Gradually Muslim women are getting educated about the importance of the Mahr and in lot many weddings the brides seek a berth in the decision-making as it links to their security, status and individuality, reports BabraWani
In 1994, when she was just 18 years old, Shabana’s (name changed) marriage was arranged by her parents. Every detail, from her groom to the colour of her wedding dress, the wedding date, and even her Haqq e Mahr (dower), was decided by the groom’s family, and she passively accepted their choices without voicing her own opinion.
In contrast, Shabana’s 25-year-old niece, Saima (name changed), who got married in 2021, took an active role in deciding every aspect of her marriage, including her Haqq e Mahr. She sat down with her parents to discuss the amount and even added a few new clauses to her NikkahNaama (marriage contract).
“Mahr is my right by Islamic law. It serves as my security, and when I learned its importance, I knew I had the right to have a say in it,” explained Saima. A professional engineer, Saima, extensively studied all aspects of the Mahr and decided that she would set the amount between Rs 50,000 to one Lakh rupees, depending on her groom’s financial situation. She communicated her decision to her parents, who supported her.
Saima’s in-laws, including her husband, were fine with her decision. “At the time of my Nikkah, my father-in-law paid my Mahr in cash and some jewellery. My husband was supportive, and we discussed it directly,” she revealed.
In contrast to Saima’s experience, her aunt Shabana had no say in determining her Mahr. “My father informed me about the decision made by my in-laws regarding the Mahr amount,” Shabana recalled. “ I didn’t even ask about the amount as it was decided by the elders of the family. To be honest, in those days, I didn’t even understand the significance of deciding the Mahr amount. Nowadays, girls are more knowledgeable about these matters.”
While Saima received her Mahr at the time of her Nikkah, Shabana had to wait 20 years before her husband paid it. She used her Mahr in the construction of their new home.
Mutual Family Decesion
These stories are not isolated incidents; many other women share similar experiences.
For Zainab (name changed), her father-in-law determined her Mahr in 2020. “My father-in-law said they had set an amount of Rs 50,000 for all their daughters-in-law, so my Mahr would be the same,” Zainab said. “At the time of my Nikkah, I received Rs 10,000. I didn’t complain because I understood that my in-laws could only afford that much.”
Naira (name changed), 24, also had her Mahr decided by her in-laws. “My Mahr included jewellery from my in-laws and an amount of Rs 60,000. I received the possession of the jewellery at the time of my Nikkah, and they said the amount would be paid later.”
While in these cases the in-laws determined the dower, there are also instances, like Saima’s, where the bride’s side had the final say.
In Seema’s (name changed) case, her groom and in-laws allowed her and her family to decide the Mahr amount. “My father and uncle determined the amount, and my in-laws agreed to it. It was paid to me in cash at the time of my Nikkah.”
In the case of Raheen, whose Nikkah took place during Ramzan 2023, the amount was mutually decided by both families. “Since we are family friends, it was a mutual decision,” Raheen said. “My opinion was also considered. However, the Mahr was not paid at the time of the Nikkah, as it is more of a cultural practice here.”
In not so distant past, Mahr was just a formality and a number of couples still exist in whose marriage the Mahr was merely mentioned but was neither paid nor demanded. In only a fraction of cases, the mention of Mahr in Nikkah was invoked in case of a conjugal dispute.
However, the situation has changed a lot. Now, in most cases, the jewellery that is being gifted to the bride at the time of marriage is partly or fully made part of the Mahr amount. In many cases, the families – mostly from wealthy backgrounds, offer and pay a huge amount, which, in certain cases runs in millions.
In, quite a few cases, the vocal brides suggest reduced expenditure in the ceremonies so that their Mahr becomes handsome. This trend is dictated by the inflation in which brides do not see a lot of worth in a paltry Mahr amount being decided by the two families.
Mahr, a financial obligation placed on the groom and his family, is traditionally paid to the bride in Muslim marriages, either at the time of Nikkah or later, depending upon the wife’s priority. Although commonly provided in monetary form, it can also take the form of land, gold, or other financial assets.
Unlike in some countries where the wife receives no dowry, Mahr is considered one of the rights of the wife, and it is her lawful entitlement. This is supported by various sources, including the verse: “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…” [Surah Al-Nisa 4:4].
The Mahr belongs exclusively to the wife, and it is not permissible for her father or anyone else to take it without her consent. In the past, it was common for fathers to take their daughter’s Mahr, but this practice was abolished by Allah, granting women the right to the Mahr they receive.
Additionally, if the wife voluntarily waives a portion of the Mahr, the husband is allowed to accept and enjoy it without any harm. The dowry amount can vary depending on customs, with some offering cash, others gold, and some including a combination of gold, cash, and household items. The wife’s guardian should not be overly strict regarding this list, as it is recommended to keep the Mahr simple and easy.
In Islam, the Qur’an explicitly mentions the requirement for a groom to pay a dower to his bride. According to Mufti Feroze Ahmad, a respected Islamic scholar, women hold a revered position in Islam, and Mahr is considered obligatory during Nikkah. He explains that Mahr serves as a form of security and is the rightful possession of the wife. The amount should be agreed upon within the means of both families involved, with no upper limit. Mufti Feroze emphasises that a wife has the freedom to waive the Mahr if she so chooses, as it is her property and decision.
In the case of divorce (Khulla), Mufti Feroze clarifies that the husband can request the return of the Mahr. Sumaiya, who experienced forced marriage, shares her story of seeking a Khulla from her husband. After reaching an agreement on the divorce, Sumaiya willingly returned the Mahr and jewellery given to her by her husband and his family.
Another woman, who was divorced shortly after her marriage, received her Mahr after the divorce settlement. “My mother-in-law and husband returned everything they had given me during the marriage, including the Mahr amount,” she said.
Failure to pay the Mahr in the event of divorce carries a sin, as explained by Mufti Feroze. The husband is obligated to settle this debt, and if he fails to do so, it remains until paid, even after his death.
A Wife’s Right
Dr Aqsa Noorein, an Islamic scholar, highlights that the determination of the Mahr primarily depends on the bride and her family. However, in the case of remarriage, the bride has the authority to decide.
The preferred practice, according to several Islamic scholars, is to pay the Mahr at the time of Nikkah, based on the groom’s financial situation. If a wife chooses to waive her Mahr during the Nikkah, it is considered waived off.
Under Muslim Personal Law, Mahr is defined as an amount of money that the husband owes to his wife upon their marriage, either by mutual consent or by law. It can be either postponed (Mu’wajjal) or prompted (Mu’ajjal).
Mahr is a concept within Shariah that ensures women’s financial security. Advocate Irshad Ahmad Mir explains that when a wife demands her Mahr, the husband is obligated to pay it. Failure to do so can result in the wife filing a case for the recovery of the Mahr. However, if a woman has waived her Mahr and subsequently faces divorce, the man is still responsible for paying the Mahr.
Mahr, Mir added is an amount which is paid to the woman as a means of respect and security, however, the aspect of respect for the woman is more dominant. He stated that Islam regulated the mahr as a recognition of respect as it was ordained in an era when a woman was reduced to an abject commodity. In the case of nikkah in which rukhsati is still pending and in case a divorce happens within that time period, half of the mahr is paid. A woman, he said, can demand any amount but ideally, she is supposed to consider her groom’s financial status as well.
Mahr can provide a subsistence amount to a woman in case a divorce happens as it has been proven in many cases, one court ruling suggested.
In matters concerning marriage, divorce, Mahr, and Khulla, the Shariah and legal laws are governed by Muslim Personal Law. This law deals with various aspects of Muslim life, such as intestate succession, special property of females, marriage, dissolution of marriage, maintenance, guardianship, gifts, trusts, and Wakfs (excluding charities and religious endowments). The rule of decision in cases involving Muslims is governed by Muslim Personal Law.