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What Should I Say When I Am Asked About Someone’s Past When It Comes to a Marriage Proposal?

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.

Warmest salams,
[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.

Informing a Prospective Spouse About Past Non-Marital Relationships

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question:If my prospective spouse asks me if I had any past relations, am I to deny having committed past sins, and am I to state affirmatively that I am in fact a virgin? Does my fiance have a right to ask me of my past sins/virginity? Does my stating in the affirmative take away the rights of my prospective spouse to obtain a virgin in marriage?
Also, if my prospective spouse suggests to indulge in sexual relations out of marriage just because we would be married anyway, how do I explain to him that this is wrong? He is a very nice person of good character but unfortunately he is not very mindful/informed about many things about religion.
Answer:Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
No, you should not disclose details of past errors, including those related to virginity.
Sincere repentance wipes out the sin and its traces, and from the mercy of this religion is that you are still legally considered to be a virgin. Rejoice in the of the Prophet of mercy sent by the All-Merciful.
As for getting together before marriage, tactfully avoid. Keep contact to a minimum as best you can, and pray two cycles of the prayer of thankfulness and need daily– praying that Allah gives you a beautiful life together and save you from the impermissible before and during marriage. Ibn ‘Ata’illah said, “Whosoever’s beginning is illuminated, their ending is illuminated.”
May Allah bless and facilitate success for both of you in this life and the next.
See also: Is It Permissible to Lie In Order to Conceal Past Sins? and: Can One Lie About Past Sins?
And Allah alone gives success.
wassalam,
Tabraze Azam

Can One Lie About Past Sins?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Can one lie about sins that one committed in the past if he truly repented from them? What is the ruling on talking about past sins?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Walaikum assalam,

Sins are wiped out by sincere repentance. However, if they relate to the rights of another, this right has to be returned. If it is a wrong that cannot be returned in this life, like taking a life, one’s repentance should be coupled with a true turning to Allah, lest the one killed demand requital on the Day of Judgment.

Talking About Sins

It is prohibited (haram) and sinful to talk about sins, whether current or past, except when there is a Shariah-countenanced reason. Even when such a reason exists, if it is possible to mention something general (such as not mentioning oneself or any particular type of sins) then mentioning specific sins would remain sinful. This is because it is:

(1) obligatory to avoid  vain talk, and

(2) obligatory to conceal one’s sins.

Imam Barkawi defined “vain talk” in his al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, stating,

“Talking about the vain is to talk about sins [K: one’s own or others], such as talking about gatherings of drinking, or the fornicators, without there being a valid reason. This is because it is revealing a sin, whether one’s own or another’s, without a [K: religiously valid] reason.”  [al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, 3: 224-225]

The obligation of concealing one’s sins is also mentioned clearly by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) said, “All my Community will be excused except those who are blatant. And it is from blatancy for one to perform an act at night and to wake up and tell something that they did such-and-such, while Allah had concealed it for them. They slept under the cover of Allah, and they rended Allah’s covering from themselves in the morning.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

What if I am asked whether I did such and such?

Given this, if someone asks one whether one used to do drink, for example, in the bad old days, one cannot answer in the affirmative. Rather, one should answer by an indirect answer, like, “Why would any Muslim drink?”, or, “Alhamdulillah, Allah protected me from that”, intending that Allah protected one after one stopped. If such an indirect answer does not come to one’s mind, it would be permitted (or, rather, necessary) to lie and deny this.

The reason why it is so important not to talk about sin is because of what sin is: it is that which Allah hates, and may punish its doer for in the Hereafter. Sins go against the very purpose of the creation of humanity, which is to know and worship Allah. If you examine sins, all of them either entail or lead to social harms. Mentioning a sin is therefore a sin in itself. It is like (or worse than) dropping one’s pants in front of others; shameless. It is a serious issue that people are not careful about.

Further, talking about sin allows it to lose it’s gravity and people start thinking (even if only subconsciously) that it is not all that bad to sin. When a person talks about sin normally, then it becomes for him “just the way things are”.

Guarding One’s Eyes & Ears

In light of this, it is also important to avoid seeing and hearing that which is not permitted. This not only relates to obvious sins, but also reading and seeing things that may affect one’s beliefs or understanding of Islam. This is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) instructed that, “From the excellence of a man’s Islam is to leave that which does not concern him.” [A sound (hasan) hadith, transmitted by Tirmidhi and others]

Mulla Ali al-Qari, the famous Hanafi hadith scholar, commentating on this in his Mirqat al-Mafatih, states:

“That is, to leave that which is not important or befitting of him, whether in speech, actions, or thought. Thus, the excellence of a man’s Islam is its perfection, such that one remains steadfast in the submission to the commands and prohibitions of Allah, and surrenders to His rulings in accordance to His destiny and decree (qada wa qadr). This is the sign of the heart having been expanded by the light of its Lord, and the descent of quietude (sakina) into the heart.

The reality of that which does not concern him is that which is not needed for a worldly or next-worldly necessity, and dos not aide in attaining his Lord’s good pleasure, such that it is possible to life without it.

This includes excess acts and unnecessary speech. This hadith may well be taken from Allah Most High’s saying, ‘And who shun all vain things.’ [Qur’an, 23:3; f: vain things (lagw) is, which Imam Baydawi explains in his Tafsir as being: “that which does not concern them of speech and actions.”]

And it has been related in a Prophetic hadith that, “The people of the Garden will not remorse except for moments that passed them by without remembering Allah.”  [Tabarani from our master Mu`adh (may Allah be pleased with him)]

So glad tidings to one who takes himself to account before he is taken to account!

Allah Most High has said, “O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah. And let every soul look to that which it sends on before for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah! Lo! Allah is Informed of what you do. And be not you as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the wrongdoers.” (Qur’an, 59:18)

Awza`i said, “`Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz wrote to us, ‘Whoever is frequent in remembering death is content with but a little of this world. And whoever counts his speech from his actions speaks little except in that which benefits him.'” [Mulla Ali al-Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih, 8: 585 #4840]

And Allah alone gives success.

Wassalam,
Faraz Rabbani

(Edited by Salman Younas)