Wa`alykum As-Salaam Warahmatullahi Wabarakaatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty, and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman; (otherwise) you will be a loser.” (Al-Bukhari)
Answering your question, we would like to quote the following from the course “Family Law I” offered by the American Open University:
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us in many hadiths about the various characteristics which one looks for in a spouse, their relative importance, and which ones determine success, and bring Allah’s blessing on a marriage. Among those hadiths are the following:
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) quotes the Prophet as saying, “A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty, and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman; (otherwise) you will be a loser.” (Al-Bukhari)
Accordingly, the most important characteristics that one should look for in a spouse are:
In the above hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned various characteristics that people, by their nature and custom, look for in a spouse.
He did not advocate any of them, but merely stated them as facts of human nature except for the issue of “religion”, i.e., a prospective spouse’s piety and religiousness.
About this characteristic, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “So you should marry the religious woman; (otherwise) you will be a loser.”
This order is quite different from the general statement at the beginning of the above-mentioned hadith.
We must be careful not to be superficial in this issue. The mere wearing of hijab or keeping a beard and praying in the mosque, as routine compliance with requirements of piety, do not by themselves guarantee it.
There are many people who at first glance appear to be abiding by Islam, but upon closer inspection have a twisted understanding of Islam and their practice in reality may leave much to be desired.
Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) once told someone who had testified to the goodness of a person by the fact that he had seen him in the mosque that he did not know him as long as he had no dealings with him that involved money, did not live with him, and did not travel with him.
The characteristic of piety applies to the groom just as much as to the bride. This should be the main focus of both the woman’s guardian and suitor.
In this context, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “If someone with whose piety and character you are satisfied comes to you, then marry him. If you do not do so, there will be disorder in the earth and a great deal of evil.” (At-Tirmidhi and others and classed as Hasan)
2- Character and Behavior
In the above hadith addressed to guardians and parents, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) commanded them to facilitate their marriage when they are satisfied with two issues: the faith of the suitor and his character.
Character is of extreme importance in Islam and goes hand in hand with faith and piety. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has even described it as the purpose of his mission to mankind as we can see in the following hadiths:
“I have only been sent to complete good character.” (Al-Hakim and others and classed as Sahih)
“I am a guarantor of a house in the highest degree of Paradise for one who makes his character good.” (Abu Dawud and it is Hasan)
Allah establishes the relation of this issue to marriage, saying:
“Bad women are for bad men and bad men are for bad women. And good women are for good men and good men are for good women.” (An-Nur 24:26)
One of the important issues of character in the spouses is the quality of wudd. This means kindness, lovingness and compassion.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Marry the loving/friendly, the child-bearing woman, for I shall outstrip the other nations with your numbers on the Day of Judgment.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and others and classed as Sahih)
As we see in the above-mentioned hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) recommended men to marry women who are child-bearing.
This characteristic is related to some of the goals and purposes of marriage that were mentioned earlier such as procreating the Muslim Ummah, raising a pious family as a cornerstone of society and so forth.
There are many hadiths which recommend that a man must marry a virgin woman; such as the following:
“Marry virgins for they have sweeter mouths, more productive wombs, and are contented with little they get.” (At-Tabarani and it is Hasan)
Other narrations indicate that a virgin is more likely to be pleased by a man and less likely to be devious and deceiving.
Once, when Jabir married an older and previously married woman, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to him, “Why not a virgin? You could have played with her and she with you.”
Muslim scholars stress that this good attribute applies to man just as it applies to woman. `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) once heard about a woman who was married to an elderly man and he said: “O people, fear Allah and let people marry their types.”
This characteristic has a certain role to play since one of the purposes of marriage is to keep both spouses from sins.
The best way to do this is to have a strong attraction between spouses.
Although this is something which surely grows over time, initial impressions can in some cases become an obstacle to a successful marriage.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) separated Qays ibn Shamas from his wife in the famous case of Khul and her stated reason was that he was exceedingly displeasing to her.
There are many hadiths which urge the prospective spouse to get a look at the other before undertaking the marriage.
Once a Companion told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that he was going to get married. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked if he had seen her. When the man answered in negative, he (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Go and look at her for it is more likely to engender love between the two of you.” (Ahmad and others and it is Sahih)
Ibn `Abidin, a famous Muslim jurist, said:
“The woman should choose a man who is religious, of good character, generous and of ample wealth. She should not marry an evildoer. A person should not marry his young daughter to an old or an ugly man, but he should marry her to one similar.”
Beauty has its role, but remember that it is way down on the priority list under piety, character and religion. When a person puts beauty above all else, the consequences can be disastrous.
This is one of the main reasons that young people seeking to get married must be helped by more mature family members in making their choice.
Elaborating on what one should look for in a partner, the late Sheikh Sayyed Ad-Darsh, the late Chairman of the UK Shari`ah Council, adds:
The age difference between potential partners should not be too great. It is not fair to give a young girl to a man who is twenty or thirty years her senior.
If she, for one reason or another, accepts – or if he accepts, then it is their choice.
But they should be aware of the future of their relationship and the implications of such a marriage.
A gray-haired man once passed by a young black-haired girl and he proposed to her. She looked at him and said, ‘I accept, but there is a snag.’ He enquired what it was, to which she answered, ‘I have some gray hair.’ The man passed on without a word. She called out. ‘My uncle, look at my hair!’ She had hair as black as coal. He said to her, ‘Why did you say that?’ She answered, ‘To let you know that we do not like in men what they do not like in women.’
Marriage is not for fun or experience. It is a life-long relationship. For that reason, any factor detrimental to the relationship should be avoided as much as is possible.
Highly educated males and females should seek partners with a similar educational background. Cultural and family background is very important. Common language is an essential way of communicating. Such things help the two partners to understand, communicate and relate to one another and are factors of stability and success – as are financial independence and the ability to provide a decent acceptable level of maintenance.
Again, this is a way of ensuring that outside influences do not spoil an otherwise happy life. All ways and means should be considered, giving a solid basis for a new human experience which is expected to provide a framework for a happy, successful and amicable life.
The questions of common language, background, education and age, etc., are meant, in an ordinary stable context, to maximize the chances of success and stability in a very important Islamic institution, that of marriage.
However, considering the particular position of Muslim communities living in minority situations, young Muslims, male and female, are exposed to all sorts of challenges – be they cultural, linguistic, racial or social.
The most fundamental question when choosing a partner is a religious one- As far as language, background, or social position are concerned, these are not significant factors that absolutely must be fulfilled before a marriage can take place.
If the prospective partner is of good character, with a strong religious inclination, and the two young people are happy and feel compatible with one another, other considerations are not of such importance.
Allah Almighty knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.