Yet another example of how the average Muslim’s lifestyle contradicts the draconian dictates of sharia was on recent display.
During a talk show that aired on January 16, 2022, a Muslim cleric, Dr. Salem Abdul Jalil, Secretary of Fatwa at the Egyptian House of Ifta, which specializes in issuing fatwas, complained that most modern day Muslim engagements contradict Islamic law, not least because they resemble Western style celebrations rather than authentically Muslim ones, which should be more like a simple business transaction.
He offered much sharia minutiae and legalese on this topic—including who gets and doesn’t get gifts and how many—but his main point was that engagements between a Muslim man and woman should be very simple and limited only to those people directly involved (the groom, bride, and their parents.)
His austere views are hardly aberrant; many Muslim clerics agree, pointing out that too many Muslim engagements are influenced by Western ones. Discussing, for example, the exchange of engagement rings, Islam Q&A says,
This custom involves imitating the non-Muslims such as Christians and others. It is not a Muslim custom at all. The Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) warned us against that when he said, “You will inevitably follow the paths of those who came before you, handspan by handspan, cubit by cubit, until even if they entered the hole of a lizard, you will follow them.” We said, “O Messenger of Allah, (do you mean) the Jews and Christians?” He said, “Who else?”
Similarly, on Islam Web, the following question is posed:
I would like to ask about having an engagement party before concluding the marriage contract. It will not include any intermixing between the sexes or music. It will be a party between the two extended families in order to know each other. Men and women will be in separate places, while the latter will not let men hear their voices; rather, some Islamic songs will be played for entertainment. There will be food and drink served, without extravagance. Is it permissible, recommended or unlawful to announce the engagement? What is the ruling on this party?
Then, after the usual Islamic benediction, the answer is given:
It is permissible to have an engagement party on the occasion of proposing to marry a girl as long as there is no breaching of the Sharee‘ah (Islamic law) regulations. Some scholars, mainly the Maaliki scholars, are of the opinion that it is recommended to conceal the engagement. There is a Dha‘eef Hadeeth (weak narration) that is given as evidence for this opinion; it states: “Announce marriage and conceal engagement.”
Hence, the party, in the way that you mentioned, is permissible.
Allah Knows best.
This tension between the draconian dictates of sharia and mere human living has a long paper trail among Muslims, especially when they come under the influence of and seek to emulate Western traditions.
Consider the words of Ibn Jubayr, an Andalusian Muslim who went on pilgrimage to Mecca in the 1180s. During his travels, he passed through Jerusalem, which was then still under Crusader rule. Although he, as might be expected, denounced the penchant for the “base and lower orders” of Franks to “revile” Muhammad, “the absence of cleanliness, the mixing with the pigs, and all the other prohibited matters too numerous to be related or enumerated,” he could not but help praise Muslim life under Christian rule:
They [Muslim subjects] surrender half their crops to the Franks at harvest time, and pay as well a poll-tax of one dinar and five qirat for each person. Other than that they are not interfered with, save for a light tax on the fruit of their trees. The houses and all their effects are left to their full possession. All the coastal cities occupied by the Franks are managed in this fashion, their rural districts, the villages and farms, belong to the Muslims. But their [the Muslims’] hearts have been seduced, for they observe how unlike them in ease and comfort are their brethren in the Muslim regions under their [Muslim] governors. This is one of the misfortunes afflicting the Muslims. The Muslim community bewails the injustice of the [Muslim] landlord of its own faith, and applauds the conduct of its [Christian] opponent and enemy, the Frankish landlord, and is accustomed to justice from him.
But, and returning to the main point of this article, it was the “seduction” of life without the draconian dictates of sharia that most obsessed Ibn Jubayr. After describing a Christian marriage celebration in minute detail—“an alluring worldly spectacle” with pomp, fanfare, and musical instruments, and a “proud” bride walking “like a dove, or in the manner of a wisp of cloud”—the amazed Muslim implored Allah to “protect us from the seduction of such a sight.”
In short: “Beware,” he concluded in his writings to his coreligionists, “beware of entering their lands.”