In the name of Allah,
Marriage, known in Islam as nikah, has special importance. It is so important that it is declared to be one-half of the Muslim faith. It is narrated by Anas that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said,
“When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allah regarding the remaining half.” [i]
Shariah has set out detailed guidelines for the marriage to be successful. One of which is the payment of Mahr or dower. Some people have the misconception that the mahr paid by the husband to his wife is another way of considering her inferior to men. We will see Allah willing, that on the contrary, that payment of mahr uplifts the women. It is a way of honoring her.
Meaning of Dowry
Dowry is given to a woman by the man to legitimize the consummation of the marriage through sexual enjoyment with her. Mahr has different names namely, As sadaaq, a-mahr, al nihlah, al-fareedhah, al-hibaa, al-ajr, al-iqr, al alaaiq, al sadaqah, al-taul (bounty or gift), al-kharas(feast), and al nikaah( marriage)[ii].
Rulings on Mahr
The ruling on Mahr is that it is obligatory. The evidence for this is as Allah says:
And give to the women (whom you marry) their Mahr (obligatory bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) with a good heart. [Quran Translation An-Nisa 4:4]
From the sunnah of the prophet (PBUH), he never in his life allowed a single marriage to be consummated without a dowry.
The Messenger of Allah (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) asked a man who wanted to marry a woman to look for something to give the woman as her Mahr “even if it is an iron ring”.[iii]
It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that ‘Ali said:
“I got married to Fatimah, may Allah be pleased with her, and I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, let me consummate the marriage.’ He said: ‘Give her something.’ I said: ‘I do not have anything.’ He said: ‘Where is your Hutami armor?’ I said: ‘It is with me.’ He said: ‘Give it to her.'”[iv]
Recommendation of stating the dowry at the time of marriage contract
It is recommended to state the dower at the time of the marriage contract. However, a marriage is valid without stating it. Allah says,
‘There is no blame upon you if you divorce women you have not touched nor specified for them an obligation.[Translation Quran- 2: 236]
Four scenarios of marriage with and without stating dower at the time of marriage contract
- A fixed amount of dowry is set for marriage.
- A fixed amount of dowry is set for marriage, but the amount is unknown
- There is no mention of the dowry
- Stipulating there is no dowry. This is like saying, I agree to marry without any dower.
Marriage in the first three scenarios is valid. Marriage in the four situations is not valid. This is because it contradicts the command of the Quranic verse, 4:24.[v]
Mahr is the sole right of the woman
The payment of Mahr by the husband to his wife raises her honor. The widespread practice of women or their family giving dowers is against the nature of mankind. It leads to women being despised and ill-treated. If they do not have adequate wealth, they will not be able to get married and this leads to all evils in society.
Moreover, in most of the traditions, women never had any control over the wealth they possess. In Islam, the dower is the sole property of the wife. She is free to spend in any halal manner as she pleases.
The maximum and minimum amount of dower
Islamic Law has neither set a minimum nor a maximum for the dower. Ibn Taymiyah says,
‘If a well-to-do man likes to give his woman a big sadaq, there is no harm in that, as Almighty Allah says,’ and you have given one of them a cantor of gold) Quran 4:20] what is legally detestable is that a man appoints a mahr and does not pay it or fails to pay it.’[vi]
However, it has encouraged to keep the dower light so that it will be easier for marriages to take place.
What could be considered a Mahr
The strongest opinion is that dower is valid as long as it is something of value, either material or non-material. It was narrated that Anas said:
“Abu Talhah proposed marriage to Umm Sulaim and she said: ‘By Allah, a man like you is not to be rejected, O Abu Talhah, but you are a disbeliever and I am a Muslim, and it is not permissible for me to marry you. If you become Muslim, that will be my dowry, and I will not ask you for anything else.’ So he became Muslim and that was her dowry.” (one of the narrators) Thabit said: “I have never heard of a woman whose dowry was more precious than Umm Sulaim (whose dowry was) Islam. And he consummated the marriage with her, and she bore him a child.”[vii]
Ibn Qayyim says,
‘This hadith implies that there is no minimum value for the dower. A handful of fine flour, a ring made of iron, and a pair of shoes may all be acceptable as the dower and by which the wife becomes legal.’
If the two parties did not agree on a specific amount of dower
It is obligatory upon the husband to give her a dower that is usually given to women like her if the two had not agreed upon a particular amount for the dower. If they had agreed on a specific amount, then he must give that specific amount.
If the husband dies before consummation or Khalwa takes place between the spouses after marriage
If the husband dies after the marriage contract yet before consummating the marriage, the woman is entitled to her complete dower. ‘Alqamah said, ” ‘Abdullah (Ibn Mas’ood) was brought the issue of a woman who was married to a man, and then he died before consummation and before agreeing upon a dower. ‘Abdullah said,’ In my view, she should receive the dower of women who are similar to her, she inherits from him, and she enters the waiting period.’ Ma’qil ibn Sin n al-Ashja’ee then bore witness that the Prophet (PBUH) gave the same decision (as ‘Abdullah did) in the (similar) case of Birwa’ bint Washiq.”[viii]
If the husband divorces his wife before consummation of the marriage where the dower was specified
If a woman is divorced before sexual intercourse or before being in complete seclusion with her husband, and the dowry has already been stated, she would be entitled to one-half of that dowry unless she willingly gives that, or her guardian waives it. This is based on the verse of the Quran,
‘And if you divorce them before you have touched them and you have already specified for them an obligation, then [give] half of what you specified – unless they forego the right or the one in whose hand is the marriage contract foregoes it. And to forego it is nearer to righteousness. And do not forget graciousness between you. Indeed Allah, of whatever you do, is Seeing.’[Translation Quran- 2- 237]
Divorce before consummation of the marriage where the dower was not specified
If a man divorces his wife before cohabiting with her or before being in seclusion and has no specified dower, she is entitled to get a special compensation whose value is dependent on the husband’s financial state. Allah says,
‘But 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’.[Translation of Quran 2-236]
The husband is commanded by Allah to give the wife a gift of a reasonable amount, according to his means, to compensate her for her loss.
We can conclude from the above points that the purpose behind the legislation of the dowry in marriage is that it is considered compensation was given to the woman due to the husband’s sexual intercourse with her. Dower gives a sense of security and honor in the sight of her husband. With the legislation of the dowry, husbands cannot exploit her and leave her as and when he pleases.
[i] [Mishkat al-Masabih 3096 حسن (الألباني)]
[ii] The Fiqh of marriage in the light of the Quran and sunnah Covering the Dower, Wedding Night, Wedding Feast, and Rights of the Husband and Wife. Dr. Saalih Ibn Ghanim al-Sadlaan, Translated by Jamal-ad-din Zarabozo.
[iii] Grade: Sahih (Darussalam) Sunan an-Nasa’i 3200
[iv] Grade: Sahih (Darussalam) Sunan an-Nasa’i 3375
[v] The Book of Marriage from the Explanation of Bulugh Al- Maram Part 1 Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Saalih Al-Uthaymeen Maktabatulirshad Publications, USA. Page 137]
[vi] Ibn Taymiyah, fatawa, 32/195]
[vii] Grade: Hasan (Darussalam) Reference: Sunan an-Nasa’i 3341
[viii] Grade: Sahih (Darussalam) Reference: Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1145]