Islam commands us to lower our gaze and forbids looking at non-mahram women. This is in order to purify people’s souls and protect their honor. There are, however, certain exceptions in which it is permissible to look at a non-mahram woman for reasons of necessity, one of which is in the case of proposing marriage, because it is the basis on which a very important decision affecting a person’s life will be taken.
If a man wants to propose marriage to a woman, it is permissible for him to speak with her and look at her without being alone. It should be done from a distance and in the presence of her father, brother or mother etc. But if he does not want to propose marriage to her, then he has no right to do that. So long as he wants to marry her.
“It is not permissible for him to touch her face or hands even if is sure that this will not provoke desire because she is still haraam for him, and there is no need for him to do so.” In Durar al-Bihaar it says: “It is not permitted for the qaadi, the witnesses or the fiancé to touch her, even if they are sure that this will not provoke desire, because there is no need for that…” (Radd al-Muhtaar ‘ala’l-Durr al-Mukhtaar, 5/237)
Ibn Qudaamah said:
“It is not permitted for him to be alone with her, because she is forbidden and Islam only allows him to look, thus khulwah (being alone with her) remains forbidden, and because there is no certainty that nothing forbidden will take place if he is alone with her, as the Prophet (pbuh) said: ‘No man is alone with a woman, but the Shaytaan is the third one present.’ He should not look at her in a lustful or suspicious manner. Ahmad said, in a report narrated by Saalih, ‘He may look at the face, but not in a lustful manner.’ He may look repeatedly, and examine her beauty, because the aim cannot be achieved in any other way.”
When a man came to the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) to ask his opinion, he said:
“Have you looked at her?” He said: No. He said: “Go and look at her.” And he said: “When one of you proposes marriage to a woman, if he can look at that which will encourage him to go ahead and marry her, let him do so.” Narrated by Abu Dawood (1783).
It was narrated from al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah (R.A) that he proposed marriage to a woman, and the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Look at her, for that will help bring your hearts together.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (1087); he said: this is a hasan hadeeth.
From Jaabir ibn ‘Abd-Allaah(R.A):
“Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said: If one of you proposes marriage to a woman, if he can look at her to see that which will encourage him to go ahead and marry her, then let him do so.’ I proposed marriage to a young woman, and I used to hide where I could see her, until I saw that which encouraged me to go ahead and marry her, so I did so.’” According to another report he said, ‘a young woman of Bani Salamah. I used to hide from her, until I saw that which encouraged me to go ahead and marry her, so I did so.” (Saheeh Abi Dawood, no. 1832, 1834)
Narrated by Abu Hurayrah (R.A):
“I was with the Prophet (pbuh) when a man came and told him that he had married a woman of the Ansaar. The Prophet (pbuh) said to him, ‘Have you seen her?’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Go and look at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Ansaar.” (Reported by Muslim, no. 1424; and by al-Daaraqutni, 3/253 (34))
Narrated by al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah (R.A):
“I proposed marriage to a woman, and the Prophet (pbuh) said: ‘Have you seen her?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Look at her, because it is more fitting that love and compatibility be established between you.’” According to another report: “So he did that, and he married her and mentioned that they got along.” (Reported by al-Daaraqutni, 3/252 (31, 32); Ibn Maajah, 1/574)
From Sahl ibn Sa’d (R.A):
“A woman came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, I have come to give myself to you (in marriage).” Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) looked at her closely, then he lowered his head. When the woman saw that he had not made a decision about her, she sat down. One of his Companions stood up and said, O Messenger of Allah, if you do not want her, then marry her to me…’” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 7/19; Muslim, 4/143; al-Nisaa’i, 6/113 bi Sharh al-Suyooti; al-Bayhaqi, 7/84)
Some sayings of the scholars:
Al-Shaafa’i (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“If he wants to marry a woman, he is not allowed to see her without a headcover. He may look at her face and hands when she is covered, with or without her permission. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): ‘… and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent…’ [al-Noor 24:31]. He said: ‘The face and hands.’” (al-Haawi al-Kabeer, 9/34).
Imaam al-Nawawi said in Rawdat al-Taalibeen wa ‘Umdat al-Mufteen (7, 19-20):
“When (a man) wants to marry (a woman), it is preferable (mustahabb) for him to look at her so that he will have no regrets.
Abu Haneefah permitted looking at the feet as well as the face and hands. (Bidaayah al-Mujtahid wa Nihayyat al-Muqtasid, 3/10)
“It is permissible to look at the face, hands and feet, and no more than that.” Ibn Rushd also quoted it as above.
Among the reports from the madhhab of Imaam Maalik:
He may look at the face and hands only. He may look at the face, hands and forearms only.
A number of reports were narrated from Imaam Ahmad (may Allaah have mercy on him), one of which says that he may look at the face and forearms.
From the above, it is clear that the majority of scholars say that a man is allowed to look at his fiancée’s face and hands, because the face indicates beauty or ugliness, and the hands indicate the slimness or plumpness (literally, ‘fertility’) of the body.
There is no dispute among the scholars that the man is permitted to look at the face and hands and talk from a distance and in the presence of her father, brother or mother etc.
Allah knows the best.