Women: Choosing a husband

Q676 :Can a Muslim girl select or choose her husband? What are her rights, duties and responsibilities? What are the duties and responsibilities of parents in respect of selecting a husband for their daughter? What should parents do if the daughter insists on her own choice?

A676 : Islam has established that every marriage must be preceded by the consent of the woman who is to be married. Whether she is a virgin or a woman who had a previous marriage, her consent must be obtained before her father or guardian can act for her in any marriage contract. Indeed, when a marriage is conducted, the government registrar or other official must satisfy himself that it has the woman's full agreement. If someone is acting for her as her guardian, the government official will ask him to produce two witnesses who testify that she has authorized him to act for her in this marriage. Several are the Hadiths which tell us that "a previously married woman has more authority over herself than her guardian. A virgin must be asked concerning her marriage. Her consent may be given by keeping quiet" (Related by An-Nassaie and Ibn Majah). The distinction here between a previously married woman and a virgin is merely in the form of how consent is granted. A virgin may be too shy to state in words and she accepts to be married, while a previously married woman has learned practically that there is nothing to be shy about in marriage. The idea of a woman being forced into a marriage against her own wishes is not acceptable from the Islamic point of view. A woman came to the Prophet and complained that her father had married her to his nephew without asking her consent first. She stated that the purpose of that marriage was that her father wanted his reputation enhanced through that marriage. The Prophet annulled that marriage. When he had done, and the woman was free again, she said to the Prophet: "Now I am free. I willingly consent to this marriage. I only wanted it to be known that men have no say over women in their marriages." It is often thought that because a father acts for his daughter in marriage, he can marry her to whoever he likes, without seeking her consent. People who suggest that make a very superficial judgment. By requiring a father or a guardian to act for the woman in her marriage, Islam emphasizes the woman's honor. Marriage in Islam is the way to establish a family, and this is conducted through families. Therefore, the woman appears to have the consent of her family to her own marriage. She does not appear as the weaker party in a civil contract. In the light of the foregoing, we can state without equivocation that if a woman is forced into a marriage, then that is totally unacceptable from the Islamic point of view. Since her consent is a prerequisite for the validity of her marriage, therefore it is acceptable that she chooses her future husband. What we have to understand is that there is no rigid process of choosing a husband. If a man proposes to a family seeking to marry one of their daughters, then he must have based his choice on either first hand knowledge or proper investigation. Similarly, if the approach is made by the woman's family, then it must be based on a good knowledge of the man and his character. As we all know, Islam does not allow the sort of free mixing between the sexes which is known in Western societies. If some aspects of that social mixing is practiced among certain sections of society in Muslim countries, then that is something Islam disallows. I wish it to be understood that I am not speaking of this type of free mixing when I am giving this answer. I am simply explaining that if a woman chooses a man as her future husband and the marriage is based on her choice, this is acceptable. What we are considering here is that in a certain situation, a woman is able to know the character and nature of a man and she feels, on the basis of her knowledge, that he can make her a very good husband. It is perfectly conceivable that a woman can acquire such a knowledge of a man, either because he is her colleague at work, or because she has had a chance to see him acting in different situations. Such a knowledge would enable her to understand his character and to find out that he can be a good family man. When a woman has known such a man and wishes to marry him, she should speak to her family about it. Her father or guardian will take over and speak to the man either directly or through intermediaries. All this is appropriate. What is not appropriate from the Islamic point of view is that the woman should try to get the man into a love relationship with her as it happens in films or in Western societies. As I have emphasized on several occasions, marriage is a means to establish a family, and the family figures very prominently in any marriage right from the beginning. In cases where the admiration is mutual, as may happen if the two are colleagues at work, the man goes to the woman's father and puts his proposal. She indicates her consent to her father and the process is carried through. If a woman selects a man as her future husband and he is considered to be good for her from the social point of view, then the father is required to facilitate her marriage. He may have to go to the extent of offering his daughter to the man as a wife. If some people find this strange, let me remind them of the Hadith which is reported by Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: "Hafsah bint Umar (Umar's daughter) became a widow when her husband, Khunais ibn Huthafah, who was a companion of the Prophet, died in Madinah. I went to Usman ibn Affan and offered him Hafsah saying: 'If you wish, I will give you Hafsah as a wife.' He said: 'I will consider the matter.' I waited for a few days, then Usman met me and said: 'I have considered the matter and I do not wish to be married now'." Umar goes on in his report: "I then met Abu Bakr and said: 'If you wish I will give you Hafsah in marriage.' Abu Bakr kept quiet and made no answer whatsoever. I felt more aggrieved with him than I was with Usman. After a few days, Allah's messenger proposed to marry Hafsah and I gave her away in marriage to him. I then met Abu Bakr, and he said: 'You might have felt something against me when you offered me Hafsah and I made no reply.' I answered in the affirmative. He said: 'What prevented me from answering your proposal is that I had learned that Allah's messenger had expressed his wish to marry her. I was not one to reveal the Prophet's secret." All this makes absolutely clear that it is appropriate from the Islamic point of view that the marriage is initiated by the woman's family, either through her choice or that of her guardian.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )