Question: Can you enlighten us about mehr and dowry? Is a marriage without an appointed mehr unaccepted by Islam? What should be done in such case?
A Muslim man is responsible for paying his wife some amount of money or gifts as ‘mehr/mahr’. This is a right given to women by Allah upon marraige. The 4th verse of the surah Nisa (the Woman) commands:
“And give the women (on marriage) their mehr generously.” (4:4)
If the husband does not give his wife the mehr in compliance with the commands, then his wife keeps the right to demand and get it by applying to legal institutions. Till the moment she obtains the mehr all the rights given to her by marriage are vested and she has the right not to accomplish her marital duties. (Ömer Nasuhi BILMEN,Hukuk-i Islamiyye Kamusu, Istanbul 1967, v.2, p.167.)
If the mehr is settled by wife and husband or their representatives freely, it is called ‘mehr musamma’. It has no limitations. The amount agreed to be paid in cash earlier is paid in cash, while the rest is paid afterwards. It can also be decided for the whole amount to be given in cash and immediately. The man is not given the right to have intercourse with his wife without giving the agreed cash amount; unless the wife permits to. The remaining amount is paid to the woman later on the decided date, in case of divorce or in case of death. The inheritance of the dead husband is distributed according to the regulations after the payment of mehr debt.
The man is not allowed to pay the divorced woman even a single coin less than the decided amount. The Glorified Allah commands:
“And if you decide to divorce a wife in order to take another, do not take away anything of what you might have given the first one, even if you had given her a cantar (i.e. a great amount) of gold. Would you take it back by slandering her and committing a manifest offense?” (An-Nisa/ The Women 4:20)
Even though no mehr was agreed on during the marriage act, the marriage is accepted and the right of mehr arises automatically. The right of mehr arises even though the woman agreed on not receiving any mehr during the marriage act. This type of mehr is called ‘mehr al-misl’. The amount and the payment conditions of this mehr is established by considering the mehr agreement of an equivalent woman. The equivalence is specified by the following conditions: the father and relatives of the woman, her age, beauty, wealth, cleverness, religiousness, having married or not before, education and knowledge, good behaviour and having children or not. (BILMEN, Kamus, v: 2, p: 119) The mehr taken by a woman who has the same qualities as her is this woman’s mehr (mehr al-misl).
The proof that the marriage act is regular even though no mehr has been agreed is the 236th verse of the surah Baqara (The Cow). There, Glorified Allah commands:
“There is no blame on you if you divorce women without touching them until their mehr is fixed. Give them something they will benefit from. The wealthy according to his means and the straitened in circumstances according to his means, provision them if you want to behave respecting the good. This is a duty on the good-doers.” (2:236)
The verse mentions divorce with no mehr decided, yet. As divorce is being mentioned, it means that the marriage has been established and this act is regular.
At this point, it is important to emphasize that ‘mehr’ and ‘dowry’ are two different things. While ‘dowry’ and the ‘feeding right’ are paid to the woman’s mother, father, siblings or relatives, mehr is totally paid to the woman, herself. Nobody has the right to demand any amount of mehr from the woman. Islam has commanded the mehr to be mandatory and has absolutely prohibited dowry.