Important Traits to Look for in a Prospective Spouse
Answered by Ustadh Farid Dingle
Question: Given that religious practice is the most important trait to look for in a prospective spouse, how relevant (or irrelevant) are looks?
Answer: Although the religious practice is indeed the most important trait to look for in a prospective spouse, one should not completely ignore looks. It is also recommended to marry someone that is good looking. However, one should not give it so much importance that one accepts marrying someone who is not religious.
The key is to have a pure intention, and strike an intelligent and godly balance.
Religiousness as a Priority
The Messenger of Allah to me and you, and to all those who wish to get married, told us, ‘Women are married for four reasons: for their wealth, their status [lineage], their beauty, and for their religiousness. Make sure you get a really religious woman. Otherwise, may you come to misfortune!’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
This hadith clearly tells us that marrying a woman who is a practicing Muslim is more important than marrying a woman who is not “really religious” for any other reason.
Allah Most High also tells us in the Quran not to prioritize looks, status and wealth, and look rather to the religiousness of our prospective spouses:
‘And a bondswoman [a slave] who believes is better than a [free] pagan woman, even if you really like her looks … And a bondsman who believes is better than a [free] pagan man, even if you really like him. Those invite to the Hell-Fire, while Allah invites to Paradise and forgiveness with His permission.’ (Qur’an, 2: 221)
This the end of this verse is very, very powerful. Notice how Allah mentions that the pagan spouse calls us to the Hell-Fire, while He does not mention that the believing spouse calls to Paradise; rather, He puts His name [Allah] in place of the believing spouse. This is as if to say that the righteous believing spouse is almost Allah’s agent and spokesman, calling those He permits to Paradise on His behalf. This is a very important point indeed.
So it is clear from the hadith and Qur’anic verse above that marrying someone (the bride or the groom) who is Muslim and religious is a priority.
Because the believer lives for the Next Life, he is always forward-thinking. While he invests his actions at the moment, he is not blind to the long-term.
Marriage is a long-term plan: it is not a just halal fling. Someone who looks at marriage thus will naturally think about how their prospective spouse will be in ten, twenty, fifty years and beyond.
In this light, marrying someone who is religious and actively working to become more so, is quite likely to be a better long-term partner in whom one will find more beauty, and indeed attraction, than someone who is a Helen of Troy on the outside, but a Medusa within.
‘Marriage,’ as an old German Sufi once told me as he watered some plants, ‘cannot work on sex alone.’
And the beauty and attraction of religiousness is often something far more satisfying than mere appearance. Imam al Shafi’i said, ‘See well to abstinence [zuhd], because the abstinence in the abstinent one is more beautiful than jewelry on a buxom maid.’ (Siyar Alam al Nubala, Dhahabi)
Notwithstanding the foregoing, prioritizing religiousness overlooks does not mean that looks are ignored. Indeed it is recommended [sunna] to marry someone who is good-looking. (Mishkat al Misbah, Ba Fadl)
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘When you [wish] to propose to a woman, then if you are able to look at her to see if you want to marry her, then do so.’ (Abu Dawud)
The encouragement to look tells us quite clearly that looks are important. Indeed it is quite clear from the Prophet’s actions (Allah bless him and give him peace) and teachings that although looks are not a priority, they are not irrelevant at all.
If we reflect on the Prophet’s multiple marriages (Allah bless him and give him peace), we see that beauty, although by no means a priority, is given consideration.
Our Mother Aisha (Allah be well-pleased with her) tells us that when Our Mother Juwayriyya came knocking on the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace), ‘She was a very beautiful woman.’ She added, ‘I knew the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would see in her what I had seen.’ (Tahdhib Sirat Ibn Hisham, Abd al Salam Harun)
Now we know Our Mother Juwayriyya was very religious, and explicitly chose Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) over her previous husband, and spent hours in worship. (Tahdhib al Kamal, Mizzi; Muslim and others) But to say that her looks had nothing to do with it at all would be far-fetched, just as it would be far-fetched, or rather downright wrong, to say that her looks were all that he saw!
So too, when he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) married a woman from the Ghifar tribe, on the wedding night he saw a white mark on near her hip and distanced himself from her. He then told her to go back to her family, letting her take the entire dowry. (Ahmad, Hakim, and others; Subul al Huda wa al Rashad, Salihi) Now it is of course possible that he did this for fear that it was leprosy, but it is also quite possible that he felt that as a mortal man, the purely aesthetic defect was too much for him.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) also asked one of his companions if he had seen his prospective bride. Upon responding in the negative, he advised him to do so, explaining that some of the Medinan Helpers (from whom the bride was amongst) had something odd about their eyes. (Muslim) Clearly he was advising his followers to be wise and not marry someone whom they had never seen before because, from a purely aesthetic point of view, they might be disappointed.
This of course also applies to women. Sayyidna Ali said, ‘Women should not marry men that are not like them [in age and looks]. After all, they like in you [men] what you like in the [women]. Similarly, Sayyidna Umar said, ‘Does one of you really go out and find an old, ugly man for his daughter?! They love for themselves what you [men] love for yourselves!’ (Adab al Nisa, Ibn Habib)
As mentioned before, scholars tell us that it is recommended to marry someone who is good looking. What does that actually mean?
The late Shafi’i scholars actually debated this. Ibn Hajar al Haytami was of the opinion that it meant marrying someone whom you personally found good looking. Others opined that what was relevant was that the person was generally considered good looking. (al Manhal al Naddakh, Qarahdaghi)
This is a very interesting debate and applies to other things one might look for in a spouse. Do you marry someone you personally feel attracted to or someone your peers would otherwise be interested in? Do you marry a doctor because you like doctors, or because your extended family values doctors? From an individualistic point of view, it might seem like a silly question, but we cannot ignore the fact that our values, and therefore what we value in other people, are clearly affected by our surroundings. One would do well to think hard about this.
One should definitely prioritize religiousness overlooks, but one should also follow the advice of the Sacred Law and find someone one can live with and keep one chaste. Allah Most High says,
‘The believers have already succeeded–those who humble themselves in awe in prayer, who turn away from nonsense, who give in alms, and who protect their private parts.’ (Qur’an, 23: 1-5)
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.