The law has allowed the person asking for someone’s hand in marriage, to see the woman he wants to marry, because this is one of the acts that help plant the seed for an Islamic family. It is best if the female is seen directly amongst her family, because there are dangers in sending photos, such as keeping them safe, or using them wrongly if the engagement does not go ahead. However, if they are unable to see each other directly, and the lady trusts the person she is sending her photo too, then there is no harm in sending it, on the condition that the photo is in full hijab without showing any hair. Although it is preferred that she does not send the photo in any case to prevent any issues.
It has been written in the Fatwas of Al Azhar thus:
The scholars have allowed the fiance to see his fiancee, and to see her in the presence of one of her guardians such as her father, her brother, her maternal or paternal uncle, and that they should see each other again if once was not enough on the condition mentioned previously (i.e in the presence of a guardian)
The basic principle regarding this matter is what has been confirmed from the Prophet ﷺ confirmed from Al Mugheera bin Shu’ba that he was engaged to a woman, and the Prophet ﷺ said : Look at her, for indeed that is more likely to make things better between the two of you. This has been narrated by all five apart from Abu Dawoud, Also, on the authority of Abu Hurayra who reported that a man was engaged to a woman so the Prophet ﷺ said “Then look at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Ansar.” Meaning that some of them have features which cause aversion. Narrated by Ahmad and Nisai. Jaber said: I heard the Prophet ﷺ say (When one of you asks a woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so) narrated by Abu Dawoud and Ahamad. Also, Musa bin Abdullah on the authority Abu Hameeda said: The Prophet ﷺ said: If one of you has proposed in marriage to a woman, then there is no harm in looking at her, and verily he looks at her so he can propose even if she does not know he is looking) Narrated by Ahmad. Muhammad bin Salamah said: I heard the Prophet ﷺ say: When Allah causes a man to propose to a woman, there is nothing wrong with him looking at her. Narrated by Ahmad and Ibn Maja
All of these hadiths have been narrated by Imam Al Shawkani. After confirming the soundness of the chain of narrators, he mentioned that the hadiths have evidence that there is no harm in a man looking at a woman if he wants to marry her. The order to do so and that indicates its permissibility is mentioned in the hadith of Abu Hurayra, Al Mugheera and Jaber. The hadith of Abi Hameed makes it evident that there is no harm on him, and in the hadith of Muhammad bin Salam, it is fine to do so. The majority of the scholars have agreed with this. Imam An Nawawi from the Shafi’ school of thought in his explanation of Sahih Muslim in this matter in his explanation of the hadith of Abu Hurayra and his words: he said I was with the Prophet ﷺ and a man came to him and told him he wanted to marry a woman from the Ansar (Helpers) so the Prophet ﷺ said: Have you looked at her? the man said: No, so the Prophet ﷺ said: then go and look at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Ansar (meaning that some of them have features which cause aversion)
And in this it is liked to look at the face of the woman you want to merry, and this is our school of thought, and the Maliki school of thought and the Hanafi school of thought, and all the Kufis and Ahmad and the majority of the scholars, and the judge Eyaad disliked it, and this is wrong and against the obvious in the hadith, and against the analogy of the Ummah on the permissibility of looking at something when you need to, such as when buying and selling, or when being a witness etc. It is permissible only to look at her face and hands, as they are not part of the awrah, and the face contains beauty, or doesnt, and the hands show the healthiness of the body or lack of health, and this is our view and the view of the majority.
It is preferred that you look at a lady before proposal, so that if the man dislikes what he sees, he may leave her without causing her any harm because leaving her after a proposal can cause her harm. If he is unable to see her, then it is liked that he should send a woman he trusts on his behalf to see her so that she may describe to him what she looks like, and this is before any marriage proposal.
This explanation is regarding looking at the woman. However, looking at a photo of a lady also takes the same ruling. It is permissible because it makes it possible for the person who wants to propose to look at the picture if he wants to marry her.
As for keeping the picture of the lady, then Dr Rafa’t Fawzi Abd Al Mutalib has said:
It is not permissible to keep the picture of the lady. This is because she is considered a stranger to him until the marriage contract is completed. However, the impermissible becomes permissible after the contract, including looking at her, sitting with her, even without a guardian. All becomes permissible after the marriage contract and is not permissible before it.