Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah
Question: Assalamu alaykum
I had a marriage proposal from a bride who I really liked but unfortunately someone from my family went to the bride’s family and said things about my past which were really bad. So they backed up. I am very sad about this.
If someone asks me about someone’s past for a marriage proposal should I disclose everything I know about his past?
Answer: In the Name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate
Thank you for your question. I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties you are facing. May Allah reward you immensely for turning your life around and grant you the very best in this life and the next.
In regards to your specific question of what is permitted to say when asked about a prospective spouse, the scholars discuss two scenarios: When a third party is approached for advice or a reference, and when the person himself is asked about his suitability for marriage.
SEEKING ADVICE FROM A THIRD PARTY
If a third party is asked for advice concerning a prospective spouse for someone, there are two scenarios: when the person has bad character traits or is sinning (presently), and when the person may have sinned in the past but has now become upright. The following rules also apply to even when the third party is not asked for advice (i.e. they simply know of the marriage proposal and about the prospective spouse).
When the potential spouse possesses bad character, deficiencies, or is sinning (presently)
If the person being asked about is someone who is currently sinning or has blameworthy traits, such as irreligiousness, miserliness, aggression, laziness, etc., then the person being consulted is obliged (wajib) to disclose what they know of him. However, this must only be done in following way:
1. If the prospective spouse is not suitable at all, the third party must first limit their words to ‘He/She is not suitable for you’. If this suffices the one seeking advice, then it is not permissible to disclose any further information.
2. If this does not suffice the enquirer, then the third party must disclose further information, but only to the extent that the questioner understands the point or is content that he can make a decision. This means that the information must be given gradually, in the least amount necessary each time (e.g. he does not tell them everything all at once or the worst things first), giving a little bit more information, each time stopping and leaving it with the questioner to ask more if needed. If the potential spouse has major and minor flaws, or is committing major and minor sins, the third party must first mention the minor sins and observe if that suffices the questioner. If, at the end, he does end up having to tell the questioner about more serious flaws or sins relating to the person, then he may do so if necessary, even about major sins.
4. That the information they give is absolutely true of that person, and not based on mere assumption or gossip.
5. That the information is given with the intention of sincere counsel (naseeha), and for the genuine benefit of the questioner to make an informed decision regarding marriage. In such cases it would not be considered slander or backbiting because it has a legal excuse. It should not be for any other reason, such as trying to cause rifts between people, or merely for gossips sake.
Imam Ibn Hajr states, ‘Whoever is sought for advice regarding a prospective spouse, or a scholar whom one wants to meet, or a prospective business associate, [to enquire whether] are they suitable or not? Or [even] if not asked … He is obligated to mention … the person’s flaws according to the shariah as well as according to local custom. … It is not permissible [to mention anything] except that which is absolutely necessary, and therefore it is obligatory to mention his shortcomings step by step, starting with the least serious, then the next, then the next [and so on]. And this is one scenario [out of six] in which talking about another person with that which he would dislike [ghiba] is permissible.’ [Tuhfa al Muhtaj]
One of the textual proofs for this ruling comes from the rigorously authenticated hadith in which Fatimah bint Qays came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), enquiring about two men, Mu’aawiyah and Abu Jahm, both of whom had proposed to her. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, ‘As for Abu Jahm, he does not put down his staff from his shoulder, and as for Mu'awiya, he is destitute, having no wealth.’ [Muslim, Ibn Majah]
The majority of the scholars explain the indirect words of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), ‘he does not put down his staff from his shoulder’ to mean he beats his wives, while others have said it means he travels so often he is barely home. What is clear is that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned each men’s deficiencies as caution.
We also notice that contrary to the ruling we gave above, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not first restrict his words to ‘he is not suitable for you’, or mention the men’s deficiencies gradually, but rather he (peace and blessings be upon him) informed her straight away of the main issues concerning the two men. However, as the scholars have explained, the likely reason that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did this, was that even though the women would have sufficed with the words ‘he is not suitable for you’, he (peace and blessings be upon him) had known that this particular questioner thought that these two men had worse states than actually was the case, and therefore he clarified the situation for her in one go, by mentioning the crux of the matter straight away. [Nihayat al Muhtaj, Tuhfa]
When the potential spouse has repented and become upright
If the person being enquired about is known to have sinned or had bad character traits in the past, but it is known that he / she has become upright, then the third party should only mention his/her current state, and not refer to the person’s past.
If the enquirer persists in knowing more (for the genuine reason of marriage, not mere idle curiosity), then the advisor may inform him in the gradual manner we described above. While the third party should try to avoid mentioning the person’s past sins, if he did mention them as sincere counsel and that it would genuinely be in the questioner’s best interest, then it would be permitted to do so, even if it were major sins. Even then however, it is recommended one does not mention the person’s past sins, and one should do all they can to avoid it if possible. *
Again, we should also note that this is only permissible if there is concrete fact that the person had indeed committed those sins, and not based on hearsay, speculation, or inference. To do so without certainty is itself a major sin, as the honour, reputation, and prospects of a person is at stake.
WHEN THE PERSON HIMSELF IS ASKED ABOUT HIS OWN SUITABILITY FOR MARRIAGE
When someone is directly asked about their own suitability for marriage, such as when a prospective spouse asks the other, or the prospective guardian asks the sought after bride or groom, there are also two scenarios.
When the potential spouse (being asked directly) possesses bad character, deficiencies, or is sinning (presently)
If the potential spouse is currently sinning in his life, or has blameworthy traits which will have an effect on the marriage and relationship, then there is a difference of opinion. The foremost opinion is that the prospective spouse being asked must do the following in order:
1. Tell the questioner ‘I am not suitable for you’.
2. If the questioner still insists on following up, then he / she either drops the proposal altogether, or informs the other person about all their shortcomings (that which is deemed as legal and local customary flaws), but this again is done gradually, one piece of information after the other.
[Tuhfa al Muhtaj, Nihayat al Muhtaj].
However, there is another valid opinion, and perhaps more practical and useful in most situations, which states, ‘If one is consulted about his own character, then [these instructions should be followed]:
1. If they have a deficiency or flaw that would legally permit a spouse to nullify a marriage contract (such as impotency, leprosy etc.), then it is obligatory for them to inform the other person.
2. If they have deficiencies or flaws that would not permit nullification of a marriage contract, but do reduce their desirability as a spouse, such as bad character or miserliness, then it is recommended to tell the person.
3. If they are currently sinning [whether minor or major sins], it is obligatory for him / her to make sincere repentance immediately, to conceal their own faults, and to not mention it to anyone else.
[Iyaanat al Talibin]
As a side note, it is advisable that people who are seeking to get married and looking for a spouse, should not wait until the point of marriage talks to give up sins and repent, in the hope that marriage will keep them on the straight and narrow. While repentance is good at any time, it isn’t fair to introduce another person in one’s life when it is still on shaky ground or just at the beginning of the right path. Therefore, unless one fears committing more sins by not getting married, one should ideally get their lives and work on establishing a firm footing in the religion, and even their worldly life, before seeking out their life-long partner.
When the potential spouse (being asked directly) has repented and become upright
As for when a person has already made sincere repentance and has become, or working hard to become, an upright person, then there is no difference of opinion in that the person should not tell anyone, including a prospective spouse, about their past sins or flaws.
It is also permitted to lie in such a situation, such as when someone asks another if they have done such and such sin, and they answer ‘No’ even if they have. Lying in this situation is recommended, while many scholars have stated it is obligatory.
I hope the above answers your question in detail.
In regards your own personal situation, it is unfortunate that a relative has mentioned your past mistakes, especially because you have shown that you have left old habits behind and are trying to live correctly. No one is infallible, even great people, and everyone deserves second chances (as well as third, fourth and many more chances!).
Perhaps the following will be of help:
1. Try speaking to, or get someone to speak to the relative who is mentioning these things about you. Try to get them to understand that you have changed and it is causing you distress.
2. Perhaps request the sister’s family to see you and explain to them your situation and that while what has been said maybe true, it is the past and that you have changed. However, be dignified in doing this and do not get emotional or angry. If at the end of the day they still say no, then it was not meant to be, regardless of what people have said, while if it is meant to be, it will happen, even if the whole community meddle in your affairs.
3. Most importantly, turn to Allah and make sincere supplication. This is a test for you and a chance to show your patience, gratitude and firmness. If you stay firm, in the end you will be the one who succeeds, insha’Allah. Recite the following verse from the Qur’an: ‘Our Lord! Grant unto us spouses and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous’ [25:74].
4. Pray Salat al Hajar. You can find out how to pray this prayer here.
I wish you all the best, and that Allah increases you in your faith and uprightness, and grant you the best of spouses. Amin.
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah
*The information marked with an asterix was checked and confirmed by Shaykh Abu Bakr Ali al Khatib, a senior lecturer at Ribaat, Tarim. (may Allah preserve him).
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.