The most common questions I get from young people are, "Do Muslims date?" and "If they don't date, how do they decide whom to marry?"
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.
So in today's world, how do young people manage? First of all, Muslim youth develop very close friendships with their same-sex peers. This "sisterhood" or "brotherhood" that develops when they are young continues throughout their lives. When a young person decides to get married, the following steps often take place:
Young person makes du'a (prayer) for Allah to help him or her find the right person.
The family enquires, discusses, and suggests candidates. They consult with each other to narrow down potential prospects. Usually the father or mother approaches the other family to suggest a meeting.
Couple agrees to meet in chaperoned, group environment. Umar related that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Not one of you should meet a woman alone unless she is accompanied by a relative (mahram)." (Bukhari/Muslim). The Prophet (peace be upon him) also reportedly said,
"Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan (Shaytan) is the third among them." (Tirmidhi). When young people are getting to know each other, being alone together is 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 weakness, so this rule provides safeguards for our own sake.
Family investigates candidate further - talking with friends, family, Islamic leaders, co-workers, etc. to learn about his or her character.
Couple prays salat-l-istikhara (prayer for guidance) to seek Allah's help in making a decision.
Couple agrees to pursue marriage or part ways. 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 successful.
By Huda Dodge, About.com Islam guide