Following on from the Mahr/Dowry? post, and as promised I managed to find the article which discusses the purpose of the mahr, and its function. During some of my searches I have come across the interpretation that the mahr is a form of guarantee of the husbands right to enjoy her sexually. This is ONE of the interpretations, and obviously many more exist.

I shall post relevant snippets from the article in question that holds the above view.

Since Islam has set neither a dowry minimum, according to the majority of jurists, nor a dowry maximum, in the opinion of all jurists, why did it prescribe it in the first place? We have previously noted several theories concerning the institutionalization of dowry. But none of these by itself seems adequately account for dowry in Islam. [al-Ati, p. 67]

It is sometimes suggested that Islam has enjoined dowry in order to safeguard the economic rights of the wife after marriage and to strengthen her financial position. This view can have great explanatory value only where the dowry is large and when such economic gains are manifest functions of marriage. But this does not represent the majority of cases. [al-Ati, pp. 68-69]

Muslim jurists of later centuries have held the technical view that dowry is enjoined in return for the man’s right, at least potentially, to have legitimate access to cohabitation with the woman in question. She is entitled to dowry because she has consented to marriage and made herself accessible. Much discussion among the jurists has centered on this issue. But the exponents of this view appear to assume or to infer that women have no sexual desires and needs of their own, that gratification is not reciprocal, that sex is a cheap commodity in view of the permissibility of nominal dowries, and that marriage is little more than a commercial transaction. That list of assumptions and inferences may be extended. Yet, these seem contrary to the bio-psychological facts and to the very idea of marriage which is depicted in the Qur’an (e.g., 30:21) as a shelter of peace and comfort, and as a means of mutual love and mercy.” [al-Ati, p. 68]

A woman may refuse to admit her husband to a carnal connection until she has receive her dower of him, so as that her right may be maintained to the return, in the same manner as that of her husband to the object for which the return is given, as in sale. [Hedaya, p. 150]

“It is proper to observe, that where the woman refuses to admit the husband to a repetition of the carnal act, as above stated, yet she has, nevertheless, (according to Haneefa) a claim to her subsistence, as her refusal does not, in any case, proceed from any stubbornness or disobedience, since it is not exerted in resistance to a right, but rather in maintenance of one. — The two disciples hold that she is not entitled to any subsistence; — and their argument on this occasion is, that the sole object of the contract has been duly delivered to the husband, either by the single carnal act, or by the single complete retirement, as aforesaid; on which account it is that her right to her whole dower is confirmed and established, and consequently no right of further detention of her person remains with her; as in a case of sale, where the seller having delivered the article sold to the purchaser, before receiving the price, has no farther right over it.” [p. 151]

So, how did the jurists draw this “sale” connection? The answer is qiyas (analogical reasoning). Marriage is a contract, and so is purchase/sale (commercial transactions or exchanges). Therefore, in enforcing the right of the husband to have his wife in his bed, in denying maintenance to the wife when she refuses to share bed with his husband, or in determining a lawful/valid and unlawful/invalid marriage, the jurists have found tremendous analogical parallel in purchase/sale transactions

It is interesting to note that the term mahr (bride price) which usually connotes commercialization of marriage, is not used in the Qur’an at all. It occurs very infrequently in the Traditions of the Prophet; when it does, it is usually accompanied by other terms such faridah (God-given right), or sadaq (which is connected with a root word meaning marriage-gift, charity, friendship, fidelity, truth, etc.). The jurists have used these terms interchangeably as denoting the God-given right of dowry. But it is not certain whether in these interchangeable usages the traditional connotations of the term mahr were sublimated to the moral and charitable denotations of terms like sadaq, faridah, and so on; or whether these terms themselves took on the traditional connotations of mahr. A review of the classical legal texts would seem to indicate that where it occurs, the terms mahr is used in a sublime moral sense indistinguishable from the meaning of sadaq, faridah, and similar terms. [al-Ati, p. 69]

al-Ati offers some suggestions that are quite relevant and meaningful.

Dowry is probably a symbolic expression of the groom’s cognizance of the economic responsibilities of marriage and of his readiness to discharge all such responsibilities subsequent to marriage. It may be thought of as a manifest assurance on his part that the bride’s economic security and rights will be maintained. It is a symbolic acknowledgment that he does or will dissociate the purpose of marriage from the designs of economic exploitations.

For ‘instinctive’ or cultural reasons, it is usually the women who need reassurance of the man’s intentions and interest. This reassurance may require more than verbal expressions of love and seriousness on the man’s part, and dowry may be the tangible symbol of such love and seriousness. To the bride, it is a token of the groom’s desire to enter into a union with her. To her family, it is a gesture of mutual friendship and solidarity, an assurance that their daughter will be secure and in good hands.

However, there may be other symbolic meanings of dowry, as has been mentioned earlier. Nor is it to be overlooked that what is being suggested here is conceptualized in terms of the religious and moral ideals which may or may not be in fact fully implemented. There is no sufficient ground to assume that the actual has always coincided with the ideal in this case. [al-Ati, p. 70]

Rest of article available here