A man came to Umar ibn al-Khattab and spoke in praise of another. Umar asked him: “Are you his nearest neighbour such that you know his goings and his comings?” The man replied: “No.”
Umar then asked: “Have you been his companion on a journey so that you could see evidence of his good character?” The man replied: “No.”
Umar then asked: “Have you had dealings with him involving dinars and dirhams [money] which would indicate the piety of the man?” The man once again replied: “No.”
Umar then recalled: “I think you saw him standing in the mosque muttering the Quran and moving his head up and down?” The man replied: “Yes.”
Umar then said: “Go, for you do not know him…” And to the man in question, Umar said, “Go and bring me someone who knows you.”
Regardless of whether your potential suitor is giving you a “too good to be true” description of them self or whether they are genuinely being honest, don’t get la la about it but instead get references from reliable people who know the potential spouse and will keep your enquiries a secret.
It’s important the referees are honest with their reference and don’t exaggerate things or keep quiet if they know of any bad character traits. You should remind them that it’s not considered back biting if they do mention any bad character traits they know of and could also ask them “Would you allow your daughter/son to get married to this man/woman?” It’s also important they keep your enquiry a secret and don’t tell the other person that you’ve asked for a reference.
Unfortunately the days of people working together in a society and the aunty/uncle network where you were able to find out pretty much everything about a person is fading fast. So, in order of preference, here’s a few things you can do to help you gain some information about the potential spouse (based on tried and tested methods given by family and friends):
- Find out if they are part of a study circle and then ask the administrators of that study circle for a reference.
- If the potential suitor has mentioned that they are friends with a well known person or an Islamic teacher then email that person yourself to ask for their opinion.
- Ask the potential suitor which mosque he attends and then ask the Imam of that mosque for a reference.
- Ask “Shaykh Google” – everyone now a days has an internet footprint so you’re bound to find something online. The only warning with this is that you also have to be open minded as your potential suitor may share the same name with someone else.
- Search “mu-kitab (aka FaceBook)” or any other social/business network – if they’re not on any social/business network then they may either be antisocial, afraid of computers, or be too occupied in other activities to have an online social account – keep your judgement open on this. If they are on FB then look for “friends in common” – remember there’s 6 degrees of separation in most things – and then send them a message.
- Send your brother/father/uncle to ask the taxi drivers of that city. It really does work… I’m well and truly amazed by this tip though keep in mind that you may not get the confidentiality that you seek here.
Remember use the advise from Umar ibn Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) above, by seeking references from people who have lived with the potential spouse or undertook some journey with him/her or have dealt in business/dawah with them.
Personally, I sought three references and then made my mind up (strangely enough The Husband also sought three referees). This was based on me not wanting a lot of people knowing (especially if things didn’t work out) and then also the advise from my teacher that asking three people would be better than asking one or two.
May Allah help us to stay on the straight path and fulfil the rights of others with good character. Allahumma Ameen.