Hadith Al-Bukhari - Narrated Abu Hurairah: The Prophet said, "A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a loser."
Many of my young friends who are now getting ready to commit matrimony are asking me for advice about selecting a spouse. My advice is common to both men and women. So here goes with the 6 – critical requirements:
1. Islam: As Rasoolullah [p] said in the hadith above a woman is married for four things but her religion is the most important. The same applies to the men. So the first thing to look for is whether your prospective spouse is observant of at least the basics of Islam. These would be the following:
Religion: Salah, fasting, charity (ask about this), Qur'an (can they at least read it fluently? It is a shame that grown up men and women ready to get married can't even read the Qur'an fluently and correctly with Tajweed.)
Character: Courage, patience, a sense of honor (gheerah), confidence, presence, manliness (in men), shyness (in women), modesty (in both), composure, a sense of peace and harmony, comfort with silence, not talking incessantly, dignity.
Appearance: Hijaab for the women and beards for the men. You don't want to marry an effeminate man who looks like a woman. It is confusing. Style (there's nothing endearing about looking like something the cat threw up). Most men end up looking like their fathers and most women like their mothers. So take a good look at the father and mother and decide; because that is who you are going to be looking at every morning.
Caveat: If he/she does not care about what Allaah (s) said, they are not going to care about what you say. Also in a tight spot, if they have Taqwah, it is that which will come to their aid and help to resolve the situation. If it is not there to begin with then there's a major problem. Finally in a conflict, it is the Qur'an and Hadith that is your final refuge. If they don't consider that to be important, then you will be up the creek without a paddle. Their beauty will wear out in a few months (you will stop noticing it) and their wealth is not yours anyway. This person will be the one who will assist you in bringing up your children and these children will be the source of your Jannah or your Jahannam. So if you have someone who is not committed to her/his Deen then you are sunk, no matter how cute they look. So run away, fast. This is critical. Stop reading this right now because if this is not there, the rest of it doesn't matter.
2. Forget falling in love: Falling is never a good thing. Love as we know it (from our romantic notions) is simply another word for physical attraction. It lasts usually for 2 weeks. Since you want your marriage to last a bit longer than that, it is a good idea to focus on respect which will grow into love. Not falling into but growing into. What does that mean? It means that 25 years after you have been married every time you look at your spouse you fall in love all over again. Growing in love means evolving a common language of looks, signals and words that only you two can understand. It is almost magical to see it work. I wish it for all those who read this. That is heaven on earth. So it is respect, honor and dignity that result in love. This love is where your spouse will stand up for you and defend you, never laugh at you in public, be considerate of your faults and hide them and be focused on the many good things that you bring to the marriage. This love means that she/he will not complain about the difficulties that may happen along the way but will work with you to overcome them and stand in the night and cry before Allaah (s) and ask for His intervention. This is the person who will never leave your side as long as you live and will pray for your forgiveness when you are gone. In my experience this is the only person who you can rely on to do it, for all others will forget after a while.
3. Manners: If their religion is good, then watch how they treat their servants, parents, other siblings. Watch how they speak to the waiters in the restaurants, drivers and other service people. Do they show kindness and concern for others? Do they have compassion? Do they show respect for others? Table manners are very important as well. Do they say 'Thank you or Jazakallah' and 'Sorry'? Do they smile often or do they look like you will have to take them to the dentist to see their teeth. Do they laugh? What kind of jokes do they make?
Caveat: I know what you are thinking; if their religion is good then their Akhlaaq must automatically be good. But you know as well as I do that today, this can't be taken for granted. Manners are critical because the day after your honeymoon you are going to be at the receiving end of them. So you'd better make sure you like what you are about to receive. Kindness, concern, compassion and a sense of humor are worth their weight in gold. They are what will make your marriage and your home a heaven on earth.
4. Conversation: What do they talk about? Airheads are of all types, genders and without blond hair and will drive you insane; unless of course you are one of them. Listen to them more than you talk because you are doing the assessment. Look for a breath of knowledge, depth of perception, structured thinking and overall understanding of situations. Ask what they read; authors, books and topics. See if they are more critical than forgiving; do they look for faults more than look for excuses for those faults; do they talk more about problems or about solutions? Do they talk more about material stuff or about the Aakhirah? When they talk about religion are they more critical of others or more focused on their own conduct, shortcomings and need for change? Do they sound like they are dogmatic and bigoted and overly sold on this or that sectarian group and critical of all others? In other words are they focused more towards commonalities with others or differences; are they more towards dividing or bringing people together?
Caveat: Conversation is the lifeblood of a marriage. Without it you have nothing. Most couples stop talking to one another less than six months into the marriage. Make sure you are not one of them and for that you need someone you can talk to, share interests with, respect, are interested in and who you can learn something from. Without conversation your marriage won't go too far.
5. Common Life Goal: Look for commonalities in interests, life goal and passions (especially if you are passionate about something). You are going to live together for the next 20-30 years and so you'd better be focused in generally the same direction. Otherwise you are going to spend a lot of time alone or end up fighting.
Caveat: You need support in your life goal; whether it is to change the world or to bring up children (it is the same thing, believe me). You need someone who will share your pain and joy, give you ideas and listen to you with interest. You need someone who doesn't run your life goal down as being unimportant. You need someone who has a life goal that inspires you to invest your time, energy, emotion and thought in. Serious long term pursuits are the secret of happy marriages. Not kitty parties, boys nights out and the bowling alley.
6. The Family: Look at the whole family; their 'Aqeedah, religious practice, culture, habits, lifestyle, norms, and customs. Can you live with them? Some 'Aqeedah issues are completely incompatible, e.g. families that are into grave worship and dargahs. Other issues may not be totally incompatible but still difficult to live with, e.g. issues to do with covering, seriousness about Salaah and so on.
Caveat: I know you did not marry the whole family but believe me, especially in our Middle East, Subcontinent cultures the family is very much a part of the equation. So if you don't want to spend the rest of your life fighting to keep your wife or husband on the right track, then you'd better make sure the family is on the same track as you are. The same goes for their lifestyle, manners, food habits, things they give importance to and so on. It is not necessary to have a replica of your own home, but the degree to which there is a difference to that degree you will have to adjust and change. Remember that all change is painful and so the less you have, the happier you will be.
If you marry into a joint family and have to live with your husband's (or in rare cases) with the wife's family then the degree of adjustment will be far more. I am not saying that you should not marry into a joint family but if you do, please do it with your eyes wide open and a big heart, a thick skin, lots of patience and willingness to change yourself and adjust with people. Otherwise you are headed for sublime torture which will kill your marriage sooner or later. Living in a joint family can be very trying in the here & now, but can be very rewarding when you grow old. So keep your eye on the future and accept the present as the price for not being lonely in your old age and dying alone in an old age home. If you still don't think you can take it, then don't marry into a joint family.
Joint families mean a lot of support especially in the upbringing of children as well as in a whole gamut of situations. But it also means that others will have an opinion about you and will 'interfere' with your life. Whether you see that 'interference' as concern or as being 'nosey' is up to you. Both have consequences. Leaving the family to live on your own may not be an option at all or may be possible only with major heartburn on all sides leaving bruised egos, emotions and relationships. Not something that you will enjoy and so something much to be avoided if possible.
Final Words of Caution:
A word of caution for those intrepid souls who believe they can change others. Allaah (s) kept Hidaayah (guidance) in His Hand. Maybe you can change people and if so all power to you. But more likely you are like 99.9% of the world which only believes that it can change people. Anyone who looks at someone before they marry them and says, 'I will change him/her and then they'll be just fine'; is taking their life into their hands, quite literally. If the person you want to marry needs changing, let someone else do it. You leave them alone and go find someone who you can admire and look up to and want to be like.
Marrying someone by looking at a profile on the internet is like playing Russian roulette: One of the chambers will have a bullet in it. It is a gamble which I would seriously advise you not to take with your life. I have seen too many ruined. If you don't know enough about your spouse don't marry them. Islam permits you to make enquiries and to meet the spouse before marriage along with your Mahram to ensure that you find out enough about them. All that I have mentioned above can be ascertained in one or two meetings if you know what you are looking for and keep your eyes open. Make sure you do that.
Finally let's not forget; look at all that I have mentioned above and ask yourself, 'How much do I fit into this myself? How many of the criteria do I meet? Am I likely to be a good spouse for the person I marry?' Take marriage seriously because happy marriages are made by serious people. Take it seriously because after all it is your life that we are talking about.