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Dower vs. Mahr


QDear Brothers and Sisters, What is the reason for "Dower" or "Meher" in Islam?

I believe it is compulsory in an Islamic marraige but in some cultures the Dower is considered customary, therefore it is a very nominal monetary amount that the bride "gifts" to someone "less fortunate" after the nikaah.

Although the intentions are noble, I am having a hard time understanding the whole concept. Why is Dower is compulsory? Moreover since it is compulsory, is it ok to treat it as customary?


ABismillaahi walĥamdulillaahi waŝŝalaatu wassalaamu ‘alaa rasoolillaahi

Let us not confuse Dower or dowry with Mahr. Both concepts are totally different. Following are excerpts from my book "Finding a Soul-mate – Guidelines for Parents and Youth" on this topic:

What is Mahr?

Mahr is a package of assets (cash and/or other forms of financial or physical assets) that is given by the husband to the wife as a valuable consideration for the contract of Nikaah. It is a Fardh without which Nikaah is not valid, just as any commercial contract is not valid without financial consideration. It is also called “Ŝaduqah” or “Ŝadaaq” (plural – “Ŝaduqaat”. Not to be confused with “Ŝadaqah” or “Ŝadaqaat”, which is charity). The Noble Qur-aan usually refers to it as “Ajr” (Plural- Ujoor) which we can say is a recompense for the woman for dedicating herself to a man and for giving him exclusive marital rights to build a new family unit; however, its real significance and wisdom will be detailed later on.The following are a few verses wherein it has been mentioned:
And give their Ŝaduqaat (Mahr) graciously (willingly, with good heart). An-Nisaa 4:4
Women other than the aforementioned are lawful for you, provided that you seek them with your assets (Mahr) protecting through marriage, not promiscuously. So for your enjoyment from them, give them their recompense (ujoor, used for Mahr) as an obligation. And there is no harm, upon mutual agreement, in giving more than what you are obligated to give. An-Nisaa 4:24
Marry them with the permission of their guardians, and pay them their recompense (Mahr), so that they become protected in wedlock (Muĥŝanaat), not promiscuous or involved in secret friendships. An-Nisaa 4:25
And (lawful for you) are the chaste women from the believers and the chaste women from those who were given the Book before you, only when you have given them their recompense (Mahr) as protectors in marriage, not engaging in licentiousness or secret friendships. Al-Maaidah 5:5
And it is all right to marry them by giving them their recompense. Al-Mumtaĥinah 60:10

By making it a Fardh (obligation) and stressing upon it repeatedly in the Noble Qur-aan, Allaah SWT has given it very high importance. However, over time, Muslims have lost its real purpose, spirit and significance and treat it as another ritual item that just needs to be tick-marked. What are the role, spirit and significance of Mahr?

To properly understand the significance of Mahr, it will be useful to have a brief overview of the Islamic set up of a family unit.

Marital relationship is established in Islam by a man acquiring marital rights from a woman by paying a reasonable value (Mahr) for these rights in front of two official witnesses and a public ceremony. For a woman, Mahr is the reward and compensation for dedicating herself to a particular man (instead of someone else). Accepting a certain amount of Mahr, she is specifying her claim in the present and future wealth of her husband and giving up any other claim except for the normal living expenses during married life and her share in inheritance in case of husband’s death. For a man, it represents a symbol of the value that a man places on the marital relationship with a woman and that he is willing to pay happily as a consideration for the marital contract. This contract with appropriate financial consideration (Mahr) gives him exclusive marital rights for that woman and leadership over the family unit established with her support. Once contract of Nikaah is established by payment and acceptance of Mahr, the husband owns the marital rights. This ownership of contractual marital rights by the husband is alluded to in the following verse:
If you divorce them before you have touched them but you have already specified for them an obligation (Mahr), then (give) them half of what you specified – unless they forego (their right) or the one in whose hand is the marriage tie (owns the marriage contract) forgoes (agrees to pay more than half or in full); and foregoing is more in line with Taqwa. And do not forget graciousness between you. Indeed Allaah is aware of whatever you do. Al-Baqarah 2:237

This means the wife does not have a right to refuse marital relations, as long as the husband is considerate and is observing Islamic rules prescribed for marital relations. The Prophet said, “If a person calls his wife to bed and she refuses to come, the angels curse her until the morning.” (Bukhaari and Muslim from Aboo Hurayrah) Considering that sexual activity may be warranted during the day, a woman is advised not to practice optional fasts without the consent of her husband. (Aboo Dawood).

Any money or assets paid as Mahr is the property of the wife to be spent, saved, used or invested as she likes. She can -- if she so chooses on her own accord without any pressure, persuasion or request -- spend it on household expenses, and in that case it is allowed for the husband to benefit from it. However, once she has voluntarily spent it, she cannot claim it back unless the husband voluntarily repays it. Thus women must think it through before spending their Mahr instead of investing it and saving for future.

Any Mahr promised to be paid later by the husband must be paid as soon as possible. Being a contractual obligation, any unpaid Mahr is a debt liability of the husband.
The Messenger of Allaah said, “Of all the contractual obligations, the most deserving of fulfillment is that which made the sexual relations lawful for you.” Reported in Bukhaari and Muslim from ‘Uqbah bin ‘Aamir

The husband is the leader of the household being fully responsible for taking care of the financial needs of the family. Even if the woman is rich and has regular earnings, she does not have to contribute a single penny to the family expenses. She can keep all her money for herself and invest it as she likes. Her normal, reasonable living expenses remain the responsibility of the husband according to his financial condition.
Men are leaders of women because of the privilege Allaah has given one over the other and because of what they spend from their assets. An-Nisaa 4:34

However, if she wants to be charitable and spends her personal financial resources on the needs of the family, it is her choice. She should do so remembering that it will be considered her gift to the family which she should not expect to receive back in case of divorce or death of her husband.

In case of divorce, the husband is responsible for living expenses of the wife only for the waiting period (‘Iddah, usually about 3 months). Any unpaid Mahr becomes due immediately to be settled right away. After the waiting period, the husband has no obligation for maintenance of the ex-wife if Mahr has already been paid in full and she is not taking care of his child.

The woman does not owe anything to her ex-husband, even if she has lot more assets (investments, savings or any other form of wealth) than her ex-husband. However, if she is the party that wants divorce, she has to ‘buy’ it from the husband (who owns the marital rights) by paying back a part of Mahr as agreed upon between the two parties.

In case of a husband’s death, his inheritance will be distributed only after any unpaid Mahr, like other debts, has been paid. After the payment of Mahr, the widow will get ¼ of the inheritance if they have no children. If they have children, the widow gets 1/8 of the inheritance. On the other hand, a husband gets ½ or ¼ respectively from the inheritance of his deceased wife, after her debts (if any) have been paid.

In case of death or divorce, men are supposed to remarry as soon as possible. Women should also remarry soon after their waiting period (‘Iddah) is over. Islam does not want any Muslims remaining unmarried. All Muslims must remain married as much as possible.

From these injunctions it is clear that Mahr is a critical component of the contract of Nikaah (marriage), not of divorce. When discussing or considering Mahr, divorce should not even come into picture in any way shape or form. Mahr should be fixed from the ‘value of establishing the relationship’ paradigm, not from ‘penalty for breaking apart’ paradigm. Moreover, considering that it is the only key payment the man owes to wife besides the normal living expenses or inheritance, it cannot be taken lightly or ignored.

Unfortunately, there are some Muslims who do not give much importance to it and pay ridiculously low amounts of Mahr just to fulfill a formality.

On the other hand, there are Muslims who commit to exorbitantly high amounts of Mahr, which are not even intended to be paid unless there is a divorce. Usually the motive is either to show off their status in the society or to make it a hindrance for divorce, in which case the husband is reluctant to divorce that woman because he will have to cough up the huge Mahr to which he committed in the marriage contract. This attitude is devoid of the spirit for which Allaah SWT made Mahr an obligation to be paid happily, and instead, it is playing games with Allaah’s commands and it fosters many marital problems in the society.

How much should the Mahr be?

The Noble Qur-aan does not specify the amount of the Mahr. It depends on the circumstances of the marriage partners, whatever the husband can reasonably afford to pay and what the bride thinks is an acceptable consideration for marital contract as her full and final claim in the current and future wealth of her husband. Verse 4:20 indicates that it can be a huge amount.
If you want to replace one wife with another and you have given them a gigantic amount (as Mahr), do not take anything from it. An-Nisaa 4:20

However, to make marriage easier for the average family, it should be kept at a reasonable level, not making it a matter of prestige and show-off, nor treating it as a deterrent to divorce. The Messenger of Allaah encouraged people to set Mahr at a reasonable level by saying, “The best Mahr is that which is easy to pay.” (‘Uqbah bin ‘Aamir in Nailul-aowŧaar)

As it can be seen from the above, neither Allaah nor His Messenger has specified an amount. Although it is encouraged to be on low side, it is also indicated that it can be huge. ‘Umar Faarooq (may Allaah be pleased with him) proposed to restrict the amount of Mahr by law, a lady confronted him citing the verse 4:20. ‘Umar withdrew the proposal.

The intent is that it must be reflective of the standard of living of the parties. It should be a respectable amount that indicates the value the husband places on the relationship. It should not be so excessive that the husband can never pay it and not too low considering their social status, standard of living and future earning power of the husband.

The amount of the Mahr has to be agreed between the two before Nikaah.

When should the Mahr be paid?

Ideally, the Mahr should be paid immediately. In that case, it is the wife’s money that she can invest and preserve as she likes. Usually, it is not possible for the husband to pay the entire amount of Mahr immediately, in which case part of the payment can be deferred to some future time when the husband can pay it and it can be paid instalments. If an amount of Mahr is deferred, it is a debt that should be paid as soon as possible. It should be paid happily, not as a burden:
Give their Ŝaduqaat (Mahr) graciously (willingly with good heart). An-Nisaa 4:4

April 13, 2004

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