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What is the purpose of dowry in Islam?

Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra wrote:

The philosophy of dowry is that a woman have a set property that she has personal authority over. She has many needs which men consider unimportant, but they are important to her. Also, there are some matters which she cannot explain to men. The shari‘ah has acknowledged her needs and has arranged an independent property for her. By assigning a dower for her, Islam has established her right and has thus fulfilled a great need of society.

(Fatawa Hadrat Musleh Mauud, vol. 2, p. 22)

The dowry is a security for women. Those who falsely allege that it is payment for conjugal relations contradict the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet sas because dowry is due even in cases where the marriage ends before it has been consummated. In cases of divorce, the wife is entitled to half of the dowry. Allah Almighty says:

And if you divorce them before you have touched them, but have settled for them a dowry, then half of what you have settled shall be due from you.

(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:238).

In cases of widows, the wife is entitled to the full dowry. The verdict of the Holy Prophet sas is narrated about a woman named Birwa’ bint Washiq:

She married a man who died before consummating the marriage with her, and the Messenger of Allah ruled that she should be given a dowry like that of her peers, and she could inherit, and she had to observe the ‘iddah.

(Sunan an-Nasa’i, vol. 4, Book 26, Hadith 3356)

Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra wrote:

The object of mehr [bride’s due right] is that the wife should have an independent proprietary position, and should be free to spend in charity or make gifts to her relations, etc., out of her separate property. The institution of mehr is a practical acknowledgment by the husband of the independent proprietary position of the wife and her right to maintain and acquire separate property over which the husband has no control.

(Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam, p. 238)

Although the husband is required to give dowry to his wife, he should give it with love and an open heart, for Allah Almighty says:

And give the women their dowries willingly.

(Surah an-Nisa’, 4:5)

A philosophy of dowry is also gratitude to the wife for her sacrifices. Allah Almighty says:

And for the benefit you receive from them, give them their dowries, as fixed.

(Surah an-Nisa’, 4:25)
Updated on February 23, 2019

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