What is a Mahar or Dower in Muslim law?

Mahar or Dower is a sum of money or other property to be paid or delivered to the wife. It is either specified or unspecified but in either case, the law confers a mandatory right of Mahar or Dower on wife.

The Mahar (Dower) belongs to wife and she can deal with it in the manner she likes it and neither her husband nor husband's relations nor even her relations can dictate her in matter of using the Mahar money or property. No doubt, Mahar was originally analogous to sale price, but since the inception of Islam, it is hardly correct to regard it as the price of sexual intercourse.

If the authors of the Arabic text-books on Muslim Law have compared it with the price in law, it is simply because marriage under the Islamic Law is regarded as a Civil Contract. In pre-Islamic Arbia, Sadqua was a gift to wife but Mahar was paid to the wife's father and could therefore, be regarded as sale-price. But after Islam, Mahar payment is required to be paid to wife and not to her father, it could no longer be regarded as Sale Price.

And give women their dowries willingly. But if they of themselves be pleased to give up a portion of it then consume it with taste and pleasure.

And if (you) wish to have (one) wife in place of another (and/then) do not take away anything of what you have given the first one, howsoever much it may have been.

No sin upon you if you divorce woman before you have touched them (but) appoint a portion fixed for them by you (rather pay Mahar) and make provision (of gift) for them, Rich, according to his means, Poor, according to his means.

And if you divorce them before you have touched them, and you have fixed for them the dower, (pay) half of what you have fixed (i.e., dower) unless they (women) relinquish or give it up.

The divorce is twice: Then retain them reasonably or release them with kindness. And it is not lawful for you that (you) take back anything of what you had given to them except that both fear that they will not be able to keep limits of Allah and she returns what she was given.

1. Mahar or Dower has to be given to wife however she is vested with discretion to remit it.

2. Mahar is non-refundable even after divorce (unless she remits it at her sole discretion) and it becomes the property of wife in perpetuity.

3. Payment of Mahar is mandatory even if marriage is not consummated. But in that case, Mahar is half of the amount fixed.

4. In a way, Mahar provides a check on the capricious exercise by the husband of his almost unlimited power of divorce. Even a middle class man can fix the Mahar of eleven lakhs of Ashrafis (an ashrafi would be 15-20 rupees). This sum of money would give serious cause for anxiety for a middle class man for giving divorce.

2. Mahar amount

1. Hanafi Law, 10 Dirhams

2. Malaki Law, 3 Dirhams

3. Shafi Law, No fixed amount

4. Shiite Law, No fixed amount.

The Mahur fixed by Prophet of Islam for his favourite daughter Fatima, wife of Ali was 500 Dirhams. A dirham (derived from the Greek) is the name of Silver coin of 2.97 grammes in weight. However, it would be a sad mistake to lay too great stress upon the monetary value of the Mahar amount. It is said that in the case of an extremely poor man, the Prophet requested him to teach the Quran to his wife. It is said in one Hedaya that the payment of Mahar is enjoined by the law merely as a token of respect for the woman.

4. Specified dower (mahrul-musamma)

The Mahar is usually fixed at the time of marriage but it is also fixed after the marriage. Mahar fixed by the father on behalf of his minor son is binding on the minor son on his majority. However, under hanafi Law, the father is not personally liable for the Mahar but in Ithna Ashari Law, father is also held liable. Where the amount has been specified, the husband will be compelled to pay the whole of it, howsoever excessive it may be.

But in Oudth, only a reasonable amount will be granted, if court deemed the amount excessive^or fictitious. Sometimes, for the purpose of glorification, a large Mahar for the purposes of show is announced but the real Mahar is smaller. Such a Mahar for the purposes of show is fictitious. But this will be a fraud on Law and defeats the very purpose and hence must not be allowed to be given recognition in law.

5. Unspecified dower (mahrul misal)

The obligation to pay dower is a legal responsibility on the part of the husband and is not dependent upon any contract between the parties. Hence, the husband's liable to pay Mahar even if it is not specified. The only question would be the quantum. If no Mahar is fixed, wife will be entitled to receive the amount which is customary in the community or in respective society or what is proper in each individual case. What is proper ion each individual case will be determined as under?

A. With reference to the social position of her father's family.

B. Her own personal qualifications.

C. Social position of the husband. But the means of husband are of little account.

D. Her age, beauty, fortune, understanding and virtues.

E. Mahar fixed earlier in the family (i.e., Mahar fixed for father, brother, uncle, sister etc. of the wife's family).

6. Prompt (muajjal) and deferred (muvajjal) mahar

A technical term for Prompt is Muajjal and for Deferred is Muvajjal. The term Muajjal is derived from a root meaning 'hasten', 'to proceed' whereas the term Muvajjal is derived from the root meaning 'delayed' or 'deferred.'

The prompt dower is payable immediately after the marriage but the deferred Dower becomes payable either on the dissolution of the marriage or on the happening of a specified event. When dower is fixed, it is usual to split it into two equal parts, one part is paid at once or on demand and the other on the death of the husband or on divorce or on the happening of some specified event. In Ishna Ashari Law, the presumption is that the whole of the dower is prompt but in Hanafi Law, the position is different.

Ideally and usually, the whole Mahar is required to be promptly awarded but in earlier case, the Full Bench held that the usage (custom) of the wife's family is the main consideration and in absence of proof of custom, the presumption is that one half is prompt. However, the proportion may be changed to suit particular cases.

7. Increase or decrease of dower

The Husband may at any time increase the Dower. Like-wise, the wife may remit the Dower wholly or partly. The remission of the Mahar by = wife is called as Hibatul Mahar or Hiba-I-Mahar.