The term ‘dowry’ is described as the transfer of parental property to the daughter at the time of her marriage. The purpose of this tradition is to provide the woman with a security in case of the death of her husband, a negligent husband or it may go to providing for her sons and daughters eventually. But it is not necessarily applied in the same manner in every part of the world. For instance, in India and Pakistan dowry is an amount of money, furniture, appliances and other things of use which are to be provided by the bride’s family to the groom’s side. In the Arab countries, however, it is not the bride’s side that has to pay the dowry instead the groom has to take care of providing not just the dowry and Mahar amount but also has to, in some cases, take care of other wedding expenses as well.
Traditionally, the Arabs are permitted to get married as soon as they reach puberty but in recent times the average age at which Arabs generally get married has increased due to the overly expensive amount one has to pay to get married. As mentioned above, the Mahar is to be paid by the groom and it ranges from an average amount of SR 50,000 to SR 150,000 which is approximately equal to $13,500 to $40,000. You can well imagine how impossibly large this amount is and has to be paid for just one wedding! Hence if the marriage is taking place between not so well off families, this is almost impossible to pull off which is why it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to get married. In some cases, the groom not only pays the dowry for the woman he is marrying but is also expected to take care of all the wedding expenses which include the bride’s dress, the bride’s family’s dresses and any other expenditure that the bride may require. For someone who is unemployed or not belonging to a very rich family, this is simply not affordable.
It gives birth to many social issues. As is already being observed, women are unmarried till the ages of even 40 owing to the fact that the dowry being asked for her is not affordable for most of the men out there and as a result the woman’s marriage is put on hold. Whereas for the men, it can lead them towards unethical things e.g. adultery which is against what our religion preaches. In the same manner, excessive amounts of money and materialistic things are also disliked in Islam.
Dowry in South Asian Countries: The culture in India and Pakistan is on the opposite extremity where the bride’s family has to bear the entire financial burden that the family of groom requires. Not only do they pay for part of the wedding festivities and the bride’s necessities, but in most cases, they are also under the social pressure of giving expensive gifts to the groom’s family’s every member which is considered as a token of respect that you have for these members of the family. If they cannot afford to do so and end up not giving any expensive presents and clothes to the groom’s family, it leads to conflicts between the families. It is a very difficult situation where the bride’s side is on their toes the entire time during the wedding and has to make sure to keep each and every family member from the other side happy and satisfied with everything. This is because even if there is no apparent conflict during the wedding, this can prove to be harmful to their daughter during her married life where the in-laws often taunt the girl regarding her family’s inability to provide them with ‘basic necessities’. In India, this situation is even more extreme where every year countless women are subjected to domestic violence on the issue of dowry and many lose their lives to this.
Concept of Dowry in Islam: In Islam, the concept of a wedding is strikingly opposite to that which is being followed in our society. The greatest example in front of us is that of our Prophet (PBUH)’s beloved daughter Fatima’s wedding which was extremely simple. The dowry was very simple as the Prophet (PBUH) wanted it to be an example for the Muslim Ummah so that no man or woman may remain unmarried because of high dowries.
It is narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said to Hazrat Ali (R.A), ‘O Ali, do you have something (to pay as dowry)?’
Hazrat Ali (R.A) said, ‘I have a sword, an armor and a horse’
The Prophet (PBUH) said to him, ‘As for your horse, you need it, and as for your sword, you cannot do without it, but as for your armor, you can sell it.’
Hazrat Ali (R.A) went to the market and sold his armor for four hundred and eighty dirhams and put them before the Prophet.
The furniture of Fatima (R.A) and Hazrat Ali (R.A) was also very simple and consisted of a sheepskin to sleep on, a pillow of leather stuffed with palm tree fibers, a bed made of palm tree branches, a quern, a water skin, two jars and some pottery vessels.
High Mahar or High Dowry? What is right? In my opinion, both the cultures of Indo-Pak and that of the Arab states needs to be changed and brought in accordance with Islamic principles. By doing this we will not only encourage people to follow Islam in its true spirit but we will also eliminate social evils from the society that the youth might indulge into if not married at the right age. Islamic Sharia encourages simple weddings with minimum dowries and does not encourage superiority among husband and wife and treats them both as equals. If we work on these principles, the evil of dowry can be eliminated from the society and it will promote a prosperous concept of marriage and society.