Salam (Peace) Dear Carine,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Normal Interaction vs. Serious Interaction
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.
It could lead to an extra- or pre-marital sexual affair, which is not accepted under any circumstances.
When Things Get Serious: Talk!
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 chaperon, a potential couple can double-date with a married couple or in a public place, while keeping with the sharia 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 an `aqd (signing of the marriage contract) some weeks or months before consummating the marriage and living together.
After the `aqd is signed they are legally and religiously married and may be alone together.
Away from the religious ruling of prohibition, I doubt that premarital 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.
Lust Blinds Reason
Tom Stoppard, the famous British playwright, once stated:
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 intimacy between man and woman, even in the 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.
I hope the above is helpful. Thank you and please do keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)