I find the subject of marriage and engagement way more complicated than it needs to be because when it comes to weddings, marriage and engagements, people mix in culture way too much. Today I want to make it as simple as possible. I received a request to talk about the halal engagement or a marriage. I am not a scholar but this is what I gathered from studying Islam and various cultures of Muslims.
The “Engagement” Period
In my opinion, the engagement period, is not a part of Islam, it is cultural. Due to today’s time and age, an engagement may be easier.
The Engagement when people exchange rings is called, deblah. The word varies among Muslim countries. If you do this engagement and you want it to be 100% halal, there are some rules you have to follow. For the engagement party where you exchange rings through a maharam (person you cannot marry, a women, sister, uncle, father, grandpa, etc.) or a woman from his family puts a ring on your finger. Then a man, or your fiance’s mom or sister, puts the wedding ring on his finger.
Another type of “engagement” in Arab culture is when you read Surah Al-Fatihah (first chapter in the Quran) among your closest relatives. After this, you are engaged. There is still no bond between you and your fiancé by God. When you are “engaged”, you are only courting, which is the way many people used to date back in the day, even non-Muslims.
In this period of engagement, when you have a fiance, you can text them or talk to them, though I wouldn’t say this is Halal. Don’t send them pictures of your hair or your body or whatever. Ladies, if a guy tries to get you to send him naughty pictures, that should be a red flag that he is not a good person and you should reconsider the marriage. He’s not good enough for you if he can’t wait until marriage.
In your engagement period, if you hang out with your fiancé, you should always go with a chaperone who is a Maharam. So for women, it is preferred you bring your brother, your uncle, your father, etc. While you are with your chaperone and your fiancé, you should not touch your fiancé but you can talk.
So this “engagement” period gives people the opportunity to know the other person before they get married. That way, if you realize you don’t like the other person in this time, you can call off the engagement and the marriage. It may also be that this engagement period will make you excited to be with them.
The Marriage Contract – Nikkah or Katb Kitab
This engagement is different than the katb kitab (the writing of your book) or nikah. This time is when you actually sign a marriage contract, with your witnesses. This should done in front of your family and a imam. Though some people do it without a written contract. (I think it is better to have something in writing.)
The Quran states;
“And give to the women (whom you marry) their Mahr (obligatory bridal-money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) with a good heart” [al-Nisa’ 4:4]
The marriage contract can include anything. It can state what the women will not allow of the husband. (To always have a shaved beard, never have a second wife, let her finish her education, etc.) Everything in the contract asked by the women must be fulfilled and obeyed by the husband. The contract also includes a maher, which is a formal statement specifying the dowry the groom will give the bride. The wife is the only one who receives the dowry. This maher is a symbol of honor and respect and a sign that the husband is willing to shoulder his responsibilities and fulfill his duties. There is no equivalent given to the man.
There are two parts to the maher; a amount of money due before the marriage is consummated and a deferred amount given to the bride throughout her life or if you choose to divorce, it must be given to her before the divorce is final. However, if the marriage is not consummated, she does not need to be given the second part of the maher. The initial dowry can range from a gift of money, land, jewelry, an education, or even memorizing surahs (chapters) in the Quran.
The Contract Is Sometimes Counted as the Engagement
Some Muslims count the time you signed your contract as the engagement period. This makes it halal for you and your significant other to be alone with the person or even have sex. However, many people wait until they have the actual wedding to consummate the marriage. The couple could schedule and plan for the wedding to sometimes months or even years after signing the contract.