The way most Muslims live (as well as conservative Christians and Jews), men ask for a woman's hand in marriage from the dad. The dad is not just a turn-style who has to say yes. He is a "wali" or protector and guardian of his daughter's rights. So he will be asking some serious questions that would be awkward if the woman had to ask them. Furthermore, in the community today, there are many converts that seek out a wali because they have no male relative who is Muslim. In this post, I share some guidelines and stories that are useful.
Being a wali is not an honorary role. You're not just throwing out the first pitch. You're actually trying to throw curve balls to see whether this guy checks out or has issues. Here are some questions and demands a wali should make:
-Background check. Call and meet at least four people that were close to this man and interview them. There's no husn al-zann (good opinion) in marriage. As a potential suitor, you are rejected until you prove yourself, much like an application for employment. Most people's background today can be found on their social media, so the wali has to scroll down. Keep scrolling, read the comments, look at the pictures, click on whose tagged in those pictures. Get a a good idea. You are a private investigator *before* the problem happens, not after. This is preventative medicine.
-I need to see your financials to make sure you're not in some ridiculous debt or have bad credit such that you can't even rent an apartment or cover your needs. You want some evidence that he can fulfill the obligation of maintenance.
-Educational background or skill set, that's a given. If it's solid, then it can outweigh lack of funds at this moment.
-If this is a stranger, we need medical records. There was once a wealthy young man that was so suave and amazing who proposed to a girl who was, let's say more on the modest side and came from a poor family. The mom and daughter were head over heels, but the dad had enough common sense to know something was up. Why would he come knocking on our door? So the dad demanded medical records. The guy never produced them. When the dad pressed him, the man admitted, he had an STD and that's why he couldn't find anyone else to marry him.
Now note, there are legitimate cases where people had a past. It happens, and the door for tawba is open. In those cases, there are organizations that match-make for Muslims with STD's.
-Have you agreed on life essentials such as religious beliefs, where to live, how to school kids, etc?
-In laws are important. Have you at least met them and spent some time with them to make sure there's nothing alarming?
-Engagement. Contrary to popular understandings, there is such a thing as engagement in Islam. It's an announcement of a future committment to marriage. Nothing changes between the fiances, but nobody is allowed to propose anymore. The purpose of engagement is to give time for both parties to get ready. For example, the groom may want to save up some money, or the girl may be finishing up college. Also, it's easy to put on a face during the get-to-know process, but it's hard to fake it over an eight or nine month period. I remember a story where a girl got engaged, and four months into it they discovered the guy was still getting to know other women. He basically reserved the girl and then went to check for better options. Needless to say he got dumped on the spot. Engagements are commonly a few months. I think more than a year is too much.
-The marriage should be legal/civil in the country where you will settle. If you accept a Sharia marriage but not a civil one, you're asking for trouble, especially if a child enters the picture.
-Get 50% of the dowry up front (or some decent amount) and whatever is scheduled to be paid later should be written and signed. I've seen too many cases where a really nice dowry is "promised" but never produced.
-The dowry should be commensurate to current standards depending on the man's job. For example in our area in America 5, 7, or 10k is a common range.
In sum, there are very few things in life that are as bad as misery in marriage. The wali's job is to eliminate the bad things that could have been avoided. If that means he has to be demanding and hated for a few months, it's worth the cost. It's preventative medicine.