Ideally, the marriage of a Muslim couple should be simple.
Islamic teachings related to a range of issues are clearly specified, and so it is not permissible for any self-made custom to be added to them. But despite this, numerous customary practices, that are against Islamic teachings, are prevalent among a large section of Muslims. Demanding dowry and some other marriage-related practices are among the worst of these. The case of a dowry-related suicide of a Muslim women recently has highlighted the issue of dowry among a section of the Muslim population.
Performing a marriage in an approved manner is included as an act of obedience to God, and like other such acts, it must be kept simple and pure. The Prophet of Islam stressed that the blessed marriage is one that carries less expense. Seen in this light, extravagant spending in marriages is against Islamic teachings.
In Islam, ideally a marriage partner should be selected on the basis of his or her piety, and not on the basis of wealth, lineage or physical beauty or charm. It is tragic, therefore, that quantum of wealth, including amount of dowry, is a major consideration for some people in their choice of marriage partners.
According to Islamic teachings, from the moment a woman’s marriage gets fixed and all along the rest of her married life, there is no financial obligation on her. The financial aspect is for the man to manage. Given this, the custom of extracting or expecting money from the woman as dowry, is completely un-Islamic.
Ideally, the marriage of a Muslim couple should be simple. It could be held in a mosque. For the guests, a few light refreshments even just a few fruits could be provided. The husband should give his wife the stipulated mehr, and should arrange, after one or two days, a walima function, conducted in a simple way, without any show or extravagant spending. Then, throughout their married life, he should maintain the family financially through his earnings. The responsibility of managing the financial affairs of the family falls on the husband.
Today, sections of Muslim society follow various practices related to marriage, including dowry, that have no sanction in Islam.
For a man, or his family, to demand any money or other such wealth from his wife or her family is not permissible according to Islamic teachings. The Quran (4:29) says: ‘O believers! Do not devour one another’s wealth illegally’. Elsewhere, the Quran (2:188) says: ‘Do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly’. From this we learn that all forms of wealth that are acquired wrongfully or unjustly from others are forbidden in Islam. Islamic scholars agree that dowry is also one such wrongfully acquired form of wealth and is thus forbidden—be it that which might be demanded by the groom or his family or that which might be offered as an incentive by the bride’s side in order to ‘buy’ a groom.
Today, sections of Muslim society follow various practices related to marriage, including dowry, that have no sanction in Islam. To demand anything—whether in cash or kind—from the bride’s family is forbidden in Islam. So too is the expectation in the name of ‘good hospitality’ from the groom’s side that the bride’s family will arrange for a lavish marriage feast, with a large number of guests. This sort of showing off and wasteful expense is clearly forbidden in Islam. In the name of ‘good hospitality’, the five- or seven-course meal that is sometimes arranged is an abuse of God’s blessings, resulting in an enormous wastage of food.
There is a new trend in some economically prosperous Muslim families: They offer the would-be groom a house and a vehicle and so on, in the hope that he would leave his parents and set up his own separate home with their daughter. If that happens, often the boy’s parents lose their son’s support in their old age. This practice is also not proper.
Many middle-class Muslim families today reel under the burden of huge, and completely unnecessary, expenses related to the marriage of their daughters, starting from the time when a group of people from the prospective groom’s family comes to see the daughter up to the point of not only the marriage, but also long after, if and when she has her first child.
Let us do a rough calculation of the sort of expenses often involved in this regard:
1. Food etc. on the day when a group of people from the boy’s side comes to see the girl and her family in their house: Rs. 10-20 thousand.
2. Engagement feast, clothes etc.: Rs. 2-5 lakhs.
3. Marriage function (mehendi and haldi ceremony, wedding hall, clothes, jewellery, dowry, food etc.): Rs. 15- 20 lakhs.
4. Customs after marriage: Rs. 20-50 thousand.
5. First Eid, clothes, cash etc.: Rs. 20-50 thousand.
6. Birth of first child, 40-day ceremony: Rs. 2-3 lakhs.
If one takes an average of the expenses incurred on each of these counts, the burden on an average family because of unnecessary customs related to marriage appears really huge. The expenses incurred on a marriage go further up, if one includes the amount spent on the walima.
In a city with a population of say 2 or 3 lakh Muslims, one could estimate that every year there are between 500 and 700 marriages among Muslims. If one leaves aside the marriages among economically wealthy Muslims, on the one hand, and pious Muslim families who have very simple marriages, on the other, and selects 300 middle-range marriages, the total expenses incurred on the wasteful practices appears to be really large. On an average, around Rs. 10 lakhs are spent on such marriages, which means that for the 300 families, the total expenses come to some 30 crore rupees! Of this sum, around 60% may be spent on things like food, decoration and wasteful customs. That means that in a city with a population of 2 -3 lakh Muslims, between 15 and 20 crore rupees are possibly being wasted by Muslims every year uselessly in this manner. Given this, why do many Muslims complain that they are poor and illiterate?
Because of the wasteful expenditure that many people indulge in for marriage, which is becoming a norm, marriages are becoming difficult for many others. To meet the expected marriage expenses, including, sometimes, dowry demands, some parents even sell off their ancestral property or take loans and land up deep in debt. Because of dowry, some men have become useless, considering their in-laws like some sort of ATM machine. Because of dowry demands, divorces and oppression of women are an increasing phenomenon. And as a recent case of a Muslim woman that was widely publicised in the media indicates, dowry demands may drive some women to commit suicide.
Now, what can be done about this dismal situation? Here are some suggestions:
1. Each of us must resolve not to be a part of this system of wasteful expenditure on marriage, including dowry. We must neither take nor give dowry.
2. We should not attend marriages that involve dowry and extravagant marriage feasts.
3. There should be a system for pre-marital counselling for Muslim women and men through which they should be made aware that dowry and other such practices have no sanction in Islam.
4. Social organisations must engage in promoting awareness among the Muslim masses that dowry is un-Islamic, as are numerous other customs and practices associated with marriage.
5. Muslim ulema should not solemnise marriages that involve dowry.
6. Women should be given their rightful share, according to the Islamic rules, in their parents’ property.
7. Teams of young people can be formed to help women who may be harassed in the name of dowry.
8. Above all, God-consciousness needs to be cultivated and promoted in each of us, for it is the solution to all ills.
(The author is Academic Director, Dar ul-Umoor, Tipu Sultan Research Centre, Srirangapatna, Karnataka. He can be contacted on [email protected])