The Dowry Debate: What Should Men Be Offering and What Should Women Be Requesting?

“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…”

(Al-Qur’an, Al-Nisaa: 4)

Since the reign of Khalifah Omar Ibn Al Khattab (ra), young men have been complaining about high dowry requests and the difficulties they make in getting married. They asked him to intervene and find a solution for them, so he said in a public sermon:

“Anyone who pays more for their dowry than what the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to pay will put the excess amount in the Public Treasury”. A woman from the Quraish tribe came to him and said: “O commander of the believers, which has more right to be followed, The Book of Allah [The Qur’an] or your statement?” He answered: “The Book of Allah.” So, she told him, “You have just prohibited the people from giving the excess amount from the dowry, but Allah has revealed:

“And if you have given them a great amount of gold as dowry [qintar], take not the least bit of it back.

(Al-Qur’an, Al-Nisaa: 20)

Omar (ra) was then heard saying: “The woman has spoken the truth and Omar is mistaken.”

(Musannaf Abd Al Razzaq, 10420)

According to the studies of Arab scholars, a qintar is equivalent to 140 kilograms of gold. Therefore, Islamically there is no limit as to what a dowry amount should be and if a woman desires a large dowry, whether it’s money and/or gold, then she needs to be matched with someone wealthy who can afford it.

This raises the question: What’s considered to be a reasonable dowry for women if there’s no limit? The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) offered a herd of 20 young female camels to Khadijah (RA) as dowry and it was narrated that she was overjoyed with this and celebrated his proposal. Today, an Arabian camel is sold at an average price of £40,000 and more if it’s a young female and even more if she’s a thoroughbred. Twenty female camels at the time were perceived as being an honourable dowry to give the noblest of women who were beautiful, from a good family, wealthy and moral. 

In Arabia, offering a high dowry to a woman’s family is perceived as an act of honour and is an indication of a man’s healthy salary and ability to financially look after his wife. If a man is unable to pay a high dowry then his family help him (if they like the woman and her family), because they want to feel proud of their offer. Families wouldn’t dare offer a dowry that was below the average amount that was given among women in the community and there was certainly no haggling going on. If someone tried to negotiate the dowry amount, he’d be gossiped about and shamed. Men would simply accept or decline or propose marriage with an offer that they already know of beforehand. It is the duty of a man or his family to find out what the average dowry is in a woman’s community and either meet it or exceed it, if he wants to. The standard dowry is usually a sum of money plus some gold coins and jewellery for the bride. According to Saudi tradition in the city of Jeddah (my home town), if a woman’s dowry was £10,000 she’d receive 10 gold coins and if it was £5000 (because she’s from a poorer community), then she’d receive 5 gold coins or 10 silver coins plus some bridal jewellery. I’ve seen some dowries reach 1 million riyals, which is the equivalent of £200,000 plus lots of gold and expensive jewellery. Families love to show off at engagements and wedding parties and proudly display the number of gold coins and expensive jewellery pieces they brought for the bride, as it reflects their social status. Other gifts would also be offered, such as luxury chocolates, designer perfumes, watches, bags and clothes. 

In the West, the situation is different in various communities. Some Muslim cultures practice the dowry and wedding protocols of their home countries, while others are less cultural and more practical. The dowry is a gift to the bride (it’s not permissible Islamically for her family to take it unless she gives them permission). It is not a business transaction and doesn’t indicate the value of a woman. Some women attach their value to the dowry, which is why they demand unaffordable ones, not knowing its intended purpose. They wrongly believe that if the dowry is low and easily affordable, then it means they’re selling themselves cheap. This mindset is encouraged when the friends and family members of women demand and compete to marry financially well-off men to receive high dowries and look down on people who accept smaller dowries. To them, being offered a lower than expected dowry is highly offensive. 

In most cases, women use their dowry money to buy clothes, night wear, perfume, make up, shoes, spa treatments, jewellery, a wedding dress and other things that are wedding-related and the gold is kept as a precious sentimental wedding gift from the husband. The dowry money is especially important for women who don’t have parents or relatives who can help them financially with getting ready for marriage. However, she doesn’t have to spend it on these things, as she’s free to do what she wills with it, but traditionally it’s spent on wedding preparation. Some women may also say that they don’t want money as dowry and may request a new car, a Qur’an, an Umrah trip, a kitten, a Chanel handbag, and so on. The dowry is simply whatever the woman wants it to be and if she has family members who support her financially or she is doing well financially herself in her career then she may not ask for money necessarily. Regardless of the reasons she has for her dowry request, even if they’re pretty restrained, a man is not obliged to accept. 

This takes me to the next point that addresses men who use the ‘God-card’ to get away with paying a reasonable dowry. Some may quote this Hadith by Sahl Ibn Sa’ad (RA) who narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said to a poor man:

“Marry, even with (a mahar equal to) an iron ring.”

(Sahih Al-Bukhari, 5150)

This particular man the Prophet (PBUH) spoke to was known for being God-fearing and his good character and so he advised the woman he wanted to marry to accept his dowry, even though he’s poor because God said:

“And marry the unmarried among you and the righteous among your male slaves and female slaves. If they should be poor, Allah will enrich them from His bounty and Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.”

(Al-Qur’an, Al-Nur: 32)

This doesn’t mean that women should feel guilty when they reject someone who isn’t financially stable or earns enough to give them the dowry amount they desire, but that character and morality is more important, because God has promised that He’ll sort the rest. It is in the good character of a Muslim that he strives to always offer the best he can and to get out of poverty and being miserly. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself was proud to offer the best dowry he could to his wives. 

As a counsellor and Muslim, I always advise men to check before getting emotionally involved with a woman, what her expectations are in regards to dowry and finances in general. If her expectations are out of their budget then they shouldn’t pursue her or negotiate, which usually happens after they become attached and fall in love. A lot of men hope that the women in love with them will compromise on their dowry requests and other wedding-related expenses and a lot of women hope that the men who are in love with them will go above and beyond to meet their financial demands. Both sides become bitter and somewhat heartbroken when they don’t see the compromising they hoped for and blame it on a lack of love and sincerity. Some men will resort to borrowing money or taking on an extra job to meet a woman’s financial demands, only to be disappointed later when they realise that the women they married don’t have the character or fear of God as they would have liked. Women who compromise on their dowries also sometimes regret it, when they see that the men are taking them for granted and “didn’t work hard enough” to have and appreciate them. This is one of the consequences that come out of being in a haram relationship; men will financially struggle and women will sometimes lose what they initially wanted.

Unfortunately, I see many of our young Muslim brothers pursuing women who are clearly materialistic and lacking in good character, just because they’re beautiful and appealing. Many bend over backwards to meet their demands, but it’s making life and marriage difficult for them. They’re getting into debts and hardships just to get married to these women and neglecting the pious and moral women who are better for them. I’ve seen young Muslim women (who aren’t practicing) asking for dowries up to £50,000, even when they don’t come from wealthy families (but are desperate to be wealthy and marry wealthy men). The more religious women, however, are asking for less, to follow the sunnah but are being overlooked by the men they’re interested in for marriage, because they don’t look like Instagram models. 

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The best of mehrs is the simplest (or most affordable).” 

(Saheeh Al-Jaami’, 3279)

Here, the Hadith refers to what’s affordable for each man. So, if a man is able to afford up to £50,000 dowry then he can by all means offer it and if a man can only afford £1000 then this needs to be made clear from the beginning, regardless of whether the woman is wealthy or not. Some financially well-off women will compromise and accept to marry a man who can only offer a small dowry gift, because 1. they aren’t in need of a large dowry and 2. because he’s a great Muslim man they don’t want to lose. No man should be pushed into debt or hardship, because of the dowry, waleemah (wedding party) and other related expenses. If he is, then he’s defeating the purpose of marriage being a simple and blessed union to enter. If it starts with debts then problems will accumulate from there. 

A few scholars suggested that the dowry a man should offer should be the equivalent of 10% of his annual salary. So if he earns £50,000 a year then £5000 is a reasonable dowry to offer. If a woman or her family ask for £10,000 then he should decline, unless he wishes to pay the extra from any savings he may have or family contribution.  

It is important to note here that simple and affordable dowries aren’t just in the favour of men. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encouraged it because if a woman was to initiate a divorce later, she’d need to return her dowry if her husband requests it. The difference between a divorce and khula is that khula is initiated by the woman and if a man initiates the divorce, he has no right to ask for her dowry back. Some women have married men whom they disliked after marriage and have sought khula. Imam Ibn Qudamah said: 

“If a wife dislikes her husband’s behaviour, character, religion, old age, weakness or the like and if she is afraid of not being able to fulfil his marital rights then she is allowed to ask for khula by giving him a compensation (her dowry or part of it) to free herself.”

We learn from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that the ransom God mentions in The Qur’an (Al-Baqarah: 229-230) for a woman to pay to release herself from the marriage is her dowry. Jameelah, the daughter of Abdullah Ibn Ubayy Ibn Salool (ra) was the beautiful wife of Thabit Ibn Qais (ra), one of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). She came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said:

O Prophet! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in an un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him).” On that The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Will you give back the garden which your husband gave you (as dowry)?” She said, “Yes.”  Then he said to her husband: “O Thabit! Accept your garden and divorce her once.

(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 68: 22)

It was narrated that Jameelah didn’t find Thabit (RA) attractive after marriage, even though he was known to be one of the best men of his time. She was honest and stated that she would “dislike to behave in an un-Islamic manner”, meaning she was unable to fulfil his marital rights, because she disliked his physical features. The fear of not being able to fulfil someone’s marital rights and oppressing them is a mark of a true Muslim who’d rather separate from their partner than neglect their needs and be accountable for that with God. The Prophet (PBUH) understood what she meant right away without making her go into further detail and asked her husband to divorce her in return for his garden back, which is perceived as a gesture of goodwill. 

However, the dowry shouldn’t be returned if the woman is seeking a khula because her husband is abusive and withholding her marital rights. Unfortunately though, many Muslim judges don’t differentiate between the two cases and request a woman to return her dowry to free herself, even when she shouldn’t. Therefore, if a woman’s dowry amount was large, she may find herself in financial difficulties when she can’t afford to pay it in return for her divorce and will thus be stuck in her marriage to a man she doesn’t want to be with.

I know people personally who’ve been stuck for years in marriages with abusive men who betray them, because the men refuse to divorce them and court judges refuse to grant a khula without the dowry that their narcissistic husbands demand (knowing very well that their wives can’t pay it). Some women have even resorted to borrowing money from banks, friends and family to pay it off, creating more hardships for themselves and others. So, if women followed the sunnah and kept the dowry simple and affordable, they’d be able to set themselves free from abusive and toxic marriages. Therefore, I advise women that the dowry they request should be affordable for them too, should they find themselves in a bad situation after marriage. If a woman is requesting £50,000 then she needs to ask herself if she’d be able to easily pay that back for a khula if needed. If she can’t, then she needs to lower her dowry amount, which in turn will make the financial process easier on men who want to do the right thing Islamically and get married young, so they can be saved from the temptations of zina and unlawful relationships.

It’s a win-win situation for all, as women too should be marrying at a young age and protecting themselves from fitnah.

These guidelines will help men and women come to a fair and affordable agreement over the dowry and it will give them blessings and rewards from God in their marriage. This isn’t to say people should enter marriages with a negative mindset, but rather with a realistic, wise and sensible one, due to the very high divorce statistics we are sadly seeing. More and more women are filing for khula because of domestic violence, narcissistic abuse and neglect and so it’s safe to say that a woman should be reasonable with the dowry, for her own protection too. 

By Dr. Mona Alyedreessy.

Mona is a British Muslim counsellor, coach and author of The Muslim Narcissist. Mona approaches the subject of narcissism, personality disorders and social issues from an Islamic psychological perspective to help narcissists and their victims understand and recover from their traumas. You can visit her Instagram page (@themuslimnarcissist) for more information about her work. 

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