Q: Why has Islam allowed a person to meet and look at a prospective bride?
A: Islam has allowed and encouraged a person to look at a prospective bride to ensure a person does not regret making a decision that has a life lasting impact. The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam once said to Mughirah Ibn Shu’bah (May Allah be pleased with him, “Look at her, for this is more likely to create lasting affection between you.” (Tirmidhi, 1087; Ibn Majah, 1938) The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam once said to a companion, “Go, and look at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Ansar”. (Muslim, 2553) The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam himself looked at a prospective bride. (Bukhari, 4833)
Imam Nawawi (May Allah have mercy on him) mentions that it is Mustahab (desirable) to look at the prospective bride. This is the view according to all four schools of thought. He further mentions that the permissibility is confined to looking at the face and the palm of the hands according to the majority of scholars as this will enable a person to ascertain the beauty and physique of a person. This is the reason why Islam has allowed a person to look at a prospective bride. Some Hanafi scholars have also given permission to look at the feet (Raddul Muhtar, 6: 369) whilst many Hanbali scholars have permitted looking at other parts of the body that are generally exposed, for example, the hands. (al-Mughni, 7: 454; Fathul Bari, 4833, al-Insaf, 8:15)
Many people misunderstand the rationale for the permission to look at a prospective bride. They think it is an opportunity to find out more about each other and learn about each other’s character and traits. This is not the reason why Islam has permitted this. Mufti Saeed Palanpuri Sahib explains in Rahmatullahil Wasi’ah (5: 38) that there are two aspects of a person: firstly, the physical appearance and beauty (Soorat), and secondly, the character and lifestyle of a person (Seerat). The rationale for the permission to look at a prospective bride is to ascertain the former and not the latter, and the permission has been granted due to necessity. The purpose of the meeting is not to ascertain the character and lifestyle of the prospective bride; even several encounters may not achieve this. The most effective method of ascertaining this is through her peers, neighbours, relatives and other associates.
It is also worth noting that the permission to meet a prospective bride is restricted to one meeting in the presence of her guardian. It has become common in our society for prospective couples to meet alone and socialise. This is not permissible. The great Hanbali scholar, ‘Allamah Ibn Qudamah explicitly mentions that it is not permissible for him to be alone with her, as this is prohibited. The Shari’ah has only permitted looking. He mentions that another reason for the prohibition is that spending time alone could lead to sin. The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam has said, “A man is not alone with a woman except the third of them is Satan”. (Tirmidhi, 2165) Furthermore, it is not permissible for a man to touch a woman with or without lust. (Raddul Muhtar, 6: 367)
Allah knows best
Aadiel Moosagie (Mufti)