Dating as it is currently practiced in much of the world does not exist among Muslims. Young Islamic men and women (or boys and girls) do not enter into one-on-one intimate relationships, spending time alone together and getting to know one another” in a very deep way as a precursor to selecting a marital partner. Rather, in Islamic culture, pre-marital relationships of any kind between members of the opposite sex are forbidden.
Islam believes the choice of a marriage partner is one of the most important decisions a person will make in his or her lifetime. It should not be taken lightly, nor left to chance or hormones. It should be taken as seriously as any other major decision in life—with prayer, careful investigation, and family involvement.
First of all, Muslim youth develop very close friendships with their same-sex peers. This “sisterhood” or “brotherhood” that develops when Muslims are young continues throughout their lives and serves as a network, a way to become familiar with other families. When a young person decides to get married, the following steps often take place:
- The young person makes dua—a personal supplication—for Allah to help him or her find the right person.
- The family enquires, discusses, and suggests candidates from among the network of people that they know. They consult with each other to narrow down potential prospects. Usually, the father or mother approaches the other family to suggest a meeting.
- If the young couple and their families agree, the couple meets in a chaperoned group environment. Umar, a senior companion of Muhammad and a powerful caliph, related that the Prophet Muhammad said, “Not one of you should meet a woman alone unless she is accompanied by a relative (mahram).” The Prophet also reportedly said, “Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan is the third among them. “When young people are getting to know each other, being alone together is considered a temptation toward wrongdoing. At all times, Muslims should follow the commands of the Qur’an (24:30-31) to “lower their gaze and guard their modesty… “Islam recognizes that we are human and are given to human weaknesses, so this rule provides safeguards for our own sake.
- If the couple seems compatible, the families may investigate further—talking with friends, family, Islamic leaders, co-workers, etc. to learn about the character of the potential spouse.
- Before making a final decision, the couple prays salat-l-istikhara (a prayer for guidance) to seek Allah’s help and guidance.
- The couple agrees to pursue marriage or decides to part ways. Unlike some cultural practices in which marriages are strictly arranged, Islam has given this freedom of choice to both young men and women—they cannot be forced into a marriage that they don’t want.
This type of focused courtship helps ensure the strength of the marriage by drawing upon family elders’ wisdom and guidance in this important life decision. Family involvement in the choice of a marriage partner helps assure that the choice is based not on romantic notions, but rather on a careful, objective evaluation of the compatibility of the couple. That is why these marriages often prove very successful in the long-term.
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