In this counseling answer:
“My advice is to honor the cultural customs so long as they do not infringe on the clear Islamic guidelines I have mentioned above. In case that happens, you must be open and communicate your needs to your family. You need to remind them and present to them the Islamic evidence for your case.”
As-Salaam ’Alaikum brother,
I’m glad you got to unpack your thoughts and concerns. I am familiar with Arabic culture and the process of getting married, and frankly, I agree with you on two points. The first is that it does seem like a “lottery”, and sometimes like a business deal where you “buy” the woman through the dowry. Fathers argue and discuss what their daughter is “worth” while the whole show is about their egos competing. Secondly, yes, there is a lot of cultures mixed in with Islam. Islam is not always a priority in these matters, but cultural customs are. With that said, I understand your question is essentially two parts: 1) what is the Islamic guidance on marriage; 2) how does one go about doing that in reality?
Marriage in Islam is quite simple and requires a few components to be completed. The minimum conditions for the validity of a marriage are the following:
1- The consent of the guardian of the woman;
2- the presence of witnesses;
3- offering and acceptance;
4- and mahr (dower).
In the Sunnah, we find that individuals do have a choice in marriage and should not be forced to marry anyone. In addition to feeling attraction and a connection to the person, there should be some compatibility, which of course requires us to get to know the person well to make an informed decision.
In Islam, you are either married or not. Being engaged technically does not exist. It is more of a cultural custom that has been formalized with Islamic values. It is important to note that a cultural custom that is not from Islam does not mean it cannot serve an Islamic purpose. The engagement process is a good example of this because it has adapted to different times and context today.
In the early Muslim community, people knew each other better, and it was more acceptable to get married without spending too much time courting. This was probably because the community emphasized collective benefit over individual needs, and the culture was more conservative than it is today in many places. Since Muslims do not date by the western definition, we get engaged as a way to formalize the ‘getting to know each other’ phase.
How do we get married: This, of course, all depends on the cultural context. In the United States, where I am from, I encourage group dating for young men and women to get to know each other in a way where they can honor Islamic values. Group dating is the process of getting to know someone in the presence of friends. This way, the potential couple is not alone.
Depending on the family, some men and women go out together but only in public in addition to family visitations. I do not encourage keeping one’s parents in the dark when you engage in group dating as this can lead to further communication and interaction that is unlawful. Sometimes men and women play games and do not let their parents know so that they can “be in love” and enjoy the perks of a relationship without the responsibility. Ultimately, one must use their common sense and have taqwah of Allah or else the blessings and success rates of the process will diminish.
In your case in Jordan, my advice is to honor the cultural customs so long as they do not infringe on the clear Islamic guidelines I have mentioned above. In case that happens, you must be open and communicate your needs to your family. You need to remind them and present to them the Islamic evidence for your case. For example, (a) being forced to marry someone you don’t want is not Islamic (b) rejecting a good suitor because of their race or ethnic difference (c) burdening someone with a huge dowry and exuberant wedding expense that one cannot deliver. All of these examples are common, and I ask Allah to forgive us and guide us towards the middle wholesome path of Islam which is meant to make marriage easy and successful if we apply the values sincerely.
I hope that helps clarify for you, and may Allah guide you in your future prospects,
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.