What is Mahr? 

In Islam, a Mahr is a mandatory required amount of money or possessions, paid by the groom to the bride at the time of the marriage, for her exclusive use. It is also known as dower. The Mahr belongs to wife and she can deal with it in the manner she likes it neither her husband nor husband’s relations nor even her relations can dictate her in matter of using the Mahr money or property. While the Mahr is often money, it can be also anything agreed upon by the bride such as jewellery, home goods, furniture, a dwelling, or even a viable business that is put in her exclusive ownership and can be run entirely by her if she chooses. The using of word “dowry” instead of Mahr is totally misleading. There is no concept of dowry in Islam. In Islamic marriages, assets provided by bride’s parents can be brought into the union by the wife only if accepted by the husband after the Mahr has been paid by him to her. A muslim marriage is like a contract where wife is the property and Mahr is the price or consideration. However, it is also true that non-payment of Mahr does not void the marriage, so Mahr is not purely a consideration. In pre-Islamic Arbia, Sadqua was a gift to wife but Mahr was paid to the wife’s father and could therefore, be regarded as sale-price. But after Islam, Mahr payment is required to be paid to wife and not to her father, it could no longer be regarded as sale price. 

Elements of Mahr: 

  1. Mahr or dower has to be given to wife however she is vested with discretion to remit it 
  2. Mahr is non-refundable even after divorce and it becomes the property of wife in perpetuity 
  3. Payment of Mahr is mandatory even if marriage is not consummated. But in that case, Mahr is half of the amount fixed 
  4. In a way, Mahr 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 Mahr of eleven lakhs of Ashrafis. This sum of money would give serious cause for anxiety for a middle-class man for giving divorce. 

Types of Mahr: 

    1. Specified dower (Mahrul musamma): The Mahr is usually fixed at the time of marriage but it is also fixed after the marriage. Mahr fixed by the father on behalf of his minor son is binding on the minor son on his majority. 
    2. Unspecified dower (Mahrul missal): The obligation to pay dower is a legal responsibility upon any contract between the parties. Hence, the husband’s liable to pay Mahr even if it is not specified. 
    3. Prompt (Muajjal) and deferred (Muvajjal) Mahr: 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. 

If no Mahr is fixed following will be taken into consideration: 

  1. With reference to the social position of her father’s family 
  2. Her own personal qualifications 
  3. Social position of the husband. But the means of husband are of little account 
  4. Her age, beauty, fortune, understanding and virtues 
  5. Mahr fixed earlier in the family 

What is Dowry? 

Dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given by the bride to the groom or by the groom to the bride or 

    1. By the parents of either the bride or the groom or by any other person. 
    2. At or before or any time after marriage. 
    3. Giving, taking, demanding or even advertising for dowry is an offence. 
    4. Any person who takes or gives dowry at his or her son’s or daughter’s or relatives wedding, commits an offence. 

Under Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly. 

  1. By one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage, or 
  2. By the parent of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person. 

The dowry refers to the durable goods, cash and real or movable property that the bride’s family gives to the bride-groom, his parents, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage. Dowry is essentially in the nature of a payment in cash, jewellery, electrical appliances, furniture, bedding, crockery, utensils and other household items that help the newlyweds set up their home. Dowry is referred to as Dahez in Arabic. The dowry system can put great financial burden on the bride’s family. In some cases, the dowry system leads to crime against women, ranging from emotional abuse and injury to even deaths. The payment of dowry has long been prohibited under specific Indian Laws including the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and subsequently by sections 304A and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. 

Types of Dowry: 

    1. Economic factors: there are many economic factors that contribute towards the system of dowry. Some of these include inheritance systems and the bride’s economic status. 
    2. Social factors: the structure and kinship of marriage in parts of India contributes to dowry. In addition to marriage customs that may influence dowry, social customs or rituals, and parent’s expectations of dowry are important factors to consider. 
    3. Religious factors: dowry in India is not limited to any specific religion. It is widespread among Hindus and other religions. 

Mahr v/s Dowry 

Mahr and dowry are two different concepts. These concepts differ on a very essential basis; where dowry is a social evil while the other, Mahr provides the women financial security during and after the marriage. Mahr is given by the husband to the wife whereas dowry, most of the times given by the family of the wife to the husband. Mahr is for the benefit of the wife and dowry is a financial burden on the wife. Women are tortured for the dowry and it is the right of the Muslim woman to get Mahr from her husband either before marriage or after marriage as decided. Giving of Mahr is compulsory under Muslim Law but dowry is prohibited under Dowry Prohibition Act. Mahr or dower has to be given to wife however she is vested with discretion to remit it but giving, taking, demanding or even advertising for dowry is an offence. Fixing of Mahr depends upon the social status of husband and wife and their family, qualifications, wife’s age and beauty whereas dowry is given due to obligations of economic, social and religious factors.