Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
An ‘effective virgin’ is a woman whom people consider still a virgin, even though she may have had sexual intercourse in the past without this being presently known about her. This is because virginity is something of great social weight in Islamic society, and for a past error (from which the woman has presumably repented) to affect her honor and future would be wrong. [Radd al-Muhtar, Majma` al-Anhur]
But is there any Islamic reason for why virginity (effective or otherwise) is important? If all the women married by the prophet (saaws) (except for Aishah) were non-virgins, then where is the lack of honor? Isn’t the emphasis on virginity (as opposed to emphasizing modesty or not committing zina) just cultural and non-Islamic?
It is reported in Sunan Ibn Maja and al-Mu`jam al-Kabir of Tabarani that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “Marry virgins, for they are sweeter mouthed, have more children, and more easily satisfied.”
In Sahih Bukhari, it is reported that `A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “O Messenger of Allah, do you not see that if you descended into a valley in which there is a tree that has been eaten from and a tree that has not been eaten from, which would you stop your mount at? He said, The one that has not been eaten from.’ She said, I am that one.’ That is, because the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did not marry a virgin except her.
Sayyiduna Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) asked him, Have you married?’
I said, Yes.’
He (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, A virgin or non-virgin?’
I said, A non-virgin.’
He (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, Why not a virgin, whom you enjoy and who enjoys you?’
[After this, Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) explained why he chose the non-virgin:]
I said, O Messenger of Allah, my father was killed at Uhud, and left 9 daughters, so I disliked added another inexperienced person like them [to the household]. Rather, [I chose] a woman who would take care of them and manage their affairs.’
He (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, You were correct.’ [Bukhari & Muslim]
From this, and other hadiths, the scholars have stated that the general sunna (unless there are secondary considerations) is to marry a virgin. [This is mentioned in Imam Nawawi’s Minhaj al-Talibin and its major commentaries in Shafi`i fiqh; Mukhtasar al-Khalil and its commentaries, al-Sharh al-Kabir and al-Sharh al-Saghir in Maliki fiqh; al-Bahr al-Ra’iq, al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, and Radd al-Muhtar in Hanafi fiqh; Kashshaf al-Qina` in Hanbali fiqh]
As for the social importance given to virginity, it is because of many reasons: it is a manifestation of the social importance given to sexual morality, and the importance of upholding the family unit