Payments to and from the Bride in Islamic Law and TraditionA practical guide by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood.
Dowry and Mahr
In the first era of Islam marriage was a simple affair, without pomp or ceremony. Any expenditure incurred in its performance was quite minimal, and not a burden on either family. Indeed, the Prophet stated: 'the most blessed marriage is one in which the marriage partners place the least burden on each other.' (al-Haythami, Kitab ab-Nikah, 4:255).
Nowadays, much difficulty and hardship can be caused by the setting and giving of dowries, bride-prices and mahr - not to mention enormous wedding feasts and celebrations in some cultures which bring a most unreasonable financial burden on the families concerned. Financially crippling celebrations are totally in opposition to the spirit of Islam, and are not necessary. They are purely a matter of the culture of certain regions. No Muslim should feel obliged to continue these unIslamic traditions, or be embarrassed about breaking with their old cultural traditions.
It is very important that Muslims themselves realize that there is an enormous difference between dowry, bride-price and mahr. Many books and articles on the subject confusingly use the word dowry to mean mahr, but in fact the correct word for dowry is jahaz, and its function is totally different.
What is a dowry?
The custom of giving dowry (jahaz) is not part of Islam, although it actually seems to be on the increase among several Muslim cultures, notably those of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, even when they have settled in the UK. In fact, it is a practice which has never been sanctioned by Islam and is not prevalent amongst Muslims of other cultures. It seems to be in imitation of ancient Hindu culture in which daughters were not given any share in the family property, but were given payments, part of which might be in the form of household goods, as a measure of compensation. Islam granted daughters a rightful share in their family property and inheritance.
A 'bride-price' is either : · an amount of money, goods or possessions given to the bride by the bride's family at the time of her marriage, in order to attract a good husband for her. It would in effect become the property of the husband or his family upon his marrying her. This is a totally unIslamic practice. In Islam, women are not 'owned' by their families and should not be 'traded with' in this manner. It is an insulting practice. Or · an amount of money demanded from the bridegroom or his family by the bride or her family, usually the bride's father, without which the daughter will not be given in marriage. In the jahiliyyah society before Islam, this money was regarded as the property of the girl's guardian.
The matters of fathers giving the bride gifts of money or property, or paying for an enormous wedding feast, or providing a home, or setting her up in her home with furniture and household effects are left to the discretion of the people involved in Islam. The Prophet himself saw to the marriages of his four daughters. He gave his daughter Fatimah various gifts when she married Ali b. Abu Talib, but there is no record of his having given anything to his other daughters on the occasion of their marriages. Had such gifts been a recommended sunnah, he would surely have given the others gifts as well. Moreover, the gifts given to Fatimah were extremely modest household articles - a sheet, a leather water-bag, and a pillow stuffed with grass and fiber.
Nothing could be more unIslamic than ostentation.
It is ridiculous to attempt to justify flamboyant displays of wealth in lavish gifts or feastings by citing the Prophet's extremely modest gifts to Fatimah.