam demands that married women who have converted to Islam leave their unbelieving husbands, or Muslim men abandon their pagan wives who refuse to convert. For instance, the Shafi manual Reliance of the Traveller, under the section of Marriage, numbers m7.4 and m.8.7, states:

If any of the following occurs before intercourse has taken place, then the marriage is immediately annulled:

(1) one of a couple who are idolators become a Muslim;
(2) one of a Zoroastrian couple becomes Muslim;
(3) the wife of a Jew or Christian becomes a Muslim;
(4) both husband and wife leave Islam;
(5) or one of them does.

But when one of the above things happens after intercourse, then a waiting period (def: n9) must intervene before the marriage is annulled. If both husband and wife (A: are, or) become Muslim before the waiting period finishes, then their marriage continues. And if not, then the marriage is considered to have been over since the change of religion first took place. (Reliance of the Traveller, p. 532)

If the couple is separated (A: by having annulled the marriage (dis: m7.4)), before intercourse because of an act on the bride’s part, as when she becomes a Muslim (O: and the husband remains Muslim), or she leaves Islam (O: and the husband remains Muslim), then she is not entitled to any of the marriage payment. But if it is because an act on the husband’s part, as when he becomes Muslim, leaves Islam, or divorces her, then she receives only half of the marriage payment; her husband may ask for half of it back (O: if she already accepted it), provided the article given as payment still exists. If it does not, he receives half of the lowest market value of similar articles between the time of the marriage agreement and when the article ceased to exist. If the article was diminished while in the bride’s possession, the husband has a choice between taking it back in its defective condition, or accepting half of its value. (Ibid., p. 534)

And to see how Muhammad’s instructions work out practically, note the following question posed by a female convert to a Muslim website:

Question 2279 from United States

I acepted Islam 1 year ago. I have been married to a non-Muslim for 5 years. A Muslim man has asked me to marry him. Is this halal? Can I marry him while awaiting divorce from my non-Muslim husband?

I am still living with my non-muslim husband, because I am not sure what to do. A Sunni Muslim has asked me to consider being his wife and said that I can marry him even though I am still married to my non-muslim husband. My non-Muslim husband refuses to divorce me. Please advise me on what to do and what is halal.

Answer 2279, 2001-02-14

Your marriage with the non-Muslim has terminated upon three menses (or three months if not experiencing menses) after accepting Islam.

It is prohibited for you to stay with him. You should separate from him immediately. You may consider the proposal of the Muslim man and marry him immediately if you wish to.

and Allah Ta'ala Knows Best

Mufti Ebrahim Desai
(Question 2279 from United States, I accepted Islam 1 year ago. I have been married to a non-Muslim for 5 years. A Muslim man has asked me to marry him. Is this halal? Can I marry him while awaiting divorce from my non-Muslim husband?; online source)

What makes this advice all the more troubling is that a Muslim man asked this female convert to marry him even while she was still married to her husband and the mufti says nothing to condemn it! He actually approves it!

Now what if these individuals had children? Or does MENJ really think that every convert to Islam who was forced to abandon an idolatrous spouse was without children? And what about the wife who depended completely on her husband for her livelihood? Would MENJ have a problem with Islam not making exceptions for these situations?

Finally, Muhammad commanded some Muslims to divorce several of their wives although they were believers. We already referred to the following two narrations in the last part. After quoting them again, we want to bring out a particular contrast to the event in Ezra and Nehemiah.

Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar

Ghaylan ibn Salamah ath-Thaqafi accepted Islam and that he had ten wives in the pre-Islamic period who accepted Islam along with him; so the Prophet (peace be upon him) told him to keep four and separate from the rest of them.

Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it. (Al-Tirmidhi, Number 945; taken from the Alim CD-ROM Version)

Narrated Al-Harith ibn Qays al-Asadi:

I embraced Islam while I had eight wives. So I mentioned it to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him). The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Select four of them. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 12, Number 2233)

Both these men had married their wives before they became Muslims. The first tradition states explicitly that he had married them in the pre-Islamic period, i.e. before the Quranic restriction to four wives was given. Therefore, they had not broken a command of God by marrying these women. Certainly, several of these women also had children which were then forcefully separated from either their mother or their father.

The Israelite men in the time of Ezra had married pagan women against the clear commandment of God. Having to divorce them later on certainly caused suffering, but this was in consequence of their sin and disobedience.

How can MENJ legitimately attack Ezra and Nehemiah for enforcing the old and known law of God against those who had transgressed it, when Muhammad even enforces a law that had only been given after these men were already married and who had therefore not acted in disobedience?

We need to drive home this point once again, lest the readers forget it or overlook it. The Quran expressly forbids Muslims from marrying polytheists for theological and moral reasons:

And do not marry the idolatresses until they believe, and certainly a believing maid is better than an idolatress woman, even though she should please you; and do not give (believing women) in marriage to idolaters until they believe, and certainly a believing servant is better than an idolater, even though he should please you; these invite to the fire, and Allah invites to the garden and to forgiveness by His will, and makes clear His communications to men, that they may be mindful. S. 2:221 Shakir

This is no different from the Bible. How, then, could MENJ even muster up the audacity to complain about what God’s blessed servants Ezra and Nehemiah did when his own book makes the same exact prohibition?

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