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by Habeeba Husain

It was my freshman year of college when I was first asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?” A fellow freshman girl who shared two of my four classes raised the question during a conversation consisting of mostly small talk. I proceeded to answer her in the negative and explain how in my family, we do not date. Her eyes slightly widened and her eyebrows raised out of curiosity as she asked her follow-up, “Then how do you get married?”

The easy small talk quickly turned into a much deeper conversation about religion, culture, and personal family values. Islamically, a private meeting between a man and woman who are unrelated is not allowed. A narration of the Prophet (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) states, “Behold! A man is not alone with a woman but the third of them is the Devil” (Tirmidhi). While Muslims cannot date in the Western understanding of the term (as it often implies intimacy and physical contact), they can still get to know one other for the purpose of marriage. This means they can meet, talk, and explore each other’s likes/dislikes as long as there is a third party present to keep the conversations appropriate. Islam requires a serious level of commitment from the man before he is allowed to be intimate/close to a woman. Information like background, education, future goals, and religiosity are often exchanged.

Some confuse the Islamic notion of marriage that often includes parental and familial input with their preconceived notions and misunderstandings of “arranged marriage,” which is usually seen as a forced union between two people who do not really care to be with one another (sometimes they have not even met!). However, due to family “arrangements,” they find themselves at a wedding—their own. Sometimes there are success stories, and sometimes there are not. The same can be said for couples who move in together or even have children with each other before tying the knot—sometimes there are success stories, and sometimes there are not.

But for me and my family, “arranged marriage” never took on this meaning at all.

For us, marriage was more of a family affair. Instead of a young person going out and trying to find a spouse all on their own, their family and friends would help put them in contact with one another. Even after learning of a potential match, the research and “getting-to-know” phase did not occur on a one-on-one basis. Families met and gauged whether their son/daughter would be a good fit for the person they were meeting. Ultimately, the decision of “I do” was left up to the individuals looking to marry. If one did not feel comfortable for whatever reason, they told their parents, who would then communicate it to the other family. The process is a formal one, and can save lots of potential heartbreaks and emotions. The process is still an emotional one, of course. This is a marriage we are talking about! But having this familial involvement definitely helps keep a level head when making decisions so big for the future. Every Muslim approaches this subject differently. But I feel there is one commonality—trust in God.

No matter how well you get to know someone before marriage, only God knows how the holy matrimony will pan out. Because of this reality, Muslims often perform the Prayer of Guidance, asking God to bring to them what is good, turn away what is bad, give them what is best, and allow them to be happy with the result. This prayer acknowledges that God knows, and we, as mere humans, know not. While in many marriages, we see the central theme of love put on full display, for many Muslims true love makes its appearance after marriage, after the commitment is made, after the relationship between the man and woman becomes permissible.

So to go back to that question “Then how do you get married?” I have to say, after doing your due diligence of research and family efforts of getting to know a potential spouse, the most important factor is trust in God.