Beauty is another important characteristic to be looked for in a spouse. It has a certain role to play since one of the purposes of marriage is to keep both mates from sin. The best way to achieve this is if there is a strong attraction between the husband and wife. Although this will surely grow over time, initial impressions can in some cases become an obstacle to a successful marriage. The Prophet (may Allah exalt his mention) separated Qays bin Shammaas from his wife in the famous case of Kuhl' (i.e. a woman asking for separation from her husband) and her stated reason was that he was exceedingly displeasing to her. There are many Ahaadeeth (prophetic statements) that urge the prospective spouse to take a look at the other before undertaking the marriage. Once, a companion told the Prophet that he was going to get married. The Prophet asked if he had seen her. When the man replied in the negative, he said: "Go and look at her, for it is more likely to engender love between the two of you." [Ahmad & Others]
'Umar bin Al-Khattaab, may Allah be pleased with him, once said: "Do not force your young girls to marry an ugly man, for they also love what you love."
Beauty has its role, but remember that it is way down on the priority list, under piety, character and religion. When a person puts beauty above all else, the results can be disastrous. This is one big reason young people seeking to get married must be helped by more mature family members in making their choice.
Looking at a Prospective Spouse
As we have seen, the Prophet encouraged men considering marriage to a particular woman to get a look at her. He said in another Hadeeth: "If one of you proposes to a woman and if he is able to look at a part of her that motivates him to marry her, let him do so." [Abu Daawood & Others]
Note that this Hadeeth does not abrogate the limits of what a woman may expose to non-mahaarim (marriageable relatives). She must continue to be well covered, except for her face and hands, in front of all of them, and the prospective husband, even if he has proposed, is no exception to this. Even then, he is still only permitted to see what anyone else is permitted to see. The difference is that he is allowed to take a good look - if it were not for the proposal of marriage, both would be required to avert their eyes after the first glance, as the Prophet said to 'Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, about the look at a non-mahram woman: "The first is for you, the second is against you."
Also, it is clear that the purpose of this look is very specific: to help one determine whether or not they would like to marry that person. Once that has been determined and the decision has been made, it is no longer permissible for them to look at each other. If a man and a woman decide that they want to marry each other, this does not make it permissible for them to continue to see each other. Just the opposite, since the decision has been made there is no longer any need for them to see each other and they are no longer allowed to do so. This is because until the moment the offer and acceptance of the marriage have been pronounced, there is no relationship of any kind between them and all of the laws regarding alien men and women still apply to them.
Women Looking at a Prospective Husband
The woman also has a right to look at her prospective husband. Many scholars have stated that women desire the same things that we (men) do. Some have even said that it is even more important for the woman to see the man. This is because the man holds the right of instant and unconditional divorce in case he is displeased with his wife. It is not so easy for the woman to get out of a marriage and so she must have priority on this issue.
Can a Man be Alone with His 'Fiancée'?
Again, no matter what words, promises, commitments, etc. have passed between the parties, until the marriage contract has been transacted and a man and woman are actually married, there is no relationship at all between them and they are to each other as any other strange man and woman. The Prophet has expressly forbidden for a man and a woman to be alone together. This ruling applies to a 'fiancée' just as much as it applies to any other unrelated man and woman. One Hadeeth that makes this very clearly is: "A man cannot be alone with a woman, except along with a male (non-marriageable) relative (of hers)." [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
Obviously, since those 'engaged' to be married have no legal relationship beyond any other strange man and woman, any form of touching between them is not allowed. The Prophet said: "For one of you to have your head pierced with an iron needle is better for him than to touch a woman who is not permissible for him (to touch)." [At-Tabaraani]
Muslim scholars have pointed out that it is not proper or acceptable for 'fiancées' to be alone together or to have numerous encounters, telephone conversations or internet 'chats' for the purpose of 'getting to know each other'. In fact, this is a horrible innovation that has spread among the Muslims. It must always be remembered that until they are married, they are like any other unrelated men and women to each other and their actions must reflect that fact.
This is clearly the result of the similar 'experiment' going on in Western societies over the last few decades: the more they 'open' these kinds of issues the more disastrous their marriages become. Recently, the success rate of marriages in the United States has dropped below fifty percent (50%). This is despite the complete freedom of the couples to 'get to know each other' in every way, and for as long as they wish, before marriage.
Muslims who are heading down this same road need to wake up and take heed. The Prophet said: "You will follow the ways of those who came before you foot by foot and yard by yard; (to the extent that) even if they are to descend into a lizard's hole, you will follow them."
The Difference between 'Engagement' and Delaying Consummation
In many Muslim countries, people transact the marriage contract, but agree not to actually begin the marriage until after a certain period of time. There is nothing wrong with this custom with two conditions:
- The time period is not excessively long.
- All parties understand that the two are legally married, their agreement to delay being together is not binding and there is nothing wrong if they change their mind and decide to be together before the appointed time.
This is quite different from the imported custom of 'engagement'. The only parallel to this western custom which many Muslims have adopted is what is called 'Khitbah', which is the time between the beginning of discussions and the acceptance or rejection of the offer. In short, this has no legal validity of any kind and does not change anything about the relationship between the man and woman. Extending this to very long periods of time or worse, violating the Sharee'ah (Islamic Law) during that time in the ways we have discussed is a horrendous religious innovation (Bid'ah) which has spread among the Muslims.