A couple of years ago, I was finishing college and beginning to seriously consider marriage. Like many others, I wasn’t sure how to proceed, I didn’t know how to ask, and I was dreading the whole idea of proposing. Just the thought of asking and being rejected was enough to make me shudder. That, combined with trying to land a job, made things really stressful.
Fortunately, I received support and guidance from my community as I prepared to propose. I sought advice from married couples and learned from my friends’ experiences as they went through the rites of proposing. I also attended in-depth seminars on the fiqh and psychology of marriage from esteemed scholars and marriage counselors.
When the time came to propose, I was still nervous to speak with my future father-in-law, but I knew I gave it my all in preparing for that moment. To my pleasant surprise, he opened his arms and hugged me right after I asked. I felt peace settling in with that warm embrace, and by the grace of God, everything went smoothly from there.
Fast forward to now. I’ve learned a lot from my experiences, my friends, and my teachers, and so I’d like to share the following tips that can help you as you get ready to propose. All the best to you as you strive to complete half your deen!
- Plan how you wish to propose.
As you read in my case, I followed the tradition of proposing myself to my future wife’s father, following in the footsteps of Ali (radhiallahu anhu). Others follow the lead of the female companion, as recorded in Bukhari, who proposed herself to the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam). Still, others follow the practice of the daughter of Shu’ayb (alayhis salam), whose father proposed on her behalf after she indicated her wish to marry Musa (alayhis salam).
The great thing about Islam is that it’s flexible on ways to propose. Both a guy and girl can propose themselves or ask someone else to propose on their behalf.
Keep in mind that some cultures consider it graceless if the guy or girl proposes themselves, and would prefer that the parents ask the other parents. Others think the total opposite, and actually consider it very noble and courageous if the guy or girl proposes. Find out what you’d prefer, what’s acceptable in your culture and by your family, and follow that.
- Prepare for your talk beforehand.
You want to think ahead before your talk with a potential spouse so that you’re ready to discuss all important points and have a general idea of what you may be asked too.
You may want to know your future soul mate’s goals, their career paths, their experiences, their religiosity, their opinions on child-rearing, and their hobbies. You may be asked about your finances, education, family, and any previous marriages. Nowadays, some may ask you to take a blood test to verify you don’t have HIV or other diseases. Think about what they may ask, what you consider to be important, and prepare your questions and answers based off of that.
In regards to questions asking about their commitment to Islam, some scholars recommend that it’s better etiquette to bring that up towards the end of the talk. If you wait and discuss other questions first, you’ll already get a feel for how they view and practice Islam. If it does end up that you find out your views on Islam are simply incompatible, you can avoid being awkward in wrapping up the conversation if you’re already almost done talking. Allah knows best.
- Be mature and serious about getting married.
If you’re known as the person who’s always joking, “Man, any leads? I got four slots open!”, “Who needs school anyway? I’ll just marry a rich doctor!”, or “Your rotis aren’t round? You’ll never get married!”, relax. You’ll see that those making moves will shy away from these jokes, so learn from them. In fact, there are certain jokes the Prophet told us not to make – including kidding about marrying someone (Tirmidhi) – so we should be careful on how we banter on this matter.
I’m not saying don’t have fun, but maybe change the humor up a bit since it seems we’ve lost the knack for making any other joke. The constant marriage jokes not only make others feel uncomfortable, but they can make you look desperate or not ready for marriage. You can be teasing and carefree once you’re married, but while proposing, keep in mind this is when your potential spouse is looking for a responsible person they can raise a family with. The great scholar Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, teaches us, “Joking is Sunnah, but only for those who know how to do it and do it at the appropriate time.”
Take this time out to review your social media accounts to see if you’re presenting yourself as decent and mature on there too. Clear up any chance of confusion on your web presence because in all likelihood, you’ll be checked out online once you propose. I’ve witnessed families rejecting suitors – despite hearing about how great and religious they are – because one look at their profiles made them think otherwise. Now’s the time to clean up those photos that can be taken the wrong way, tags by friends on inappropriate content, or old posts dealing with a past life you’ve since left.
- Be confident in your decision.
Before you propose, ask yourself, “If I could marry anybody in the world, who would I marry?” Let that be your litmus test to see if you’re proposing to the right person. Consider his/her religiosity, personality, looks, and whatever else you consider important. Once you’re sure he/she’s the one and have prayed istikharah, go forward in full confidence.
It has happened that suitors will come and reluctantly say, “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready or want to get married, but my friend recommended this match, so here goes.” Confidence, my friends. Many suitors have been rejected for a lack of confidence in themselves and in their intention to marry. If you come across as unsure, your potential spouse may think that you’re practicing on them. My wife has told me about sisters who said no the first time for that reason, but ended up saying yes when the brother showed more confidence and maturity later.
When it comes to telling your parents about your decision, be confident and don’t beg them to allow you to get married, but instead notify them that you’re ready for marriage and ask for their blessings and support. When your parents see your confidence and see you getting in the driver’s seat, they’ll respect you for it insha’Allah.
- Get rolling.
Once you’re serious and confident about getting married, line up your plans like dominoes and get them moving. Many times, someone will be ready for the marriage ceremonies, but the family mentions they want to wait more. They might say it’s too cold for a wedding, they need more time to prepare, these programs shouldn’t be rushed, and so on.
I faced this during discussions with my relatives. At first they said they wanted to wait weeks before the proposal, another couple of months before the engagement, and then maybe half a year before the actual wedding. I ended up asking them if there were any valid reasons why I shouldn’t propose the next day. Stunned and stumped, they discussed my idea further and slowly warmed to the idea of moving faster. I ended up proposing shortly after, and with Allah’s help, we were able to conduct the engagement and wedding within the next month. We had a lot to do in little time, but we pulled through and had a great time.
The reason we were able to move so quickly is because both families ended up agreeing that it’s better not to delay these ceremonies for too long. On multiple occasions, I have witnessed that rumors will start in the community and as a result, one of the families will get cold feet and start reconsidering. Some, out of jealousy, will even try to convince the engaged couple not to marry. That’s why I personally recommend that you try to get married sooner than later once your proposal has been accepted and you’ve gotten to your partner better.
Nobody will be as invested in your getting married soon than you, so you have to hustle and get rolling yourself.
- Stay humble throughout.
As you build your confidence, remember to always stay humble. If you’re asked about your past accomplishments during the proposal stage, state the relevant facts while praising Allah for enabling you to perform the little you did.
Being humble at this stage while others strut and ruffle their feathers not only distinguishes you, but helps you to stay grounded. If you get rejected, you’ll be reminded to ask Allah to forgive your past sins and to pray for a better outcome next time. If you get accepted, you’ll remember to thank Him first. As Allah says, “If you are grateful, I will surely give you more” (Ibrahim 7).
- Be empowered on Islamic positions.
As you head down the path of proposing, everybody on the way will share their opinion on what’s allowed and what’s not. Save yourself the heartache and empower yourself by learning about the Islamic positions on proposal and engagement matters. The more you know, the better for you. It’ll help you move forward with assurance and avoid falling into un-Islamic practices. For your benefit, I’ve highlighted some key assumptions in the pre-wedding stage I’ve seen come up.
“It’s better and more Islamic if you don’t see your fiancé(e) until your wedding day.”
Actually, the Prophet told an engaged companion, “Go and look at her, for that is more likely to increase love between you two” (Tirmidhi 1087).
“Engagements are haraam. There’s only nikah and walimah in Islam.”
As a matter of fact, the Prophet himself was first engaged to Aisha and to Hafsa before marrying them (Bukhari 4793, 4830).
“Now that you’re engaged, you’re basically married to each other.”
Nope, you’re not married until the wedding. That means you still need a mahram when meeting each other (Muslim 1341).
These assumptions will continue as you get into issues of dowry, engagement presents and parties, wedding rituals, etc., so be prepared and do your homework.
- Respect the cultural aspects.
Culture really comes out when you’re getting married. Suddenly your parents bring up customs their parents followed that you never knew about. They may want to shower your potential spouse with certain gifts during the proposal, they may ask you to propose a certain way, and they may want to get involved during the proposal themselves.
Many cultural aspects are okay to follow within Islamic boundaries, so respect and honor those acts. The tricky part though is determining whether or not a custom is okay to follow. I recommend having a trusted scholar you can turn to for answering these questions. You want your engagement and wedding rites to be as fun, respectful, and halal as possible.
If you’re proposing to someone from another culture, be sensitive to their needs and arrange for both families to speak about their traditions. An important issue that can be discussed, for example, is how nikah is viewed in each culture. Some consider that occasion to be the actual marriage while others treat it as an extended engagement. This can be significant if the nikah contract ends up getting annulled, because one side will just think an engagement was called off, while the other side will think a divorce just occurred. So definitely discuss each others’ perspectives early on so that proper consideration is given and neither side is left bomb shelled.
- Aim to be well-educated and self-sufficient.
Yep, I’ve met suitors who were turned down just because they didn’t have a degree or a job. Regarding the degree, it’s not that your significant other doesn’t care about your personality and good looks, masha’Allah. They may simply want someone well-educated. They, like many job recruiters, may also believe that a degree demonstrates that you are reliable, accomplished and intelligent.
As for the job, your future spouse may understandably want someone who is self-sufficient. You want to be able to start your family with your own money. You may be blessed with financial support from your parents as you begin the proposal process, but plan to be independent and to not fall into the habit of depending on them for your needs, especially after marriage. For the guys, your future wife’s money is her money. From an Islamic perspective, you’re still the one responsible for paying for her needs.
Take heart in Allah’s promise for those getting married that “if they are poor, Allah will enrich them from His bounty” (24:32). Rely on Allah, but also do your part. Be responsible and make it a point from Day 1 to budget and spend within your means. Avoid the trap of thinking, “I’m only planning to get married once, so let me splurge now and I’ll save later.” Your expenses will only increase after marriage – especially if you settle into your own home, if one of you is attending school, or if you find out about a junior you joining your family soon – so be wise with your money.
- Show your love to your parents more than ever before.
The proposal time can also be very stressful for your parents. Not only are they stressed out about the festivities, but they’re also worried they may be losing you. That you’ll no longer love them or need them.
Some of the most loving mothers can become very jealous once their sons propose. Some of the most laid-back fathers can become very protective when their daughters receive marriage proposals. Throughout it all, be patient with your parents and let them know they’ll always have a place in your heart that nobody else can ever fill.
Even if you didn’t have the best relationship with them before, change that because it’ll make it easier for you to live with someone else after marriage. When you respect and love your parents, your future spouse will too insha’Allah.
- Purify yourself.
Lastly, take every opportunity – including your proposal and all following events – to purify yourself and come closer to Allah. Allah reminds us in Surah Nur, “Good men are for good women” (7). The more you purify yourself, the better of a spouse and marriage you’ll have. Definitely avoid being only religious when you’re trying to get married, but instead come gradually to Allah.
Until you’re married and especially if you haven’t proposed yet, be respectful around your potential spouse and don’t think of them as your soul mate yet. It’ll only cause more heartbreak if things don’t work out, and may lead you to become disillusioned about finding true love. Keep yourselves pure, and it’ll make your wedding night and life thereafter that much more enjoyable.
May Allah help you in your quest to be with a soul mate in this world and the next. Ameen.