Information on whether a mixed couple composed of an Iranian man and a chinese atheist woman would encounter difficulties from the Iranian authorities [IRN22140.E]

The following information was provided during a telephone interview on 24 November 1995 with a professor at the Department of Applied Social Sciences at Concordia University who is a specialist of women in Iran, and who recently published an article on women in Iran in Fireweed, a feminist academic journal published at the University of York in Toronto.

According to the professor, the law states that regardless of her citizenship or religious affiliation, a woman who marries an Iranian man automatically becomes a citizen of Iran and a Muslim. For the Iranian authorities, the act of marrying a Muslim man means that the woman subscribes to the rules of Shari'a and Islam, even if she is not Muslim.

According to the socio-economic and educational status of the husband's family, the woman might have difficulties being accepted by them. For instance, the source stated that if the family is rich, educated and liberal they are likely to accept her as a family member; if the family is poor, uneducated and fervently Muslim, the woman might experience integration problems with the family.

The professor stated that the woman would be able to live a normal life in Iran as long as she kept her atheism to herself and did not state it publicly.

If a marriage certificate is issued, it signifies that the Iranian authorities recognize and accept the marriage as legitimate, even if it was performed abroad. Moreover, the Iranian authorities abroad conduct thorough verifications of marriage registration, especially with regard to respecting the Shari'a and the civil laws. A marriage certificate would not indicate that the woman had no religion because she would automatically become Muslim upon her marriage to an Iranian man.

The following information was provided during a telephone interview on 29 November 1995 with the researcher on Iran at Middle East Watch in New York.

According to the source, the ethnic origin of the woman in a mixed marriage is not relevant to whether or not she will face difficulties in Iran, but her religious affiliation is important.

The source stated that by law a woman who marries an Iranian man automatically becomes Muslim, and is considered as such by the Iranian authorities. In other words, an Iranian man who marries a woman who is non-Iranian and/or non-Muslim will be able to live a normal life in Iran. However, an atheist Chinese woman married to an Iranian man must not declare in public that she is atheist. According to the source, there is no reason why the Chinese woman would publicly have to declare that she is atheist. In circumstances where the Chinese woman has to obtain official documents such as a passport or a plane ticket, she would have to declare that she is a Muslim even if she is atheist.

If the authorities discover that she is not Muslim or that she is atheist, they will not annul the marriage automatically. If the husband protects his wife and consents to her beliefs, the authorities will not intervene and the wife will be safe to stay in the country. The source stated that men are powerful in Iran and that marriage is considered the domain of the husband.

A mixed couple composed of an Iranian man and a Chinese woman could register at the Iranian Embassy in China and obtain a marriage certificate in Iran because the officials would assume that the woman is Muslim. Therefore, the Iranian authorities would consider the marriage legitimate. For the same reason, the marriage certificate would not show that she has no religion. On this last point, the source indicated that the Iranian authorities would not register a marriage where one of the persons stated that they had no religion.

The following information was provided during a telephone interview on 16 November 1995 with a professor at the Department of Social Anthropology at Concordia University and a specialist of women in Iran. The professor is currently working on a research project on women and the law in Iran.

According to the professor, the laws on this issue are ambiguous. The professor added that, in the above circumstances, the Iranian officials at the embassy might assume that the Chinese woman was Muslim. Iranian officials at the embassies are not necessarily inflexible when they register a marriage, and they may not ask the religious affiliation of the woman. In general, if the woman is not a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Zoroastrian or a Hindu, the marriage cannot be performed in Iran. By marrying an Iranian citizen, a Chinese woman will, in theory, have to revoke her Chinese citizenship in order to become an Iranian citizen. However, this law has not been enforced since the Shah was in power.

Muslim men who marry a non-believer or a non-Muslim can have the ceremony conducted in a mosque. However, when couples get married in a mosque, it usually means that they are religious people.

If the woman does not inform the authorities about her being non-Muslim, they will likely not care to ask. If it becomes public knowledge that the woman is non-believer, the marriage can be annuled. The family of the husband, or any other people or organizations could make a complaint about her being a non-believer and request the cancellation of the marriage. In theory, the Iranian authorities have the power to annul the marriage without the consent of the spouses. However, the professor emphasized that this does not mean they will do it, only that they have the power to do it. The professor stated that this scenario can be simply avoided if the Chinese woman says that she is a believer.

If the woman refuses to convert she will be considered a sinner and can theoretically be prosecuted. It is likely that she would have to leave the country after a divorce or the cancellation of the marriage. However, the Iranian authorities would be more lenient with a Chinese woman because she is non-European.

Legally, mixed marriages are not a problem in Iran. If the woman converts to Islam, the couple will not face difficulties living in Iran. Ethnicity (except in the case of Europeans) is not a factor in assessing mixed marriages in Iran, whereas religious affiliation does play a part in assessing such a mixed marriage.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Concordia University, Department of Social Anthropology, Montreal. 16 November 1995. Telephone interview with a professor.

Concordia University, Department of Applied Social Sciences, Montreal. 24 November 1995. Telephone interview with a professor.

Middle East Watch, New York. 29 November 1995. Telephone interview with the researcher on Iran.