Gift of Mahir: Dowry in Islam
Dowry, or Mahr in Arabic, is the mandatory payment of either money or possessions by the groom (or his father) to the bride at the time of marriage. It solidifies the marriage and is part of the marriage contract that is obligatory in Islamic marriages. Karaz’s Shahrazad explains what it consists of, and why Islam demands it.
Mahr is better understood as a kind of “bride wealth” which exists in many cultures around the world. However, unlike other cultures where the bride wealth is paid to the kin of the bride by the kin of the groom, in Islam, the mahr goes directly to the bride. The mahr can be in the form of cash or anything that the bride wants—from gold to property, a home or a piece of land.
In a way, as it becomes her legal property, the bride is provided with a sort of financial independence from both her parents and her husband, who has no rights or legal claim to the mahr. It is a sort of security blanket on which she can have for a ‘rainy day’.
There are two parts of the mahr in Islam. The first is the amount the bride receives immediately in the wedding ceremony or signing of the contract, and the second is there in the case of her husband’s death or in case of divorce. It is meant to provide the wife with a means of support in either of the former cases, and is a fundamental religious right of every wife. In a way, it is an obligatory prenuptial for the wife…just in case.
The mahr symbolizes the commitment that the husband is willing to put into the marriage. It symbolizes his respect for her, and obligation and responsibility towards her. Rather than seeing it as some sort of punishement, it is a gift that the husband gives to his wife in order to protect her, secure her and help her while he is there, and in case he is not…as the Quran states: “and give the women their dowries with a good heart” (Quran, 4:4).