M is Hubby’s cousin. She is 29 years old, and works as an x-ray technician in a small clinic near her home. Her father has been very abusive to the wife and children, so M’s mother decides to leave her husband. She brings the kids with her – 3 girls and 1 boy – and settles in another city. She sends her children to school by sewing people’s clothes. The children graduate high school, but unable to pay for college, they take up 2-year technician courses.
There has been tremendous pressure from family and friends concerning M’s marriage. After all, the ideal age in our culture is between 20 to 25. Moreover, marriages are mostly arranged. Her mother and other relatives look for a suitable match. Offers are turned down because the father doesn’t live with them or because they do not own the house they are living in. They have been looking for 2 years now.
A few weeks ago, an uncle finds another match. This man is an engineer, earning 25,000 rupees, and is an only child. Uncle invites him and his parents over for lunch at his home. M and her mother also arrive. Guy meets girl. He talks to her. She talks to him. Food is served. Families talk. Guy likes girl. Girl later tells her mother she likes him too.
M’s mother asks her younger brother, “How much money will be needed for a wedding?”
Uncle replies, “Wedding costs plus dowry will be approximately 400,000 rupees.”
M’s mother fells silent. Anxiety is all over her face. “But we don’t have that much. All the children are earning, but we can’t come up with that amount.”
Uncle reassures her, “Don’t worry. We will all work together to make this happen.”
Earlier today, Hubby receives a phone call from India. The guy’s parents have certain demands. They are asking for a dowry: 500,000 rupees in cash, a car, and complete furniture.
“That is totally absurd and un-Islamic,” I tell hubby.
“He’s an only child, an engineer, and is earning a decent income. Plus M’s already 29.” I can’t make sense of what Hubby is saying.
“That’s the way some people are,” he tells me.
I remember when we were getting married, my Mother asked Hubby what he wanted for dowry.
“Whatever you wish to give to your daughter as a wedding present is fine with me.” Hubby kept his word. Neither he nor his Mom asked for anything.
Dowry as practiced in India and Pakistan:
Dowry are gifts given by the parents of the bride. The point of the dowry system was to provide for the bride should something unfortunate occur, like her husband’s death or divorce.
The dowry system was something originally honorable in intention and provided for the independent wealth of the bride in a time when she was unlikely to work outside of the home.
Like many customs and traditions, time has altered the dowry’s original meaning and purpose. While the dowry system is still in place, it has become more of a “bride-price” system.
Dowry in Islam:
Contrary to the current practice, Islam encourages the groom to give a ‘Bridal-Gift’ or ‘Dower’ as a token of love and assurance to his would be wife at the time of marriage. The Holy Qur’an instructs the believers:
“And give the women (on marriage) their dower with a good heart …” Surah An-Nisa: 4
Dowry is paid by the groom to the bride and to her only as an honor and a respect given to her and to show that he has a serious desire to marry her and is not simply entering into the marriage contract without any sense of responsibility and obligation or effort on his part.
Regarding one of the companions who was poor and wished to marry, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to him:
“Search for something (to give as a gift).”
He said, “I have nothing.”
“Search for something, even if it just a ring made from iron.” – Bukhari & Muslim
The 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act (India):
This act prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry, “as consideration for the marriage”, where “dowry” is defined as a gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage.
Gifts given without a precondition are not considered dowry, and are legal. A
Asking or giving of dowry can be punished by an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of up to Rs. 5000.
I am not sure when the dowry system will end. Probably never. A girl’s family do not usually pursue legal battles concerning dowries because that in itself costs a lot. Apart from financial concerns, there’s also the bad reputation. There’s this mentality that people suing other people and dragging them to court hurts a family’s reputation in the society.
I just feel bad knowing that even educated, professional people make unlawful demands like these. It’s either total ignorance of the Islamic guidelines and principles, or pure greed.