Hello, I am a Christian, and have greatly enjoyed browsing your archives and learning more about your religion. I understand that Muslims are discouraged from flirting or dating in order to prevent fornication. I have browsed through your archives and read responses to other questions of this nature implying that it is best not to even talk about personal things with the opposite sex. Instead, by keeping conversations limited to work/school etc. flirtation is avoided. My question then is, how is a young person supposed to fall in love??? If you are not allowed to spend time together in a personal way, or talk about personal things, or convey favor to one person (ie. state that you have affection - which is flirting). Then how can you get to know a person well enough in order to: a) fall in love? b) decide that they are the person you want to spend the rest of your life with? How is a Muslim boy/girl supposed to know if their partner will be a loving parent, a good provider, an enjoyable companion etc. if all contact before marriage is limited to formality and distancing between the sexes? Thank you for your time.
Amani Aboul Fadl Farag
Salam dear Carine,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Although I have answered many questions concerning the issues of male-female relationships and whether Muslim society is mixed or segregated, apparently those subjects are always on top of controversial issues and need regular refreshment!
In all societies men and women communicate for different reasons at work, in business, in market places, in classrooms, etc. In such cases what do we need intimacy for? When intimate feelings grow between a man and a woman whose intentions are not directed towards marriage, it becomes a serious problem that may lead to an extra- or pre-marital sexual affair, which is not accepted under any circumstances.
But in some cases a couple feels a certain attraction towards each other with a “serious” intention to get married; here the situation becomes different. In this case meeting and talking are not only permitted but also recommended. The Prophet (peace be upon him) directed the couple who are planning for an engagement to talk and look at one another in order to make the decision. This is to be considered the basis upon which love and affection is established between them.
However such closeness with the intention of getting married is not left without limits; as I have just mentioned, pre-marital sex is not allowed under any circumstances. A woman must never be alone with a man in a private place; she should have her father, brother, or uncle with her. Or in the case of converts or others who don’t have family to chaperone, a potential couple can double-date with a married couple or in a public place, while keeping with the shar`i limitations. This way the potential spouses can get to know each other and also see how they interact with others, which is just as important in getting to know a person.
Also, in Muslim countries it is the custom for a man and woman, once they have agreed to marry, to have a `aqd (signing of the marriage contract) some weeks or months before consummating the marriage and living together. After the `aqd they are legally married and may be alone together. For more about such matters you can submit your detailed questions to our Ask the Scholar page.
Away from the religious ruling of prohibition, I doubt that pre-marital cohabitation or even flirtation can lead to a better understanding of the “would be” husband or wife. On the contrary, this type of relationship confines love to that of a physical attraction, which, I believe, is too strong to allow reason to work in a proper way.
Tom Stoppard, the famous British playwright, once stated that “sex is the attraction that Newton left out.” An attraction of such severity can possibly blind the eyes from detecting the actual defects in the future life partner; whereas keeping a reasonable distance from him or her may give a better overall vision that does not concentrate on one aspect—that of physical desire—at the expense of other aspects that are related to the personality. In addition to this, with marriage being a decision of such magnitude, parents are invited to give their opinion about it. This decision is made not only through passion but through the experience of life, which young couples definitely lack.
Islam looks at this relationship as a sacred responsibility and not as a love game or temporal pleasure. In this way Islam’s restriction on over-intimacy between man and woman, even in case of a planned marriage, is not meant to fail this marriage as much as it is to supply it with all possible factors of success: first by making it a wise decision based on reason and logical thinking, away from the pressure of sexual desires; and second by making it “imperative” for the parents to give an opinion.
Hope the above is helpful. Thank you and please do keep in touch.