You may have heard “Muslims don’t date” or “dating isn’t allowed in Islam.” On a surface level, those statements are correct. However, in order to understand what Islam’s stance is on dating, the term “dating” frst needs to be defined. I’ll define dating as the stereotypical boyfriend/girlfriend relationship we’re used to seeing in romantic comedies: two young people are attracted to each other and go out to dinner and gradually become emotionally and physically intimate with each other without a commitment to marriage. If that’s the definition of dating, Islam definitely doesn’t allow that. The most straightforward approach to learning about Islam’s idea of romantic relationships is simply what is allowed since the terms are clear: marriage.
Marriage in Islam
Let’s first discuss what an Islamic marriage is and what the relationship entails. An Islamic marriage is established with a formalized marriage contract and consists of obligations, rights, and duties that the spouses have towards each other. The marriage contract is spoken about in the Holy Qur’an, the first of two sacred texts Muslims rely on for Islamic rulings, as a “firm commitment” [4:21] between a man/male and woman/female. The same sacredness and importance of a marriage is echoed in other parts of the Qur’an within the context of a covenant between a prophet and Allah, or God, Himself [3:81]. The Qur’an also specifies that the first relationship between two humans, Prophet Adam and Eve, was a marriage [4:1]! Their example demonstrates the idea of soulmates exists in the Islamic framework and that the concept of marriage is a grounding and natural relationship–one that Allah Himself designed for people to have. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him,like other Prophets, was also married and strongly urged Muslims to get married saying, “Marriage is part of my path, and whoever does not follow my path has nothing to do with me. Get married, for I will boast of your great numbers before the nations. Whoever has the means, let him get married, and whoever does not, then he should fast for it will diminish his desire”[Sunan Ibn Majah 1846.] The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is encouraging his followers to get married clarifying that there is nothing holy or spiritual about celibacy. As a matter of fact, being intimate with one’s spouse is actually a way of earning good deeds [Sahih Muslim 1006.] The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, remarked on the importance of marriage in another instance in which he said, “When a [person] marries, he has fulfilled half of the religion”[Mishkat al-Masabih 3096.] The single action a person can perform in his lifetime which is deemed so valuable to spiritual and religious growth and fulfillment–not prayer, fasting, charity–marriage! Islam not only views a marriage as the only legitimate romantic relationship between a man and woman, it also holds marriage in very high regard.
What about Love?
The qualities of a marriage are also described in the Qur’an and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.. If it seems like marriages in Islam are just transactional arrangements between two people, that is far from the case. In the Qur’an, the purpose of a marriage is for a husband and wife to “find tranquility” in each other, or to be a source of peace and comfort for each other through the ups and downs of life [30:21]. The same verse also notes that “[God] has placed between [the spouses] love and mercy” and that the marriage, its purpose, and the blessings from Allah within that marriage are all God’s “Signs” to mankind to reflect upon.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, provides a living example of the love that he experienced in his marriages. The Prophet’s love for Khadijah, his first wife who passed away when he was about 50 years old, was so intense that he often remembered her and became overwhelmed with emotions. One of these moments was when the Prophet, peace be upon him, saw a necklace that his wife had owned during her lifetime and he became visibly moved and began to cry out of his love and longing for her [Sunan Abi Dawud 2692]. These two moments from the Prophet Muhammad’s life show that having love and a deep emotional connection with one’s spouse is an example of the best type of marriage.
The Harms and Risks of Dating
Islam provides a framework through which a couple can flourish, whereas dating as we know it does not. Islamic marriages have responsibilities and rights which aim to protect and respect the husband, wife, and their family unlike dating. Rights of both are: love, care, to enjoy a sexual relationship with each other, inheritance, and the confirmation of lineage through having children. For the wife, some notable rights are: the marriage dowry (or mahar), financial support,, and keeping her wealth separate from her husband’s. What expectations, rights, and privileges are clearly established for a couple who are dating? None–the individuals in the relationship have to shoulder the full responsibility of determining all the parameters their relationship exists within. In addition, there may be glaring differences in levels of commitment between the individuals in the same relationship, which may easily lead to one person being taken advantage of or abused. A man can exploit a woman for sexual access her body without any real commitment to her, or vice versa. A woman can exploit a man’s finances without any real commitment to him, or vice versa. A person advocating for their needs while dating and clearly asking for full commitment (i.e. marriage) is taboo and we often hear how a mismatch in expectations can lead to breakups because one person (stereotypically the man) was not ready to take the next step.
The turmoil caused by dating (emotional harm, financial problems, family issues, etc.) are all due to an unclear framework for the relationship as well as a nebulous and changing level of commitment between the individuals, which is often not discussed or even acknowledged. Dating, whether casually or seriously, involves more risk for a person. But what about a couple who seriously dates and then ends up married? Dating is a common way people get to know their partner well enough before committing to marriage, right? Divorce rates are still higher than 50% for couples who have dated before marriage and get to know each other in every possible way . Therefore, dating does not really guarantee that one would be happy in marriage, nor is it a proven way to ensure couples do not marry the wrong person. For Muslims who are married, Islam provides some rules to have in place which allow for more space to mediate and resolve issues when they inevitably arise. Through life’s ups-and-downs, a couple committed to each other through a marriage are more likely to support, love, and care for each other while also being patient, forgiving, and kind to their other half.
Dating as we know it in mainstream American culture is not allowed in Islam and directly opposes Islamic teachings. The only romantic relationship which is considered valid within Islam is a committed marriage, which comes with Islamic guidelines. These guidelines provide structure for a couple to build their relationship from. The commitment of marriage brings blessings from God and encourages the couple to work together as a team. Dating, while it may have some benefits and short-term, immediate pleasures, causes more harm to the individual and society at large.