One of the cornerstones of marriage in Islam is the dowry ‘Mahr,’ which is the groom’s gift to the bride. However, nowadays, the concept of dowry has changed that it has become far from Islamic.

In Islamic marriages, the Mahr is one of the wife’s rights, which is hers to take in total and lawful. In contrast, some countries have a widespread practice, where the wife is given no dowry or even required to pay the dowry to the groom.

Dowry system nowadays

In more than a dozen countries around the world, dowries are common practice. In almost all cases, the practice directly or indirectly oppresses women.

Dowries are wedding gifts. Usually, money from a bride’s family is paid to a groom’s family to solidify a marriage.

For example, India is the epicentre of dowry culture. Even though the government banned the practice in 1961, many families are still expecting them. And this act oftentimes leads to abuse and violence. Women who can’t pay an expected dowry price or unable to make additional payments in the future are often subject to harassment and abuse. To avoid larger dowries, families often marry their daughters off as children.

The dowry system dehumanizes women by treating them as property- goods that can be exchanged. To make matters worse, the system also casts them as a burden rather than an asset, to be passed along. A bride’s family pays the groom’s family for the cost of taking care of the bride.  

So each dowry that’s paid reinforces a system where women are viewed as second-class citizens.

Status of women in Islam

Contrary to the mentioned above dowry system, Islam raised women’s status more than 1400 years ago. From this position of inferiority, Islam raised women to a position of prestige in family and society.

It is He who created you from one soul and created from it its mate. That he might dwell in security with her.’

[Al-A’raf, 7:189] 

هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَجَعَلَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا لِيَسْكُنَ إِلَيْهَا

١٨٩ الأعراف

These texts emphasize equality regarding Islamic duties, rights, and obligations and recommend that Muslims deal with women in a gentle, noble, and kind way. The Qur’an says, 

‘…live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing, and Allah makes therein much good.’

[An-Nisa, 4:19] 

وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ ۚ فَإِن كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا (

سورة النساء ١٩

Dowry ‘mahr’ in Islam

Evidence that the bride must be given her mahr is found in the Quran and Sunnah.

‘…give them [a gift of] compensation the wealthy according to his capability and the poor according to his capability – a provision according to what is acceptable, a duty upon the doers of good.’

[Al-Baqarah, 2:236] 

وَمَتِّعُوهُنَّ عَلَى الْمُوسِعِ قَدَرُهُ وَعَلَى الْمُقْتِرِ قَدَرُهُ مَتَاعًا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ ۖ حَقًّا عَلَى الْمُحْسِنِينَ )

(236البقرة )

“And give to the women (whom you marry) their dowry graciously. But if they waive some of it willingly, then you may enjoy it freely with a clear conscience. “

 An-Nisa 4:4

وَءَاتُوا۟ ٱلنِّسَآءَ صَدُقَـٰتِهِنَّ نِحْلَةًۭ ۚ فَإِن طِبْنَ لَكُمْ عَن شَىْءٍۢ مِّنْهُ نَفْسًۭا فَكُلُوهُ هَنِيٓـًۭٔا مَّرِيٓـًۭٔا

النساء ٤:٤

Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “This refers to the mahr (dowry).”

In conclusion, Ibn Katheer, may Allaah have mercy on him, said. summarizing the comments of the travellers on this Aayah: “The man must definitely pay the dowry to the woman, and he should not resent it.”

Moreover, Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “But if you intend to replace a wife by another, and you have given one of them a Cantar (of gold, i.e., a great amount) as Mahr, take not the least bit of it back. Would you take it wrongfully without a right and (with) a manifest sin? And how could you take it (back) when you have gone in unto each other, and they have taken from you a firm and strong covenant?” [al-Nisaa’ 4:20-21]

Mahr and divorce

Ibn Katheer, may Allaah have mercy on him, said: “This means: if anyone of you wants to divorce his wife and replace her with another, you should not take anything from what you have already given the first wife. Even if it was a huge amount of wealth. The mahr is given in exchange for the right to enjoy marital relations. For this reason, Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And how could you take it (back) when you have gone in unto each other…?” The “firm and strong covenant” is the marriage contract.

Besides, Anas ibn Maalik, may Allaah be pleased with him, reported that ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn ‘Awf came to the Messenger of Allaah (PBUH), and there were traces of yellow (perfume) on him. The Messenger of Allaah (PBUH) asked him about it, and he told him that he had just married a woman of the Ansaar. The Prophet (PBUH) asked him, “How much did you give her?” He said: “Gold equal to the weight of one date stone.” The Messenger of Allaah (PBUH) said: “Give a Waleemah (wedding feast) even if only with one sheep.”

(Reported by al-Bukhaari, 4756).

Dowry ‘mahr’ and the father

The mahr is the wife’s right, and it is not permitted for her father or anyone else to take it except with her approval. Abu Saalih said: “When a man married off his daughter, he would take her mahr away from her. But Allaah forbade them to do that, and gave women the right to the mahr they received.” (Tafseer Ibn Katheer).

Similarly, if the wife foregoes any part of the mahr, the husband can take it. As Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “… but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it, take it, and enjoy it without fear of any harm (as Allaah has made it lawful).” [al-Nisaa’ 4:4]

May the peaceful lifestyle of Islam fill the world with love and peace.