In light of the experience of the past years, it is time to take stock and try to halt the ever-mounting tide of divorces among Muslims. It is not unusual today to find Muslim women (and even an occasional Muslim man) who, by the time they are 30 or 35, have been married three or four times, their children suffering again and again through the trauma of fatherless and broken homes. Accordingly, we may list a few essential points to be considered by both brothers and sisters in the process of choosing a partner in life (although the masculine pronoun has been used throughout for the sake of simplicity, the following is generally equally applicable to both men and women).
1. Du'a. Unceasingly ask help and guidance from Allah, Most High, in the matter of finding and choosing a mate. As often as you feel it necessary, pray Salaah al-Istikhara, Islam's special prayer for guidance, in order to reach a suitable decision.
2. Consult your heart. Listen to what your inner voice, the 'radar' which Allah has given you to guide you, tells you about the prospective partner. It is likely to be more correct than your mind, which often plays tricks and can rationalise almost anything. For many people, first impressions are often the most accurate.
3. Enquire. Find out the reason why this man wants to marry you. Is he interested in you as an individual or will just any person do? Why is he not doing the logical thing, that is, to marry someone from his culture? If there is evidence that the primary reason for this marriage, despite claims to the contrary, is for convenience (greencard, money, property, etc.), forget it. This spells trouble.
4. Get to know your prospective partner, within the limits of what is permissible in Islam, before deciding on marriage. Just 'seeing' someone once or twice in the company of others, who may be anxious for this marriage to take place, is simply not enough under today's conditions, where two per- sons of totally dis-similar backgrounds are meeting each other without the safeguards of families. Without violating Islam's prohibition about being alone, try to understand his nature, what makes him tick, his temperament, what he might be like to live with.
5. Talk to several people who know your prospective partner, not just one, or have someone whom you can trust do this for you. Ask about him from various people, not just from his friends because they may conceal facts to do him a favour. And ask not only about his background, career, Islamicity, etc., but about such crucial matters as whether he gets angry easily; what he does when he is 'mad'; whether he is patient, polite, considerate; how he gets along with people; how he relates to the opposite sex; what sort of relationship he has with his mother and father; whether he is fond of children; what his personal habits are, etc. And find out about his plans for the future from people who know him. Do they coincide with what he has told you? Go into as much detail as possible. Check out his plans for the future - where you will live and what your lifestyle will be, his attitudes toward money and possessions and the like. If you can't get answers to such crucial questions from people who know him, ask him yourself and try to make sure he is not just saying what he knows you want to hear. Too many people will make all kinds of promises before marriages in order to secure the partner they want but afterwards forget that they ever made them, (this naturally applies equally to women as to men).
6. Find out about his family, his relations with his parents, brothers and sisters. What will his obligations be to them in the future? How will this affect where and under what conditions you will live? What are the character and temperament of each of his parents? Will they live with you or you with them? And are they pleased with his prospective marriage to you or not? Although it may not be the case in most Western marriages, among Muslims such issues are often crucial to the success or failure of a marriage, and answers to these questions need to be satisfactory to ensure a peaceful married life.
7. Understand each other's expectations. Try to get a sense of your prospective partner's under- standing of the marriage relationship, how he will behave in various situations, and what he wants of you as his spouse. These are issues which should be discussed clearly and unambiguously as the negotiations progress, not left to become sources of disharmony after the marriage because they were never brought up beforehand. If you are too shy to ask certain questions, have a person you trust do it for you. At an advanced stage of the negotiations, such a discussion should include such matters as birth control, when children are to be expected, how they are to be raised, how he feels about helping with housework and with the children's upbringing, whether or not you may go to school or work, relations with his family and yours, and other vital issues.
8. See him interacting with others in various situations. The more varied conditions under which you are able to observe your prospective partner, the more clues you will have as to his mode of dealing with people and circumstances.
9. Find out what his understanding of Islam is and whether it is compatible with your own. This is a very important matter. Is he expecting you to do many things which you have not done up to this point? If he emphasises " Haraams", especially if you are a new Muslimah, and seems unable to tolerate your viewpoint, chances are your marriage will be in trouble unless you are flexible enough to accommodate yourself to his point of view and possibly a very restrictive lifestyle. Let him spell out to you clearly how he intends to practise Islam and how he wants you to practise it as his wife so there will be no misunderstandings later.
10. Don't be in a hurry. So many marriages have broken because the partners are in such haste that they don't take time to make such vital checks as the ones outlined above and rush into things. Shocking as it may seem, marriages between Muslims which are contracted and then broken within a week or a month or a year have become common place occurrences among us. Don't add yourself to the list of marriage casualties because you couldn't take time or were too desperate for marriage to find out about or get to know the person with whom you plan to spend the rest of your life.
11. Ask yourself, Do I want this man/woman to be the father/mother of my children? If it doesn't feel just right to you, think it over again. Remember, marriage is not just for today or tomorrow but for life, and for the primary purpose of building a family. If the person in question doesn't seem like the sort who would make a good parent, you are likely to find yourself struggling to raise your children without any help from him or her - or even with negative input - in the future.
12. Never allow yourself to be pressured or talked into a marriage. Your heart must feel good about it, not someone else's. Again, allegations of "Islamicity" - he is pious, has a beard, frequents the Masjid, knows about Islam; she wears Hijab, does not talk to men - are not necessarily guarantees of a good partner for you or of a good marriage, but are only a part of a total picture. If an individual practises the Sunnah only in relation to worship or externals, chances are he/she has not really understood and is not really living Islam. Possessing the affection and Rahmah (mercy) which Islam enjoins between marriage partners is vital for a successful relationship, and these are the important traits to be looked for in a prospective partner.
13. Never consent to engaging in a marriage for a fixed period or in exchange for a sum of money. (Mut'a marriage). Such marriages are expressly forbidden in Islam and entering into them is a sinful act, as marriage must be entered into with a clear intention of it being permanent, for life, not for a limited and fixed duration.
If these guidelines are followed, Insha' Allah the chances of making a mistake which may mar the remainder of your life may be minimised.
Choosing a marriage partner is a most serious matter, perhaps the most serious decision you will ever make in your life since your partner can cause you either to be successful or to fail miserably, in the tests of this life and, consequently, in the Hereafter. This decision needs to be made with utmost care and caution, repeatedly seeking guidance from your Lord.
If everything checks out favourable, well and good, best wishes for happiness together here and in the Hereafter. If not, better drop the matter and wait. Allah, your Lord knows all about you, His servant, and has planned your destiny and your partner for you. Be sure that He will bring you together when the time is right. As the Qur'an enjoins, you must be patient until He opens a way for you, and for your part you should actively explore various marriage leads and possibilities.
Two words addressed to brothers are in order here. If you are marrying or have married a recent convert to Islam, you must be very patient and supportive with her. Remember, Islam is new to her, and chances are that she will not be able to take on the whole of the Shari'ah at once - nor does Islam require this, if you look at the history of early Islam. In your wife 's efforts to conform herself to her newfaith and culture, she needs time and a great deal of support, love, help and understanding from you, free of interference from outsiders. It is best to let her make changes at her own speed when her inner being is ready for them rather than demanding that she do this or that, even if it means that some time will elapse before she is ready to follow certain Islamic injunctions. If the changes come from within herself, they are likely to be sincere and permanent; otherwise, if she makes changes because of pressure from you or from others, she may always be unhappy with the situation and may look for ways out of it. You can help her by being consistent in your own behaviour. So many Muslims apply those parts of the Qur'an or Sunnah which suit them and abandon the rest, with resulting confusion in the minds of their wives and children. Thus, while firmly keeping the reins in your hands, you should look at your own faults, not hers, and be proud and happy with the efforts she is making. Make allowances, be considerate, and show your appreciation of the difficult task she is carrying out by every possible means. This will cause her to love and respect you, your culture, and Islam to grow infinitely faster than a harsh, dominating, forceful approach ever could.
Finally, a word of warning. Certain situations have occurred in which women, posing as Muslims (or perhaps actually having made Shahaadah), have deceived and made fools of numbers of Muslim men. Such women may be extremely cunning and devious, operating as poor, lonely individuals in need of help and/or husbands. The brothers who fall into this net may be shown false photos, given false information or promises, cheated in all sorts of ways, and finally robbed of anything the conniving lady can manage to take from them. As was said, it is wise to check out any prospective partner with local Muslims who know her.
Keep your eyes open and take your time. Since marriage is for life, for eternity, hurrying into it for any reason whatsoever is the act of a foolish or careless person who has only himself or herself to blame if things go wrong.