Islamically as per the nikah (marriage) contract, the husband gifts a dowry, commonly known as the “mahr” to his wife. As the Quran states:

And give to the women (whom you marry) their mahr (obligatory bridal gift) with a good heart…” [surat An-Nisa’, (verse 4)]

The dowry is not paid to her parents as some people assume is the case – this is common in some South East Asian cultures and faiths – although they may have some influence over what the dowry should entail.

The purpose of the dowry (mahr) is often depicted to be something the wife may rely on in the event of a divorce, – if he divorces her – or return to him, – if she divorces him. Since this view of the mahr is taken, the woman usually stipulates an amount or something with monetary value (such as gold) that could maintain her until she either begins to support herself through work, or can be supported by her mahram (brothers, father, uncles) or re-marries.

 In some cultures an additional top up maintenance amount is also agreed upon. This usually occurs when the dowry given is not of a tangible, monetary nature but symbolic. So this separate agreed amount is something extra and not compulsory as from popular understanding the dowry is meant to serve the purpose of maintenance.

What is a “reasonable” amount for a dowry? Since it obviously depends on affordability and lifestyle, the amount asked would obviously differ from couple to couple. But why would a large dowry be considered “extortionate”? There is also a strong opinion of the low marriage rates in the UAE being down to the large dowries that most of the men either cannot afford or refuse to agree to.

No-one actually knows what the real purpose of a dowry is. I emphasise “real” since some women do not ask for money in their dowry, but request for something symbolic or as is narratted in a hadith about a poor man who wished to marry but could not afford a dowry:

Bukhari 4799…. It is related from Sahl ibn Sa’d that a woman came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, “Messenger of Allah, I have come to give myself to you (to dispose of in marriage).” He raised his eyes to her and then looked and then lowered his head. When the woman saw that he had not made any decision about her, she sat down.

One of his Companions stood up and said, “Messenger of Allah, if you have no need of her, then marry her to me.” He asked, “Do you have anything [to give her]?” He said, “By Allah, no, Messenger of Allah…..snip snip….The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saw him going away and commanded someone to call him. When he came back, he asked, “What do you know of the Qur’an?” He replied, “I know this sura, that sura, and that sura,” and he named them. He asked, “Do you recite that by heart?” “Yes,” he replied. He said, “Go, I have married you to her for what you know of the Qur’an.”

In some instances, the mahr and dowry are seen as negotiating instruments in what is a contract of marriage (nikah). Her acceptance of the mahr is, to put it crudely, his passport to enjoy her.

Does anyone know what the actual purpose and function of the mahr is?