Muslim Matrimonials and More

Articles and Essays on Marriage and Family in Islam


Marriage in Islam

Part One

By Adil Salahi

Subject Index
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) Last Sermon

This Sermon was delivered on the Ninth Day of Dhul Hijjah 10 A.H in the Uranah Valley of mount Arafat

"O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I don't know whether, after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.

O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. Allah has forbidden you to take usury (Interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived...

Beware of Satan, for your safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have right over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to commit adultery.

O People, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, say your five daily prayers (Salah), fast during the month of Ramadhan, and give your wealth in Zakat. Perform Hajj if you can afford to. You know that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. You are all equal. Nobody has superiority over other except by piety and good action.

Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not astray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

O People, no Prophet or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand my words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur'an and my example, the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray.

All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness oh Allah that I have conveyed your message to your people."


Conditions of marriage

Q). Could you please explain the relative importance of the practices of marriage and which of them are essential for the marriage contract and which are only recommended or voluntary?

Sherfudeen, Madinah

A). Marriage itself is a Sunnah, which means that it is recommended, not obligatory to us. Therefore, if a Muslim does not marry throughout his life, he commits no sin, although he has chosen a course for his life different from that recommended by the Prophet. The recommendation is made in the strongest of terms, as the Prophet says: "Marriage is my way, (i.e. Sunnah) and a person who disdains to follow my way does not belong to me." Yet the emphasis put on the recommendation is only to heighten its desirability. It is not to be understood from this hadith that a person who remains unmarried throughout his life removes himself from the fold of Islam or even commits a sin.

Divorce on the other hand is permissible but described as unsavory or distasteful. It is permitted because of the need for it. In any society, a proportion of marriages are unsuccessful, due to a variety of reasons, the most common among which is the incompatibility between the characters of the husband and his wife. Therefore, a way out is provided for them through divorce.

The most essential aspect of the marriage contract is the commitment and acceptance. One party, normally the guardian of the bride, makes the commitment by stating that he marries away the woman on whose behalf he is acting to the prospective husband according to the Islamic way and for a specific dower. The bridegroom declares then his acceptance of that commitment and that he has married the woman according to the terms specified. That constitutes the marriage contract. Both commitment and acceptance must be done in the same session, and should not be separated by other matters.

Witnesses must be present at the time of the contract and a minimum of two is required for the purpose. The important aspect is that marriage must be publicized. The minimum publicity is provided by the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses must be present at the time when the commitment and acceptance is made, and they should be sane, adults and must hear the contract being made and understand that it means marriage. Therefore, if a child or a mad or deaf or drunken person witnesses the marriage contract being made, the contract is not valid. The presence of such persons is the same as their absence.

The guardian of the woman to be married should also be present. The Prophet says: "No marriage can be made without the presence of a guardian and two proper witnesses." (Related by Ad Daraqutni). The woman's guardian is normally her father. If her father is present, no one other than him may act for her. If he is dead or absent, then one of her closest relatives should act as her guardian, such as her brother, grandfather or uncle.

The dower is also necessary in the marriage contract. It is compensation paid to the bride and it becomes her own property and she disposes of it in the way she likes. Its amount is fixed by agreement between the two partners. If a marriage contract is made without the dower being specified, the contract is valid, but the woman does not forfeit her right to receive a dower. If her husband refuses to give her what she asks, then she can put the case to a Muslim judge who will rule that she must be given the equivalent of what is given by way of dower to women in her social status.

A dower can be a very little amount. At the time of the Prophet (pbuh), a woman accepted a pair of shoes as her dower. The Prophet asked her whether it was her decision and whether she accepts. She answered in the affirmative and he endorsed the marriage. Another woman came to the Prophet and declared that she makes a gift of herself to the Prophet. A man asked him to marry her to him. The Prophet asked him whether he had anything to give her by-way of dower. The man said that he had nothing except his dress. The Prophet said that if he were to give her his dress, he would have nothing to wear. The man tried to fund something to give her but could come up with nothing. The Prophet said try to send even a ring of iron, but the man could not find anything. The Prophet asked him whether he memorized anything of the Qur'an, the man said he knew several surahs. The Prophet allowed the marriage to go through on the condition that the man would teach his wife the parts of the Qur'an he knew.

Another story from the time of the Prophet, which has been reported by Anas, says that Abu Talhah made a proposal to many a woman called Umm Sulaim. She said: "You are a man whom no woman would refuse, but you are a non-Muslim while I am a Muslim. It is not permissible for me to many you. If you were to become a Muslim, I will accept that as my dower and I ask you for nothing else." He declared that he has accepted the religion of Islam. That was the dower he gave to his wife. All these hadiths show that it is permissible to give a small amount of money as a dower or even to pay it in the form of rendering a service, such as teaching one's wife some parts of the Our' an.

Having said that the dower, or mehr, may be very little in amount there is no maximum limit to what a man may pay his wife by way of dower. The Prophet, however, has strongly recommended us not to demand excessive dowers. He says "The best of women are those with pretty faces and cheap dowers." There is a strong indication in that hadith that the dower should never be related to looks. A woman is not a commodity, which a man buys at a price, which takes into consideration how pretty she looks. She is life partner to him and she gives him a benefit for which she is entitled to have compensation.

When the marriage contract is made, it is recommended, (i.e. sunnah) for someone, preferably the person who instructs the two parties what to say to make sure of the correctness of the contract, to say a few words, reminding the people who are present of Allah and the need to conduct one's life according to Islam. He may quote some verses of the Qur'an, which are suitable for the occasion and remind people that they should always remain God-fearing.

I have already said that it is important to publicize marriage. The Prophet has also recommended that marriage should be celebrated with some singing. The Prophet is also quoted as saying: "The difference between what is legitimate and what is illegitimate is the sound of the tambourine." This again refers to publicity. When people arrange for some singing and music they add to the publicity of the marriage, which confirms that the relationship between the man and the woman is a legitimate one. On the other hand, when they are secretive about the marriage, there may be something suspicious in that relationship which could take it into the realm of what is forbidden.

Another strongly recommended practice is to invite people to a meal. The Prophet said to his companion, Abdurahman ibn Auf, when he got married: "Arrange a dinner party even if you can only afford a lamb." Both Al-Bukhari and Muslim relate the hadith reported by Anas which says: "The Prophet has not given a marriage party (i.e. Waleemah) for any of his wives better than that he gave when he married Zainab: he provided one lamb." This means that in other marriages, the Prophet could not afford a lamb, but that did not prevent him from giving a party. Therefore, the waleemah is a strongly recommended practice, but it need not be anything grand.


The Dower and when to pay it.

Q). Is it compulsory to fix and pay the dower at the time of marriage? Does it remain due at any time, if it is not duly paid when the contract is made? Does a wife have a right to demand its payment at any time? Please comment on practices that are not in line with Islamic teachings on this matter.

S. Ridwanuddin, Riyadh

A). The dower is an amount of money or some other useful commodity paid or given by a man to his wife at the time of their marriage. It is agreed between them, or between their families in consultation with her. It must be understood that it is due to her in return for agreeing to marry her husband and becoming lawful for him. It becomes due and payable at the time when the marriage contract is made.

There is no minimum or maximum for the dower. Any amount may be agreed between the two parties, although a reasonable amount is preferable in order to facilitate marriage for young men and women.

Payment of the whole or a part of the dower may be deferred if the woman agrees to it. She may also forgo part or all of it, if she chooses.

However she must be under no pressure to do that at any time. If payment is deferred, the dower remains payable at any time she demands it. It should be considered as a debt that is already due, or a deferred debt. What a husband must understand is that he actually takes what is due to him under the marriage contract once the contract is made. Hence, his commitment, i.e. the dower, is also due at the same time.

Putting any pressure on the wife to forgo part or all of her dower is forbidden. She may do this of her own accord, but not under any pressure. Yet in many situations, a wife is pressured to forfeit her right to have dower. For one thing, it is often agreed by the bridegroom with no intention to pay it. It is treated a formality or some type of bother.

In some parts of the Muslim world, certain traditions have crept in to deprive the wife of her right to have a dower. She is actually told by her family to tell her husband on the wedding night that she forgoes her dower in full. The poor girl often does not know what she is doing when she says those words. She does not know that she is entitled to a dower or that it is hers by God's order. She simply wastes it because she is told to do so.

In other parts of the Muslim world, the wife is required to pay her husband some dowry, which is often in gold or jewelry. That puts her at a disadvantage, because when her family has gone into the trouble of paying all that, the prospect of losing it all will look dreadful. If things go wrong with her marriage and the poor woman starts to think that a divorce is better for her, she will find her family totally unresponsive.

To them the idea of divorce means only material loss. The woman finds herself in between two types of pressures and she may be very miserable.

If a husband dies without having paid his wife's dower, she remains entitled to receive it. It is payable from his estate as a debt. It is well known that debts are the first thing to be paid out of the estate of any deceased person. Again if she is pressured at this stage to forgo it, she is deprived of her right. The importance of a dower may be properly understood when it is remembered that if a marriage contract does not specify any amount of dower, and the two parties do not agree such an amount between them, it remains payable. They may agree its amount after marriage.

If they do not come to an agreement, the woman may put the matter to an Islamic court which will give her an amount equal to the average dower of girls in her social status.


Fixing of dower

Q). Is the dower, or mehr, calculated on the basis of one's earning? If so how much should one who receives onethousand three hundred riyals per month pay as dower? Or is it calculated on the basis of the expected earnings in the future?

A). The dower, or mehr, is an amount of money which is paid by the bridegroom to his bride as one of the conditions for the validity of the marriage. It is a right to which every bride is entitled. Its amount is not calculated on the basis of any particular criterion. It is simply agreed upon by the parties concerned. Normally, the amount is fixed through negotiations between the two families or the bridegroom and the guardian of the bride. Her agreement to its amount is essential. It has no minimum or maximum amount. The income of the bridegroom at present or what is expected in the future is immaterial. If the marriage contract is made without fixing the amount of dower, for any reason, the wife does not forfeit her right.

She can still claim it and it can be fixed by mutual agreement between her and her husband. If they fail to agree, she can refer the matter to an Islamic court which will fix the amount of dower on the basis of the average for girls in her social status. Moreover, she need not forgo any part of her dower, or mehr, to her husband on the wedding night or subsequently. This amount of money is hers and she is fully entitled to dispense with it the way she likes.

Marriage without dowry

Q). I know that paying dowry is necessary for marriage. If a man cannot afford to pay a dowry, is he expected to remain single for the rest of his life? Is this not contradictory with the teachings of Islam?

R.Aniff, Dammam.

A). While the payment of a dowry is essential for Islamic marriage, the Prophet recommends us not to ask exorbitant dowries for our daughters. He praises in clear terms a woman who marries for a small dowry. He is absolutely clear on this point, showing that those who receive high dowry need not take any pride in that.

Islam encourages all Muslim men and women to get married. This is not contradictory with the imposition of a dowry, because dowry is simply a compensation for the bride in return for her becoming the wife of her husband. By marrying him, it is she who sacrifices more. Hence, the compensation is needed. If she chooses, to accepts a small dowry that should endear her more to her husband.

The Prophet makes the criteria for selecting a husband for one’s daughter very clear. He tells us: "If someone with a satisfactory standard of faith and honesty comes to seeking marriage, then give him (your daughter or sister) in marriage.” If you refuse, that will lead to spread of great corruption in the land.

What a person of limited means needs to do in order to be married, then, is to score highly on the more important points of good character, strong faith and genuine honesty. If he does that, he will soon find the family, which appreciates his virtue more than people normally, appreciate his money. They will be glad to give him their daughter in marriage.


Paying dowries to husbands a shameful sin

Q). I am thoroughly disgusted. I come from a poor family in a predominantly Muslim state in India. My family received a proposal for marriage for me to a well off family. However, I learnt from your column that giving dowry by the bride to the groom is un-Islamic, When my father pointed this out to them, they immediately cancelled the proposal. I don't care about that; perhaps it is better so. But what about the Islamic nature of such people!

Name withheld, Hyderabad (Living in Jeddah)

A). Marriage is a social contract between a man and a woman. Islam requires the man to give a dowry to his wife The Our'an stipulates that it should be offered "as a gift." that is out of good will and with the conviction that it is her right. As is the case with everyone who owns property, no one else, neither her husband himself nor guardian can make use of it or tell her what she should do with it. Thus, Islam establishes the woman's right to ownership, which is free from control or dominance on the husband's part. This applies as well to anything else she might own, whether she obtained it as a gift, through inheritance or through work or investment.

The dower is not a "bride price," nor does it reflect the value of the woman in any way. It is based upon mutual agreement between the man and his bride, usually through her father or guardian. No amount is specified by law, and it varies according to the man's financial ability as well as recognized custom. Once when a poor man told the Prophet that he had nothing to give as a bridal gift. He was told. "Look for anything, even if only an iron ring.'' On failing to produce even that. It was agreed that the dower would be his teaching her what he knew of the Our'an. Thus, Islam emphasizes the necessity of the dowry without stipulating its material value.

While the husband is encouraged to give generously according to his means. It is totally contrary to the teachings of Islam for parents or guardians to demand such dowries for their daughters as to cause hardship on prospective husbands.

The most blessed of marriages are those without financial burden.

In Islam husbands are to be chosen for excellence in religion and moral character, not for social status or wealth. Just as a wife is to be chosen for her moral character and not for her wealth or her beauty.

Islam grants women equal rights to make contracts, launch enterprises, earn and possess wealth and property independently. No matter what the source, any wealth in a woman's possession is hers alone, and her right of ownership cannot be contested. She has full control and authority over her own property and money, the right to keep or spend, to buy, sell or invest: to give or bequeath.

If she has a job or business, the husband and other family members have no right to any of her income unless she offers it willingly or has entered into an agreement. If she is harmed, she gets due compensation equal to what a man in her position would get.

It is with these facts of Islamic personal law in mind that we wish to remind our fellow Muslims, particularly from the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent that the totally unacceptable practice where the bride has to pay a dowry (or whatever its protagonists wish to call it) is against God's law, invites the wrath of God and those who continue to be involved in such anti Islamic activities while knowing that it is against the Shariah, are committing a grievous sin.


The dowry system in Indian Subcontinent

Q). In India there is a traditional dowry system which is payable by the bride to the bridegroom. Please clarify whether this is totally forbidden or only discouraged in Islam. If forbidden, does it affect the validity of the marriage? Suppose that the bride's father willingly and without any compulsion gives gold, money or property to the bridegroom, can the bridegroom accept that?

In certain areas, the authorities of a mosque charge ten to twenty percent of the dowry as a penalty and use this to meet the expenditure of the mosque. Is this correct?

M. Abdolkareem, Hofuf- Alhassa

A). We have been recently making a distinction between dowry and dower. By dowry we mean the practice which exists in certain Muslim communities under which a bride gives to her bridegroom an amount of money in gold, cash or property. Dower, on the other hand, is the English equivalent of the Arabic "mehr" which means the amount of money paid by the husband to his wife at the time when the marriage contract is made.

The dowry system is unknown to the majority of Islamic countries and communities, which suggests that it could have been borrowed from other cultures. There is nothing extraordinary in this since different cultures have always borrowed practices and traditions from each other. The dowry system, for example, is practiced in the Indian Subcontinent where Hindus form the majority. The cultural study of that society would reveal that Muslims have borrowed this practice from Hindus.

This is not to say that Islam has been influenced by Hinduism in India. It is often the case that when a new religion spreads in a new area or country, Muslims in that area retain some of their old traditions which they have been practicing for centuries. No one suggests that Islam creates a uniform society in all environments and all periods of history. Islam, however, stops certain practices and traditions which are opposed to its principles. But there are many reasons for a tradition to survive a fundamental social change like that of adopting a new religion. One of these is the poor economic situation of the country concerned. There are other reasons and social pressures, which can be identified if a case study is undertaken in the case of dowry. The poverty of a large spectrum of a very large population is perhaps the major reason for the system to continue among Muslims. It is very difficult for a young man to save enough money to establish a new home and to look after a family of his own. Therefore the two families need to collaborate together in establishing a home for a newly married couple.

Whatever the reasons, Islam does not approve of the dowry being a condition for marriage. It is in fact the opposite of the Islamic system, which requires the bridegroom to pay "mehr" or dower to the bride. That dower becomes a wife's property and she has sole discretion over how she spends it. It is open to her to give back to her husband any part of that dower after the marriage has taken place, provided that she does so without any pressure being exercised on her, explicitly or implicitly.

It may be said that this is what is done in the Muslim community in the Indian Subcontinent. A dower is agreed between the two parties, but then it is forgone by the wife at a later stage. The fact is that the dower is treated as an awkward technicality. It is mentioned in the marriage contract but on the wedding night, the bride is taught by her family that she must tell the bridegroom that she has forgone every part of it. In other words, she is not doing it out of her own free will. She has no choice in the matter. The bridegroom expects that she would do that. If she does not do it, there may be trouble within the family, especially if the figure named is high. Perhaps neither the bride nor the bridegroom know why they have to go through this process of naming a figure and forgoing its payment. Islam provides for a dower to be paid as a compensation for the woman in return for the obligation marriage imposes on her to be a good bed fellow to her husband. In other words, she is giving ouof herself something to her husband, in consideration of which she is entitled to receive an amount of money in cash or kind, which she deems to be appropriate. Therefore, a woman's right to a dower is not lost unless she herself relinquishes it. For this reason, if the dower is not specified in the marriage contract, the woman does not lose her claim to it. She may ask her husband to give her something, which she deems to be satisfactory. If they can agree on a figure, then she may apply to an Islamic court, which will specify an amount, which is normally given to a bride in her social status.

It is now clear that the dower payable by the bridegroom is the one, which Islam requires in marriage. The dowry system is merely a tradition in certain societies. We cannot say to a man who wants to see his daughter married and, therefore, gives her suitor a dowry that he has done something forbidden. We simply say to him that this is not the way Islamic marriage is arranged. It does not affect the validity of the marriage. Nor is it forbidden for the bridegroom to accept the gifts given to him by his father-inlaw. But we should try to explain to the community that the dowry system impedes marriage and is not sanctioned by Islam. When people are aware of this the tradition of the dowry may weaken within the Muslim community and it may give way to the proper Islamic tradition.

As for imposing a tax or a penalty on a bridegroom who receives a dowry, which is then spent in meeting the mosque's expenditure, this is an innovative way of resisting a bad tradition. It is not forbidden for the Muslim committee to do so, but the bridegroom who receives the dowry can easily refuse payment. The committee will have no way of enforcing its regulation. The payment of the penalty does not make dowry in any way more acceptable, from the Islamic point of view. It remains a burden on the bride's family, which need not be there. Islam advocates that marriage should be made easy. The dowry system makes it difficult.



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