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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, 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 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 above the 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.
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin:
The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: The marriage of a woman who marries without the consent of her guardians is void. (He said these words) three times. 'If there is cohabitation, she gets her dower for the intercourse her husband has had.'
If there is a dispute, the sultan (man in authority) is the guardian of one who has none.
A man from the Ansar called Basrah said: I married a virgin woman in her veil. When I entered upon her, I found her pregnant. (I mentioned this to the Prophet). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: 'She will get the dower, for you made her vagina lawful for you.'
The child will be your slave. When she has begotten (a child), flog her (according to the version of al-Hasan). The version of Ibn AbusSari has: You people, flog her, or said: inflict hard punishment on him.
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.
Sabra Juhanni reported: Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) permitted temporary marriage for us. So I and another person went out and saw a woman of Bana 'Amir, who was like a young long-necked she-camel. 'We presented ourselves to her (for contracting temporary marriage), whereupon she said: What dower would you give me?'
I said: My cloak. And my companion also said: My cloak. And the cloak of-my companion was superior to my cloak, but I was younger than he. So when she looked at the cloak of my companion she liked it, and when she cast a glance at me I looked more attractive to her. She then said: Well, you and your cloak are sufficient for me. I remained with her for three nights, and then Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: He who has any such woman with whom he had contracted temporary marriage, he should let her off.
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 ahadith. 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 you must be fair when giving a mahr:
And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.
And whoever among you has not within his power ampleness of means to marry free believing women, then (he may marry) of those whom your right hands possess from among your believing maidens; and Allah knows best your faith: you are (sprung) the one from the other; so marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours; and when they are taken in marriage, then if they are guilty of indecency, they shall suffer half the punishment which is (inflicted) upon free women. This is for him among you who fears falling into evil; and that you abstain is better for you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
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:
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct
, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them
(lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
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.
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:
And if you divorce them before you have touched them
and you have appointed for them a portion, then (pay to them) half of what you have appointed, unless they relinquish or he should relinquish in whose hand is the marriage tie; and it is nearer to righteousness that you should relinquish; and do not neglect the giving of free gifts between you; surely Allah sees what you do.
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:
Narrated 'Abdul 'Aziz:
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 ."
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
Allah's Apostle manumitted Safiyya and regarded her manumission as her Mahr.
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:
The Prophet seeing a yellow mark (of perfume) on the clothes of 'Abdur-Rahman bin 'Auf, said, "What about you?" 'Abdur-Rahman replied, "I have married a woman with a Mahr of gold equal to a date-stone." The Prophet said, "May Allah bestow His Blessing on you (in your marriage). Give a wedding banquet, (Walima) even with one sheep."
Abd al-Rahman b. 'Auf (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw the signs of the happiness of wedding in me, and I said: I have married a woman of the Ansar. He said: How much Mahr have you paid? I said: For a date-stone weight of gold. And in the hadith transmitted by Ishaq (it is): (nawat weight) of gold.
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:
Narrated Sahl bin Sad As-Sa'idi:
A woman came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have come to give you myself in marriage (without Mahr)." Allah's Apostle looked at her. He looked at her carefully and fixed his glance on her and then lowered his head. When the lady saw that he did not say anything, she sat down. A man from his companions got up and said, "O Allah's Apostle! If you are not in need of her, then marry her to me." 'The Prophet said, "Have you got anything to offer?"'
The man said, "No, by Allah, O Allah's Apostle!" The Prophet said (to him), "Go to your family and see if you have something." The man went and returned, saying, "No, by Allah, I have not found anything." Allah's Apostle said, "(Go again) and look for something, even if it is an iron ring." He went again and returned, saying, "No, by Allah, O Allah's Apostle! I could not find even an iron ring, but this is my Izar (waist sheet)." He had no rida. He added, "I give half of it to her." Allah's Apostle said, "What will she do with your Izar? If you wear it, she will be naked, and if she wears it, you will be naked." So that man sat down for a long while and then got up (to depart). When Allah's Apostle saw him going, he ordered that he be called back. When he came, 'the Prophet said, "How much of the Quran do you know?"'
He said, "I know such Sura and such Sura," counting them. The Prophet said, "Do you know them by heart?" He replied, "Yes." The Prophet said, '"Go, I marry her to you for that much of the Quran which you have."'
Sahl b. Sa'd al-Sa'idi (Allah be pleased with him) reported: A woman came to Allah's Messenger. (may peace be upon him) and said: Messenger of Allah, I have come to you to entrust myself to you (you may contract my marriage with anyone at your discretion). Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw her and cast a glance at her from head to foot. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) then lowered his head. When the woman saw that he had made no decision in regard to her, she sat down. There stood up a person from amongst his companions and said: Messenger of Allah, marry her to me if you have no need of her. 'He (the Holy Prophet) said: is there anything with you (which you can give as a dower)? He said: No, Messenger of Allah'
, by Allah I have nothing. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Go to your people (family) and see if you can find something. He returned and said: I have found nothing. The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: See even if it is an Iron ring. He went and returned and said: No, by God, not even an iron ring, but only this lower garment of mine (Sahl said that he had no upper garment), half of which (I am prepared to part with) for her. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: How can your lower garment serve your purpose, for it you wear it, she would not be able to make any use of it and if she wears it there would not be anything on you? The man sat down and as the sitting prolonged he stood up (in disappointment) and as he was going back Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) commanded (him) to be called back, and as he came, 'he said to him: Do you know any part of the Qur'an?'
He said: I know such and such surahs (and he counted them). whereupon he said: Can you recite them from heart (from your memory)? He said: Yes, whereupon 'he (Allah's Messenger) said: Go, I have given her to you in marriage for the part of the Qur'an which you know.'
Two handfuls of flour or dates
A tradition of Abu Dawud relates that two handfuls of dates can be used as a mahr:
Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah:
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
Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab:
AbulAjfa' as-Sulami said: Umar (Allah be pleased with him) delivered a speech to us and said: Do not go to extremes in giving women their dower, for if it represented honor in this world and piety in Allah's sight, the one of you most entitled to do so would have been the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) did not marry any of his wives or gave any of his daughters in marriage for more than twelve uqiyahs.
Don't take back the mahr
Divorce may be (pronounced) twice, then keep (them) in good fellowship or let (them) go with kindness; 'and it is not lawful for you to take any part of what you have given them'
, unless both fear that they cannot keep within the limits of Allah; then if you fear that they cannot keep within the limits of Allah, there is no blame on them for what she gives up to become free thereby. These are the limits of Allah, so do not exceed them and whoever exceeds the limits of Allah these it is that are the unjust.
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
regarding the Divine Verse: "O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness that you may take back part of the (Mahr) dower you have given them." (4.19) (Before this revelation) if a man died, his relatives used to have the right to inherit his wife, and one of them could marry her if he would, or they would give her in marriage if they wished, or, if they wished, they would not give her in marriage at all, and they would be more entitled to dispose her, than her own relatives. So the above Verse was revealed in this connection.
Narrated Said bin Jubair:
I asked Ibn 'Umar, "(What is the verdict if) a man accuses his wife of illegal sexual intercourse?" Ibn 'Umar said, "The Prophet separated (by divorce) the couple of Bani Al-Ajlan, and said, (to them), 'Allah knows that one of you two is a liar; so will one of you repent?' But both of them refused. He again said, 'Allah knows that one of you two is a liar; so will one of you repent?' But both of them refused. So he separated them by divorce." (Aiyub, a sub-narrator said: 'Amr bin Dinar said to me, "There is something else in this Hadith which you have not mentioned. It goes thus: 'The man said, 'What about my money (i.e. the Mahr that I have given to my wife)?' It was said, 'You have no right to restore any money, for if you have spoken the truth (as regards the accusation), you have also consummated your marriage with her'
; and if you have told a lie, you are less rightful to have your money back.' ")
Narrated Said bin Jubair:
I asked Ibn 'Umar about those who were involved in a case of Lien. He said, "The Prophet said to those who were involved in a case of Lien, 'Your accounts are with Allah. One of you two is a liar, and you (the husband) have no right over her (she is divorced)." 'The man said, 'What about my property (Mahr) ?' The Prophet said, 'You have no right to get back your property. If you have told the truth about her then your property was for the consummation of your marriage with her'
; and if you told a lie about her, then you are less rightful to get your property back.' " Sufyan, a sub-narrator said: I learned the Hadith from 'Amr. Narrated Aiyub: I heard Sa'id bin Jubair saying, "I asked Ibn 'Umar, 'If a man (accuses his wife for an illegal sexual intercourse and) carries out the process of Lian (what will happen)?' Ibn 'Umar set two of his fingers apart. (Sufyan set his index finger and middle finger apart.) Ibn 'Umar said, 'The Prophet separated the couple of Bani Al-Ajlan by divorce and said thrice, "Allah knows that one of you two is a liar; so will one of you repent (to Allah)?' "
Narrated Said bin Jubair:
I said to Ibn 'Umar, "If a man accuses his wife of illegal sexual intercourse (what is the judgment)?" He said, "Allah's Prophet separated the couple of Bani 'Ajlan (when the husband accused his wife for an illegal sexual intercourse). The Prophet said, 'Allah knows that one of you two IS a liar; so will one of you repent?' But they refused. He then again said, 'Allah knows that one of you two is a liar; so will one of you repent?' But they refused, whereupon he separated them by divorce." Aiyub (a sub-narrator) said: 'Amr bin Dinar said to me, "In the narration there is something which I do not see you mentioning, i.e. 'the husband said, "What about my money (Mahr)?' The Prophet said, "You are not entitled to take back money, for if you told the truth you have already entered upon her (and consummated your marriage with her)'
and if you are a liar then you are less entitled to take it back.
Sabra al-Juhanni reported on the authority of his father that while he was with Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) he said: 0 people, I had permitted you to contract temporary marriage with women, but Allah has forbidden it (now) until the Day of Resurrection. So he who has any (woman with this type of marriage contract) he should let her off, and do not take back anything you have given to then (as dower).
Sabra al-Juhanni reported on the authority of his father: Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) prohibited the contracting of temporary marriage and said: Behold, it is forbidden from this very day of yours to the Day of Resurrection, and he who has given something (as a dower) should not take it back.
Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with them) reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saying to the invokers of curse: Your account is with Allah. One of you must be a liar. You have now no right over this woman. He said: Messenger of Allah, what about my wealth (dower that I paid her at the time of marriage)? He said: You have no claim to wealth. If you tell the truth, it (dower) is the recompense for your having had the right to intercourse with her, and if you tell a lie against her, it is still more remote from you than she is. Zuhair said in his narration: Sufyan reported to us on the authority of 'Amr that he had heard Sa'id b Jubair saying: I heard Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with them) saying that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) had said it.
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
Narrated Ibn 'Umar :
Allah's Apostle forbade Ash-Shighar, which means that somebody marries his daughter to somebody else, and the latter marries his daughter to the former without paying Mahr.
Nafi narrated to me that 'Abdullah said that Allah's Apostle forbade the Shighar. I asked Nafi', "What is the Shighar?" He said, "It is to marry the daughter of a man and marry one's daughter to that man (at the same time) without Mahr (in both cases); or to marry the sister of a man and marry one's own sister to that man without Mahr." Some people said, "If one, by a trick, marries on the basis of Shighar, the marriage is valid but its condition is illegal." The same scholar said regarding Al-Mut'a, "The marriage is invalid and its condition is illegal." Some others said, "The Mut'a and the Shighar are permissible but the condition is illegal."
Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with them) said that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) prohibited Shighar which means that a man gives his daughter in marriage on the condition that the other gives his daughter to him in marriage with- out any dower being paid by either.
AbdurRahman ibn Hurmuz al-A'raj said: Al-Abbas ibn Abdullah ibn al-Abbas married his daughter to AbdurRahman ibn al-Hakam, and AbdurRahman married his daughter to him. And they made this (exchange) their dower. Mu'awiyah wrote to Marwan commanding him to separate them. He wrote in his letter: This is the shighar which the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) has forbidden.
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
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:
The wife of Thabit bin Qais came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him)." On that Allah's Apostle said (to her), "Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you (as Mahr)?" She said, "Yes." Then the Prophet said to Thabit, "O Thabit! Accept your garden, and divorce her once."
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin:
Habibah daughter of Sahl was the wife of Thabit ibn Qays Shimmas He beat her and broke some of her part. So she came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) after morning, and complained to him against her husband. The Prophet (peace be upon him) called on Thabit ibn Qays and said (to him): Take a part of her property and separate yourself from her. He asked: Is that right, Apostle of Allah? He said: Yes. He said: I have given her two gardens of mine as a dower, and they are already in her possession. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Take them and separate yourself from her.
Disbelieving wives shall return the mahr
O you who believe! when believing women come to you flying, then examine them; Allah knows best their faith; then if you find them to be believing women, do not send them back to the unbelievers, neither are these (women) lawful for them, nor are those (men) lawful for them, and give them what they have spent; and no blame attaches to you in marrying them when you give them their dowries; 'and hold not to the ties of marriage of unbelieving women, and ask for what you have spent'
, and ask them ask for what they have spent. That is Allah's judgment; He judges between you, and Allah is Knowing, Wise.
Wives may forfeit all or part of the mahr
And give women their dowries as a free gift, but if they of themselves be pleased to give up to you a portion of it, then eat it with enjoyment and with wholesome result.
And all married women except those whom your right hands possess (this is) Allah's ordinance to you, and lawful for you are (all women) besides those, provided that you seek (them) with your property, taking (them) in marriage not committing fornication. Then as to those whom you profit by, give them their dowries as appointed; and there is no blame on you about what you mutually agree after what is appointed; surely Allah is Knowing, Wise.
Divorce before consummation gives the wife half the agreed mahr
And if you divorce them before you have touched them and you have appointed for them a portion, then (pay to them) half of what you have appointed, unless they relinquish or he should relinquish in whose hand is the marriage tie; and it is nearer to righteousness that you should relinquish; and do not neglect the giving of free gifts between you; surely Allah sees what you do.
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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