written by abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed
Allah Created. And among His unique qualities is that He Creates without precedent.
Before Allah Decreed it, there had never been a “pair” of anything. What He made could never have been imagined by any of His Creations, and what He Created was something wonderful, walhamdolillah.
He has described the husband and wife as garments for each other. Think about that — if you are unmarried something about you is fundamentally incomplete.
Allah has decreed that man and woman each has free choice. So how will you choose to complete the pair?
When you shop for your spouse, what will you look for, who will you ask, and what questions or discussions will follow? Length? Width? Color? Perhaps.
The sunnah in Islam is to find out the information that will cause you to know whether to propose to someone or accept that person’s proposal. And when you have what you need to know, then you should proceed with the proposal or else stop.
This differentiates Islamic practice from other courtship rules in as much as other rules would permit courting as entertainment, ie, dating.
If you want to take your spouse on a date, bismillah. If you want to go on a date with someone to whom you are not married, beware the evil into which shaytan would lead you.
The same discretion should enter your questions and conversations before marriage. It is perfectly reasonable to have conversations whose only purpose is to establish that you two can have an easygoing and light conversation.
Yet too many open-ended conversations might lead to affections developing, and at that point many commentators have pointed out that people’s brains switch off: at that point they see only good in the other person. One writer even said that the person in love is as unreasonable as a drunk person.
Indeed Allah does not hold us accountable for our feelings: just as the pen is lifted for the intoxicated person — but the person who is intoxicated now may find tremendous punishment for his actions while he was sober: when he had the aql to avoid drink. And in the same way, Allah may hold us to account for indiscretions committed before we fell (intoxicated) in love — blameworthy actions that led us to a state of love, actions committed when we still had the aql to avoid them.
At the same time, how the other person makes you feel is important. Indeed when the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam found out from Jaabir that Jaabir had selected a woman to marry, the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam did not first ask Jaabir if she were a pious woman. He asked if Jaabir had seen her, looked upon her. And he advised doing so until Jaabir saw what would cause him to marry. Implying that it would have been possible he might not see it, and thus might not marry. And Allah’s Decree was that he saw, and they did marry, alhamdolillah.
So we know looking is allowed and that implies that other investigation is, too, because when you observe a person you do not see them posed or on a runway, naudhobillah, like clothes in the store. You see them in life, and you observe their interactions so inquiries into those are like what you would see, permissible at least as to what could be seen.
With so many warnings in mind, you may imagine that the only conversations and questions should be about deen: “How many verses have you memorized and of how many of them have you studied the tafseer?” “What are your favorite adhkaar — in salaat — before the basmallah?” “Do you read Muslim more often, or Bukhari?”
Those questions are… odd. Let’s face it — if you are starting out with conversations like those… Who are you marrying? Your shaykh? Shaykh Waleed is already married, folks.
So which questions then should come first? Indeed, Imam Ahmed, RahimAllah, advised that questions about deen should be the very last ones a person asks. Why? For a beautiful reason: good deen beautifies a person and it is better to reject a physically beautiful woman for her ugly deen, than to reject a woman whose deen is beautiful to you for any other reason.
This principle is so strong that it may help explain why the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam re-married the daughter of Omar, Umm al Mumineen Hafsa, radi Allaho anhumaa. Jibreel alayhis salam conversed with the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam about her taqwa and ibadat after their initial divorce, and it was some time after that conversation that they remarried, alhamdolillah.
Interestingly, from the sunnah, there is also the case of Umm Salamah, also Umm al Mumineen, walhamdolillah. She was widowed and had children from her marriage. And after her iddah the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam came to her to propose marriage. And clearly no one had more beautiful deen than him, sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam.
And yet, knowing that, she was prepared to reject him — not for his qualities, subhanAllah, but for her own issues that needed reconciliation. Her children — that they should have a father who loves them. Her age — that she avoid a situation whereby her husband find her at all lacking. And her jealousy of other women — including the other wives of the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam.
And mashaAllah, this case shows us one of the keys to a successful courtship — indeed a successful courtship by the way, is one that ends in a marriage that pleases Allah. The nikah is just one moment, the exchange of a few words. And what follows the nikah is much more than just one night.
Keep that in mind: the success was more likely to come in marriage because the qualities the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam showed in his responses to her were qualities of a successful husband. Her children he promised would be just like his own to him. As for age he compared theirs as reassurance to her. And he prayed to Allah for an easing of her jealousy, walhamdolillah.
Three beautiful qualities (at least) are easy to see in the responses: accommodation, empathy, dua/taqwa/tawakkol. Okay i squeezed three qualities in there for the last example, but alhamdolillah alaa kulli haal, it is difficult to pick only a few traits from his example.
We know that Umm Salamah was a perceptive and intelligent woman — witness her advice to the Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam at Hudaybiyyah. Thus she must have seen in his answers what she needed to know to accept his proposal, alhamdolillah. And indeed it was a successful marriage.
Before embarking on advice about specific questions or conversations you could have when looking for your wife or husband, reflect again on the example of Umm Salamah’s proposal and what followed: how could she have asked such good questions? She was aware of her own needs. And she knew the difference between her needs, and her wishes.
A Messenger of Allah for a husband? A wish. Her questions reflect that she knew, too, her needs. And you should, too, before you propose or respond to a proposal, wAllaho’Alim.
Otherwise, if you merely read to each other from a list of questions or conversation-topics — at best you are throwing darts in the dark wondering if you will hit something that yells out in surprise. And at worst you are ignoring the concerns that should be addressed.