Dower or Mahr under Muslim Law

By | July 1, 2017

Introduction and Meaning

Mahr 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 Mahr or Dower on wife.

The Mahr (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 Mahr money or property. No doubt, Mahr 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.

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. [1]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.

No sin upon you if you divorce woman before you have touched them (but) appoint a portion fixed for them by you (rather pay Mahr) 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.

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.

  • Mahr or Dower has to be given to wife however she is vested with discretion to remit it.
  • Mahr is non-refundable even after divorce (unless she remits it at her sole discretion) and it becomes the property of wife in perpetuity.
  • Payment of Mahr is mandatory even if marriage is not consummated. But in that case, Mahr is half of the amount fixed.
  • 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 (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.

Mahr amount

  • Hanafi Law, 10 Dirhams
  • Malaki Law, 3 Dirhams
  • Shafi Law, No fixed amount
  • Shariya Law, No fixed amount.

The Mahr 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 grams in weight. However, it would be a sad mistake to lay too great stress upon the monetary value of the Mahr 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 Mahr is enjoined by the law merely as a token of respect for the woman.

Types of Dower

A. 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. However, under Hanafi Law, the father is not personally liable for the Mahr 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 Mahr for the purposes of show is announced but the real Mahr is smaller. Such a Mahr 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.

B. 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 Mahr even if it is not specified. The only question would be the quantum. If no Mahr 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?

  • With reference to the social position of her father’s family.
  • Her own personal qualifications.
  • Social position of the husband. But the means of husband are of little account.
  • Her age, beauty, fortune, understanding and virtues.
  • Mahr fixed earlier in the family (i.e., Mahr fixed for father, brother, uncle, sister etc. of the wife’s family). 
C. 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. In Ithna 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 Mahr 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.

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 Mahr by wife is called as Hibatul Mahr or Hiba-I-Mahr. when a wife was being ignored by husband and thought that only way to win him back was to waive Mahr, her remission of Mahr was considered without her consent and was not binding on her.[2]

Remedies of a Muslim woman to recover dower

The right to dower is an inherent right of every Muslim wife. But, unless this right is effectively enforced, it is of no use to her. Under Muslim law, following means of enforcement of the right to dower are available to a wife (or widow):

  • Refusal of Conjugal Rights

Before consummation of the marriage, the wife is entitled to deny cohabitation to the husband till he gives her Prompt Dower on demand. It is to be noted that under Muslim law a husband has right to cohabit with his wife and she cannot refuse the same without any reasonable excuse.

But non-payment of Prompt Dower before consummation is a lawful justification for the wife to refuse cohabitation. A Muslim-wife can refuse to live with her husband and refuse to him the sexual intercourse so long as the Prompt Dower is not paid to her.

Case : Nasra Begam v. Rizwan Ali[3]

The Allahabad High Court held that the right to dower comes into existence before cohabitation and Prompt Dower may be demanded even before the cohabitation.

Where the wife is minor or insane, her guardian can refuse to allow the husband to take his wife with him till the Prompt Dower has been paid. If the minor wife is already in the custody of her husband, such guardian can take her back on the ground of non­payment of Prompt Dower.

But, where the consummation has taken place even once, the wife’s right to refuse consummation is lost. If the marriage has already been consummated, the husband’s suit for restitution of conjugal right will not fail on the ground of non-payment of Prompt Dower.

However, the court has discretion, even in such a case, to pass a decree for restitution of conjugal rights subject to the condition of payment of Prompt Dower.

Case: Anis Begum v. Muhammad Istafa Wali Khan[4]

The facts were that in the marriage of Anis Begum and Md. Istafa, the Prompt Dower was Rs. 15,000. The husband and wife lived together for some time and a daughter was born to them. Later on, Anis Begum left the house of her husband and refused to come back till her Prompt Dower was satisfied. Md. Istafa, the husband, filed a suit for the restitution of conjugal rights. It was held by Sulaiman, C.J., that there was no absolute right in a husband to claim conjugal rights unconditionally. The courts have discretion to make the decree of restitution of conjugal rights conditional on payment of wife’s unpaid Prompt Dower even where the marriage has already been consummated. Accordingly, the decree for restitution of conjugal right was passed in favour of the husband subject to his payment of Rs, 15,000/-.

  • Enforcement of Dower as debt:

Where the marriage has been consummated, the wife cannot enforce her claim by refusing conjugal rights to the husband. In such a situation the wife can recover her unpaid dower by maintaining an action in a court of law. She may realise it from husband in the same manner as a creditor recovers his loan.

If the husband dies, the widow is entitled to recover the amount by filing a suit against the legal heirs of the deceased husband. But the legal heirs of the husband are not personally liable to pay the dower. The dower is a debt against the estate of the deceased husband which is inherited by heirs.

  • Widows Right of Retention

After the death of husband the most effective method of enforcement of dower is the exercise of right of retention. A widow, whose dower remains unpaid, has a right to retain the properties of the husband till her dower debt is satisfied. This right is termed as the right of retention in lieu of unpaid dower and it is available to a widow, whether there is any agreement between the parties for this right or not.

Under this right if a wife has taken possession of her husband’s properties lawfully (with free consent of the husband) in lieu of unpaid dower, then she is entitled to retain that possession after the death of her husband, until her dower is paid out of the properties retained by her.

This right is exercised against the creditors, if any, of her deceased husband, and his legal heirs. The legal heirs of the husband cannot get possession (and benefit) of the properties of the deceased until they make payments towards unpaid dower in proportion of their respective shares. Thus, this may be said to be a coercive method of recovery of unpaid dower from husband’s legal heirs.

Submitted by – Akshay Bhasin, UILMS Gurugram

[1] Saburunnessa v. Sabdu Sheikh AIR 1934, Cal. HC

[2] Shah Bano v. Iftikhar Mohammad 1956 Karachi HC

[3] AIR 1980 All 119

[4] AIR 1933 All 634

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