In my culture, it is often considered offensive for a woman’s family to propose marriage. I just wanted to know if there was anything wrong in Islam with a woman or her family proposing to the man.
Islamically, marriage negotiations can be initiated or marriage can be proposed by either of the two parties. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with a daughter (or son) suggesting a suitable and righteous person to the parents provided it is done with decorum and observance of Islamic guidelines.
Unfortunately, however, there remains a stigma within certain Muslim cultures against a woman’s family proposing or initiating marriage talks. It is likewise considered rude and offensive for the daughter to suggest a suitable man to her parents which, in some cases, is automatically deemed to mean that she is involved in an illicit relationship with him. If a girl respectfully offers herself to a suitable man for marriage, it is considered a crime! All these culturally-driven notions and customs are not endorsed by the teachings of Islam.
Imam al-Bukhari (Allah have mercy on him) has a chapter in his Sahih collection titled: ‘A man offering his daughter or sister to the people of good’ in which he establishes that marriage can be proposed by the woman’s family, and that there is no shame or indecency in doing so. He records the following Hadith:
Abdullah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) relates that Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him), when [his daughter] Hafsa bint Umar (Allah be pleased with her) became a widow upon the death of Khunays ibn Hudhafa al-Sahmi (Allah be pleased with him) – who was one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and died in Madina – Umar ibn al-Khattab said, ‘I went to Uthman ibn Affan (Allah be pleased with him) and offered Hafsa to him [for marriage].’ He said, ‘I will think about it.’ He met me after a few days and said, ‘It seems to me that I should not marry at this time.’ Umar said, ‘Then I met Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (Allah be pleased with him) and said, ‘If you wish, I can marry you to Hafsa bint Umar.’ Abu Bakr remained silent and did not give me any reply at all. That was more painful for me than [what I felt with the reply of] Uthman. Some days later, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) proposed for her and I married her off to him. Abu Bakr met me and said, ‘Perhaps you were upset with me when you offered Hafsa to me and I did not reply to you at all?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I was only prevented from replying to you [in the positive] in regards to what you offered me due to the fact that I knew the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) had considered her and I am not the one who would reveal the secret of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Had the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) left her, I would have accepted her.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4830)
In the above narration, Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) offered his daughter, Hafsa (Allah be pleased with her), not only to one but two individuals: Sayyiduna Uthman and Sayyiduna Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (Allah be pleased with them), with the latter already being married. As such, there is nothing wrong with a woman’s guardian (wali) proposing marriage on her behalf to a righteous and suitable man.
Similarly, when the Prophet of Allah, Sayyiduna Shu’ayb (peace be upon him) observed the beautiful character of Sayyiduna Musa (peace be upon him) and his praiseworthy attributes such as trustworthiness, he proposed marriage to him for one of his daughters. Allah Most High says:
‘And when he [Musa, peace be upon him] arrived at the waters of Madyan, he found a large number of people watering [their animals] and found, aloof from them, two women withholding their animals. He said, ‘What is the matter with you?’ They replied, ‘We cannot water [our animals] until these shepherds take [their animals] back after watering them, and our father is a very old man.’ So he watered [their animals] for them, then turned to a shade and said, ‘My Lord, I am in need of whatever good you send down to me.’ Then one of the two women came to him, walking bashfully. She said, ‘My father is calling you, so that he may give you a reward for watering our animals.’ So when he [Musa, peace be upon him] came to him [the father of the women, i.e. Shu’ayb, peace be upon him] and narrated to him the whole story, the latter said, ‘Do not fear; you have escaped from the wrongdoing people.’ One of the two women said, ‘Dear father, hire him; the best man you can hire is someone who is strong and trustworthy.’ He [the father] said [to Musa], ‘I wish to marry one of these two daughters of mine to you on condition that you act as my employee for eight years. Then if you complete ten [years], it will be of your own accord. And I do not want to put you in any trouble; you will find me, God-willing, one of the righteous.’ (Qur’an: 28:23-27)
Furthermore, Sahl ibn Sa’d (Allah be pleased with him) relates that a woman came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and offered herself to him [for marriage]. He said, ‘I do not have any need for women right now.’ A man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, marry her to me!’ He asked, ‘Do you have anything [to give as dowry]?’ He replied, ‘I do not have anything.’ The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘Give something to her, even if only an iron ring.’ He said, ‘I do not have anything.’ So the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) asked, ‘Do you know any portion of the Qur’an?’ He said, ‘Such-and-such.’ He said, ‘I have married her to you for what you know of the Qur’an.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 5141)
Sayyiduna Thabit al-Bunani (Allah be pleased with him) relates that I was in the company of Anas (Allah be pleased with him) while his daughter was with him. Anas said, ‘A woman came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) offering herself to him [in marriage] and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, do you have any need of me?’ [Upon hearing this], the daughter of Anas said, ‘How immodest is she! Shame! Shame!’ Anas said, ‘She is better than you! She desired the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and so offered herself to him.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4828)
These two Hadiths clearly establish the permissibility of a woman proposing marriage to a man. Indeed, the females offered themselves to the best of creation (Allah bless him & give him peace); however, it is not specific with him (Allah bless him & give him peace). It is for this reason that Imam al-Bukhari (Allah have mercy on him) chose to name the chapter in which he records these Hadiths: ‘A woman offering herself to a righteous man’ signifying that a woman may propose marriage to any righteous and suitable man.
Imam al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (Allah have mercy on him) states in his commentary, Fath al-Bari:
‘These two Hadiths indicate the permissibility of a woman offering herself to a [righteous] man for marriage and informing him of her desire to marry him, and there is no disgrace in doing so.’ (Fath al-Bari, 9/219)
As such, in conclusion, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman’s family to propose marriage. Likewise, it is not indecent or disgraceful for a woman to desire a man for his righteousness, piety and good character, and thus propose marriage to him as long as it is done through the proper channels and without violating any rules of Shari’ah.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK