A woman’s right to choose her husba...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

A woman’s right to choose her husband


Do I have the right to choose my husband?


In Islam, a marriage cannot proceed without the consent of the woman who is to be married. Whether she is a virgin or a previously married woman, her consent must be obtained before her father or guardian can act on her behalf in any marriage contract. Indeed, when a marriage is conducted, the government registrar or other official must obtain the bride’s consent. If someone is acting as her guardian, the government official will ask him to produce two witnesses who will testify that she has authorized him to act as her guardian in the marriage. Several hadiths demonstrate that a previously married woman has more authority over herself than her guardian. A virgin must be asked concerning her marriage and her silence is considered her consent. The distinction here between a previously married woman and a virgin relates to how a bride shows her consent. A virgin may be too shy to voice her consent while a previously married woman has learned practically that there is nothing to be shy about in marriage.

Islam does not condone forcing a female to marry against her will. A woman once approached the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to complain that her father had married her to his nephew without first obtaining her consent. She said that her father wanted to enhance his reputation through the marriage. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) annulled the marriage. Later, the woman told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), "Now that I am free, I willingly consent to this marriage. I only wanted it to be known that men have no say over women in their marriages."

It is often thought that because a father acts as his daughter’s guardian in her marriage, he can marry her to whoever he likes without obtaining her consent. On the contrary, this maintains her honor. Marriage in Islam is the means for establishing a family and this is conducted through families.

In the light of the foregoing, we can unequivocally say that forced marriages are unacceptable in Islam. Since a female’s consent is a prerequisite for the validity of marriage, it is only acceptable that she choose her future husband. What we have to understand is that there is no hard-and-fast rule for choosing a husband. A man who has in mind a certain prospective bride must have based his choice on either firsthand knowledge or proper investigation. Similarly, if a bride’s guardian approaches the man, then he must have based his choice on a good knowledge of the man and his character.

As we all know, Islam does not allow the sort of free mixing between the sexes that is known in Western societies. If some segments in Muslim societies practice some aspects of social gender mixing, this is something Islam does not sanction. I wish it to be understood that I am not speaking of this type of free gender mixing in my answer. I am simply explaining that if a woman chooses a man as her future husband and the marriage is based on her choice, this is totally acceptable. What we are considering here is that in a certain situation, a woman is able to know the character and nature of a man and she feels, on the basis of her knowledge, that he can make a good husband. It is perfectly conceivable that a woman can acquire such knowledge, either because he is her colleague at work or because she has the opportunity to observe his conduct in different situations. Such knowledge would enable her to understand his character and decide whether he can be a good family man.

When a woman sees positive qualities in a man and wishes to marry him, she should speak to her family about it. Her father or guardian will take over and approach him either directly or through intermediaries. This is all appropriate. What is not appropriate from the Islamic point of view is that the woman should try to involve herself in a relationship with the man of her choice as depicted in movies. As I have emphasized on several occasions, marriage is a means for establishing a family, and the family figures very prominently in any marriage right from the beginning. When admiration is mutual, as is the case if the couple are work colleagues, the man must approach the woman's father and ask to marry her. She will make her consent known to her father and the process will be carried through.

If a woman selects a man as her future husband, her father is required to facilitate the marriage if the prospective groom is considered a suitable match. A father may have to go to the extent of offering his daughter to him as a wife. If some people find this strange, let me remind them of the hadith narrated by Umar Ibn al-Khattab who said, "Hafsah Bint Umar [Umar's daughter] became a widow when her husband, Khunais Ibn Hudhaifah, who was a Companion of the Prophet, died in Madinah. I went to Uthman Ibn Affan and offered her to him in marriage but Uthman said, 'I will consider the matter.' I waited for a few days, then Uthman met me and said, 'I have considered the matter; I do not wish to marry at present.' Umar continued and said, "I then met Abu Bakr and told him, 'If you wish, I will give you Hafsah in marriage.' Abu Bakr kept quiet and did not answer. I felt more offended than I was by Uthman. After a few days, God’s Messenger asked to marry Hafsah. When I later met Abu Bakr, he said, ‘I might have offended you when you offered to give me Hafsah in marriage and I made no reply.' ‘Indeed,’ I replied. He said, ‘What prevented me from answering you is that I knew that God’s Messenger had expressed his wish to marry her. I am not one to reveal the Prophet's secret.’ "

All of this shows that it is permissible for a woman’s guardian to make a marriage proposal, either to a person of his choice or to one of his ward’s choice.

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