Many parents become upset if their children wish to marry outside their culture, although Islam allows and even encourages this, as long as both parties are Muslim. For example, parrents worry about differences in schools of thought, nationalities, and non-extended family members. Since Muslims tend to gravitate toward others of a similar type, one would imagine that a marriage between, say, a Sufi and a Salafi stands little chance of success.
About a Past. When he married, the Prophet (salla Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) did not seek young virgins, women with no previous sexual experience, or members of his family. Since neither he nor Khadijah were Muslims at the time they married, the question of being Muslim did not arise. His first choice was a twice-married 40-year-old lady with at least 4 children. Marrying when he was 25, he remained monogamous until her death 25 years later. He never considered taking another wife, although all his friends, uncles, and peers were polygamous.
After Khadijah's death, when he was 50, he took at least 12 more wives. Only 2 were virgins: 'A'isha and Maryam (a Coptic Christian from Egypt).
Only his sixed and seventh wives (Umm Salamah and Zaynab, respectively) were his direct cousins whom he had known since their childhood. Umm Salamah was a widow with 3 children and a forth born almost immediately after their marriage, and Zaynab came as a divorcee after a failed marriage to his adopted son Zayd.
Upon Becoming Muslim. Should a person, upon accepting Islam, divorce his or her non-Muslim spouse? Many famous early male Companions adopted Islam long after their wives. For example, 'Umar's wife Zaynab was the sister of 'Uthman bin Maz'un. Both of them were Muslims. Hamzah's wife was Salmah, and 'Abbas' wife was Lubabah (Umm Fadl), daughters of Hind bint Awf by different husbands. In 'Abbas' case, Umm Fadl claimed to be the second woman to revert to Islam, the same day as her close friend Khadijah. Officially, 'Abbas accepted Islam just before the fall of Makkah 20 years later!
The Prophet did not ask them to divorce their non-Muslim husbands. In fact, they gradually entered Islam by being convinced of its truth. Incidentally, not only wives brought their husbands into Islam: Fatimah brought her brother 'Umar, Umm Habibah brought her father Abu Sufyan, and the Prophet's daughter Zaynab brought Abu al-'As. There are many similar cases.
At the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Umm Kulthum, daughter of the Prophet's enemy 'Uqbah bin Abu Mu'ayt, sought asylum with the Muslims when she learned that a revealation had said that women seeking the Prophet did not, like male escapees, have to be returned to their families and men. Their marriages could simply be voided.
In Qur'an 60:7-12, verse 10 is cited on the issue of divorcing non-believing spouses: "If you ascertain that they are believers, do not send them back to the unbelievers. They are not lawful for the unbelievers, not are the (unbelievers) lawful (husbands) for them."
However, the rest of the section discusses this subject with great tact and gentleness, and rather alters the perspective. Verse 7 states: "It may well be that Allah will grant love between you and those whom you (now) hold as enemies, for Allah has power over all things, and is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who do not (actually) fight you for (your faith) nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you with regard to those who fight against you for (your) faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and love). It is such as turn to these (in these circumstances) who do wrong."
A revert is a revert, and following the teaching given to Khalid bin Walid (the legendary general who had slaughtered so many Muslims before his reversion), that on entering Islam one's entire past is obliterated. The slate is wiped clean. That day becomes Day One of the rest of your life. So there is no baggage of "the past" for a revert. This is not to say, of course, that reverts have not been affected and influenced by their past, or that they can simply forget it.
And so anxious parents worry about their children marrying such people. Many in the older age group have failed marriages and divorces behind them, with all their traumas, and widows or widowers marry with all of their memories. It is never simple to marry someone with a "past." But what's simple in life? Moreover, is that really worth cutting everything else out for? Take the challenge on the chin, but do it with your eyes open.
The Prophet said that if an honorable person, one with nothing ostensibly wrong about him, sought a girl in marriage, he should not be turned away hurtfully by her guardian. This should be taken alongside the rule that no one should be coerced into marriage. The girl's wishes are final. Parents should not reject a proposal without good reason-and being a revert with a past is not an acceptable one. Allah has already forgiven that past.
Most scholars agree that alcohol was prohibited in the same year as Hudaybiyyah (628 CE). First, Muslims were told they should not come to prayer while intoxicated (4:43). When 'Umar prayed for clearer guidance, the Prophet recieved verses 5:90-91, saying that alcohol was an abomination and Satan's handiwork.
Upon hearing that, all Muslims threw away their alcohol. But some asked: "Can alcohol really be an abomination, for some of the martyrs of Badr and Uhud consumed it?" In response came: "Those who believed and did good may not be blamed for what they consumed (in the past), inasmuch as they feared Allah, believed and did good works. Allah loves the viruous" (5:93). The analogy applies to revert suitors-they should not be blamed for "what they consumed in the past," premarital sex included.
Should a revert spouse divorce or leave the non-revert one? This issue requires great compassion. When the Prophet abandoned Makkah for Madinah, his daughter Zaynab could not bear to leave her non-Muslim husband Abu al-'As, and was not required to do so until years later under other circumstances. The Prophet did not automatically divorce them. This is an important Sunnah, since it involves his own children.
Such a spouse should be considered a potential revert, and the revert should do his or her absolute best to embody Islam's manners, effort, charity, and so on. Do not ram your theology down his or her throat, or as Prophet Jesus ('alayhi al-salaam) said: "Don't cast your pearls before swine." The best way is to give the best example, especially of love and compassion. Then, if the non-Muslim becomes a Muslim, what a wonderful reward that will be! If it does not work out, and life with that spouse becomes increasingly difficult, then no doubt divorce would follow on the grounds that one spouse would probably consider the other's behavior unreasonable, leading to the marriage's breakdown. Certainly, give it every chance first-especially if children are involved.
Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood is the author of the Muslim Marriage Guide. British public and Islamic schools use several of her textbooks.