Long or Short Engagement? – Thoughts of Young Muslims
Long or Short Engagement?
By Safiyyah Surtee for IslamOnline
It is time to get married. You have completed your studies, landed a good job and now you are yearning for love and companionship. Your family has introduced you to a lovely person, who you think you might be compatible with. A few chaperoned meetings and intense conversations later, and you both agree you want to spend the rest of your lives together. So, just how long should you wait before the wedding?
What Is an Engagement?
Before delving into whether a short or long engagement is preferable, let me define what an engagement is, in the context of Muslim societies. According to the people I interviewed, there seems to be three broad definitions.
One is that the engagement period is a time, for the couple who intend to get married, to get to know each other better and for their families to get acquainted, in a healthy environment, free from the threat of temptation.
Another is that an engagement is simply the time before the wedding, when arrangements and preparations are being made, but it does not involve any physical contact between the bride and groom.
Third, is when the couple is already legally married, but have not yet started living together because of various factors like achieving financial independence, completing their education, or simply taking the time to court, before moving in with each other.
I asked some people about the appropriate length of an engagement.
Thoughts of Young Muslims!
Amina, a soon-to-be-married student in Grahamstown, South Africa:
We have made a bigger deal about getting to know people than it really is. I am not saying that with just one conversation you will know, but I definitely disagree with the idea that it takes two people more than three months to get to know each other. With regards to the engagement period – as it stands in society – I think people should be more realistic and have a shorter engagement period. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged us to not delay marriage!
Tasneem, a British divorcee from Dubai, U.A.E.:
It is difficult to say which is better – a short or long engagement – as it depends on the couple, but personally, I think anything longer than 6 months is pushing it. Wedding preparation time is highly stressful anyway so the more drawn out it is, the more stress and probably more issues and problems will arise with your fiancé. Engagements that are too short though, do not give enough time for the couple to get to know each other enough. So I think 4-6 months is enough – not too short, like 1 month, and not too long as in years!
Aasiya, single, from Johannesburg, South Africa:
An engagement means absolutely nothing to me; it is a physical representation of your intention to someone; although I must be honest, I do not believe in engagements personally. This is because how I see it, you should state your intention and follow through. But if we must then I would say that long engagements create an opportunity for temptation. I think a year at most.
Farzana, married, from Doha, Qatar:
I think that it is up to the couple. Some people need more time to build relationships and others do not. I liked having the time to get to know my husband pretty well; you get to know each other without the constraints that come with learning to deal with a new life. Let’s face it, we do change as we age depending what we go through in life, and I like knowing that he knew me as a whimsical girl who was a whole lot more free-spirited than I am today – so yes, a long engagement worked for me.
Mohammed Ziyad, married, from Cape Town, South Africa:
Although engagements are necessary at times, it should not allow the couple to go out alone, as they are not yet married. I think that this period can be used to get to know each other or allow time for the family to prepare for the wedding. In my case, I proposed to my wife, 3 months before marrying her; therefore, I favor the short engagement-.
Rahmat, single, from Johannesburg, South Africa:
I do not agree with the term ‘engagement’. I think it is used too loosely nowadays, but if I had to give an answer I would say that it should be kept to a short period of time. As a Shi’ah, we have a different kind of engagement, which allows the couple to get to know each other legally, but with restrictions of course.
Expert Point of View
Shameema, a youth guidance counsellor from Australia, who works within the Muslim communities, said:
To me an engagement is the period where the couple can get to know each other better, and I believe that it should be a short period, a couple of months at most before marriage. I think the families from both sides need to help facilitate this process by inviting the other family over and allowing the two young people to see each other in different situations.
At the end of the day, families will always have the greatest influence on the way young people view and behave in their marriages. In Perth we only have about 5 registered Imams who can perform the wedding ceremony that are recognized by the government. I think that before anyone is allowed to be married by the Imams, they need to complete a marriage course. This should be done during the engagement period, so the duration of the engagement should last as long as it takes the couple to complete the course.
It seems quite heavy-handed, but I only see benefits for the two people planning to spend their lives together. At the moment we are looking at what courses are available and also how we can come up with something ourselves taking information from what is available,
I want to get together with a psychologist, a sheikh and a few other community representatives who have experience in marriage counseling, and get them to write up a course. It should involve separate workshops for the bride and groom as well as workshops that are done together. I believe that in part of the workshop, the Imam should encourage the families to get to know each other, and get to know the son or daughter-in-law. The workshop should include things like finance and budgeting as well, to teach the everyday life skills that one needs for marriage.
From my own experience, I found that a short engagement of just 5 months was sufficient time for my husband and I to get to know each other well enough and prepare ourselves for marriage. Here in South Africa, the Islamic Care-line offers a course similar to the one spoken of above, which I believe is a very effective way to spend the engagement period.
Muslim youth living in the West face different challenges than those living in Muslim majority nations. In the West, the couple may first have to deal with financial issues, or as reverts, they may have no support from their families, which will affect the length of their engagement. Youth living in Muslim countries also face predicaments, where in some conservative societies, it is difficult to meet, let alone get to know, the person they are going to marry.
In the light of the Quran and Sunnah, it preferable not to delay marriage, but of course we have to take the individual circumstances of the couple into account. In some cases, they may need to have a longer engagement, so that they can complete their studies, or find a home and in other cases, it may have to be very short. As long as the marriage is not delayed for reasons that are not pressing, like saving for an extravagant wedding or dating, whether they have a long or short engagement is up to them, their families and what is culturally acceptable.