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I found the following evidence:

  • A lady came to Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) and said, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! I have come to you to offer myself to you." He raised his eyes and looked at her and then lowered his head. ... (Sahih al-Bukhari)

  • I was in the company of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) when there came a man and informed him that he had contracted to marry a woman of the Ansar. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said: Did you cast a glance at her? He said: No. He said: Go and cast a glance at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Ansar. (Sahih Muslim)

  • When one of you asked a woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so. He (Jabir) said: I asked a girl in marriage, I used to look at her secretly, until I looked at what induced me to marry her. I, therefore, married her. (Sunan abi Dawod) ...'When Allah causes a man to propose to a woman, there is nothing wrong with him looking at her.' (Sunan ibn Majah)

This stresses the importance of a man looking at the shape of his future wife's body to avoid any problems after marriage. How much of her body can he see?

Hair? Arms and Legs? In tight clothing? Naked?

Question: What parts of the body is a man allowed to see when deciding whether to marry the woman or not?

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The majority of the scholars hold the opinion that this should be limited to what is allowed in the rulings of Hijab and Awrah for a stranger woman i.e the face and hands.

From Imam Nawawi's Minhaj Al Talibin:

The Sonna has introduced the practice of seeing a woman one proposes to marry, even without her knowing it, and even several times, before demanding her in marriage ; but the suitor must not see any more of his future wife than the face and hands. The law forbids a male adult to look upon the shameful parts of a free adult woman, a " stranger " to him — i.e. not his near relative, wife or slave.

There is a divergent opinion in Hanbali madhab where it is permitted to see what one can normally see of a mahram woman.

From islamqa.info:

The second says that he may look at what usually appears such as the neck, calves and so on.

This was quoted by Ibn Qudaamah in al-Mughni (7/454), Imaam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah in Tahdheeb al-Sunan (3/25-26), and al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Baari (11/78)… The reliable opinion in the books of the Hanbalis is the second opinion.

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Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates:

I was in the company of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) when a man came and informed him that he had contracted to marry a woman of the Ansar. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said to him: “Did you cast a glance at her? He said: No. He said: “Go and look at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Ansar”. (Sahih Muslim, no. 1423)

The great Hadith and Shafi’i Fiqh scholar, Imam al-Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“…In the Hadith (of Abu Hurayra mentioned first) there is recommendation of looking at the face of the woman one is intending to marry. This is the opinion of the Shafi’i School, the School of Malik, Abu Hanifa, all the scholars of Kufa, Ahmad and the majority of the Ulama. Qadhi (Iyadh) has narrated from a group (of scholars) that it is disliked but that is incorrect and contrary to the clear text of this Hadith, and contrary to the consensus (ijma’) of the Ummah…Then, it is permitted for him to look at her palms and face only, for they are not considered to be part of the nakedness (awrah), and also because by looking at the face, one is able to determine her beauty or otherwise and by looking at her hands one is able to determine the chubbiness of the body or otherwise. This is the opinion of Shafi school and the view of most others.”

(al-Minhaj Sharh Sahih Muslim, p. 1068)

The Hadith you mentioned:

Sayyiduna Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “When one of you proposes to a woman for marriage, then if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so.” (Sunan Abu Dawud and Musnad Ahmad)

Some people think that the hadith narrated by Sayyiduna Jabir means that they can see any body parts of the women but this is wrong as the explanation below proves:

Mulla Ali al-Qari, the great Muhaddith and Hanafi Imam, states in Mirqat al-Mafatih, quoting from Allama Teebi that the meaning of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) statement “if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so” (in the Hadith of Jabir recorded by Imam Abu Dawud, mentioned above) is either wealth, status, beauty and religion (deen).” (Mirqat al-Mafatih, 6/198)

To sum up, the only body parts a man can see of a non-Mahram woman whom he has some interest into marrying, are the hands and face which are not part of the awrah. If one wants more descriptions of the woman's body part, one should send a female relative to describe her to you.

If one decides to marry someone, it is for the man permitted to look at the woman’s face and hands only. This is the opinion of the majority of the scholars (jumhur), including the Hanafis, as mentioned earlier. Some individual scholars (such as Imam al-Awza’i, Ibn Hazam and Dawud Zahiri) did permit looking at other than the hands and face but this is not the mainstream opinion.

And Allah knows best.

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There are certain exceptions in Islam in which it is permissible to look at a non-mahram woman for reasons of necessity, one of which is in the case of proposing marriage. It is permissible for a suitor to look at the natural beauty of girl which will induce him to marry her. In fact it is recommended by Holy Prophet (pbuh) who said :

اذا خطب احدکم المراة فان استطاع فان ینظر منها الی ما یدعوه الی نکاحها فلیفعل (مسند احمد، ٣/٣٣٤)

“When one of you proposes to a woman for marriage, then if he is able to look at those (parts of) woman which induces one towards nikah , he should do so.” (Musnad Ahmad).

In the above hadith, the reference is towards those attractive body parts and features of a woman which induces a man towards marriage.

The natural "zeenah" of a woman are her hair, face, breasts, calves, outline of her body, curves etc which she can reveal in front of her husband, Mahram males, Muslim women, children, her slaves etc according to the Quranic verse of 24:31. These attractive body parts and features of a woman are what a suitor is interested in looking at which will induce him to choose her as his life-partner. It also also indicates that there is no sin upon the suitor if he is looking at her with lust. Allama Ibn Abidin remarks that there is nothing wrong in looking at someone one is intending to marry even with lust (shahwa).

According to Dawood Zahiri (815-883 AD), Ibn Hazm (994-1064 AD), and few others, a suitor can see the entire naked body of the woman including her two private parts (vagina and anus).

According to Imam al-Awzai (707-774 AD) and few others, a suitor can see the entire body of the woman excluding her two private parts.

According to Hanbali scholars like Ibn Qudaamah , Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah , Ibn Hajar etc, the suitor is permitted to see what one can see of a Mahram woman i.e her hair, face, neck, chest, calves etc. The looking is definitely not limited to seeing the face and hands which a woman is allowed to reveal in front of any non-Mahrams in public. The suitor is expected to see more than that in a woman he is intending to marry. Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah said concerning his wife, “(Before marriage) I used to hide under a tree to see her.”

The suitor can look at a woman without her permission and consent. Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah said concerning his wife, “(Before marriage) I used to hide under a tree to see her.” Al-Mughira ibn Shu’bah said, I asked for a woman in marriage and Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) asked me whether I had looked at her. When I replied that I had not, he said ‘Then look at her, for it may produce love between you.’ I went to her parents and informed them of the Prophet’s advice. They seemed to disapprove of the idea. Their daughter heard the conversation from her room and said, ‘If the Prophet (peace be on him) has told you to look at me, then look.’ I looked at her, and subsequently I married her. (Reported by Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, and Darimi).

So if a woman and her father agrees to it, then a suitor can see all or some parts of her natural zeenah. It is not very common due to cultural reasons but some families, particularly those who are religious, do agree to such demand of the suitor. Usually women of such families only show their hair and face to the suitor, and some even agree to not wear scarf which women place over their chests to hide the prominence of breasts.

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