Seeking marriage is highly recommended in Islam. Having taken the decision to marry, the hunt for a potential spouse begins. With the help of relatives, friends and at times matrimonial services the task becomes faster and easier.
However, while looking for a potential mate, one must remember that this cannot be done at the expense of the Islamic rules pertaining to modesty and respect between the sexes. Therefore, proper Islamic guidelines must be followed.
Firstly, one must be sure of the reason why they want to take this step. It should be based on the Islamic perspective, i.e., the Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (sa).
Secondly, it is important to be clear of what you are looking for in a spouse. The Quran enjoins Muslims to select partners, who are good and pure.
“Good statements are for good people (or good women for good men) and good people for good statements (or good men for good women).” (An-Nur 24:26)
According to sound Hadeeth: “Men choose women for four reasons: for their money, for their rank, for their beauty and for their religion, but marry one who is religious and you will succeed.” (Bukhari) This, of course, applies to women as well. If we want to have healthy Muslim families, then Deen has to be the priority. After this we may consider our personal preference, since attraction is necessary for the success of a marriage. This includes social status, appearance, age, etc.
Thirdly, one should use the help of others: especially parents, relatives, an Imam or respected and trustworthy members of the Muslim community. They will not only be your reference, but will, Insha’Allah, suggest individuals as prospective spouses, thoroughly screen and check proposals, call references and initiate and participate in the communication process.
Remember, however, that the final decision is yours.
While backbiting is generally forbidden in Islam, marriage investigations are an exception to this rule. The people you ask may know something about your prospective spouse. If they reveal this information, they would not be backbiting from the Islamic perspective. In fact, in the case of seeking marriage, complete information should be given about an individual, both good and bad.
Fourth, after due consideration of the available possibilities and the decision to propose marriage to one of them, the man should pray two Rakahs followed by the supplication of Istikharah. Next, he may initiate the Khitbah – the request to marry a particular woman and the expression of that desire to her or her guardian.
Often, the first meeting occurs between the women or men of the two families, in which the man conveys his wish to marry. At this point, one may pause to allow the woman and her guardian to do Istikharah and decide whether to pursue the matter further. Once there is a primary agreement between the two parties, the would-be-spouses are allowed to see each other for matrimonial purposes under the direct supervision of their Mahram relatives. This provision is expected to be conceived and executed with piety and modesty. It is not permissible for a man to see a potential wife without Hijab, since he is not her Mahram, seeing her face and hands is enough to determine physical attraction.
“When one of you asked a woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so.” (Abu Dawood) This means the two potential spouses can look at each other but not ogle or stare.
“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts). That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.) and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e., their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)…” (An-Nur 24:30-31)
Fifth, when meeting a prospective mate, one should not meet alone. “Not one of you should meet a woman alone, unless she is accompanied by a relative within the prohibited degrees.” (Bukhari)
The two cannot be in a situation, where no one else can see or hear them. Instead, a discreet, chaperoned meeting should be set up. Meetings between prospective spouses must not last for an extremely long time, like being away most of the day to meet this person. There should be an allotted time for the two to meet and talk.
When talking to each other, one must remain within the Islamic guidelines, thus, being to the point and being businesslike (no flirtatious speech or of a sexual nature). One must be honest with regards to their credentials, background and other pertinent details about their personal lives.
Some of the topics to discuss can include each other’s interests, financial situation of the man, level of Islamic knowledge and practice, future career and education plans, home making skills, where the couple will live right after marriage and the two potential spouses’ relationships with their parents.
Finally, one should take their time before making hasty decisions. More time must be given to checking facts and references. There should be a firm and clear intention of either pursuing marriage, or if proven incompatible, a quick end to the relationship. This ensures that both sides would be safe from transgressing the boundaries of Islam. However, once a promise of marriage is made, it should be fulfilled, unless there is a valid reason for withdrawing it.
May Allah (swt) accept our sincere efforts in this regard, and may we always keep in mind that even if things do not work out, our having made Istikharah means that we have now left it to the will of Allah (swt) and we should be pleased with what He wills and never be disheartened.