|Conference of European Churches
Council of European Episcopal Conferences
Islam in Europe Committee
Marriages between Christians and Muslims
Pastoral Guidelines for Christians and Churches in Europe
Table of Contents
Chapter I The Situation in Europe ……………………………………………………………..7
Chapter II Christian understanding of marriage ………………………………………………11
Chapter III Family and marriage in Islam …………………………………………………….19
Chapter IV The Ministerial task in General …………………………………………………..25
Chapter V Special Pastoral Concerns ………………………………………………………....29
Appendix: Members of the Islam in Europe Committee ……………………………………...41
For whom is this brochure meant? For those in the churches who are responsible for this issue .
Should the booklet have contained more explicit warnings? The authors are of the opinion that
Warning is contained in the description of all the difficulties a couple faces. Ministers should try to create trust and not scare young people away from the church. Most of those seeking pastoral care do appreciate a link with the church, whereas the secular Muslim and the secular/nominal Christian do not bother. Within the limited scope of a small publication it is not possible to describe the great national cultural religious variety of Muslims and Christians a minister may encounter in her/his pastoral contacts.
Statistics if available are usually limited to people from different nations. Most European countries no longer mention the religious affiliation in their marriage statistics. It is therefore not possible to present reliable statistics on interreligious marriages.
Though we are dealing with an international phenomenon, we concentrate on Europe and for obvious reasons more on Western than Eastern Europe.
The authors are aware of the world-wide enquiry into interfaith marriages jointly carried out by the
Office for Interreligious Relations of the World Council of Churches in Geneva and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Vatican.
For biblical quotations, the Revised Standard Version has been used unless otherwise indicated. The source of qur'anic quotations is given in the text. It is difficult to find a comprehensive, consistent terminology applicable to all churches and theologies. Terms such as ministerial and pastoral, parish and congregation are often used interchangeably.
The "Islam in Europe Committee" is grateful to all its members for their help and advice while
preparing this text. It became a really common endeavour. Yet we want to mention especially Jan Slomp for the Protestant, Anglican and pastoral sections (IV and V), moreover for the translation
into English of those texts which were originally written in German and the general editing. Hans
Vöcking for the sections on Islamic law and Roman Catholic theology, Grigorios Ziakas and Viorel
Ionita for the paragraphs on Christian theology in general and orthodoxy in particular, Penelope
Johnstone for checking the English text, Bärbel Dürhager for the German translation which was edited by Heinz Klautke, Xavier Jacob for the French translation, which was revised and edited by
respectively Gilles Couvreur and Jean-Claude Basset.
The English version of this brochure will be jointly published by the "Islam in Europe Committee"
and The Churches' Commission for Inter-faith Relations of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland. Copies of the English edition can be ordered from Canon Dr. Lamb Church House, Great Smith Street, London SW IP 3NZ and from the offices of the CEC and the CCEE (addresses below).
The German edition will be jointly published by the "Islam in Europe Committee" and Christliche-
Islamische Begegnung- Dokumenationsleitstelle (CIBEDO) , Postfach 170427, 60078 Frankfurt,
Germany. Copies can also be ordered from the offices of the CEC and CCEE (addresses below)
A slightly adapted French edition will be jointly published by the"lslam in Europe Connect and Centre el-Kalima, 69 rue du Midi, 1000 Brussels, Belgium.
All editions can also be obtained from:
Conference of European Churches (CEC/KEK)
150, route de Ferney
CH-1211 Geneva 2
Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE)
CH-9000 St Gallen
Translators into other languages are free to adapt the texts to local needs and add information about the situation in their own church or country. Those wanting to make a translation are requested to
contact either the office of the CEC in Geneva or the CCEE in St Gallen, Switzerland.
The members of the “lslam in Europe Committee" hope and pray that this brochure will prove to be
helpful for many in the churches in Europe .
Chapter I The Situation in Europe
1. Not a new phenomenon
The phenomenon of marriages between Christians and Muslims has existed since the beginning of
Islam, almost 1400 years ago.
Churches in Central and East European countries have had some measure of ministerial experience of this phenomenon, because parts of this vast area belonged for centuries to the Ottoman empire.
During that period Muslims settled in this area, while indigenous people were converted to Islam.
Thus marriages were contracted between Christians and Muslims despite the fact that such marriages were strictly forbidden by the dominant Orthodox Church in those countries. For the churches in West European countries such marriages were generally speaking only theoretical. But
the situation began to change during the colonial period and churches in some countries had their first experience of interfaith marriages.
2. Part of the regular ministerial task
In the present day and age, such interfaith marriages have become part of the regular pastoral task in all countries of Europe, because of political, economic and social developments during the last four decades. The end of the colonial period resulted in the immigration of men and women from former colonial possessions with an Islamic tradition. Economic developments in some European countries had even greater consequences, leading firstly to migration of labour from southern to northern Europe. When the labour reserves were exhausted in southern European countries, the Western European industries began to recruit workers, both men and women, in North Africa,
Turkey, the former Yugoslavia and the Indian subcontinent. From the mid 7Os families began to be reunited. Workers from those countries began to bring their families to join them, but not before most European countries had stopped recruiting labour from countries outside the European community .
During the most recent decade a great number of men and women from Muslim countries have sought political asylum of Europe. The economic and political situation in their countries of origin made it very difficult, even at times impossible, for them to plan their future, as for example in Bosnia or during the civil war in Algeria.
There are also students, both men and women, from Muslim countries who are completing their
studies in European countries.
Finally should be included among the Muslims who have taken up residence in Europe all Muslim
businessmen, diplomats and those employed by international agencies and organisations ( e.g UNESCO in Paris, OPEC in Vienna or UNO agencies in Geneva).
3. About 24 million Muslims in Europe
The total number of Muslims living in Europe should be estimated at between 20 and 24 million. That means that marriages between Muslim men and Christian women or Muslim women and Christian men have become a normal feature of life in Europe, despite warnings against this, or even an attitude of rejection and refusal, by several churches. Marriages involving partners of a different faith have become a reality , which pastoral workers have to take into account.
a. Eastern Europe
For the assessment of interfaith marriages it is also important to notice the part played by cultural
and legal factors.
It is relatively easy to assess such marriages when they occur in East European countries, because
the partners originate from the same culture, speak the same language and are subject to the same
marriage laws of the country. The communist system forced an atheist secularisation on the people
and exacted a considerable distancing from the Church, to the extent that ecclesiastical regulations
lost their restraining impact.
A special case is formed by ex- Yugoslavia. During the communist regime especially in the cities
many marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims were concluded and registered by the
municipal authorities, usually without a ceremony in a church. As a result of the civil war not only
the number of such marriages decreased, but several marriages ended up in a crisis as a result of
tensions between the communities. The number of mixed couples among those who fled to Western
Europe is relatively high.
b. Western Europe
The situation is quite different in countries to which Muslims migrated only during the last decades.
Besides religious differences, cultural dissimilarities play their part. Moreover many such marriages are subject to International Private Law, when they involve people of different nationalities. Each partner is subject to laws concerning personal status of his own country. In such a case marriage partners have to make decisions not only about their life but also about their place of residence and the nationality of their children.
c. No longer migrants but Muslim citizens
In the meantime women and men of the so-called "second generation" (and maybe even the third
generation) have reached marriageable age. This implies that cultural differences between partners
have become less or may have completely disappeared. Quite often such marriages are not bi-natio-
nal, because they have become indigenous, for example in France, where anyone born in French
territory can obtain French nationality (the so-called 'jus solis'), or people apply for naturalisation
in the country in which they live. The result is that their marriage is subject to the same law concer-
ning personal status. This in turn leads to a twofold development.
on the one hand young men and women from Muslim families gradually become better integrated and experience the impact of the dominant secular culture. It happens more often that Muslim women marry Christian men, without insisting that these men become Muslim (we return to this issue below)
on the other hand there are those who want to live as Muslims in a European context and therefore make the guarantee of religious freedom the basis for the introduction of classic Islamic family law.
In European society it is nowadays acceptable for a man and a woman to live together without a civil marriage certificate and without a ceremony in church. This makes it possible for Muslims to
apply Islamic law. When a Muslim man and a Christian woman are living together without a civil marriage certificate, they may conclude an Islamic marriage contract, which will not be recognised by the Registry office. It is often the desire of the Muslim partner that a marriage contract based on
Islamic law be concluded after the civil ceremony. In this contract the rights and duties of both partners can be stipulated.
When it is the choice of the couple to have also some form of Christian celebration it seems advisable to have an interreligious ceremony.
d. Social changes and interfaith marriages
Rapid social change varies from country to country. Two indications can help to measure the point
where a country finds itself.
1) the proportion of nationality difference among marriages where the partners are of different
2) the proportion of men and women of Muslim origin who marry a non-Muslim partner .
1. When citizens of the same country (or children of citizens of that country) are concerned we
speak of " interreligious marriages" .In that case several elements of this publication no longer apply ( e.g. those dealing with a country of origin or a special personal status and differences of culture). In that case we are dealing with an interfaith marriage between two persons with the same citizenship and for the greater part the same culture .
2. In this publication we refer several times to the growing number of young Muslim women who want to marry a non-Muslim, while wanting to remain Muslims themselves. In the light of this fact one may expect a reinterpretation of several injunctions of Islamic law. From now on some Muslim intellectuals defend the view that the prohibition on a Muslim woman' s marrying a non-Muslim has no true Islamic basis but originates from later commentators. One therefore faces practices which differ from traditional Islamic law.
These two indications invite the churches to be alert to processes of inculturation of which Muslims are aware.
This may lead churches to adapt their pastoral guidelines vis à vis these new realities. We return to this issue in chapter IV
Chapter II Christian understanding of marriage
1. Marriage in Christianity
a. Biblical testimony
For all the Christian churches, marriage is a natural and social institution, founded by the Creator and governed by His laws for the whole world. Consequently marriage, which constitutes a community of total life between a man and a woman, is a work of divine initiative, and thus a holy institution, which from the beginning of creation was ordained by God in the world. In this sense, marriage is first and foremost a natural institution: it is based on human nature, ordered by the Creator, so that between a man and woman there will be a relationship of profound communion, love and life, to make possible the continuation of the human race.
This entirely special way in which God entrusts man and woman, as husband and wife, with the continuation of human existence and calls them to pursue through love mutual complementarity and perfection, and to build the family together, is based on the Holy Bible. Already in the Old Testament marriage is connected with God's creative will and is a part of his creative plan, expressed in a marvellous way in the first two chapters of Genesis (1,27f; 2,18-25) Here are emphasised not only the creation of the two genders of human beings, but also the primordial unity and mutual complementarity of man and woman. This purpose of the natural matrimonial bond is acknowledged by Adam, illuminated by God, who when he sees the woman, exclaims: "Now this is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone" (Gen.2,23).
Adam's exclamation is the first cry of love heard on earth. With the passage of time, prophets and godly men of the Old Testament extol the institution of marriage, as they speak in symbolic words and compare the covenant between God and the people of Israel with the image of marriage.
(Hosea 2,19; Is.54,4ff; 62,4ff; Ez.16,7ft).
This natural institution of marriage, which has existed from the beginning as a part of the divine plan of creation, is consequently a unity whose inherent nature cannot be dissolved. It is therefore confirmed by Christ, who validates the relevant teaching of the Old Testament saying: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. " (Mk 10, 6-9; Mt 19,4-6).
Christ also made known the meaning of marriage, by his presence at the wedding of Cana, where he changed water into wine, thus manifesting his glory (Jn 2,1 ft). But Christ also underlines the importance of marriage in those verses of the gospel where he uses symbolic pictures of a wedding ceremony and a wedding feast, to describe the messianic epoch, or the new-age of the Church (Mt 25,1-13; cf Lk.12,36 ft). Thus Christ, the Word of God, is represented as the "heavenly bridegroom" (Mk 2,19ff; cf Jn 3,29ft) who renews the "marital" bond with the "bride", the Church, that is the new-age of the New Testament (Cf. implications in this regard: Rom 7,4; 1 Cor 6,14ff; 2 Cor 11,2; Jn 3,29; Ap.22,7; 19,7ff; 21,2).
But the classical passage from the New Testament which gives the real meaning of marriage is the summary statement found in Eph. 5,22-33, where the Apostle Paul presents the joining of man and woman as an image of the mysterious union between Christ and the Church. Thus the relationship between man and woman, and the union of the spouses "in one flesh" in Gen.224 is described in Eph.5,32 ff as a "great mystery" and is related to the mysterious connection between Christ and the Church. In this way, the apostle Paul presents a christological foundation of marriage (also 1 Cor 11,3; 6,15 ff etc.). Marriage is based on the mutual love between the spouses, according to the model of Christ's love for the church. It is on this love that the commandments of the New Testament for the family are based (Col. 3,18ff; Eph. 5,22 ff; 1 Pet. 2,18 ft), supporting the marriage fellowship and the life and communion of the family .
2. Marriage in the Orthodox Churches
a. Theological view
According to the theology and standards of the Orthodox Church, marriage is a mystery (Greek = mysterion; Latin: sacramentum), which was instituted with the blessing of God at the time of creation (Gen.1,27f; 2,18-25).
This is confirmed by those words of Christ (Mk.l0,6-8; Mt.19, 4-6) where the Lord confirms the teaching of the Old Testament and elevates the natural bond into the mystery of the New Testament. Marriage is a mystery, directly connected to the mystery of the Church.
Marriage is an image of the mystical union between Christ and the Church. Consequently, marriage is blessed, because the union of the spouses is similar to the union between Christ and the Church. The image is not only representative, but also suggestive of the real and substantial union in the mystery of marriage (Eph.5,22-32). The spouses, through the mystery of marriage, express and participate in the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church. Thus through the Church and connected with the mystery of the eucharist marriage is placed beyond natural processes and acquires ecclesiological and eschatological significance.
The basis of the mystery of marriage as sacrament for the Orthodox Church is the union of man and woman with the natural bond and with the blessing of God in the Church. The sacramental actsanctifies the natural institution of marriage and unites the partners in Christ into "one flesh".
The mystery of marriage is performed in the name of the Holy Trinity , which means that those entering the communion of marriage have the blessing of the triune God, their house is transformed into a church, and the spouses and any children born to them are blessed. The blessing of the Church makes the spouses equal to each other in rank, merit and quality .It binds them with the bond of love and holiness and helps them to enter married life in a spirit of faith, peace and love.
Children are the seal of marriage. But it should be realized that children cannot always be the final purpose and goal of marriage, for example in the case of infertility.
b. The Orthodox Churches and mixed marriages
The Orthodox Church, although disapproving of mixed marriages, tolerates them and permits them on condition that the children are baptized and brought up in the orthodox faith. In the Pan - Orthodox Conference from 1961 onwards, positive views have been expressed with regard to mixed marriages. These may be summarized as follows:
Firstly, a marriage between an Orthodox and a non-orthodox Christian is hindered (impeded) according to the Church canons, but it may be blessed for humanitarian reasons, for reasons of philanthropic benevolence and in loving concern for those involved, with the express condition that the children of the marriage will be baptized and brought up in the Orthodox Church.
The local autocephalous Orthodox Churches may decide how they apply this principle as it occurs.
Secondly, marriage of Orthodox Christians with non-Christians is absolutely hindered by the canons of the Church. But the local autocephalous churches may decide to ac t in pastoral benevolence towards the orthodox member in each individual case.
The views of the Russian Orthodox Church are very interesting in this regard. The conditions in which the Church of God exists on earth today insist that, in the matter of interfaith marriages between Christians and non-Christians, we return to the Church practice of the first centuries of the Christian era. During these centuries the Church was favourable to mixed marriages, following the apostolic command (1 Cor.7,12-14,16). In these verses, the apostle Paul recommends that such marriages should not be dissolved, with the hope that the believing member will save the unbelieving spouse. "If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated (sanctified) through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is conse crated (sanctified) through her husband. " "How do you know you will not save your husband?" St Paul argues, "Or how do you know you will not save your wife?"
With this thought in mind, the Russian Orthodox Church applies the principle of "economy" and tolerates mixed marriages. The term "economy" means that the Orthodox Church does what it believes to be in line with God's plan of salvation. It should be noted, however, that other autocephalous orthodox churches and the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church have not (yet) followed this Russian Orthodox practice.
3. The Roman Catholic understanding of marriage
a. Theological view
Present day Roman Catholic theology of marriage faces the task of reflecting anew on partnership and marriage in a totally changed social and cultural context. The present situation demands a partnership-oriented theology of marriage which takes issue with a situation of life and faith in an individualised and plural society: consequently a theology which does not deal onesidedly with marriage as an institution, but which develops into a theology of a partnership, which under normal circumstances includes the shared intention of becoming parents.
The Second Vatican Council put forward two new emphases. Firstly it integrates the community of life within the core ( essence ) of the sacramental definition: "The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws. It is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. " (Gaudium et Spes 48) The deeper meaning of Catholic marriage consists therefore in understanding this consent which is founded in the personal relations of the couple, is based on God's love and is supported by their joint covenant with Him. For believing Catholics, concluding a marriage should in the first place be a matter of faith rather than a matter of ( canon) law.
The second new emphasis of the Second Vatican Council is that the theological context of the sacrament of marriage is redefined: "For as God of old made Himself present to His people through a covenant of love and fidelity , so now the Saviour of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. " (Gaudium et Spes 48) The relation between the two marriage partners is understood as the vital basis on which the encounter with Christ takes place. Marriage is a personal realisation of the new covenant to the extent that married couples take their faith in Christ and His promises consciously into account in their plan for life. The encyclical letter, Familiaris Consortio (13), speaks in the same spirit of a real symbol also for the fellowship of the church. Starting from this point two theological consequences can be drawn. In the first place a mere institutional or legal view of marriage is not sufficient when marriage needs to be understood as "life structured by love" .Marriage and its conclusion are rather to be interpreted as a process of personal relating and decisionmaking. The marriage partners together act in this process as religiously autonomous subjects. Informal communities of life, civil marriage and celebration in church are important stages on this way. The conclusion of marriage does not yet mean that the final phase of developing towards an irrevocable marriage has been reached. Marriage remains furthermore a project for life with all its real risks.
The second consequence is that the problematics of existential faith and mutual trust are moved to the foreground. The reason for this is the high expectation for a meaningful and happy life which couples nowadays link with their relationship. The independent meaning of the sacramental celebration is the religious consent of both partners, who confess before God and His congregation that they want to live their marriage in faith as a project for life.
Thirdly, the liturgy for the celebration of marriage, in an analogous way to the liturgy of baptism, is to be understood as a self-contained sacramental act, symbolic and time-conditioned. It builds marriage "before God" as a covenant in Christ through the Holy Spirit. In the divine consent, visible in the sign of blessing, the marriage partners should sense their fellowship "before God" as an experience of salvation.
In marriage God's nearness should become for them a real experience. In this way human love and faithfulness find a final theological meaning in God ' s love and trust.
(Quotations from Walter M.Abbott, S.J. The Documents of Vatican II, New York, Guild Press 1966 p.251)