Considering the importance of marriage, it was natural for jurists to describe the favourite characteristics of the wife carefully, so that the ideal goals of marriage, as they view them, should be achieved. These desirable characteristics that a wife should possess could be summed up as follows:
1. The woman should be less in age than the man, so that she should not age quickly and be unable to conceive. She should be less in esteem, power, honour, and money since men are to support women (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:34) and protect them. We read in narrated traditions of Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him that he said, "A woman is married for four things, i.e. her wealth, her family status, her beauty, and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman [otherwise] you will be a loser."
"Do not marry women off for their comeliness; their comeliness may lead them to perdition. Do not marry them off for their possessions; their possessions may lead them to domineer. Marry them for their religion. A black, believing slave is better than a beautiful free women who does not believe."
The woman should not be tall or gaunt, short or ugly, or have bad manners. She should not be old or have a child from a previous marriage. She should not be a slave if the man can marry a free woman. Al-Jaziri, however, keeps silent on the issue of the good characteristics a man should possess in order for him to be an ideal husband for his wife!
A younger wife is the tradition (sunna) of Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him . "The Messenger of God Peace Be Upon Him married me when I was seven years old" `A´isha said, (Sulaiman says six), "and consummated the marriage with me when I was nine years old." Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him died when she was eighteen years old. Muhammad's Peace Be Upon Him marriage with `A´isha has always been a problem for the jurists, for they do not unanimously agree on the marriageable age of the girl:
Concerning the issue of consummating the marriage with [a girl under age], it was said that she should not be slept with before she attains puberty, but it was said in al-Bahr al-ra´iq that she can be slept with at the age of nine. The majority of Imams are of the opinion that the issue of age plays no role in this respect, and that the criterion is that the woman should be physically fit and big enough to accommodate men, and consequently there would be no fear that she would get sick if she is copulated with, even if she has not reached the age of nine. But if she is thin or gaunt and cannot bear sex, and is in danger of getting sick, her husband is not allowed to sleep with her, even if she is of age- this is the sound opinion." In a book entitled al-Furu` we read the following, "The best state for a woman is between the age of fourteen and twenty? Her maturity is made perfect at thirty, and she stops at forty, and declines after that."
2. Besides youth, she should preferably be a virgin. Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him said, "Seek virgins; they are sweeter of mouth, have more productive wombs and can be contented with the least." When Jabir told him he married a matron, he said to him, "Why not a virgin that you should play with her?"
This inequality between the virgin and the matron also manifests itself through Muhammad's Peace Be Upon Him own treatment of his wives. Anas Ibn Malik narrated, "If Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him marries a virgin he stays with her seven days. If he marries a matron he stays with her three days. This is the tradition." Marrying a matron is permissible if a man is in need of doing so; for example if he has children who need to be raised up by someone who is used to raising up children, or if he is old to a degree that puts a young virgin off and thus intimacy between them will not endure.
3. The jurists not only touched upon the qualities an ideal wife should possess, but went so far as to list the offensive characteristics and faults she should not have. Man's defects that forbid or abolish his marriage are basically these three: madness, castration, and incontinence. Yet woman's defects are enumerated and accounted for in detail. The main defections of woman are seven: madness, elephantiasis, leprosy, cornu, breathing difficulties, and lameness.
Madness is the corruption of mind to the extent that one's decisions becomes erratic owing to passing incapacity and not due to fainting bouts, in which one's decision-making remains the same.
Elephantiasis is the disease that causes stiffening of the organs and rending of the flesh. It is not the same as losing energy, having nodes in the face or roundness of the eyes.
Leprosy is white spots that appear on the surface of the body due to the domination of phlegm.
Cornu is a bony protrusion in the vagina that prevents sex. But if it does not prevent sex, marriage may not be dissolved because there is still a possibility of enjoyment, but it is also acceptable to dissolve marriage because of it in keeping with the outward meaning of the tradition.
Lameness is still debatable whether it could be included among the causes of divorce; but it is certain that it dissolves marriage in case it makes the woman an invalid.
According to some, blockage of the vagina is one of the defects that involve divorce. This may be correct if it prevents sex to start with, as it deprives [the man] of enjoyment when it is impossible to remove it, or when it is possible but [the woman] refuses to submit to medication.
There are no other defects that a woman can have apart from these seven.
In another tradition, Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him said to Umm Salim as she was looking at a certain woman, "Smell her shoulders and take a look at her heels."
4. Beauty is a quality that should not be neglected when looking for a wife. A weak tradition teaches us that looking at a beautiful woman sharpens and strengthens eyesight. As mentioned previously, man marries a woman for either of three things: for her beauty, her family status, or for her religion.
`A´isha narrated, "The Messenger of God betrothed a woman from Kalb [tribe]. He sent me to look at her, and asked me, 'How did you see her?' I said, 'I saw no use in her.' He replied, 'I saw a mole on her cheek that caused each of your hairs to stand on end.' I said, 'There is no secret hidden from you.' "
5. It is also agreeable that her bridal gift should be appropriate. Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him said, "The marriage that has the greatest blessing is the one that is suitable to provide for."
6. Yet being "fertile" is the most important quality a woman must have. Ma`qil Ibn Yasar narrated, "A man came to the Prophet and said, 'I fell in love with a woman of great beauty and family status; but she does not conceive, shall I marry her?' He replied, 'No.' The man came to him again, and the Prophet forbade him. He came to him a third time, so the Prophet said, `Marry the amiable, fertile one; for I will vie the nations in number by you.' " Al-Jaziri says, "It is better that she [the wife] be fertile; because a barren one cannot carry out the function of reproduction which is necessary for human society." We conclude this chapter by quoting the first benefit of marriage that occurs in Ihya´ `ulum al-din:
Children: They are the original purpose of marriage for which it has been established, and it is for perpetuating offspring so that the world would not be empty of mankind. Lust, however, was created as a stimulating motivation, as is the case with male animals in the production of seed, and the female ones that make cultivation possible. Thus they are gently led to produce a brood through copulation. The same principle is used in scattering grain, which birds lust after, in order to trap them into the net. The eternal power [of God] was not incapable of forging people afresh without cultivation or copulation, but Wisdom required that effects should be dependant on causes, though these causes can be done without, so the power [of God] should be manifest, the wonders of His creation should be made complete, and to accomplish the foreordained purposes of [divine] will. It is a safeguard from the calamities of lust, in that none of them wished to meet God unmarried. In the achievement of offspring, there are four aspects of closeness: The first is being in agreement with the love of God by achieving offspring to preserve mankind. The second is seeking the love of the Messenger of God by increasing the cause of his boasting. The third is seeking the blessing of one's good offspring after one dies. The fourth is seeking intercession by the death of a young child, in case this child dies before his father.