Following on from my first post in this series on FGM and its status in Islam, today I am writing about another widely misunderstood and extremely misused practice. Dowry. When I say dowry, for the most part those of us from western countries or those who are not familiar with the practice, automatically think of young Asian girls packed off into unhappy forced marriages with greedy parents in law. In some instances, this may be accurate. But not all. The dowry system affects many millions of families from all walks of life and across borders. But what exactly is dowry? and what does Islam have to say about this?
Please note – for the purpose of clear understanding, in this article when I refer to dowry I am referring to the practice of payment from the bride to the grooms family. This is the most common understanding of the word, and although in Islam some people refer to Mahr as Dowry, I will clearly define the two for the sake of clarification.
Dowry Fact file:
Dowry – a dowry is an ancient practice that has widespread roots all over the world. This has been practiced on every continent, including in western countries, particularly among royals. This is a brides share of her parental property or money that is distributed at the time of her marriage. However, this is not hers alone, and is transferred to her husbands family. In theory this payment should be used to help the new couple set up their new home and for their future use – but modern practice has moved away from this and more often that not this payment is kept by the grooms parents.
Dowry vs Bride Price – many people mistake the two and assume that they are the same. In simple terms, dowry is financial payment and gifts given by the brides family to the grooms family, and bride price is the money paid by the groom or the grooms family to the brides family. In more traditional or rural areas where women make up the majority of the manual labor workforce. bride price is used to supplement the loss of the brides income to her family. For more info see here
Dowry vs Mahr – while Mahr is a legal requirement for a Muslim marriage, ‘dowry’ as it is commonly known is not. Mahr is the mandatory payment from the groom or grooms family to the bride at the time of her marriage. In some cases a special arrangement may be reached between the families, for example of the grooms family cannot pay at the time, but this should be legally noted and paid at a later date. Of course, some may try to take advantage of this but this is not Islamically acceptable. See the ruling on this here. The Mahr is only for the bride and both her husband and her parents/family have no rights over this. Mahr makes the bride financially independent from her family and her husband. For more information on the legalities of mahr please click here, in the case of divorce here and in the case of death here.
So where does the Quran mention Mahr?
Quran [5:5] “Today, all good food is made lawful for you. The food of the people of the scripture is lawful for you. Also, you may marry the chaste women among the believers, as well as the chaste women among the followers of previous scripture, provided you pay them their due dowries. You shall maintain chastity, not committing adultery, nor taking secret lovers. Anyone who rejects faith, all his work will be in vain, and in the Hereafter he will be with the losers
It is also mentioned in many others portions such as verses 4:4, 4:20, 4:24.
So what does the Quran say about dowry to the grooms family?
Well…nothing! Aside from the verses which mention mahr, the Quran does not stipulate that any mandatory payment should be made to the grooms family, unless the bride decides to relinquish some of her Mahr (An-Nisa). There are many different beliefs between the schools of jurisprudence and these views are widely spread. Many people argue that dowry payments are Sunnah because Prophet Mohamed provided Fatima with furnishings upon her marriage, but regardless it cannot be argued that this is legally required. There is no ruling in Sharia law on dowry payments to the grooms family from the brides. Nevertheless, dowry has become culturally ingrained in almost every Muslim society.
To name but a few, these are a few of the issues now faced by families wishing to get their sons and daughters married:
Excessive demands have resulted in a rise of debt among families from all walks of life. the fear of shame or losing face in the community has meant that fathers are acquiring loans and putting extreme pressure on their economic circumstances. In return, they also demand large dowries when the time comes for their own sons to get married, in order to pay off debts they may have incurred while marrying off their daughters.
In countries where the bride receives her Mahr, many women are now demanding such exorbitant gifts and payments, that many men find they cannot match this. Please click here to see what some men think about extreme Mahr demands.
In both cases, this has resulted in a huge rise in honor killings (see some shocking statistics here), rise in marriage age due to not being financially ready, long term arguments between families, divorce, female infanticide and social ostracism. In many parts of the world, rather than payment being given to ensure the financial security of the new couple or wife alone, it is now the source of tremendous suffering to so many families.
I hope this has clarified some of the points surrounding dowry. Unfortunately, a religious practice has now become inter-twined with a cultural one in many parts of the world, particularly the Indian sub-continent.
So finally I would like to sum up by saying, while the dowry system is widely spread, it is not symbolic of one religion alone. This is not a case of “only the Hindu’s or Muslims do that” or “only in Asia” as this is simply not accurate. While we as an Ummah continue to succumb to social pressure and fail to educate ourselves on the exact ruling on dowry, we will continue to bring these issues to our Ummah. Every year, thousands of young women are dying (this is not an exaggeration, search “dowry killing news” in Google!) for the sake of dowry, so for those who are doing this in the name of Islam, let it be a reminder that while you may be prosperous in this life, ultimately we will all get our just rewards.
Some useful links below: