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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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