Making sure that Muslims are well-matched in marriage is one of the most important and potentially difficult functions in Muslim society. The individual seeking marriage must have his/her priorities straight and be clear about which characteristics are most important in a spouse in order to have a successful marriage. There are many characteristics that are important in a husband or a wife but some are exceedingly more important than others. Emphasising the wrong qualities can lead to disaster down the road just as being neglectful of certain considerations can do likewise. When we come to understand the goals and priorities of marriage in Islam, we may be guided to the Islamic methodology of seeking marriage in Islam and stop blindly following the disbelievers in their ignorant notions of the importance of 'getting to know each other' and other such concepts which in reality contribute nothing to and, more often, sabotage a marriage.
Prophet Muhammad (may Allah exalt his mention) taught us in many Ahaadeeth (prophetic statements) about the various characteristics which one looks for in a spouse and their relative importance. Among those Ahaadeeth are the following: "A woman is married for her religion, her wealth or her beauty. You must go for the one with religion, may your hands be in the dust! (if you fail to heed)" [Muslim] And also: "Choose carefully for your seed (offspring). Marry those who are equivalent (or 'qualified') and give to them in marriage." [Ibn Maajah & Others]
In the following sections, we will discuss, if Allah wills, some of the most important characteristics that can be found in the Quran and the Sunnah (prophetic tradition) related to selecting a good spouse.
In the previous Hadeeth, the Prophet mentioned various characteristics that people, by their nature and custom, look for in a spouse. He did not advocate any of them, but merely stated them as facts of human nature, except for the issue of Deen, i.e., a prospective spouse's piety and practice of Islam - their fulfilling of what is mandatory and their avoidance of what is unlawful. About this characteristic, the Prophet said: "It is (incumbent) upon you to seek the one with piety". This is an order and quite different from the general statement at the beginning of the Hadeeth which states: "A woman is married for..." and separates the issue of 'religion' from the other mundane issues and puts it in a category by itself. Also, when the Prophet said at the end of the Hadeeth: "…May your hands be in the dust", invoking this negative outcome on those who disregard his order, it can only refer to the order to seek the spouse with piety, since that is the only order in the Hadeeth.
We must be careful not to be superficial in this issue. The mere wearing of Hijab (female Muslim attire) for women, or keeping a beard and praying in the Masjid (Mosque) for men, while obvious requirements of piety, do not by themselves guarantee it. There are many people who, at first glance, appear to be abiding by Islam, but, upon closer inspection, they have an altogether incorrect understanding of it. 'Umar bin Al-Khattaab, may Allah be pleased with him, once told someone who had testified to the goodness of a person by the fact that he had seen him in the Masjid that he did not know him due to him not having had dealings with him that involved money, as well as not having lived or travelled with him.
The characteristic of piety applies to the groom just as much as to the bride. The guardian of the woman should make this his first and top priority, just as the man looking for a wife should make it his. The Prophet said: "If someone with whose piety and character you are satisfied comes to you, marry to him. If you do not do so, there will be trials in the earth and a great deal of evil." [At-Tirmithi & Others]
Character and Behaviour
In the previous Hadeeth addressed to those in charge of the marital affairs of Muslim women and girls, the Prophet commanded them to facilitate their marriage when they are satisfied with two issues: the faith of the suitor and his character.
Character is of extreme importance in Islam and goes hand in hand with faith and piety. The Prophet has even described it as the purpose of his mission to mankind, as we can see from the following Ahaadeeth:
In the Quran, Allah establishes the relation of this issue to marriage, Saying (what means): "…Bad women are for bad men and bad men are for bad women. And good women are for good men and good men are for good women..." [Quran 24:26]
The word 'bad' in the above verse means filthy, unclean and despicable. It is a very strong word. The word 'good' connotes clean and pure as well as good.
One of the important issues of character in the mates is the quality of intimacy. This means to be kind, loving and compassionate. The Prophet said: "Marry the loving/friendly and the child-bearing, for I shall outstrip the other nations with your numbers on Doomsday." [Ahmad, Abu Daawood & Others]
Therefore, the prospective spouse must ask and find out about the other person's behaviour and manners. As a sign also, one may look at the manners and behaviour of the other person's family, for often (but not always) the behaviour of people of the same family are similar. In other words, some characteristics whether good or bad, tend to run in some families such as anger, politeness, stinginess, generosity, lying, truthfulness and so forth.
The Prophet recommended men to marry women who are child-bearing. This characteristic is related to some of the goals and purposes of marriage that were mentioned earlier such as enlarging the Muslim Ummah (community), raising pious families as cornerstones of society, and so forth.
The scholars mention that a man can look at a woman's female relatives to get an idea whether she is apt to get pregnant easily and often or not. This attribute should also apply to the man. For example, a Muslim man who had a vasectomy before getting married would not be an appropriate husband for a Muslim girl getting married for the first time.
There are many Ahaadeeth which recommend a man to marry a virgin woman, such as: "Marry virgins for they have sweeter mouths, more productive wombs and are more pleased with less." [At-Tabaraani]
Other narrations indicate that she is more likely to be pleased by a man and less likely to be devious and deceiving. Jaabir, may Allah be pleased with him, married an older and previously married woman, so the Prophet remarked: "Why not a virgin? You could have played with her and she with you."
The scholars have stressed that this good attribute applies to the husband just as it applies to the wife. One of them wrote: "Similarly, it is preferred for a person not to marry his daughter except to a virgin man if she has never been married before." 'Umar bin Al-Khattaab, may Allah be pleased with him, once heard about a woman who was married to an elderly man, so he said: "O people! Fear Allah and marry a man to a woman who is similar to him and marry a woman to a man who is similar to her."
To be concluded