Also, under Islamic law men are allowed to marry out of the faith — as long as they marry a Jew or Christian, referred to as “People of the Book.” Behind this rule is the notion that Islam is passed down patrilineally (unlike Judaism, which is matrilineal). So, no matter whom a Muslim man marries, his children will be considered Muslim.
Lost in this loophole is the fact that, in American homes, women tend to run the religious show. They are typically the ones attending religious services and shuttling children to and from religious school. Muslim community leaders tell me that raising Muslim children without the mother’s help is very difficult.
Steve Mustapha Elturk, an imam in Troy, Mich., says that his first marriage was to a Catholic Filipina woman. The couple sent one of their children to Catholic school, while Elturk taught him the Koran at home. Elturk said that he did not place enough emphasis on the Muslim faith when his children were young and that it affected their decisions as adults. He believes that things went much more smoothly with his second wife, a Muslim, and that his children from their marriage received a stronger Muslim upbringing.
According to a nationally representative survey I commissioned in 2010 of almost 2,500 people, children in interfaith families are more than twice as likely to adopt the faith of their mother as the faith of their father. If Muslim men continue to marry outside the faith at such high rates, the women left behind will be more inclined to do so as well because there will be fewer available Muslim partners. Meanwhile, families where the mother is Muslim and the father is not are less likely to be accepted in the Muslim community because technically their marriages are forbidden.
Other forces push Muslims toward intermarrying as well. Religious rules often prevent Muslims of the opposite sex from socializing with one another, and because most Muslims work and go to school with non-Muslims, it’s often easier for them to meet and get to know potential partners outside the faith.
For example, Qanta A. Ahmed, a Muslim physician in New York, wrote in a USA Today op-ed last year that Muslim women “frequently lack intellectually and professionally equal Muslim partners” and that Muslim men often choose younger, less career-focused Muslim women of the same nationality. “These forces drive Muslim women to either select suitable marriage partners from outside the faith or face unremitting spinsterhood.”