Assalam o allaikum Br. Rizwan,
Based on our conversation last night, I have collected some references for you.
Dating in Islam:
Dating as explained by the western culture is the courtship of a single man and a woman who spend time together to know eachother before making a decision to marry eachother. Some muslims have also taken an excuse out of this practice by saying that one should know with whom he or she is going to get married and to know about the future spouse they resort to the concept dating.
First of all we see what Allah SWT has said about what is being lawful in this case.
الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلُّ لَّهُمْ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلاَ مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
Made lawful to you this day are AtTayyibât [all kinds of Halâl (lawful) foods, which Allâh has made lawful (meat of slaughtered eatable animals, etc., milk products, fats, vegetables and fruits, etc.). The food (slaughtered cattle, eatable animals, etc.) of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) is lawful to you and yours is lawful to them. ( Lawful to you in marriage) are chaste women from the believers and chaste women from those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians) before your time, when you have given their due Mahr (bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage), desiring chastity ( i.e. taking them in legal wedlock) not committing illegal sexual intercourse, nor taking them as girl-friends. And whosoever disbelieves in the Oneness of Allâh and in all the other Articles of Faith [ i.e. His (Allâh's), Angels, His Holy Books, His Messengers, the Day of Resurrection and AlQadar (Divine Preordainments)], then fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers. (Al - Maidah: Ayah 5)
So it is very clear that Allah SWT has prohibited us to be in companionship with people secretly without having a wedlock.
Regarding our culture in Pakistan, we have these evils creeping into our muslim homes as well where people are interpreting Islam in whichever way they deem fit to fulfil their desires but we do not have to go far to get our answers. We just have to see what Prophet SAW said about a practice of being alone with a woman.
Prohibition of being alone with a non-mahram woman:
Ibn Juraij narrated this hadith with the same chain of transmitters, but he made no mention of it:" No person should be alone with a woman except when there is a mahram with her."
Sahih Muslim 3112
Sahih Muslim 3112
Ibn 'Abbas (Allaah be pleased with them) reported: I heard Allaah's Messenger (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) delivering a sermon and making this observation:" No person should be alone with a woman except when there is a mahram with her, and the woman should not undertake journey except with a mahram." A person stood up and said: Allaah's Messenger, my wife has set out for pilgrimage, whereas I am enlisted to fight in such and such battle, whereupon he said:" You go and perform Hajj with your wife."
Sahih Muslim 3110
Sahih Muslim 3110
Prophet SAW said, "Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan is the third among them"
There are many other ahadeeth that give the daleel that its not allowed to be alone with a non-mahram woman. Allah SWT gives a clear commandment to us in Quran regarding our ettiquettes when we see a non-mahram man or a woman.
The following ayah is a direct commandment to the men for their behaviour.
قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ذَلِكَ أَزْكَى لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ (24:30)
Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.). That is purer for them. Verily, Allâh is All-Aware of what they do.
Below is the ayah that is very mufassil about the behaviour of the muslim women and see that Allah SWT has commanded again for the muslim women to lower their gaze as well.
وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاء بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاء بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُوْلِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاء وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women ( i.e. their sisters in Islâm), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allâh to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.
Permissibility to see one's future Spouse:
Now, then what is that permissibility that is often talked about that Islam allowes a person to see the prospective spouse before marriage?
Following is the criteria that Prophet SAW put forth when a man looks for a spouse.
Abu Hurairah related that the Prophet Muhammad said: "Men choose women for four reasons: for their money, for their rank, for their beauty and for their religion, but marry one who is religious and you will succeed.
Although Prophet SAW categorically mentioned that one should choose a spouse based on her religion, the other three things mentioned also needs some consideration. For example, it is not prohibited to marry a woman based on her beauty, it will not be the best choice (as the best choice should be based on her understanding of the deen), but none the less it is not prohibited.
Also, apart from this, there are evidences, where Prophet Mohammad SAW has encouraged the people to see whom they will marry. This is because the physical attraction is a factor that will keep both the man and the woman to be away from the wrong doing and if their mutual attraction is strong, then they are less prone to commit sins.
Once a sahabi told Rasulallah SAW that he was going to get married. Prophet SAW asked him if he had seen the woman. When the man said no, Prophet SAW said, "Go and look at her for it is more likely to develope love between the two of you."
Prophet SAW also said, "If one of you proposes to a woman and if he is able to look at of her that which motivates him to marry her, let him do so."
Sunan Abu Dawud
There are some key aspects of consideration regarding this looking of the man or woman before marriage. Scholars are divided on the point whether it is sunnah to look at the future spouse or whether it is something that is merely permissible. However in either case, it is something that is lawful.
Also these ahadeeth do not mean that they allow the women to abrogate their limits of Hijab. Even in this looking she should be well covered in Hijab except face and hands. Since it is a special condition of looking for the purpose of marriage proposal, it is allowed for both the man and the woman to take a good look at eachother. If it were any other occasion, they would be averting their eyes from eachother after the first glance and lower their gaze, just as it is explained in the ayah above.
Regarding conversation between the man and the woman in this case is not permissible according to majority of the scholars. The scholars agree based on the above ahadeeth that although it is allowed to see the prospective spouse for their beauty and physical appearance, conversation about various matters is not allowed. The maharim of the woman must be present in this meeting. If there is anything that needs to be known by either one of them, they should find that out through their walis (guardians/parents).
From the above, it can be understood that those muslims who seek an excuse from the ahadeeth of Rasulallah that it is allowed to freely mix with the opposite sex in order to know them better for a possibility of marriage, is not correct and is prohibited.
If there are any particular questions that you might have, please feel free to ask.