I’ve been introduced to a potential suitor who has suggested that he is finding it difficult to make an assessment of my appearance. He would want to see my hair at some point, i.e. before an engagement or marriage. To tell the truth, I feel very uncomfortable and unsettled about this. I’ve never been asked it before, though I’ve heard that it happens in some communities. From a brief bit of online research, it seems that viewing of the hair by non-mahram men is strictly prohibited, even when considering a potential marriage match. Is there any basis for this in Islam? Or might it be a cultural practice? I would really appreciate any advice that you have to offer.
The majority position is that viewing of the hair by a non-mahram suitor is impermissible because only marriage makes that licit for him. Since the suitor is by definition not yet a spouse, he is still very much not allowed to see other than:
– the face and hands ( according to the majority);
– the face, hands and feet (according to the Hanafis);
– the face, hands and whatever might show in public due to work and movement, such as the neck, feet, shins and forearms (according to the Hanbalis).
None of the above includes the woman’s hair within the sphere of permissibility. Imam al-Shafi`i said:
يَنْظُرُ إِلَى وَجْهِهَا وَكَفَّيْهَا وَهِيَ مُتَغَطِّيَةٌ، وَلَا يَنْظُرُ إِلَى مَا وَرَاءَ ذَلِكَ
“He looks at her while she is covered, and nothing beyond her face and hands.” (Bayhaqi, Ma`rifat al-sunan wal-athar, 10:21 no. 13474 ). Similarly Ibn Habib al-`Amiri (469-530 H) commented: “That is, while she is covered, as it remains impermissible for him to look at her body or any of her `awra (private parts) whatsoever.” Such looking is permissible by consensus according to Ibn Qudama and even recommended (mustahabb) according to Ibn Battal, all provided there is no khalwa, as the latter is impermissible with the non-mahram. Showing the hair is thus doubly impermissible if it presupposes khalwa (seclusion).
A *minority* view that more can be seen, including the hair, is found:
(i) in a position related from Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal that states:
لا بأس أن ينظر إليها وإلى ما يدعو ه إلى نكاحها من يد أو جسم ونحو ذلك
“There is no harm if he looks at her and to whatever would prompt him to marry her — of her hand, her body and the like.” The companion of Imam Ahmad, Abu Bakr al-Marwazi, said:
لا بأس أن ينظر إليها عند الخطبة حاسرة
“There is no harm for him to look at her at the time of proposal with her hair uncovered” (Ibn Qudama, Mughni, 7:445; other Hanbali fiqh sources all mention it). Ibn al-Jawzi confirmed in Sayd al-khatir (Fasl: fawa’id al-nikah) that the stipulation is related from Imam Ahmad that proposal makes it “licit for the man to view, of the woman he proposes to marry, what counts as private parts, by which he was alluding to more than just the face”
وقد نص أحمد على جواز أن يبصر الرجل من المرأة التي يريد أن ينكحها ما هو عورة ، يشير إلى ما يزيد على الوجه.
(ii) in defunct and/or non-Sunni schools such as the Zahiris (literalists) who allow for everything to be seen by the suitor except the `awra mughallaza i.e. the front and back pudenda. This is also attributed to Ahmad and is said to be a Maliki view.
All of the above minority and majority positions are based on varying interpretations of the same several hadiths wherein the Prophet–upon him blessings and peace– recommended for the male marriage suitor to “take a look” at his proposed match. Among those Prophetic hadiths:
اِذْهَبْ فَانْظُرْ إِلَيْهَا، فَإِنَّهُ أَجْدَرُ أَنْ يُؤْدَمَ بَيْنَكُمَا
“Go and take a look at her [i.e., your proposed match] for it is more conducive to permanency between the two of you.” Anas b. Malik said the Prophet said this to al-Mughira b. Shu`ba who had proposed sight unseen, whereupon the latter went back to the prospective in-laws and told them what the Prophet had said. The parents appeared reticent. However, when the woman heard this from her chamber she spoke out: “If the Messenger of Allah actually ordered you to take a look, then do take a look; otherwise, I solemnly appeal to you!” as she wanted to impress on him she considered it a major matter. Al-Mughira said: “So I took a look at her and later I married her.” Thus he mentioned that she gave him permission. (Musnad Ahmad; Sunan al-Nasa’i; Sunan al-Tirmidhi (hasan); Sunan al-Darimi; Sunan Ibn Majah; etc.)
إِذَا خَطَبَ أَحَدُكُمُ الْمَرْأَةَ، فَإِنِ اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ يَنْظُرَ إِلَى مَا يَدْعُوهُ إِلَى نِكَاحِهَا فَلْيَفْعَلْ، قَالَ: فَخَطَبْتُ جَارِيَةً فَكُنْتُ أَتَخَبَّأُ لَهَا حَتَّى رَأَيْتُ مِنْهَا مَا دَعَانِي إِلَى نِكَاحِهَا وَتَزَوُّجِهَا فَتَزَوَّجْتُهَا
“When one of you proposes to a woman and is able to look at what would prompt him to marry her, let him do so.” The Companion Jabir b. `Abd Allah said that after he heard this he would spy on his proposed match and decided to marry her after he saw what, for him, prompted him to marry her (Ahmad, Musnad; Abu Dawud, Sunan).
إِذَا أَلْقَى اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ فِي قَلْبِ أَحَدِكُمْ خِطْبَةَ امْرَأَةٍ فَلَا بَأْسَ أَنْ يَنْظُرَ إِلَيْهَا
Sahl b. Abi Hathma said: “I saw Muhammad b. Maslama staring fixedly at a woman of the Ansar from a roof. I said to him: ‘You do this, a Companion of the Prophet!’ He replied: ‘I heard the Prophet say, “When Allah casts into the heart of one of you to propose to a woman, there is no harm if he takes a look at her [first].”‘” (Musnad al-Tayalisi; Musnad Ahmad; Sahih Ibn Hibban; etc.)
* Ibn Habib al-`Amiri, Ahkam al-nazar ila al-muharramat [Rulings pertaining to lookiing at illicit matters], ed. Muhammad Fadl `Abd al-`Aziz al-Murad (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1410/1990), p. 281.
* Lu’ay `Abd Allah `Abd al-Karim al-Sumay`at, Hukm al-nazar ila al-makhtuba [The legal ruling on looking at the prospective wife], http://www.alukah.net/
* `Ali b. `Abd al-Rahman al-Hassun, Ahkam al-nazar ila al-makhtuba [Legal rulings on looking at the prospective wife], 2nd ed. (Riyadh: Maktabat al-`Asima, 1420 H), pp. 29-47.
* Maryam Sulaymani, Ahkam al-khitba: Dirasa fiqhiyya mu`asira [The rulings of marriage proposal: a contemporary Islamic jurisprudence study], unpubl. master’s diss. (Al-Wadi (Algeria): al-Shahid Hamma Lakhdar University, 2014-2015). http://www.univ-eloued.dz/
* Muhammad Mutawalli al-Sha`rawi, al-Fatawa, ed. al-Sayyid al-Jumayli (Beirut: Dar al-Nadwat al-Jadida, 1982), pp. 419-420.
My advice is to consider the above carefully as it gives you two options, one being the one you already were following which is the majority position and the stricter path; the other, the more lenient view of Imam Ahmad who construed the hadiths more mercifully, in light of the sincere and earnest objective of marriage as well as the demands of acceptable cultural practices both in past times and in ours.
There is also another option not brought up in the material above, and that is, narrative description of the prospective wife’s hair which would also be forbidden according to the majority view, but which is nevertheless less revealing than face-to-face unveiling. That description can be provided to the suitor by a female relative of his who visits the proposed match in a private setting, in light of the following hadith:
4. The Prophet — upon him blessings and peace — would send women to gather information on a potential spouse to “smell her breath and body odor (a`taaf, `awaarid) and look at her ankles (`urqoobayha, `araaqeebiha).” Narrated from Anas by Ahmad, `Abd b. Humayd, Ibn Abi Shayba, Tabarani in al-Awsat, Hakim, Bayhaqi, and Abu Dawud in his Marasil; Ibn al-Mulaqqin said in al-Badr al-Munir (5:507-509) that it is a sound hadith.
Allah knows best.
Now that you have additional knowledge you can once again consult your heart and follow your conscience in sha Allah. The mark of the best suitor is also that they respect your conscience above all.
Hajj Gibril Haddad