Seeing the Woman to Whom One Proposes Marriage
It is permissible for a Muslim man to see the woman to whom he intends to propose marriage before taking further steps so that he can enter into the marriage knowing what is ahead for him. Otherwise, if he has not seen her before marriage, he may not find her looks to his liking and may have regrets after he is married to her.
The eye is the messenger of the heart; when the eyes meet, the hearts and the souls of man and woman may meet as well. Muslim reported Abu Hurairah as saying that a man came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and told him that he had contracted to marry a woman of the Ansar. "Did you look at her?" the Prophet (peace be on him) asked. "No," he said, 'Then go and look at her,' said the Prophet (peace be on him), 'for there is something in the eyes of the Ansar,' meaning that some of them have a defect of their eyes
Al-Mughira ibn Shu'bah said, I asked for a woman in marriage and Allah's Messenger (peace be on him) asked me whether I had looked at her. When I replied that I had not, he said 'Then look at her, for it may produce love between you.' I went to her parents and informed them of the Prophet's advice. They seemed to disapprove of the idea. Their daughter heard the conversation from her room and said, 'If the Prophet (peace be on him) has told you to look at me, then look.' I looked at her, and subsequently I married her. (Reported by Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, and Darimi.)
The Prophet (peace be on him) did not specify either to Mughirah or to the other man how much of the woman they were permitted to see. Some scholars are of the opinion that looking is limited to seeing the face and hands. However, it is permissible for anyone to see the face and hands as long as no desire is involved; therefore, if asking for woman in marriage is an exemption, obviously the man making the proposal should be able to see much more of the woman than that. The Prophet (peace be on him) said, "When one of you asks for woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so." (Reported by Abu Daoud.)
Some scholars have gone to one extreme or another in relation to this permission, but the best course seems to be the middle one. One researcher considers it quite appropriate in our time that the man who is proposing be allowed to see the woman as she normally appears before her father, brother, and other muharramah. He says: In the context of the above hadith, he may even accompany her, together with her father or some other mahrem as chaperone, on her usual visits to relatives or to public places, while clad in full hijab. (Hijab denotes the proper Islamic dress. (Trans.)) In this way he will have the opportunity to get an insight into her reasoning, behavior, and personality. This is a part of the meaning of the hadith, "...to look at what will induce him to marry her." (Al-Bahee al-Khooly, Al-Mar'ah Bain al-bayn al-bait wal-Mujtamah'.)
If the man's intention of marriage is sincere, he is permitted to see the woman with or without her and her family's knowledge. Jarir ibn 'Abdullah said concerning his wife, "(Before marriage) I used to hide under a tree to see her."
From the hadith concerning al-Mughira we understand that the father of a girl cannot, out of deference to custom and tradition, prevent a suitor who is in earnest from seeing her, for customs and traditions must be governed by the Shari'ah. How is it possible that the Divine Law should subjected to the whims of human beings? On the other hand, however, neither the father, the suitor, or the fiancee can stretch this permission to such an extent that the young man and woman, under the pretext of betrothal or engagement, go to movie theaters, clubs, and shopping places together without being accompanied by a mahrem of hers, a practice which has become common today among Muslims who are fond of imitating Western civilization and its customs.