Blind Custom That Does Not Provide a Meeting Point for Marrying Couples
Hassna’a Mokhtar, Arab News
JEDDAH, 25 April 2008 — Samar M. was engaged to her cousin for three years while waiting for him to graduate and find a job. Samar never met her fiancé, as her family is strict about women mingling with men unless they are mahram (an unmarriageable kin).
After graduating and finding a job, Samar’s fiancé asked to see her as Islam permits potential spouses seeing each other prior to marriage. “He neither liked my appearance nor my mentality,” said Samar, choking back her anger.
“I spent three years dreaming of this marriage and planning my life with him. I’m a human being and I have feelings. If we had seen each other from the beginning none of this would have happened,” she added.
Even though Islam permits and encourages potential brides and grooms to see each other — in the presence of a mahram — many people deny couples their right to meet and talk. In fact, some people only get to see each other for the first time on their wedding night.
“From an Islamic point of view the issue is decided and clear. Hadiths accurately state that a man can see the woman he wishes to marry in the presence of a mahram. The traditions and customs that deprive the couple this right must end,” said Dr. Hesham Al-Ashaikh, teaching assistant at the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University’s High Judiciary Institute.
Al-Ashaikh said that in Islam it is necessary for prospective husbands and wives to see and talk to each other.
This would help them evaluate whether their prospective partner is suitable for marriage and prevent potential future regrets.
This has been permitted in Islam to avoid misunderstanding. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “When one of you asks for a woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what induces him to marry her, he should do so.” (Reported by Abu Dawood.)
“Once they see each other, marriage isn’t obligatory. It all depends on how the couple feel about each other and what they decide,” Al-Ashaikh said. “However, some families reject the idea of men seeing their daughters believing the prospective groom may not be sincere in his intentions or may have checked other women out.”
Mamdouh Al-Balwi, 29, asked his mother to find him a suitable bride. When she did, he was not allowed to see her until his wedding night. “My mother told me she was a beautiful girl who loved poetry. I trusted my mother, yet I was still terrified and worried. What if I didn’t like her? What if we weren’t compatible? What if she didn’t like me?” said Al-Balwi. Eventually, they both liked each other.
Dr. Khalid M. Bahaziq, a psychiatric and family counselor, said that first impressions are always important. “If they are denied the chance to meet, there will be fear and anxiety. In addition to the first impression, the prospective couple must talk to know more about each other,” he said.
“When they are forced to marry someone they don’t know, the marriage either ends too soon, because the husband or the wife feels this is not the person they want to live with, or sometimes they continue to stay married but feel sour about each other. This is a matter of life and partnership.”
Different schools of Islamic thought agree that it is permissible for a man and a woman to see each other prior to marriage. They also approve of allowing a second and third meeting — with the woman’s mahram being present.
However, there is a difference of opinion in how the woman should appear in front of a man — whether wearing a hijab or not.
Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, wrote in his book The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam that some scholars have gone to one extreme or another in relation to this.
“But the best course seems to be the middle one... The eye is the messenger of the heart; when the eyes meet, the hearts and the souls of man and woman may meet as well. If the man’s intention of marriage is sincere, he is permitted to see the woman with or without her hijab and with her family’s knowledge. Jarir ibn Abdullah said concerning his wife, ‘(Before marriage) I used to hide under a tree to see her.’”
Muneera, 23, said that it is not part of her family’s tradition to allow a couple to see each other until the wedding day. When her brother’s friend proposed to her, he insisted on seeing her.
“My brother invited him to our house. He was in a living room that had a window overlooking the backyard,” said Muneera. “My brother called me to pick up something from the backyard. I showed up wearing my nightgown and my hair was in a bad state that day. I was saying all sorts of silly jokes to my brother and he kept telling me to get my act together.”
The suitor ended up marrying Muneera because he loved her spirit and spontaneity.
Abu Hurairah reported that a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and told him that he had proposed to marry a woman of the Ansar. “Did you look at her?” the Prophet asked. “No,” he replied. “Then go and look at her,” said the Prophet. “For there is something in the eyes of the Ansar.” Meaning that some of them have a defect in their eyes. (Muslim.)