A group of six twenty-year-old girls is sitting huddled together on the campus cafeteria stairs. They are all listening intently to one of the girls, as she describes the scene at her parents’ drawing room the night before.
“I entered with the tray of drinks. I was so nervous! As I stood in front of him with the tray…”, she pauses for effect, holding out her hand, displaying the sparkling rock on her finger.
There is a ripple of excited giggles, as the other girls inch in closer.
“He looked up at me! As he stretched out his hand to take the drink, our eyes met for a few seconds…”
Most people wistfully look back at their twenties as a time of youthful exuberance, carefree leisure, nouveau ambition, and as the time when physical health and good looks are at their peak.
Still, I’d guess that very few adults miss the anxiety and social pressure related to the marriage proposal process that starts in the twenties, entailing (for most) months or even years of earnest prayers coupled with frantic searches to find their other half.
I can still recall the confusion, anxiety, and stress related to marriage proposals during my early twenties. Finding a suitable spouse nowadays is still not an easy matter for single young men and women.
Youthful Dreams of the Future
No one wants to end up alone in life. Whether one begins to desire marriage during their teens, twenties, or thirties, the dreams and fantasies of a happily-married future commence almost as soon as a young Muslim hits adulthood.
As university or college graduation approaches or passes by, many a young Muslim adult finds him/herself fantasizing about romance, love, and marriage. Their hormone-fueled desires reach a peak as they hit the two-decade mark, and notwithstanding their career-related ambitions, seeking a spouse to settle down in blissful matrimony is a goal that fast begins to dominate their list of priorities.
Destination Within Sight, Entrance Forbidden
Let’s just bypass the whole Rishta (proposal) process for the sake of this article, much as I am tempted to comment on it, and assume that after much anticipation, prayers, networking efforts, awkward drawing room ‘interviews’, innumerable phone calls/Skype sessions, or even a couple of desperation-fueled Umrahs, a young singleton finally gets engaged with their parents’ consent and approval and is very happy and at peace with the decision.
As if the test of spending years praying for and using all practical means to seek a righteous spouse wasn’t enough, the next trial now begins.
This trial is yet another test of patience for any engaged couple who fears Allah (swt) and wants to abide by His commands, laws, and prohibitions, regarding their mutual interactions (or lack thereof).
If an analogy were to make the matter clearer, just imagine placing a large dish full of delicious food in front of a person who has been starving, and ask them to refrain from eating it.
Imagine what that would feel like!
Parents and Families Causing Undue Delays
Depending on the level of religious practice in every family, the difficulty or ease of the engagement period varies.
The commonly witnessed trend is that the more freely a couple interacts with each other before the Nikah, the more difficult it is for them to wait for the marriage, and the more prone they are to misunderstandings in the interim.
Sadly, many engagements break because of misunderstandings during this extended period.
As for the parents of an engaged couple, most tend to completely forget the intensity and awkwardness of unsatisfied sexual desires during youth. They tend to focus primarily on the practicalities related to the wedding and preparations for the parties/functions.
Many parents also tend to give undue importance to the participation/presence of close and distant relatives at the wedding, which causes further delays in the engaged couple’s Nikah.
In short, the longer the engagement, the greater the difficulty for the engaged couple.
What Does the Shariah Say About Talking to a Fiancée?
Islam is very clear about the allowed level of communication, frankness, and social mingling between men and women who are non-Mahrams.
All in-person, verbal, and written interactions between non-Mahrams should be need-based and restricted to a minimum. They should be carried out in a business-like and dignified manner, sans joking, laughing, teasing, and flirting.
Before the Nikah, even if two singles are betrothed, they are still non-Mahrams for each other, and are hence required to refrain from interacting freely.
“Before the marriage contract is done, the fiancé does not have the right to speak words of affection to his fiancé or to hold her hand because he is still a “stranger” (non-Mahram) to her and is like any other non-Mahram man. No one should take this matter lightly.” (IslamQA)
The above excerpt is from a Shafi source. Below, is one from a Hanafi source:
“And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse.” (Al-Isra 17:32) “Shariah only gives a person permission to see a prospective spouse once. Any further contact after this initial sighting is impermissible, let alone keeping in touch by calling and texting each other.” (AskImam.org]
Engaged couples are, therefore, not allowed by Allah (swt) to go out on dates, talk on the phone, Skype/email each other without necessity, or send each other text messages.
Even meetings in the homes of their parents, with others present in the same room, are discouraged, if these will lead to freer interaction, gazing at each other or other forbidden actions.
Conclusion: Err on the Side of Caution
The cases of engaged couples that I personally know of, who have transgressed the boundaries set by Islam in their interactions before Nikah, are so many that I cannot count. Almost all cases commence with ‘innocent’ phone calls encouraged by their parents. These calls lead to the desire to meet more often in person. When the latter happens, even inside the drawing rooms of parents’ homes, physical touching is not long to follow. All of these actions count as footsteps towards Zina (adultery).
I therefore urge all parents to not delay their wards’ Nikah once they have found the person to marry them off to, and to not give more importance to the nitty-gritty of elaborate wedding functions, overpriced dresses, jewellery, and guest lists than their child’s Akhirah.