May 5, 2014 By Interactive Scholars

Can I date my fiancé


This question is sort of motivated by the Q and A you have carried last time about the age for marriage. The problem we face today is that issues regarding the violation of women’s rights and injustice against women are debated only after they became controversial. After they are hotly discussed by the media, we forget them.

In the domestic sphere, there are attitudes and approaches from parents towards ‘girls’ (let me emphasize the word) and from husbands towards wives which we can’t consider as kind and lovable but which they justify citing verses from the Quran. But these stipulations are visible only at home and don’t get discussed outside just as age for marriage is. Hence, the chances for women to understand to put in proper perspective the behavior of male members in the family are very rare.

Recently, my marriage was fixed with a boy whom my parents have arranged for me. For some reasons, the nikah ceremony will only take place one year later. Last week we decided to meet at a coffee shop to have a chat. My father reluctantly agreed but arranged my aunt to accompany me to the coffee shop. I protested and said I wanted none to come with me. ‘Unless the nikah is over, you two are strangers and are not supposed to meet. What you are going to do is dating. That is prohibited in Islam. Islamic dating is just to see the girl and talk. For you both, that is over. You can still call him and if need be meet him. But some must keep guard. There is chance that you will get married to somebody else,’ my father said.    He also cited the Prophetic hadith that seeing a stranger is one of the evil arrows of Satan.

My question is this: my classmates fall in love; they get married (sometimes they don’t but get married to somebody else). Rarely do they have physical relationship before marriage (in fact a few of them have. But illicit sexual encounters are not reserved for unmarried youngsters alone. There are scrupulous and morally sound people whose religion does not prevent them from having illicit sex, against which one must have extreme caution. Youngsters, aided by shyness and much more innocence, are more cautious in that respect).

In most cases, premarital understanding facilitated by dating has helped in cementing ties between the prospective spouses and helped them shed inhibition. Many of my scrupulous relatives, including the aunt who was to accompany me, are divorced. Is that because of the lack of understanding before the marriage? How do you approach to the issue of dating?

There is no doubt that two people’s knowledge of each other before their marriage will help cement their relationship when they get married. This does not mean that all pre-martial intimacies will radically remove the possibility of divorce. The rate of divorce is on the increase in societies where dating is a norm. One’s capacity to love and to be loved; to show mercy and respect and to deserve them determines the longevity of marriage, as love and mercy, according to the Quran, are the two determinants of a happy marriage. We wish that the questioner’s marriage will be one.

However, understanding before marriage is recommendable. ‘Seeing’ of the would-be spouse, we understand, is a step in that direction. But seeing has become so much formalized and ritualized in certain societies that it hardly serves the purpose it is meant for: bringing two people who are fit for marriage close to each other. Many studies on the traditional Muslim jurisprudence, including that of Kecia Ali, have pointed out that marriage was, in the formative period of Islamic law, closely linked to slavery. This does not mean that Islam vouched for slavery. But Islamic law operated in the context in which buying and selling of slaves was not frowned upon. Since Muslims don’t think slavery is a recommendable institution according to the Islamic law, they have a responsibility of cleansing the law from whatever it accrued from the contexts of slavery. Unfortunately, most, if not all, aspects of the law in that particular context exist today. That is why marriage is always understood (though not necessarily actualized) in the Muslim societies, as in all societies, as an institution in which domination and power is centered upon males. This issue is to be debated in yet another context. We will come back to your question from this point.

Seeing of a ‘girl’ before marriage is understandably a custom accrued from the slave-owning context. The importance given to the seeing of ‘face’ and ‘forearm’ of the girl (no the other way around) over the conversation between the two is an example. Now, in the context where there is no slavery, seeing is meant for assessing the beauty of the girl and for making sure if the girl is fit for marriage. However there is no stipulation regarding what to see in a boy and how to assess him. Also, notions of beauty have radically changed from the space and time where it was prescribed. People may not look for attractiveness in their spouses, but certain values like boldness and openness which not seeing, but ‘free,’ unmonitored conversation will bring out.

There is nothing wrong in the custom of seeing as it is understood today. But the assumption of people that it would exhaust all forms of premarital understanding is wrong. One has the right to have a face to face conversation with the fiancé/fiancée much longer than the time for ‘seeing’ and ‘talking’ normally set for the custom. That is one reason why the younger generation migrating to the west finds dating very attractive. Though there are associations like Muslim Mothers against Dating, it hardly prevents youngsters from dating at a time when they find it fit. The popularity of dating among the Muslim youths in the US has forced the religious communities there to come up with the alternative of ‘speed dating.’ With a mild criticism of the practice, the New York Times reported: ‘Speed dating is always a bit awkward. Take away the alcohol, invite parents to watch from the sidelines, and the ritual takes on the excruciating air of a middle-school dance. (…). Dating hubs in the mosque have also cropped up. Besides being renamed, the traditional custom of facilitating interaction between the prospective spouses under the close supervision of elders still continues.  It galls many youngsters that a chaperon accompanies the youngsters to watch them and ensure proper behavior. Chaperonage is a Victorian custom for stipulating morality and it assumes static roles of a morally superior and more sensible elder and a fickle and feeble-minded youngster.  The reason why dating has become a rumbustious affair mixed with drinking and sex and, thereby, a safe ploy for sexploitation is that it was a reaction against the Victorian morality. It does not mean that all those who date drink and have sex and understand the custom as per the prevailing western definition.

It is a good thing that many youngsters who are brought up in the religiously scrupulous families have imbibed morality and ethics from the family while distancing themselves from the religious customs and traditions which they can’t find any rationale for and associating themselves with other customs and traditions which don’t violate their ethical notions. In a study conducted by Ali Razfar among the Muslims students in the US, we can see this trend. One of the students whom Ali Razfar met said: ‘It is ok to go on date alone in public spaces because then the public is the chaperon. Being in the public eye will make sure nothing funky happens.”  (Emphasis is ours). Another student said: ‘It is important as long as respect is preserved. If you mean going on a dinner date to get to know the girl then I am all for that. If it is a kind of date where you go to the local pub, get piss drink just so you can make bad decision, that is not for me. I don’t want to just get the bimbo down the street you know.’ Most of the students are too concerned to do anything which would violate the personality and modesty of women.’

The awareness that public space should ensure sanctity and therefore one must respect public space; that a woman is not just a body to sexually use; and that the custom of dating should not be mixed with drinking and vulgarity speaks volumes about the new generations’ social health.

The hadith of the prophet restraining glances is understood in the wrong sense. Prophet is reported to have seen many women in his lifetime. If we study the hadith closely, we can understand that what the Prophet advised against (there is however no normative proscription in the hadith; nor does it have any definite authenticity) is not seeing, but staring and ogling-‘fornication with eyes.’ This can’t be validly raised to proscribe the questioner’s meeting with her fiancé. Rather than asking someone not to see the member of an opposite sex, we had better desist from supposing that his/her seeing amounts to fornication with eyes.  For, only God knows about the true intention of our act.  Spirituality and ethics need not be imposed from outside (the very act of imposition is not spiritual), it should be allowed to naturally grow from inside. Let the curtain fall in our mind.

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