Mahr is an obligatory bridal gift paid by the groom to the bride in an Islamic marriage. While the mahr is often money, it can also be anything agreed upon by the bride, such as jewellery, household goods, furniture, a dwelling, or some land. The word mahr is related to the Hebrew word and the Syriac word “mahrā”, meaning “bridal gift”, which originally meant “purchase-money”.
Allah says in the Quran:
“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” [al-Nisa’ 4:4]
This does not mean that the woman is a product to be sold; rather, it is a symbol of honour and respect, and a sign that the husband is willing to shoulder his responsibilities and fulfil his duties.
According to Islamic teachings in the hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH), mahr is the amount to be paid by the groom to the bride at the time of marriage, some of which may be delayed according to what is agreed upon by the spouses. The mahr is for her to spend as she wishes. It can be cash, jewellery, or any other valuable gift.
In some cases, as per Sahih al-Bukhari (Volume 7, Book 62, Number 72), even an iron ring can be mahr.
Men and women both should take the responsibility while dealing with mahr. Without the giving of the mahr the marriage is not valid. The mahr does not need to be given or even specified before the marriage contract, but it must be given and the best time to give is at the time of Nikah. The mahr cannot be taken away from the woman once the sexual relationship has been consummated. If the relationship has not been consummated, then half of the mahr should be given, as is stipulated by the Qur’an:
“And if you divorce them before you have touched them and you have appointed for them a portion, then (pay to them) half of what you have appointed” [chapter 2:237]
In one of the narrations, Al-Hafiz Abu Ya’la recorded that Masruq said, “Umar bin Al-Khattab stood up on the Minbar of the Messenger of Allah and said, ‘O people! Why do you exaggerate concerning the dowry given to women? The Messenger of Allah and his Companions used to pay up to four hundred Dirhams for a dowry, or less than that. Had paying more for a dowry been a part of Taqwa or an honour, you would not have led them in this practice. Therefore, I do not want to hear about a man who pays more than four hundred Dirhams for a dowry.’ He then went down the Minbar, but a woman from Quraysh said to him, ‘O Leader of the Faithful! You prohibited people from paying more than four-hundred Dirhams in a dowry for women?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Have you not heard what Allah sent down in the Qur’an?’ He said, ‘Which part of it?’ She said, ‘Have you not heard Allah’s statement: And you have given one of them a Qintar?’ He said, ‘O Allah! Forgive me…’ He then went back and stood up on the Minbar saying, ‘I had prohibited you from paying more than four-hundred Dirhams in dowry for women. So, let everyone pay what he likes from his money.’”
In return for the mahr, the woman gives herself to her husband in the Islamic marriage contract. Her obedience to him is mandatory and mahr is received as compensation for making herself available to her husband. Now it is clear mahr is an obligation in Islam which has to be paid by the husband as per his financial status. One can give 10 lakhs INR, 20 lakhs INR or someone can give only 1 lakh, it entirely depends upon the earnings of the husband.
It has been mentioned in multiple narrations that mahr can be given as per financial status of a groom as it should not be a burden to a man. ‘Uqbah ibn ‘Amir reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The best marriage is one that is easiest.” If we decipher this hadith, the easiest marriage is the one in which there is less wastage and no show-off in terms of mahr. It is not right as per the Shariah to fix more mahr only to boast and for show or with the intention of not paying it. Now the question is who decides the mahr?
The agreement of the mahr specifies the kind and the amount of the mahr that the husband is ready to gift to his wife. Such an agreement is generally made between the husband and the wali (guardian) of the bride. The amount of dowry should be in accordance with the financial position of the husband. This means, that the money given as mahr should not impose a financial burden on the husband.
Islam does not set up any fixed upper limit on the amount of mahr. However, this does not mean that the bride or her wali can demand any unreasonable big amount of money. Islam recommends that the amount of mahr should be made affordable and easy on the husband, something that he would be happily and readily give to her wife. If there is a mahr that is a burden on husband, it might be a bad omen of a miserable or non-compassionate Nikah.
Some guardians and brides exaggerate concerning the mahr, and demand huge mahr which a young man who wants to get married cannot afford, until marriage becomes something extremely difficult for many of those who want to get married.
And He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The best of mahrs is the simplest (or most affordable)” [Narrated by al-Haakim and al-Bayhaqi, classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 3279].
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) set the highest example for his ummah in that regard, so that a clear understanding of the basic principles would be implanted in society, and a spirit of simplicity would spread among the people.
Abu Dawood (2125) and al-Nasaa’i (3375) narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas that ‘Ali said: “I married Faatimah (may Allaah be pleased with her) and said: ‘O Messenger of Allaah, let me go ahead with the marriage.’ He said: ‘Give her something.’ I said: ‘I do not have anything.’ He said: ‘Where is your Hutami shield?’ I said, ‘I have it with me.’ He said, ‘Give it to her.’” [Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Nasaa’i, 3160].
This was the mahr of Faatimah, the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), the leader of the women of paradise. This reinforces the fact that in Islam, the mahr is not something that is sought for its own sake, and it should not serve as purpose of trade between two families where bride’s family can demand huge amount of mahr for security of their daughter. There have been innumerable incidents mostly in Asian Muslim countries especially in Kashmir when bride’s parents in advance demand hefty amount for mahr in case anything goes wrong with her in-laws after marriage. Then the bride simply take all the amount and leaves her husband and her parents fill the divorce sheet and grasp the entire amount of mahr.
The amount of mahr is to be taken in a simple way as financial security for the bride in case of a divorce or death of a husband. But we as Muslims have complicated the Islamic rulings about it. Heavy amounts are being demanded from the bride’s side. This has not only led to a financial burden on the husband, but it also delays their decision to marry, until the time that they cannot afford mahr. This problem needs to be tackled and we need to understand the true meaning and virtues of mahr. Parents need to be more understanding and realise that demanding light and easy mahr is for the long-term happiness of their Nikah.
Ibn Maajah (1887) narrated that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab said: “Do not go to extremes with regard to the dowries of women, for if that were a sign of honour and dignity in this world or a sign of piety before Allah, then Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would have done that before you. But he did not give any of his wives, and none of his daughters were given, more than twelve uqiyah. A man may increase the dowry until he feels resentment against her and says, ‘You cost me everything I own, and caused me a great deal of hardship’.” [Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Maajah, 1532].
“Do not go to extremes” means do not exaggerate in increasing the mahr. “A man may increase the dowry until he feels resentment against her” means that until he begins to hate her when he is still paying off the debts incurred because of this mahr because it is too hard for him, or whenever he thinks about the matter [from Haashiyat al-Sindi ‘ala Ibn Maajah].
Twelve uqiyah is equivalent to 480 dirhams, i.e., approximately 135 silver riyals (134.4). This was the mahr of the daughters and wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Shaykh al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyah] said in Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 32/194: “Whoever thinks of increasing his daughter’s mahr and asking for more than the daughters of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) were given – when they were the best women in this world in all aspects – is an ignorant fool. The same applies to asking for more than the Mothers of the Believers were given. This applies even if one is well off and can afford it. With regard to one who is poor, he should not give a mahr greater than he can afford to pay without any hardship.”
In one Hadith, Allah’s Messenger, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “The best of marriages is the easiest” [Sahihah no. 1842]
So, we see that Islam emphasises on making mahr easy and simple for the benefit and happiness of both the bride and the groom.
Even if a husband cannot afford the amount in mahr or does not have even a small material thing to gift, in that case also mahr can be given in some other form.
In one Hadith, the Prophet allowed a man who had no money or no ring to marry a woman in exchange for the Surahs of Qur’an that he had memorised. The benefit behind it was the Surahs that the husband could pass to his wife. This would be his to gift to her in kind.
Allah’s Messenger, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “Go have her as wife. I marry her to you for the portion of the Qur’an that you memorised” [al-Bukhari, Muslims and others].
Hence it is clear that what people do nowadays, asking to increase the mahr and exaggerating concerning it, is something that goes against the sharee’ah. The wisdom behind reducing the mahr and not increasing it is quite clear: It makes it easier for people to get married, so that they will not be diverted from it, which will result in all kinds of moral and social corruption.
Thus, the Islamic ruling about mahr is very delicate and yet simple. One only needs to understand it in its letter and spirit.
The writer is Senior Network Consultant at NTT UK.