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Putting an End to the Dowry Culture

The normalisation of dowry by sugarcoating it as a "gift", and in many cases as "market rate", highlights the widespread materialism in society.

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One of the commendable qualities of the Islamic Civilization has been the positive social impact they left on the communities that coexisted with them. Historically, Muslims have reformed societies with their actions of calling towards goodness and forbidding evil. However the Muslim Ummah at present, instead of imparting our values to the non-Muslims and sharing the blessing of Islam with them, is emulating their malpractices, imbibing their negative traits and mixing their social evils with our religious teachings.

The concept of dowry is alien to Islam. There exists no word for dowry in the Arabic language. Dowry is different from dower, which is called “Mahr” in Islam, and is obligatory upon the groom. It is the male’s duty to provide for the female’s financial, emotional and physical security. Unfortunately in today’s world, the male is not only freed from this responsibility, but this “freedom” has also led to the compromise on the other securities that the woman had a right to.

The original intentions behind the giving and taking of dowry might be debatable, but today it has become a corruption, an unforgivable social vice which takes the life of one woman every single hour in this country. Despite dowry being prohibited constitutionally in the country decades ago, the practice is still rampant across socio-economic and religious barriers. The case of Ayesha, the 23-year-old who took her own life by jumping into the Sabarmati river, is only the tip of the iceberg. Countless women are still being harassed, tortured and burnt to death over the curse of dowry. The man who was responsible – and accountable – for his wife’s well-being, is shamelessly playing the role of her abuser. All of this for a finite sum of money in this finite world, to try to satisfy a mortal being’s infinite greed.

Man’s hunger for wealth is insatiable. It leads him to commit heinous crimes – he is no longer concerned for the suffering of others. Ayesha’s case is an unfortunate reminder that in the greedy pursuit of wealth, man can lose sight of the very things that make him human – love, sympathy and kindness. What started as the demand for a few lakh rupees, turned into the desire for more, and snowballed into constant torture, merciless beatings, and eventually death.

Allah points out this human behavior and its consequences, when He says:
“And their wealth will be of no benefit to them when they tumble into Hell.” (92:11)

“Woe to every scorner & mocker who collects wealth greedily and counts it repeatedly, thinking that his wealth will make him immortal. Not at all! He will surely be thrown into the Crusher.” (104:1-4)

The normalisation of dowry by sugarcoating it as a “gift”, and in many cases as “market rate”, highlights the widespread materialism in society. When this greed gets coupled with laziness, man stops at nothing to fulfill his heart’s worldly desires. Instead of hard-work, struggle and the Halal way of earning, man wishes to adopt the shortcut, the easy-way. He achieves this by oppression, cruelty and illegal means. Allah says in the Qur’an

“Do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly”. (2:188).

Marriages are supposed to be easy and simple. Allah has clearly designated the roles of a man and a woman in the society, as well as in the family. It is not the woman’s responsibility to provide for the man or his family, and to force her to do so is a grave sin. Can a relationship that begins with a sin ever be blessed?

Unfortunately, the practice of dowry has crept into Muslim community as well, wherein it is wrongly justified with the misconception that the Prophet ﷺ gave dowry to his daughter Fatima (r.a.) upon her marriage to Ali (r.a.). This could not be further from the truth. One who has studied even a little from the Seerah of the Prophet ﷺ would remember that the Prophet ﷺ was also the Wali (guardian) of Ali (r.a.). When Ali (r.a.) approached the Prophet ﷺ with his wish to marry Fatima (r.a.), the Prophet ﷺ asked him if he possessed anything to offer as Mahr. Ali (r.a.) replied that he had a horse and a saddle. The Prophet ﷺ advised him to keep the horse and sell the saddle. The money which Ali (r.a.) got upon selling the saddle was then used to buy basic necessities for the couple. So all the cost was borne by the groom, and not a dime was spent by the bride’s family, which is in fact the Sunnah way.

The problem of dowry is a social one; hence its stakeholders are many. Therefore, the solution for this problem must be carried out on all levels, i.e., on the level of the bride, the bridegroom, both their families, the government, religious institutions, etc. Unless every individual takes the responsibility of eradicating the practice of dowry upon himself, a better future may be bleak. At the individual level, you and I must introspect – is our Imaan firm? Our Tawakkul in Allah – faith that He alone is the Provider & Sustainer – is an integral part of our Imaan. It is this Tawakkul, that can help stop us from getting greedy; it is the Islamic values of Taqwa & Sabr that can instill the fear of God in the otherwise unabashed human being, and that can help him be patient in times of economic crisis, thereupon stopping him from infringing the rights of others.

We try to be devout in the matters of “external” Islam, like the way to pray and how to dress, but when it comes to matters of our inner-self, especially in the situation of Nikah, we forget our Deen, we forget the sayings of our beloved Prophet ﷺ, and his recommendation for the conduct of marriages. Every individual needs to take a stand against the practice of dowry. This can be done in the following ways:

• The girl and the guy, both need to remain steadfast in their decision of neither giving, nor taking dowry.

• The girl should convince her parents against dowry even if they want to “gift” something for their own satisfaction. As Nikhat Fatima explains this, “Talk to your family & tell them that you want a strictly no-dowry marriage. Make sure that they know you’re an asset to them, not a liability. So there’s no need to give dowry, no matter out of how much joy it’s given. It’s very important that you remain steadfast in your choice. Your parents might be affluent and hence they can easily afford it, but this will set a precedent in the society and put an immense pressure on the poor’s daughter who will never be able to give it. So you have to stand not just for yourself but for every single poor daughter in the society who is seen as a burden on her parents”.

• Dowry seekers should be boycotted, and their proposals & betrothals declined.

We must take an oath to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ. Success in Islam is not merely remembering Allah & His Prophet ﷺ in our Salah, fasts & Hajj, but especially in our daily practices, our marriages, and in all of our dealings with humankind

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