DISCUSSIONS WITH A close friend of mine were once dominated by her excitement and continuous expressions that she wanted to get married. She told me she had a brother in mind that captivated her with his charm, intelligence, and handsome looks. She said that he was interested in her as well. She said many things about him, but none of what she knew was of real substance.
To help her think through her quest for marriage, I reminded her about the importance of practicing patience when choosing a mate. However, in haste, she drove an emotional whirlwind full of infatuation and excitable hormones straight into the marriage.
They were not so lucky. Within eight months the marriage was over. Incompatibilities in their practice of Islam, their cultures, and their life goals were key factors which doomed the marriage.
What was her explanation for the failure of the marriage? She said the brother was not ready for marriage. She also thought that she would not have been able to know that he was not ready even if they had not rushed. She and I disagreed.
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Choosing a mate is the most important decision to make, after taking the shahada (testimony of faith).
The Quran says,
Marry those among you who are single, or the virtuous ones among yourselves, male or female: if they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace: for Allah encompasses all, and he knows all things. [Surat Al-Nur, 24:32]
Allah places special emphasis on the importance of marriage and its role in our lives. Marriage is half of our din (religion). The Quran states,
And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are signs for those who reflect. [Surat Al-Rum, 30:21]
Because marriage in Islam is so significant, it is important to devote quality time and consideration in choosing the person in which you will spend the rest of your life. Oftentimes, intended couples spend more time planning the wedding ceremony than in pre-marital planning.
Actually, more time should be spent getting to know your potential mate. Here we provide basic guidelines that women should follow when choosing a husband.
Develop a Foundation
First and foremost, women should begin preparation for marriage with education, Prayer, dhikr (remembrance of Allah), designation of a wali (guardian) if necessary, and a study of religious practices. Education is fundamental in learning about the importance of Prayer and other Islamic traditions.
For example, women should understand that marriage in Islam starts in the dunya (world) and continues in the Hereafter. Thus we are not only selecting a mate for this life, but also for the next life, insha’Allah. Artificial factors such as social status and beauty should be regarded as less important compared to piety. The Quran says,
But to those who receive guidance, He increases the (light of) guidance, and bestows on them their piety and restraint (from evil). [Surat Al-Muhammad, 47:17]
Piety strengthens character and brings us closer to Allah.
It is natural for women to want security and for men to desire a beautiful wife. Despite society’s emphasis on these and other ideals, Muslims should refrain from placing too much effort and focus on attaining worldly ideals. In other words, ascertaining a potential mate’s sincerity in practicing the din of Islam supersedes other factors such as wealth, beauty or status.
Seek Allah’s Guidance
Women should always seek Allah’s guidance throughout their search for a spouse. And so, anytime one experiences doubt or concern in the process of vetting a potential mate she should make Salat Al-Istikhara—a Prayer for Guidance. This salah can be used at any time along the way.
Practice Proper Etiquette
Courtship in Islam has parameters. While you getting to know your potential mate, it is best to do so within the permissible guidelines. Generally speaking, a man and a woman are not to be alone if they are not married to each other. One hadith says,
A man should not be alone with a woman, for verily Satan makes a third [companion]. (Muslim)
A man should not be secluded with a woman except with a mahram (guardian). (Muslim)
Also, if an unmarried woman finds a man she is interested in, she must not stare at him or approach him directly. Consider the following general principle,
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. [Surat Al-Nur, 24:30]
All contact between the woman and her potential mate should be supervised by the woman’s wali. A wali is a legal guardian that is a friend or protector who is supposed to look out for her best interest.
When speaking to her potential mate, a woman should speak in a straightforward manner. Avoid flirtation and any sexually-oriented discussion. Instead, discussion should remain casual and include topics relevant to the pursuit of marriage.
Discovering common interests, understanding financial situations, sharing parenting techniques and relating to in-laws are examples of allowed topics for discussion.
If and when it becomes evident that the potential marriage couple is not compatible, the discussions should end.
Consider Religious Compatibility
It is important to find out if you are compatible religiously with regard to day-to-day practices. One cannot always assume that being Muslim is a guarantee that you will be compatible or “equally yoked.”
- Does his practice of Islam seem freeing or restricting?
- How does he feel about how you wear your garments? Would you prefer that he wear thaobs (traditional garments)?
- How does he measure piety? How does he spend his time during Ramadhan?
- What are his views about the cultural practices of Islam around the world?
- Does he adhere to the performance of salah (5 times daily obligatory salah) with punctuality?
At advanced stages of your exploration, talk about each other’s personal expectations.
- Ask about his views on birth control. Discuss a timeline in which you would like to have children.
- Once you have children would he prefer that you stay home? Would you rather work?
- How do you feel about home schooling your children?
- How does he feel about helping with chores around the house?
- Discuss what your living arrangements will be.
Talk to His Family and Friends
Learn about your potential spouse by talking to his family and friends. By doing this you will gain an understanding about his character. Talk to people who know him outside of his family.
- Ask questions about his manner and how he treats people.
- Find out about his temperament on various issues.
- What kinds of activities does he involve himself with in the community?
- What are his immediate and long-term plans?
- Find out his level of tolerance and accommodation for people different from him.
- How does he relate to his parents and members of the opposite sex?
- If he already has children, how does he relate to them?
- Research his character and personality by talking to people that know him.
A man of good character is highly regarded in Islam. Imam Tirmidhi narrated the following hadith,
If one whose character and religion please you comes to you (with a proposal), you should marry him (to your single women). If you do not do so, there will be tribulations in the land and great corruption.
Also get to know about his parents.
- Determine their level of likability for you. Believe it or not, this is a very important factor.
- Find out what his obligations to his parents will be once you get married.
Listen Closely to What He Has to Say
Find out why he is interested in marrying you.
- Determine whether or not he is interested solely in you or if his intentions are superficial. For example, does he want to get married because all of his friends are getting married?
- Determine if he is genuine, and if he seriously wants to marry because he is in love.
Ask Personal Questions
As the discussions continue, ask more personal questions.
- Ask him what his views are on possessions, lifestyle and money.
- Inquire about past legal issues. Has he ever had a run-in with the law?
- Does he have propensities to certain illnesses? Also, in this day and age, your potential mate should be willing to have an AIDS examination prior to marriage.
- If he has been married before, ask him how he dealt with conflict and disagreements. Make certain that he is not learning just enough about you in that he begins to tell you what he thinks you want to hear.
- Ask him about his past career and future career plans.
- Ask him questions that will reveal his values and perspectives on life and global issues.
- What are his thoughts about women’s rights?
- How important is health and diet to him?
- What is his opinion about polygamy?
Ask probing questions to help determine the possible success or failure of a marriage. The more you can think to ask, the better you will set your marriage up for success.
Attend community and social activities that he will also attend. Vary the situations and observe him to see how he interacts with people in different settings at different times.
Ponder the Long-Term
Does this man have flaws and weaknesses that can be tolerated for a lifetime?
- Is he worth pleasing for Allah’s sake even when he does not live up to expectations?
- Will he be a good father?
- Are there any situations in which he would feel himself likely to abandon his spouse?
Seriously consider the number of times he has been married if he has been married before.
Know Your Needs
Ponder whether or not he is the person that can meet your needs.
- Do not rationalize and accept characteristics you know do not suit you because you think you can change them later.
- Ask yourself, “Is he responsible and does he know how to prioritize?
- Does he respect me for who I am or does it seem like he wants to change me?
- Does he want me to grow mentally and spiritually as I continue on the path of Islam?
Marriage is serious. Do not rush into it. Operating in haste usually leads to disaster. Time is needed to get to know the person. Allah teaches that those with patience will enter paradise. The Quran describes those who please Him,
…those who show patience, firmness and self-control; who are true (in word and deed); who worship devoutly; who spend (in the way of Allah; and who pray for forgiveness in the early hours of the morning. [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:17]
Think for Yourself
Try not to assume that the way he dresses or the way he speaks are necessarily indications of his personality or how he will treat you.
- The “pious” look does not always mean that this person is pious.
- Similarly, a man who references the Quran in every conversation he has with you is not necessarily pious.
Weigh negatively any traits of his that may be artificial or that may be forms of deception to win your hand in marriage.
Go with Your Heart
Use Allah’s signs and guidance to assist you along the way. Your heart has the potential to guide in many cases where your mind may fail. Sometimes we use our minds to rationalize negative things that we may not want to see or acknowledge.
My personal experience in choosing a husband was unique because I was extremely particular. I was more particular than was my wali. When making salah (the five daily Prayers), I would ask Allah to grant me a husband that met my list of 44 marital expectations. I considered the list a prescription for a healthy marriage.
Although my intended thought my list was somewhat over the top, he agreed to all 44 conditions. We have been married for three years and counting. In fact, we got married three times—first Islamically, second civilly, and third with family and friends present at the walima (marriage feast). Al-hamdulillah!
In spite of the best in pre-marital preparation, there are no iron-clad guarantees that a marriage will be successful. Of course there are things that can help reduce problems, and we should do our part with the help of Allah in preparing for the success of our marriage. But I truly believe to be true what one friend once told me,
A marriage is like a daily battle: Every day both spouses must fight for it.
I think this is one main reason why marriage is such an interesting part of life, and that is why it becomes so dear and valuable to us when we succeed in keeping it alive.