Dating and Arranged Marriage
In the process of choosing a spouse, Islam institutes several guidelines aimed at protecting the honor and chastity of the young couple. Dating, as it is often practiced in today's Western world, does not exist among practicing Muslims. Young men and women do not engage in one-on-one intimate relationships to “get to know each other” in a very deep way without a commitment of marriage. Young people approach courtship with the ultimate goal of marriage in mind. Islam requires chastity before marriage for both men and women, and strict fidelity to one's spouse upon marriage.
When someone decides that he or she is ready and would like to be married, the following steps often take place:
The family makes inquiries about suitable people they know. Usually the father or mother approaches the other family to suggest a meeting.
The couple agrees to meet in a chaperoned group environment. They often visit in the company of other relatives or close friends to talk and get to know each other.
The family investigates the candidate further. They may talk with friends, other family members, leaders in the Muslim community, coworkers, or anyone else who may know about the candidate's personality and character.
The couple prays a special prayer for guidance, seeking Allah's help in making a decision.
The 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 they do not want.
This type of focused courtship helps to ensure the strength of any future marriage by drawing upon the wisdom and guidance of family elders. Family involvement in the choice of a marriage partner helps assure that the choice is based not on romantic notions, but on a careful, objective evaluation of the compatibility of the couple. Such an approach helps minimize the chance for later marital conflicts and divorce.
Muhammad once said, “A previously married woman without a husband must not be married until she is consulted, and a virgin must not be married until her permission is sought.” One of the main conditions needed for a marriage to be considered valid is the free consent of both parties. Both women and men must be consulted before marriage can take place. Families are involved in the early selection process, which is really an arranged introduction rather than an arranged marriage. Under no circumstances can a parent force a child to submit to the parent's choice.
Although forced marriages have no place in Islamic society, they do take place in some minority communities. These marriages sometimes involve girls who are under the age of eighteen. They are the result of deeply engrained cultural practices, and modern governments and international organizations are working to confront this issue.
The practice of forced marriage was common during the pre-Islamic era, and Muhammad had many opportunities to confront and condemn it. In one instance, a young woman came to Muhammad and complained that her father had married her off to his nephew. Muhammad first told her to “accept what your father has arranged,” but she complained that she did not accept the arrangement. Muhammad then said, “Then this marriage is invalid. Go and marry whomever you wish.” The girl then responded that she did in fact agree to the marriage, but that she raised the issue because she “wanted women to know that fathers have no right in their daughters' matters” (that is, they have no right to force a marriage on them).
While parents are actively involved in the process of screening suitors and suggesting prospects, it is ultimately the decision of the couple whether they will agree to be married.