The third sentence of this ayah reads as follows:
وَالْمُحْصَنَـتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَـتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَـتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَـبَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَآ ءَاتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلاَ مُتَّخِذِى أَخْدَانٍ
“(Lawful to you in marriage) are chaste women from the believers and chaste women from those who were given the Scripture before your time when you have given them their due, desiring chastity, not illegal sexual intercourse, nor taking them as girlfriends (or lovers).”
Here the word “al-Muhsanat” means good women. There is a consensus of the majority of authentic scholars that the restriction of ‘chaste women’ here does not mean that they very marriage with non-chaste women is unlawful. In fact, this restriction serves a purpose. It provides motivation to take a better and more appropriate course in marriage [Mazhari & others].
One can marry a Muslim woman or a woman from among the People of the Book, both are lawful; but one should never lose sight of the approach that marriage when entered into should be with a chaste woman. Joining up with sinning women in the bond of marriage is not what a good Muslim would elect to do. The truth is that marrying a vice-prone and unreliable person amounts to ruining one’s life in this world and in the Hereafter both. This should be avoided. So, the restriction of the People of the Book in this ayah proves that marrying women from among non-Muslims, who are not included under the definition of the People of the Book is not lawful, and on this there is a consensus of the Muslim Ummah.
Marriage with Other Non-Muslim Women
As said earlier, out of all groups of non-Muslims in this period of time, the Jews and the Christians are the only two religious communities which can be counted as the People of the Book. None of the rest belonging to present religions are included within the People of the Book. This general rule applies to fire-worshiping Magians, idol-worshiping Hindus, or Sikhs or Aryans or Buddhists and to others similar to them. This is so because the term, the People of the Book, refers only to those who profess to believe in a Book, the veracity of which as Heavenly Scripture and Divine Revelation stands proved on the basis of definite texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The Problem in Marrying Jewish and Christian Women
As for marrying Jewish and Christians women even this is not permissible in the sight of some Companions radhiAllahu anhum of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam.
This happens to be the understanding of Abdullah ibn Umar radhiAllahu anhu. When someone asked him about it, he would say, “What Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in the Qur’an is clear, ‘Do not marry disbelieving women until they become Muslims’ – and I am not aware of a greater Shirk than that of a person who openly declares Eesa son of Mariyum or some other created servant of Allah as her Rabb, Lord or God. [Ahkam-ul-Qur’an, Jassas]
There was an occasion when Maimun ibn Mihran asked Abdullah ibn Umar radhiAllahu anhu, “We live in a country with a larger population of the People of the Book. Can we marry their women and eat from the animals they slaughter?” In his reply, Abdullah ibn Umar radhiAllahu anhu simply recited these two ayat [Surah al-Baqarah ayah 221 and Surah al-Ma’idah ayah 5].
Maimun ibn Mihran said, “I too read these two ayaat in the Qur’an and I know them. But, my question is, ‘In view of these two, what religious ruling do I follow?’” In reply to this question, Abdullah ibn Umar radhiAllahu anhu once again recited these very two ayaat before him, and said nothing on his own. This has been interpreted by the Ulema of the Ummah that Abdullah ibn Umar was not at peace with himself even in this matter of marriage being lawful with women from among the People of the Book.
Though, in the view of the majority of the Sahabah and the Tabieen marriage with women from among the People of the Book is lawful in itself as in the Qur’an, but marrying them is not free of the many consequential disorders for one’s own person, his children, rather for the whole Muslim Community, which would necessarily emerge as borne by experience.
There also a risk of Muslim men ignoring the chaste Musim women for the sake of marrying women from the People of the Book who are more beautiful than the Muslim women. The inter-mingling of two faiths poses fitnah where one’s own religion is at risk. Therefore, while it is lawful to marry chaste women from the Jews or the Christians, caution must be exercised by Muslim men.
The list of the women of prohibited degree [marriage with whom is not lawful] is the same in their religion as in Islam. Also, the way it is necessary in Islam that marriage be pronounced openly, and in the presence of two witnesses, so it is with them – even in their present religion, the same injunctions continue.
[SOURCE: Maroof-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]