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The most common questions I get from young people are, "Do Muslims date?" and "If they don't date, how do they decide whom to marry?"
"Dating" as it is currently practiced in much of the world does not exist among Muslims -- where a young man and woman (or boy/girl) are in a one-on-one intimate relationship, spending time together alone, "getting to know each other" in a very deep way before deciding whether that's the person they will marry. Rather, in Islam pre-marital relationships of any kind between members of the opposite sex are forbidden.
The choice of a marriage partner is one of the most important decisions a person will make in his or her lifetime. It should not be taken lightly, nor left to chance or hormones. It should be taken as seriously as any other major decision in life - with prayer to God, careful investigation, and family involvement.
So in today's world, how do young Muslim people manage? When a young person decides to get married, the following steps often take place:
The young person makes du'a (prayer) for Allah(God) to help him or her find the right person.
The family enquires, discusses, and suggests candidates. They consult with each other to narrow down potential prospects. Usually the father or mother approaches the other family to suggest a meeting.
The couple then agrees to meet in a chaperoned, group environment. This is done because the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Not one of you should meet a woman alone unless she is accompanied by a relative (mahram)." (Bukhari/Muslim). The Prophet (peace be upon him) also reportedly said, "Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan (Shaytan) is the third among them." (Tirmidhi). When young people are getting to know each other, being alone together is a temptation toward wrongdoing. At all times, Muslims should follow the commands of the Qur'an (24:30-31, their Holy book, to "lower their gaze and guard their modesty...." Islam recognizes that we are humans and are given to human weaknesses, so this rule provides safeguards for our own sakes.
Next, the family investigates the candidate further by talking with his/her friends, family, Islamic leaders, co-workers, etc. to learn about his or her character.
The couple prays salat-l-istikhara (a certain prayer for guidance)to seek Allah's help in making a decision.
After that, the couple agrees to either pursue marriage or part ways. Islam has given this freedom of choice to both young men and women - they cannot be forced into a marriage that they don't want.
This type of focused courtship helps ensure the strength of the marriage, by drawing upon family elders' wisdom and guidance in this important life decision. Family involvement in the choice of a marriage partner helps assure that the choice is based not on romantic notions, but rather on a careful, objective evaluation of the compatibility of the couple. That is why these marriages often prove successful.