Marriage: Dower & other payments

Q346 :1. You have spoken earlier on dower and dowry stating that Islam approves only of the first which means a payment by the man to his prospective wife. May I say that, contrary to what you have implied, this is the practice followed in most parts of the Indian Sub-continent. May I also ask about the practice in a number of Arab countries where the dower is used by the wife or her family to buy furniture for the man's house? How far is this in line with Islamic practice? What is its effect on encouraging or discouraging early marriages? 2. May I ask what is the purpose of paying dower to one's prospective wife? We know that since it is an order of Islam, we must fulfil it without question. However, it is far better to know the purpose of what Islam requires of us. 3. You have mentioned in the past that a lady companion of the Prophet agreed to be married to Abu Talhah on the condition that he becomes a Muslim. She did not have any dower, but considered his acceptance of Islam as her dower. What I would like to know is whether people can be tempted to become Muslims just for the sake of marriage?

A346 : When a man and a woman get married, the new relationship imposes certain obligations on each one of them. When you try to evaluate these obligations against the rights that each of them will enjoy, you will find that, generally speaking, it is the man who stands to benefit more by the new relationship. Although Islam maintains equality between men and women and provides a system which helps each of them fulfil the roles for which they are best suited, on balance, the man has more to gain. He establishes a home and a family and is likely to have children and find a comfortable home when he comes back from work. Moreover, he has a partner with whom he may fulfil his natural desire in a legitimate way. In return for this extra benefit, he has to pay a dower to his prospective wife. I have explained that this is a condition of Islamic marriage. The dower is payable in advance, or at the time of making the marriage contract. If it is specified at the time of the contract, then the amount mentioned is the dower which the woman gets. If it is unspecified, the contract is valid but the wife continues to be entitled to receive a dower. The man and his wife may agree on its amount after marriage. However, if they cannot agree on a specific amount, the woman may refer the matter to an Islamic court which will give her an amount equal to that normally received by women in her social standing when they get married. In other words, the court will consider how much has been given to her sisters and cousins and will order that she be paid an amount similar to them. If a dower is still not paid, it remains due for the wife. When she is divorced, she may claim it. When her husband dies, it is payable to her as a debt. As you know, the first payment out of the estate of any deceased person is the settlement of his debts. To sum up, dower is paid by the man in return for the benefits he receives as a result of his marriage. Therefore, the dower must be of benefit to the woman herself. She has sole discretion over its usage. She may spend it on her own needs, invest it or keep it. Nobody may harass her either to forego it or to spend it in a particular manner. The benefit which a woman may receive as her dower need not be financial or material. That is the case mentioned with respect to marriage of Abu Talhah, the companion of the Prophet. Perhaps I should explain here that Abu Talhah was a man of admirable character. This was clearly seen in the battle of Uhud as well as many other situations. In Uhud he was one of those who remained with the Prophet when the bulk of the Muslim army was in disarray. He defended the Prophet most courageously and helped protect him from the determined attack by the polytheists who had resolved to kill him. His was a shining character among the companions of the Prophet. When he proposed to a Muslim lady, she realized that he would make a very good husband. However, he was not a Muslim at that time. She told him that he was not one to be refused, but since he was not a Muslim she could not marry him. If he was ready to be a Muslim, she would not require him to pay her any dower. His embracing Islam was her dower. There is no doubt that the lady in question has made a great benefit by his marriage. She won to Islam a man of high courage and integrity who was certain to appreciate the value of Islam, once he knew enough about its principles and practices. She certainly hoped for a great reward by Allah. If any woman finds herself in a similar situation and is certain of the character of the man who wants to marry her and follow the example of this lady companion of the Prophet, then her marriage may be blessed. As for tempting a woman to become Muslim in return for marriage, this should be looked at differently. The marriage of Abu Talhah ensured a benefit to the lady in the form of reward from Allah, but the benefit will be the man's when he offers marriage to a woman in return of her becoming a Muslim. The dower should be something which gives her a personal benefit. Another example of moral benefit which may be considered a dower is the case provided by the Prophet when he was asked by one of his companions what to do when he had no money to give to the woman to whom he had proposed. The Prophet asked him whether he knew any surahs of the Qur'an. When he answered in the affirmative, he made it a condition of the marriage that the man would teach his wife the same surahs of the Qur'an. That was all the dower the man was required to pay. Again here there is a clear benefit to the woman because learning parts of the Qur'an will ensure reward from Allah. What I mentioned about the system in the Indian sub-continent was that the dower is quite often a nominal sum or a formality which is part of the whole ritual. On the wedding night, the bride declares to her husband that she foregoes her right to the dower. She does this either because she is taught to do so, or as a result of the husband's pleading that he does not have the money. The first letter suggests that I have been misinformed. I might have been, but I go only by what I am told. [Added: No you are not mis-informed. In some communities that is precisely the case.] I have received numerous letters from my readers over the years that for a girl to get married, her father or brother must go to the trouble of buying gold or some other stuff to tempt the bridegroom. The more she has, the better her chances of marrying well. I have also heard this from friends who come from that part of the world. Now that you are mentioning that prevalent system is more in line with Islamic teachings, which makes the dower a condition of the validity of marriage and the amount is actually paid to the bride and she exercises her sole discretion over its usability, I am certainly glad to hear it. It may be the case, however, that both types exist in different parts of the subcontinent. Be that as it may, what we are concerned with here is the Islamic system, not the practice of any particular community. What you have mentioned about the practice in some Arab countries is certainly true. The bridegroom pays a dower, but the family of the bride takes it and adds to it, probably an equivalent amount or even more and spend the money on the bride's costumes and furniture for the home of the new family. This is again something that is not encouraged by Islam. Islam promotes marriage and does not create difficulties for the prospective partners. Such financial requirements tend to discourage or delay marriages. It should be added, however, that the furniture remains the property of the woman for as long as the marriage continues. If it is dissolved, she takes it back. In certain Arab countries, when a marriage ends up in divorce, the court will assume that all the furniture in the family home belongs to the wife. The husband has to prove that he bought a certain article himself for the court to allow him to take it away. It should be stated, however, that this is not the sort of complication Islam encourages. Indeed, providing a furnished home for a family is the responsibility of the husband. When the wife refuses her dower to buy furniture, she is not making the best use of her dower, except in the sense that she is free to forgo any part of the dower for the husband. Here she is forgoing the usage of the furniture. In this case, tradition gets mixed up with Islamic teachings. I would prefer a clear-cut arrangement where the woman may get a smaller dower, but the husband provides the furniture.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )