Why has Islam allowed a person to meet and look at a prospective bride?
بسم الله الرحمن الرحیمAnswer
Islam has permitted 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 ﷺ once said to Mughīrah ibn Shuʿbah (may Allah be pleased with him), “Look at her, for this is more likely to create lasting affection between you” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī, 1087; Sunan Ibn Mājah, 1865). The Prophet ﷺ once said to a companion, “Go, and look at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Anṣār” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 1424). The Prophet ﷺ himself looked at a prospective bride (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 5030).
Imam Nawawī (d. 676/1277) mentions that it is mustaḥab (desirable) to look at the prospective bride. This is the view of 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 enables a person to ascertain the beauty and physique of a person (Sharḥ Muslim, 9: 210). This is the reason why Islam has allowed a person to look at a prospective bride. Some Ḥanafī scholars have also given permission to look at the feet (Radd al-Muḥtār, 6: 369) whilst many Ḥanbalī scholars have permitted looking at other parts of the body that are generally exposed, for example, the hands (al-Mugnī, 7: 96; Fatḥ al-Bārī, 9: 182, al-Inṣāf, 8: 17).
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 Saīʿd Pālanpūrī Ṣāḥib (b. 1362/1942 – ) explains in Raḥmat Allah al-Wāsiʿah (5: 38) that there are two aspects of a person: firstly, the physical appearance and beauty (ṣūrat), and secondly, the character and lifestyle of a person (sīrat). 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 famous Ḥanbalī scholar, ʿAllāmah Ibn Qudāmah (d. 620/1223) explicitly mentions that it is not permissible for him to be alone with her, as this is prohibited (al-Mugnī, 7: 96). The Sharīʿah has only permitted looking. He mentions that another reason for the prohibition is that spending time alone could lead to sin. The Prophet ﷺ has said, “A man is not alone with a woman except the third of them is Satan” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī, 2165). Furthermore, it is not permissible for a man to touch a woman with or without lust (al-Durr al-Mukhtār, 6: 367).
Allah knows best
6 Shaʿbān 1436 / 24 May 2015
Approved by: Mufti Shabbir Ahmad Sahib