When a man finds a woman of good attributes for marriage, his next step would be to propose to her or her family. In arabic this is called "khitbah". It is simply the act of asking for the womans hand in marriage. Depending on the situation, the interested man may personally approach the woman or her representatives or may ask for some of his male or female relatives to represent him in that.
If a mans proposal is accepted the woman is considered "engaged to him". This "engagement " is a legally unbinding attachment of the marriage contract.
Even though an approved khitbah is not legally binding upon the two involved, it is still a mutual pledge to marry, and breaking this without a valid reason would be a immoral act of dishonesty.
A valid reason for breaking khitbah is if the bride or bridegroom find out something they were not aware of when they first sought approval.
Examples of the Sunnah
In a hadith, a man asked the Prophet (SAW) to marry a certain woman to him, an he said:
"Go have her as your wife; I marry her to you for the portion of the Quran you have memorised."
(Bukhari, Muslim & Others)
In the case of Aisha (RA), who was a virgin, the Prophet (SAW) proposed to her father. Urwah Bin az Zubayr reported that Allah's Messenger (SAW) asked for Aisha's (RA) hand from her father Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr (RA) said: "But indeed I am your brother!" Allah's Messenger (RA)
"You are my brother in regard to Allah's Deen and His Book. But as for her, she is permissible for me (to marry)."
A Common Bid'ah
A widely spread practice amongst the Muslims of our time is when a man asks for a woman's hand and her family accepts, his proposal, they all recite al-Fatihah. This is a bid'ah as it has no basis in the Sunnah or in the practice of the Salaf.
Looking at the Courted Woman
When a man intends to marry a certain woman, prior to formally proposing to her, it is perissible for him to look at her and see as much of her as is normally permissible, to help him make the right decision and to be sure he likes her and would like her as his wife.
When the Ansar wished to marry, the Prophet (SAW) encouraged them to look;
"Look at her, because there is something in the eyes of the Ansar - meaning smallness."
(Muslim, an-Nasai & Others)
"Go look at her: it will then be more possible to have harmony between you."
(Ahmed, al Hakim & Others, verified authetic by al-Albani)
"When it comes into a person's heart to court a woman, it is permissible for him to look at her."
(Ibn Majah, Ahmad, verified authentic by al-Albani)
Also, when Jabir Bin Abdullah (RA) reported that he heard Allah's Messenger say:
"When one of you courts a woman, if he could see of her as much as would convince him to marry her, he should do so."
Implementing this instruction, Jabir (RA) said:
"Afterwards I wanted to marry a woman, so I used to hide to observe her, until I had seen that which led me to marry her."
When a man looks at a woman, that must be for the purpose of marrying her, and only if she is available for him to marry her. Looking, for other reasons is a sin that must be avoided.
"When one of you courts a woman, it is permissible for him to look at her if he only looks because he seeks to marry her, even if she does not know that he is watching her."
From this and other texts, we derive the folloing conditions in looking:
1. Looking should be for the purpose of marriage, and not for the purpose of fulfilling desire or lust.
2. A man may only look at a woman who is available for him to marry, knowing that, shuld he propose, her family could possibly approve of him
3. Looking should be without touching or khulwah (private meeting)
4. looking should be limited to the body parts a woman is permitted to expose to strangers, namely her face and her hands. The difference between casual look and the look of a man seeking marriage is that the latter is allowed to stare and repeat the look.
Some scholars, based on the earlier hadith by Jabir (RA) permit the man to look at more. This is however not a favoured opinion as it could easily be abused and open a widegate to defaming or lusting after innocent women.
If a man finds his look was not satisfactory, he may send his mother, sister or another woman from his relatives to look at her more closely and tell him more about her.
1. Photographs or pictures of beings with souls are generally prohibited in Islam. They are only allowed in situations of definite maslahah (benefit) for the Muslims, and when no other permissible means can fulfil the same purpose as they do.
2. If the photgrpahs were determined to be permissible in a particular situation, they still need to fulfil the criteria such as not to show a prohibited thing, like a woman without full hijab.
3. When a courter loooks at a woman that he wishes to marry, his looking can be controlled by her or her wali so that it would not invade her privacy or exceed the permissible. This is not the case with a photograph. A man can stare at it longer, show it to those who are not supposed to see it, or keep it in his possession should the courting terminate. These are serious dangers especially for women.
For the above reasons, the exchange of photographs is not permissible except in situations where the womans mahram shows the photograph without leaving it in his possession.
Is a Woman allowed to Look??
Just as a woman is allowed to look at his intended wife, a woman is allowed to look at her intended husband, with the above conditions and noting the man's awrah (prohibited parts) extend from his navel to knees. A woman is expected to have modesty and shyness and her looking should reflect that.
Talking and correspondence
This is permissible between the man and woman who he is seriously considering for marriage, but should be done under controlled conditions: in the presence and watch of the womans wali or his representative, avoiding khulwah, touching or other prohibitions. This should be limited to what is necessary for helping the couple make their decision.
Woes of Internet Courting
The internet is one of the newest and most powerful communication tools that were ever conceived by humanity. The average person nowadays spends many hours every week on the Internet: surfing, searching, reading, writing, learning, sinning, chatting, buying, selling and so on. It is hence not surprising that many look for spouses in this wonderful land....Men and women "chat", email one another and even exchange digitised pctures.
Courting and marrying over the Internet is largely negative, as it involves many sinful or questionable practices e.g.:
1. Each individual paints himself or herself a very unreal picture that is meant to impress the other side. one describes what he or she wishes to be, not one really is. Being in a private room with a keyboard and monitor provides fat chance for pretence. Lying a d deciet are hence prevalent.
"A person who pretends having that which he does not, is like one who wears two garments of deception."
(Bukhari and Muslim)
2. A womans wali is normally responsible for investigating a prospective husbands family, friends, manners, finances,etc. With internet courting, on the other hand, a woman foresakes all of this and makes herself the ultimate judge, allowing her emotions and the courters cunning make for her one of her lifetimes more important decisions.
3. A great deal of precious time is wasted in writing polished emails and exchanging worthless chats.
"A human beings feet will not depart from before his Lord, on the Day of Resurrection, until he is questioned about 5 things: his lifetime and how he consumed it, his youth and body and how he utilised it, his wealth and how he earn it and how he spend it, and what he did in regard to what he knew."
(at-Tirmidhi, verified authentic by al-Albani)
4. Digitised pictures are often exchanged and this is largely prohibited as they can easily be permanently be stored on the computer, and electronically exchanged with other "interested" individuals.
5. In many cases the internet communication takes place between a man and a married woman (often with children). Soon the woman starts seeing her husbands mistakes well magnified and her internet chatter grows in her thoughts into a perfect hero that will surely have save her from her miserable life with her husband. many cases end in divorce, or in the woman running away from her husbands house to join the hero she's never met. Turning a woman against her husband is a great sin.
Internet courting is a dangerous practice that should be totally avided by righteous Muslims as they contain clear violations of Islam.