Choosing a Partner
Both men and women have the freedom to choose a partner in marriage. As discussed in Chapter 6, forced marriages are prohibited by the Koran and Sunnah. The man and the woman must both consent to the marriage. This does not mean the marriage cannot be arranged, as is often done in the Middle East. An arranged marriage is not as awful as the phrase implies—more often it refers to a man and woman being introduced to each other. Family, relatives, or friends normally do the matchmaking in an arranged marriage. If sparks fly, the man formally proposes to the woman or her family, asking for her hand in marriage.
Who Will Choose the Partner?
Sometimes parents pressure children into a marriage they do not want. In such a case, if the son or daughter accepts despite his or her inner disapproval, the marriage is legal. However, Islamic tradition discourages pressuring a couple into marriage, as it sometimes results in the joining of two people who are incompatible, which may lead to a broken family.
Finding a partner through dating is possible. Dating is a sensitive issue to Muslims because it combines the togetherness of a man and woman who are strangers to each other (in this context, strangers are all nonrelatives, with the exception of cousins). Most scholars denounce dating, but dating may be permissible as long as it observes the rules of modesty found in the Koran. The couple should agree that the date is a chance to get to know each other with the honorable intention of possibly getting married, rather than a chance to make out. They must not touch each other. Modesty is not only limited to their gestures, but should rule their speech as well.
It is perfectly normal and acceptable if a couple wishes to marry for love. Although some conservative families frown upon a son or daughter who's in love prior to marriage, the Koran and Sunnah show no objection to love being the reason behind a marriage. On the contrary, many scholars say it is preferable if the couple shares warm emotions, as this guarantees some measure of harmony in their married life. The Koran describes the creation of man and woman so that they marry and live together in harmony: “And of His signs is this: He created for you mates from yourselves that you might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy” (30:21).
The Koran allows a Muslim man to marry a Christian or Jewish woman, but Muslim women are allowed to marry only Muslim men. This is possibly because the dominant religious environment in the household, which will influence the children, is attributed to the father.
The Engagement Period
The Sunnah approves and recommends an engagement period prior to the wedding. Since some couples don't know each other well enough before the proposal, the engagement period allows them to develop a close relationship. Often, the man may visit his fiancée under the supervision of her parents or guardians, or they may go out together in public places only, preferably with someone who's a relative of the bride.
Technically, an engaged couple is not yet married, and therefore the rules of modest conduct listed in the Koran apply. If they go out, they must remain within busy public areas, and not go near deserted or dark places. For example, it's okay to visit malls, restaurants, and parks, but places like movie theaters, the beach at night, or the car in a deserted parking lot are not allowed. Prophet Muhammad said that Satan is always in the company of a man and woman who are together in privacy, meaning that Satan will play with their minds until the two are drawn together inappropriately.
According to the Koran, the engaged couple certainly cannot engage in sex with each other. If they did sleep together, it would be considered fornication. They'd be sinning if they even kissed. How do I know if we're a good match? has no application in Islam—Muslims trust that if you find emotional harmony together, chances are you will find physical harmony as well. The Koran is very strict about limiting sexual intercourse to marital relationships.
Why is sex a sin for an engaged couple?
They may have every intention of getting married, but it's a common occurrence that engagements break up prior to marriage. The woman will have lost her virginity and might even end up pregnant by a man who's not her husband.