I am assuming you know what Mahr is. To be told in brief, it is the bridal-money that Allah commands a man to give his wife at the time of marriage with a good heart. That is given in Surah Nisa- The Chapter of Women, in the Quran.
One of the subjects in my legal academic field is Family Law. Family law is basically a consolidation of personal laws of various communities in India. Hindu laws and Muslim Laws form the primary two. It was interesting for me to go through the standard textbooks of Muslim law. It was certainly no clerical work, but I was impressed by comprehension of the authors nevertheless. I was amused how the judicial system and Academicians dealt with Muslim personal laws from the time of the Queens rule.
Abdul Qadir v. Salima was a landmark judgment on the subject of Mahr. It was a case of 1886! The bench gave out some very interesting opinion. It said that Mahr served three fold objects – (1) It was a rainy day provision for women upon dissolution of Marriage (by death or legal separation) (2) It was a mark of respect to welcome the woman and (3) It acted as a deterrent for arbitrary usage of Talaq or even polygamy.
Just like me, I am sure a lot of my readers must not have thought of the third point as a possible consequence of Mahr. It said, when a man realises that marrying again or letting go of a wife without a valid reason is beyond his means, it is bound to deter him.
Mulla, a famous legal jurist in the world of Indian Law, quoted that it is not a Consideration, but is rather a mark of respect.
Respect for women, has been quoted as a primary thought behind Mahr. The Quran also requires a man to pay dower to his wife with a good heart, just as he gives any gift with a good heart.
Yet, when I look around me, I rarely see any of the above claims being fulfilled. The hadith of Mahr being easy is slapped on the faces of women to the extent that even demanding an affordable amount is deemed excessive. Men who earn in lakhs gift filmsy Mahr in four digits amount. While many, just mention it on paper and take the second half of the verse more seriously to their hearts. That their wives should forgive it willingly ,and then there is no sin on them for not paying mahr.
Sure! Why not.
I recently visited a school friend. Childhood pal, meeting her after 10 good years! While viewing her wedding album, she pointed at a particular photograph and told me how her father-in-law after that moment (in the photograph) conspiciously demanded 3 lakh rupees from her father as dowry. Why? Because they have spent money in educating their son with B.tech degree.
I thought in my head ,”padh likh leta bachpan me to sarkari college se saste me engineering kar leta. 20-50 hazar me nipat jata. Bheekh na mangna padta” [Had he put in efforts to study properly, he would have secured a seat in Government engineering college that is inexpensive. The degree would not have costed beyond ₹20-50,000 and his father would not have to beg]
So here was a very average man, with no exceptional wordly accolades of working in Google or being an investment Banker or possessor of exceptional beauty, demanding ₹3,00,000. The only distinct qualification in him from the bride that i could see was that he belonged to the Male species.
We will not discuss how high the amount goes for better qualified men with better accolades to flaunt.
Now, let us think of the average Mahr a woman gets. A friend was discouraged by her family to state an amount as it would make her appear greedy. We do not trust our daughter’s judgment , or have we not raised her capable to assess and quote an amount accordingly?
By no means the Mahr offered reflects an open hearted welcome. It looks more like a complete mistrust on the lines of “what if she runs away with our money”. Or it reflects disrespect, “we are going to feed her all our lives, why spend more?” Or “Is she worth a lakh?” Women are not welcomed as worthy partners. They are not welcomed as family in the first place. Think of it, if you had to gift an amount to your parent or child to express your appreciation towards them, would you mind handing over a month or two worth your income? But they do mind that for their brides. This is my opinion.
No, I do not mean to say Mahr should be as expensive as dowry where people take up debts. But this bride leaves her family and society, she completely uproots herself and undergoes displacement. She takes the Mahr and comes into the man’s house! Lives with him. That amount, in most cases stays right in front of him. Yet, the stinginess I see at times, leaves my jaws open.
When my husband’s father was once viewing our marriage certificate, his eyes popped out seeing the Mahr I had demanded.
“Yeh to bohot zyada hai!!!!!” (This is too much)
I immediately looked at husband with that scorning wife look. And he gestured me to ignore.
Much later, as years passed, I felt why did he feel that I was not worth the amount? As a woman am I so lowly? I looked at the heavy sofa settee, Beds and furniture that my husband’s mother had received from her parents in her wedding. I thought, does he think he is worth this very expensive lookimg furniture that easily adds up to twice my Mahr?
I asked him one day during a family evening,
-“What Mahr did you give your wife?”
-“₹2100” , he said
-“Have you given it to her?”
-“No.”, Came with an uncomfortable shrug
-“Oh its hardly anything, give it to her now from your wallet itself! ”
-“ Arey itne saal khilaya pilaya hai (I have already fed her for so many years) ”
Till date I wonder whether for everything his wife has done for him, birthed and raised his children as responsible adults, did not match up the costs he bore to feed and clothe her. Will her parental gifts and her contribution in marriage ever surpass those bills for her to deserve those 2100.
Do not gasp. It is more common than you think. Stingy Mahr is an issue. But non payment of the quoted Mahr is also an issue. An Halaqa in 2018, where we were studying Surah Nisa, a co-student asked how many women in the room have received their Mahr. In a room of ~20 , I was the only one. She next asked, how many got the priviledge to at least quote or demand their Mahr. Again, nobody but I
I do not think we can do anything but laugh at the second point of Mahr being a rainy day provision for women. Those amounts do not even suffice for two months of rent in most cases. In most cases women are left to the mercy of their birth family or husband’s family. In India, we know the scenario of how well most women are welcomed back home after marriage and how well they are received by in-laws..
Coming back to Abdul Qadir v. Salima, I wonder how woke a woman Salima must have been to take a stand for her Mahr. Did Abdul Qadir have to approach the court to make her cohabit with him? 1886! The social circumstances must have been worse. But this case, led to Indian legal system recognise Mahr as a debt on husband, giving Indian women the right to sue for it. I can laugh it off.
Disclaimer- This is my personal opinions, and musings. Kindly do not take it as a source of knowledge or islamic jurisprudence in any way. Feel free to disagree, be polite in comments.