Non-Muslim Westerners seem to have the impression that Islam’s position on relationships is the same as theirs. They find it astonishing that dating (as they define it) is usually seen as forbidden, and many/ most Muslim parents would be angry if they found out their children were dating. On top of that, contemporary* Western culture sees marriage as quaint & nice but oldy-worldy & ultimately unneccesary. Islam, however, is very clear that marriage should be the aim of relationships.
* Note I said contemporary. Only a few decades ago the West believed in marriage just as strongly as the Islamic world traditionally does. But I digress.
Muslims wishing to abide by the faith properly and living in the West are thus often in a dilemma. How do they get married to “good brothers”/ “good sisters” amidst a culture that demotes marriage’s value & promotes extramarital relationships? It too often brings confusion & frustration, and even a degree of alienation from parents because they find this issue unrealistically clear-cut: find someone good (however good is defined), marry them, make babies, done.
Oh, and no dating.
Oh! Finally beta (son) is getting married! About bloody time!
However, it seems most lay Muslims & scholars are misinformed about what Western-style dating actually is. As I used to, they think it means a man & woman meeting one-on-one in private, which is near enough certain to lead to premarital sex – which is unequivocally forbidden. In reality, however, it’s not significantly different to how men & women meet in Islamic matchmaking services. It’s all done in public, and the prospective couple are just talking to see how compatible they are. The only difference with Islamic matchmaking is that physical contact is not allowed until marriage. Western-style dating was exactly the same pre-WW2.
As such there are various ways Muslims can find a good spouse, some traditional, some in response to modern Western ways:
- Forming networks with same-sex peers (friendships in simpler language) in youth & getting their assistance.
- Arranged marriage: the parents find someone they think would be suitable for their son/ daughter & with their consent set up a chaperoned meeting between them & their families.
(Important notice: many Westerners have the misconception that arranged = forced. It’s true that forced marriages happen, but that is totally against Islam. The parents have the right to suggest & opine based on their wisdom & experience, as well as find out more about the prospective spouse’s character via other contacts, but it’s up to the person her/himself to make the final call based on the experience they’ve had directly with the prospective)
- Courtship: somewhat similar to Western-style dating except done in groups, and the couple are “officially” engaged. This is a brief transitional phase between meeting & marriage, and as I said before no physical contact is allowed.
- Matrimonial/ matchmaking events: honestly it’s damn near the same as speed-dating but on a bigger scale. It’s 1-on-1 but all in public with hosts present, and prospectives (at least females) have the option of bringing chaperones or not.
- Internet matchmaking services: there has been a huge surge in the number of such websites (Muslima, Zawaj, Single Muslim, Salaam Love, etc)
- Forming opposite-sex friendships: girls & boys talk to each other as friends, which may spark a deep interest between a couple and lead to marriage. The initial friendship may be started at school, college, uni, work, or just out on the street. Probably not in masajid though; most mosques in London don’t allow women in (because they’re usually run by Pakistanis or Bengalis) and those that do have separate parts for women & men. Scholars don’t seem to mention this option at all, but it works in real life.
- Matchmaking imams: basically the same as arranged marriage but the imam takes the place of the parents.
- Dating, Western-style (as scholars usually understand it – all-on touching, flirting, snogging, just looking for a good time with no strings attached, even premarital sex): this is categorically forbidden.
- Fornication: having lovers/ mistresses/ ass on the side for the purpose of sex and nothing else, categorically forbidden. This also includes nikah mut’ah (temporary marriage), which is practised or at least espoused by Shi’a Muslims as far as I understand.
- Dating, done 1-on-1 but in public, with the understanding that marriage is the aim & physical contact is off-limits. This is pretty popular and despite scholars has yet to be proven forbidden.