by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D.
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA
Dating is getting to know each other. However the dating that is vogue in North America involves intimate relationship such as touching, kissing, petting, necking that ultimately results in pre-marital sex. This was not there in North America before the Second World War. The women used to wear long chaste dresses and their dating did not involve the close intimacy that we see today.
No premarital sex is allowed in Islam. Therefore, no dating is allowed on the premise that dating inevitably leads to premarital sex.
The choice of a marriage partner is one of the most important decisions a person will make in his or her lifetime. It should be taken as seriously as any other major decision in life - with prayer, careful investigation, and family involvement. It is Islamically permissible for a couple to meet in chaperoned, or group environment. In Islam consent is very important- that is neither women nor men can be married against their will. Islam has given this freedom of choice to both young men and women - they cannot be forced into a marriage that they don't want.
Qur'an and Hadith on Chastity
However, we need to keep in mind the following Islamic commandments:
" You commit no sin by announcing your engagement to the women, or keeping it secret. GOD knows that you will think about them. Do not meet them secretly, unless you have something righteous to discuss. Do not consummate the marriage until their interim is fulfilled. You should know that GOD knows your innermost thoughts, and observe Him. You should know that GOD is Forgiver, Clement." Qur'an 2:235
Â… Also, you may marry the chaste women among the believers, as well as the chaste women among the followers of previous scripture, provided you pay them their due dowries. You shall maintain chastity, not committing adultery, nor taking secret lovers. Anyone who rejects faith, all his work will be in vain, and in the Hereafter he will be with the losers. Qur'an 5:5
Successful indeed are the believers; who are reverent during their Contact Prayers (Salat). And they avoid vain talk. And they give their obligatory charity (Zakat). And they maintain their chastity. Only with their spouses, or those who are rightfully theirs, do they have sexual relations; they are not to be blamed. Those who transgress these limits are the transgressors. Qur'an 23:1-7
Tell the believing men that they shall subdue their eyes (and not stare at the women), and to maintain their chastity. This is purer for them. GOD is fully Cognizant of everything they do. Qur'an 24:30
And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes, and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their chests, and shall not relax this code in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, other women, the male servants or employees whose sexual drive has been nullified, or the children who have not reached puberty. They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake and reveal certain details of their bodies. All of you shall repent to GOD, O you believers, that you may succeed. Qur'an, 24:31
Among His proofs is that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, in order to have tranquility and contentment with each other, and He placed in your hearts love and care towards your spouses. In this, there are sufficient proofs for people who think. Qur'an 30:21
They keep their chastity. (They have relations) only with their spouses, or what is legally theirs - Qur'an 70:29-30. Chastity is defined Quranically in 23:6 as avoiding sexual relations outside marriage.
There are clear verses in the Quran against the natural results of dating; from the seemingly innocent kiss to the more obvious. According to the Qur'anic commands unmarried men and women should maintain their chastity until marriage. (5: 5, 23: 5-7, 24: 3-0-31, 70: 29-331).
Hadrat Umar (RA) related that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Not one of you should meet a woman alone unless she is accompanied by a relative (mahram)" (Bukhari/Muslim).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also reportedly said, "Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan (Shaytan) is the third among them" (Tirmidhi). When young people are getting to know each other, being alone together is a temptation toward wrongdoing.
At all times, Muslims should follow the commands of the Qur'an (24:30-31) to "lower their gaze and guard their modesty...." Islam recognizes that we are human and are given to human weakness, so this rule provides safeguards for our own sake.
Friendship with Opposite Sex
Is it wrong for two people of the opposite sex to be very good friends at school and outside of school? Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui answers " Muslims should have good elations with all people, males as well as females. At school, at work, in you neighborhood etc. you should be kind and courteous to everyone. However, it is not allowed in Islam to take a non-mahram person or persons of the opposite gender as a very close friend.
Such friendship often leads to Haram. In the QurÂ’an, Allah subhanahu wa taÂ’ala mentioned that good men and women are those who marry, do not have fornicating relationships and do not have Â“paramoursÂ” (Â“akhdanÂ” see al-NisaÂ’ 4:25; al-MaÂ’idah 5:5). Â“AkhdanÂ” are Â“sweetheartsÂ” or for a man a Â“mistressÂ” and for a woman a Â“loverÂ”. The Prophet - peace be upon him - said, whenever two strangers of the opposite gender are alone with each other, Satan becomes the third one between them. (al-Tirmidhi, 1091). (1)
It is a common thing to see a white woman marrying a man from a Muslim country. A question arises as to how they met each other before their marriage? Was it a marriage arranged by their parents?
They had probably met at work and dated each other. In the past Muslims did not date because of arranged marriages. Are parents in North America going to arrange the marriages of their young children as is done in some Islamic countries?
In Islamic countries there are matrimonial brokers and agents who work to match the brides and bridegroom. Parents have the support of the community in finding spouses for their children. Relatives, networking, social gatherings particularly weddings, make arranging marriages easier. In the United States, parents are left alone and cut off from these networks.
The more educated the girl becomes, the less contented a parent feels in arranging for her marriage. African-American Muslims, as well as Arab and Asian immigrants from cultures that practice arranged marriages--are now unenthusiastic to do the same for their own children.
In an arranged marriage, a Muslim family usually investigates the prospective candidate further - talking with teachers, professors, employers, friends, family, Imams, colleagues, etc. to learn about his or her character.
It is a well-known fact that Islamic religious or cultural events are often segregated by gender? So how are the young North American Muslims supposed to meet and marry each other?
"Young American Muslims have come up with creative solutions to dating--and they fall into roughly three categories. The first group is "Strict Muslims" who date halal (in an Islamically permissible style). The second group I call "Eid Muslims," because many are not strict in practice and attend mosques only on holidays. While technically they are dating haram (unlawfully in Islam), without chaperones, they're keeping physical intimacy to a minimum and parental involvement at a maximum. The third group dates "Sex and the City"-style (definitely haram), openly and freely leading a non-Islamic lifestyle, having premarital sex sometimes in a series of monogamous relationships. " (2)
"This "Sex and the City" group consists mostly of Muslim men who date non-Muslim women. These non-Muslim women sometimes convert to Islam and marry their Muslim boyfriends. But some are unceremoniously dumped when the man's parents arrange a halal marriage. The woman's family is naturally upset at how she has been treated, resulting in a misconception that Muslim men treat women poorly. Ironically, the "Sex and the City" Muslim man can date freely without risking his standing in the community, while a Muslim woman with the same dating pattern would not only gain a bad reputation but risk losing a good arranged marriage proposal. This double standard and poor treatment of women is not endorsed by Islam but by a general patriarchy that pervades many world cultures, including America. " (3)
"Upon getting serious with a woman they're dating, though, some of these "Sex and the City" men suddenly reassert their strict Wahhabi upbringing. They insist that their girlfriends, with whom they once openly had sex, will now have to wear a cover and stay at home, and that their dating relationship was haram. A friend of mine who had such an experience broke off the engagement with the Muslim man but retained her commitment to Islam. She said many of her friends were surprised that she didn't return to the party-girl lifestyle once her Muslim fiancÃ© was out of the picture. But she told me she is now committed to waiting to have sex again till she marries." (4)
"My friend wants to engage in halal dating--a practice gaining much popularity in the American Muslim community both among Strict Muslims and Eid Muslims. Halal dating is the first cousin of arranged marriage, with young people finding their own mates--within the guidelines of Islam--instead of their parents arranging marriages for them. Because the Qur'an advocates equality between the sexes, it does not permit premarital sex--since all the negative consequences fall upon the woman, including pregnancy, the social stigma, and the raising of the child. Premarital sex is also forbidden for other reasons, including learning to discipline oneself and practice self-control. Under Islam, when a man has sex with a woman to whom he is not married, he is being disrespectful of her, whether she is consensually participating or not. So young Muslims who engage in halal dating seek a commitment first and are vigilant about staying true to their religion." (5)
"For both Strict and Eid Muslims, couples are introduced to each other, either by parents or friends. (Less often they meet at school or in their local community.) They spend time talking over the phone or on the Internet and even going on dates, though for Strict Muslims, a chaperone is always present. Once they have decided they like each other, the couple is married under Islamic law by signing a marriage contract. This event, called the nikah, is as binding as a marriage. However, the couple is seen as engaged in most Islamic cultures and in American-Islamic culture. The signing of the agreement allows them to spend more time together. Strict Muslims still have a chaperone present and do not even hold hands." (6)
Halal dating fosters a clear understanding between the man and the woman that they are committed to marrying each other. One views the other as a life partner, not a hot prom date. Eventually they will marry in a ceremony attended by their friends and family members.
Sometimes, though, the betrothal may break up, but, because the couple was engaged in halal dating, no disgrace attaches to them. Many Muslims marry non-Muslim women who convert as a result of halal dating. Another example of halal dating that resulted in marriage is that of a divorced non-Muslimah, who met a Muslim of Pakistani descent in her medical school class. The Pakistani husband even adopted her daughter from a previous marriage.
"Islamic law itself can be fluid in matters of the heart, depending on who is wielding the gavel. Many non-Muslims see Islam as a gigantic, static monolith, when, in fact, Islam can be very dynamic. Shi'ite Muslims, for instance, sometimes use the device of muta to facilitate dating. A muta is a temporary marriage recognized under Shi'ite practice. An agreement, oral or written, is created between the man and woman, securing for the woman certain rights in the event of pregnancy or at the termination of the marriage. I recently heard of a young Muslim couple living together before their formal wedding ceremony. Their parents could not bear their children living together unmarried so they secured a muta fatwa [an Islamic legal ruling that a temporary marriage was taking place between them] for them. Their living together was then halal. "As for me, I look at it this way: Whether the use of muta is right or wrong, whether halal dating is indeed halal or not isn't the issue. In the end, we Muslims believe that God will decide, as He is the final judge of us all. " (7)
Problems of Muslim Marriages in Britain
In Great Britain, Muslim youth intermingle freely and happily with most of their non-Muslim friends. When they have friends of the opposite sex, they are almost always non-Muslims. What is the reason for this? Because there is no shame whatsoever at the school in mixing freely and exchanging views and feelings - but there is enormous suspicion placed upon young Muslim men and women who try to mix freely and exchange views as friends. This is true in the Masaajids also.
"We partly have the problem of those Muslims who simply regard this as a strict no-no, and feel teenagers of the opposite sex must be kept apart at any price. Usually all that happens here is that they are kept apart from other Muslims, but mix pretty freely with non-Muslims. Others take the line that if a Muslim sees someone of the opposite sex, one glance is allowed but then the eyes must be cast down modestly, thus making normal conversation a difficult matter, to say the least. Perhaps it is time to consider the real importance of those words - modest BEHAVIOUR, and the duty of a young Muslims adult not to 'eyeball' members of the opposite sex. In other words, seeing someone is not forbidden, but using the eyes in a certain way is. Our conversations with members of the other sex must not be sexually inviting or flirtatious in order to stir up feelings it is difficult to control, especially in the young." (8)
Elderly Muslims prevent the young Muslim adults from mixing freely. But this could result in the following major problems.
"(i) Young Muslim adults don't actually know anyone of the opposite sex as friends.
(ii) Young Muslim women don't actually like young Muslim men very much, for they are not making the same efforts to be charming and helpful towards them as the non-Muslim friends are.
(iii) In situations where young Muslim men and women have become friends, they are expected to treat themselves as brothers and sisters, and a 'love' relationship then seems out of the question." (9)
How to correct this ludicrous state of affairs. It is forbidden in Islam to seek privacy with someone of the opposite sex without a third party present. When that happens, there are grounds for suspicions, criticism, affronts to family honor and so forth. The world is witnessing male members in some Muslim countries committing murder of their young women (honor killing) for the slightest of suspicions - a matter regarded as totally un-Islamic in view of the highly stringent rules for four competent witnesses to actual acts of full sexual intimacy, otherwise people will be flogged with 80 lashes for false or unproven accusations.
"Incidentally, the laws of Islam which allow females to be alone with mahrem males has unfortunately been much abused, and girls need to be warned that sometimes even their male relatives are not safe to be alone with. The incidence of fathers, uncles and brothers (and teachers and pir-sahibs) sexually abusing Muslim girls is sadly on the increase - or, at least, is being increasingly reported. What we need is firstly to recognize that there is nothing at all wrong with young people meeting in situations where intimacy cannot occur because of witnesses; and secondly to create occasions in which they can meet safely in halal ways, so that they CAN get to know each other. The more of these occasions we can organize, whether family events or mosque events or conference events, the better. I also heartily recommend that males and females find at least some opportunities for sitting together at meals, and conversing afterwards.
We also have the problem that the type of young Muslim man or woman most praised by many Muslim elders is the ultra-serious, committed, ritualistic type of Muslim, whose Islam runs the danger of being judged by their ability to memorize Arabic passages (with or without understanding), or the growth of beard or school-uniform type of hijab, or the number of hours spent in prayers and Qur'anic study. Needless to say, I have no wish whatsoever to denigrate the efforts of these admirable people - quite the contrary. Please let that be clearly understood. However, having said that, Muslims of that type do not always make the best of husbands or wives, for they have that ascetic streak and zealousness of commitment that is beyond the reach of the majority.
May Allah grant us the grace to think seriously about the plight of our youngsters seeking good life-partners, especially our girls - many of whom may feel they are 'condemned' to marry Muslim men rather than look forward with joy to the prospect. Our young people of both sexes need to see beyond the facades, and to appreciate the nobility and talents of each other, so that they may move forward with confidence and not have a hopeful marriage collapse in trauma and dismay." (10)
Every knows that in Saudi Arabia most marriages are arranged. It is also well known that couples who once engaged to each other, are allowed to dine out together and to go to other places provided they had a responsible chaperone with them. Obviously this could be classified as a type of Halal dating or Islamic dating.
Currently in North America a Muslim family enquires, discusses, and suggests prospective candidates to their children of marriageable age. They consult with each other to narrow down potential prospects. Usually the father or mother approaches the other family to suggest a meeting. In the majority of cases the prospective bridegroom visits the bride's place with his family or alone. The prospective candidates meet and talk to each other in the presence of a chaperone. If it clicks in the first meeting, the dating process continues by telephonic conversations, FAXes, E-mail communications, Videoconferences, etc. This type of focused courtship helps ensure the strength of the marriage, by drawing upon family elders' wisdom and guidance in this important life decision. Family involvement in the choice of a marriage partner helps assure that the choice is based not on romantic notions, but rather on a careful, objective evaluation of the compatibility of the couple. That is why these marriages often prove to be successful.