Mahr (Marital Price)
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The Mahr (مهر) is a contract fee paid for by the groom to the bride in an Islamic marriage (see The Meaning of Nikah). Its purpose within Islamic law, as shown through the Islamic texts themselves and the rulings of fiqh, is to compensate the woman for the privilege of consummating the marriage through sexual intercourse with her. The mahr is an obligatory part of Islamic law. In the abscence of a mahr, the marriage is not valid .
The custom itself comes from pre-Islamic tribal times. In those times, the mahr would be paid from the bridegroom to the wali or guardian of the bride. Islam's laws change this custom by specifying the the mahr belongs directly to her. It is thus sui generis unlike the dowry or dower from western arranged marriage traditions. Islamic law has specifications about how and when it is to be given, and how these arrangements are to be made and taken care of in all cases, and there are many hadith traditions relating the prophets example on the subject. Although the explanations of the subject vary, the purpose of the mahr as explained by the Islamic texts is clear; it is a payment from a man to a woman; payment in full for the future sexual relations (nikah) the bridegroom will enjoy with her. This is illustrated by the requirement for a mahr in temporary "marriages", the statements of Prophet Muhammad, and the fact that a mahr cannot be taken back (except under extenuating circumstances) because the man has availed himself of the service for which it was payment .
Background and Role in Islamic Law and Marriage
The mahr is the price which the bridegroom pays to the bride for the privilege of marital relations with her. The custom is an ancient Arabian one, and in pre-Islamic times it was customary to give the mahr to the wali or guardian of the woman, though this had changed by Muhammad's time. The word itself is also attested to in Syriac and Hebrew, where it has a similar meaning. Islamic law codified the change which had happened shortly before Muhmmad came on the scene. The mahr is the main fiduciary responsibility of the Islamic marriage on the part of the man; Islamic law does not recognize shared assets or spousal support or alimony, so in the case that the man divorces the woman then the mahr is the financial instrument responsible for the sustenance and support of the woman . The practice of nikaah-al-mut'ah also makes use of the mahr; in this case, the mahr is the price which is paid for the entirety of the marriage contract itself, which may last as little as one night, and was customarily a spear. The Arab custom of offering a spear for a "marriage" consisting of a night of passion is also an ancient one, being attested to in the works of the last pagan historian of the Roman Empire, Ammianus Marcellinus, writing in the 300's AD (Ammianus calls the wives in these cases "mercenary wives hired for a time" but curiously says it is the wife that pays the husband; this may simply be a mistake on his part about the custom). The mahr thus serves both to compensate the woman for her sexual services in the marriage and to ensure her security in the event of a divorce or death of the husband.
Purpose of the mahr according to the Islamic tradition
According to the below hadith, the purpose of the mahr is to make sexual relations lawful to the man. In explicit terms, as stated above, the mahr is payment for sexual intercourse with the woman.
As can be seen in the above examples, no matter the extenuating circumstances the hadith see the payment of the mahr as payment for the use (nikah) of the women's sexual organ. As to the issue of marriages contracted but then broken without consummation, the scholars generally rule that in this case the woman is entitled to half of the mahr:
Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard Ibn Shihab say, "When a man who is terminally ill divorces his wife three times, she inherits from him."Malik said, "If he divorces her while he is terminally ill before he has consummated the marriage, she has half of the bride-price and inherits, and she does not have to do an idda. 'If he consummated the marriage, she has all the dowry' and inherits. The virgin and the previously married woman are the same in this situation according to us."
The issue of temporary marriage or "نكاح المتعة" nikaah al-mut'ah or "marriage of enjoyment" is a complicated one in Islam. Most modern orthodox Sunnis and Sunnis clerics reject it though it is still frequently practiced and condoned by Shi'ites, especially in Iran. Never the less the practice is well attested to in classical Islamic texts revered by Sunnis and also is attested to in pre-Islamic accounts of Arab life such as by the last great pagan historian writing in Latin, Amianus Marcellinus writing around 380, who refers to "have mercenary wives, hired under a temporary contract" . In these "marriages of enjoyment" the mahr is given for the temporary "marriage", again underlining the fact that the mahr is a price to be paid for having sex with the woman who receives the mahr.
Although the continued legitimacy of such marriages constitute a dispute between the 4 madhaahib of Sunni jurisprudence and the twelver Shi'i Ja'fari school of jurisprudence, it is beyond a doubt that according to the tradition Muhammad allowed temporary marriages, and in these marriages the mahr constituted a straight payment for sexual intercourse.
The Mahr in Islamic Jurisprudence
Types of Mahr
There are two types of mahr recognized in Islamic fiqh:
1. Al mahr Al musamma المهر المسمى-- the named or specified mahr, which involves a set, abritrarily fixed amount of money or other goods. This mahr can be agreed upon prior to the signing of the marriage contract or after the completion of the contract.
2. Al mahr al mithli المهر المثلي-- the like or sameness mahr, this is a mahr whereby the woman is given a set amount of assets based off of the her own traits; the different madhaahib disagree which traits can be included, but this is generally thought to include things like the number and nature of her family, her ethnic background (some ethnic backgrounds are more desirable than others), beauty and intelligence .
Although the mahr is not given as a fixed amount, it is made clear in the traditional sources that al mahr al mithli is dependent upon the woman's social status. A woman cannot be given less of a mahr if she is an orphan or old; or for any other reason not dictated by the Qur'an or the Sunnah. If she is a free woman then she is entitled to a mahr of the same value as any other free woman. Slaves are not of the same social status so they are not entitled to a mahr of the same value. The Qur'an makes it clear that the husband must be fair when giving a mahr:
Responsibilities of the Woman
In return for the mahr, the woman gives herself to her husband in the Islamic marriage contract. Her obedience to him is mandatory . If she does not fulfill his need for sex, barring a physical impairment or ritual cleanliness obligation of religion, it is the husbands right to force her to engage in sexual relations with him, and this is not considered rape . This is based clearly on the Qur'an:
Pickthall: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.Shakir: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.
Responsibilities of the Man
The mahr must be given in an Islamic marriage, without the giving of the mahr the marriage is not valid. The mahr does not need to be given or even specified before the marriage contract however it must be given . The mahr cannot be taken away from the woman once the sexual relationship has been consummated. If the relationship has not been consummated, then half of the mahr should be given, as is stipulated by the Qur'an:
If the woman dies before the mahr is given, the man is obligated to give the mahr to the the woman's estate . If the woman wishes to give the mahr back to him, she may, but it is not ever legitimate in shari'a for the man to force her or pressure her to give him back the mahr .
Mahr's given by Muhammad and his contemporaries
The prophet in the sunnah provides examples, both of how he conducted his own marriages and how he instructed his companions to act in their marriages vis-a-vis the mahr. The prophetic example shows that the mahr is not limited to being simply money or even physical possessions, but may take a number of different forms; these stories also demonstrate the idea that there is no one fixed price which is an "acceptable" mahr, and that it can be variable depending on the social status and economic conditions of both parties. These ahadith also show than in cases where Muhammad sees that the man in question has nothing of true material worth to give as a mahr, he finds an ersatz mahr. This indicates that the man was not financially stable and that the mahr in this case could not possibly have been a token of financial stability. These narrations are a recount of a conversation Muhammad himself purportedly had, indicating that Muhammad himself very clearly viewed the mahr as a token of value given in exchange for sexual intercourse.
Marry a slave and give her freedom
Bukhari relates that after conquering the Jews at the battle of Khaybar, the prophet took the most beautiful woman of the Banu Nadir, Saafiya, as his war booty. She eventually converted to Islam from Judaism and married the prophet formally. Her manumission was her mahr:
Anas said, 'When Allah's Apostle invaded Khaibar, we offered the Fajr prayer there yearly in the morning) when it was still dark. The Prophet rode and Abu Talha rode too and I was riding behind Abu Talha. The Prophet passed through the lane of Khaibar quickly and my knee was touching the thigh of the Prophet . He uncovered his thigh and I saw the whiteness of the thigh of the Prophet. When he entered the town, he said, 'Allahu Akbar! Khaibar is ruined. Whenever we approach near a (hostile) nation (to fight) then evil will be the morning of those who have been warned.' He repeated this thrice. The people came out for their jobs and some of them said, 'Muhammad (has come).' (Some of our companions added, "With his army.") We conquered Khaibar, took the captives, and the booty was collected. Dihya came and said, 'O Allah's Prophet! Give me a slave girl from the captives.' The Prophet said, 'Go and take any slave girl.' He took Safiya bint Huyai. A man came to the Prophet and said, 'O Allah's Apostles! You gave Safiya bint Huyai to Dihya and she is the chief mistress of the tribes of Quraiza and An-Nadir and she befits none but you.' So the Prophet said, 'Bring him along with her.' So Dihya came with her and when the Prophet saw her, he said to Dihya, 'Take any slave girl other than her from the captives.' Anas added: 'The Prophet then manumitted her and married her."'Thabit asked Anas, '"O Abu Hamza! What did the Prophet pay her (as Mahr)?" He said, "Her self was her Mahr for he manumitted her and then married her."' Anas added, "While on the way, Um Sulaim dressed her for marriage (ceremony) and at night she sent her as a bride to the Prophet . So the Prophet was a bridegroom and he said, 'Whoever has anything (food) should bring it.' He spread out a leather sheet (for the food) and some brought dates and others cooking butter. (I think he (Anas) mentioned As-SawTq). So they prepared a dish of Hais (a kind of meal). And that was Walrma (the marriage banquet) of Allah's Apostle ."
A piece of gold equal to the weight of a date stone
Bukhari and Muslim both report that the prophet saw a piece of gold equal in weight to a date stone as being a sufficient mahr:
A portion of memorized Qur'an
Bukhari and Muslim both share a story of the prophet approving the mahr of a man who had no physically possessions, but could offer her several suwar of the Qur'an which he had memorized (at a time when the Qur'an was only known through memorization and scattered pieces of writing) as a mahr:
Two handfuls of flour or dates
A tradition of Abu Dawud relates that two handfuls of dates can be used as a mahr:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If anyone gives as a dower to his wife two handfuls of flour or dates he has made her lawful for him.AbuDawud said: This tradition has been narrated by AbdurRahman ibn Mahdi, from Salih ibn Ruman, from AbuzZubayr on the authority of Jabir as his own statement (not going back to the Prophet). It has also been transmitted by AbuAsim from Salih ibn Ruman , from AbuzZubayr on the authority of Jabir who said: During the lifetime of the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) we used to contract temporary marriage for a handful of grain.
Prohibitions regarding the mahr
Don't give excessive mahrs
Don't take back the mahr
The above hadith seems to very clearly indicate that the prophet explicitly viewed the mahr as the price of sexual relations; the relations having been had, the value of the mahr being repaid in the transaction.
Daughter trading in lieu of a mahr is not permissible
This practice is forbidden because the service has not been paid for by the one using it. ie. the husband has not paid the wife for the sex he has had with her.
Exceptions regarding the mahr
Women who wish a divorce must return the mahr
Disbelieving wives shall return the mahr
Wives may forfeit all or part of the mahr
Divorce before consummation gives the wife half the agreed mahr
Modern Understanding of the Mahr
Mahr is the amount of money to be paid by the groom to the bride, at the time of marriage. In the video clip above, a modern Islamic scholar/apologist claims that it is a token of goodwill given by the husband to the wife as a demonstration that he will be able to support her financially throughout the marriage. However the Qur'an and ahadith make it clear that its purpose is quite other. As the example of the prophet shows, a mahr can be given in case the man is not financially stable and need not even be anything of financial or fiduciary value. The way that it works within the confines of Islamic law is certainly to provide aide and succor for the woman in case of a divorce by her husband or the husbands death, but the tradition is also quite explicit that this is the payment for the use of her sexual organs, a usage which the man in the marriage is owed under most circumstances from his wife as part of the marriage.
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- Nikah, Mahr, Muta and Talaq - Faith Freedom International
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