Islam has rules for how men and women who are not married or related interact that are meant to preserve people’s individual well-being and communal well-being. I usually talk about this as the 4 P’s.
Purpose- Should have a clear reason why you are interacting with the person that goes beyond you and your desires. Professionalism- Interaction should be carried out in a way that is respectful and dignified. This includes issues such as content of conversation, tone of speech, eye contact, etc. Public- We are taught that a man and a woman who are alone, Satan is the third. Interactions should not take place in spaces that are not publicly accessible or known. Personal Space- there should be no touching and some space between people.
Many don’t like to accept these rules, mostly because they convinced themselves that they know better and they want to do what they want to do. Truth is, God and His Messenger know better.
Question then is, how do I get to know someone with these rules. Simple answer: community and paying attention. A lot can be learned from observation. It’s a lost art in a world where everything is explicit in front of us at all times.
Relationships do not have to be arranged. The courting process just needs to be handled properly.
You (male or female) see someone you’re interested in or are informed of someone to consider. You ask yourself: do I have the material, emotional, and spiritual wherewithal to get married? This is the first step and if the answer is “no” all is tabled and those things are worked on. If the answer is “yes” then the consideration phase is next.
In most cases the families should be aware that two people are going to talk with the intent of marriage. This is an important safeguard and test of maturity, seriousness, and commitment. The interested party can approach the person in various ways. Most important is that it’s done respectfully and in a way that preserves the person’s honor. It is also best to only inform absolutely essential people of the whole thing. If it doesn’t work out peoples’ honor should be preserved. There is literally no reason to be telling your friends who you’re interested in and talking about it and so on. In this stage the two people talk with some level of supervision and permission from families and there is NO commitment. All the P’s remain.
Here the red flag questions should come first, then the smaller conversation. Reality is people tend to get attracted to the attention and it’s important to ask the big questions early. If all works out then they agree to have intent to marry each other and become engaged. All the P’s still remain. Some people wonder how it is possible to really get to know somebody like this. The reality is that you never REALLY know somebody until you are married to them and living with them. However, through due diligence, controlling of emotions while getting to know each other, and observing behavior with wisdom and attention, you can get to know someone deeply. You can also connect on deep matters have have deep feelings for one another without explicitly mentioning that.
After engagement is Nikah and that is the official Islamic marriage. Once that’s done they are married.
This method is incredibly beautiful and dignifying when done properly. To me it makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, most people are leading with their emotions, not their minds on these issues.
Also, general principle for pretty much everything: Hard cases make bad law. There can be subtleties and exceptions.