Islam has its own System of Dower
- :Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari
It is one of the indisputable principles of Islam that a man has no claim to the money or property of his wife, nor is he entitled to force her to do anything for him. The earnings of a working woman can in no way be appropriated by her husband without her consent. In this respect there is no difference between man and woman. Contrary to the custom prevailing in Christian Europe up to the beginning of the 20th century, woman, from the Islamic point of view, is not under the control of her husband in financial matters. She has full independence to deal with them herself. Though Islam has given complete economic independence to woman, and has allowed the husband no right in regard to her property, it has retained the system of dower. This shows that, from the Islamic point of view, dower is not paid to woman because the husband subsequently utilises her physical energy or exploits her economically. Islam has its own system of dower, which should not be confused with any other system. The objections, which are raised against other systems, are not valid in this case.
As stated in the preceding chapter, the Holy Qur'an describes the dower as a 'free gift'. According to the Qur'an, it is obligatory. The Qur'an has minutely taken into consideration all the characteristics of human nature and, to ensure that neither man nor woman forgets the respective role entrusted to him or her by nature, stresses the necessity of fixing a dower.
Woman's role is to respond to man's love. It is good if she loves a man but her love should be a reaction to the initiative taken by him. If she falls in love with a man who already does not want her, she would invariably be faced with failure and this will strike a blow to her personality. But if her love is in response to man's love, there is no question of her failure or a blow to her personality.
Is it true that woman is not faithful, that she is not consistent in love, and cannot be relied upon? It is true as well as false. It is true if the initiative comes from woman. If she is first to fall in love, such a love is not reliable. She will soon lose interest. But it is false if woman's love is in response to man's sincere love. In such a case it is unlikely to fade, unless man himself loses interest in her. Then, of course, it will wither. That is woman's natural love.
It is because of the cases of the first kind of love that woman is notorious for her infidelity, and it is because of the second kind of love that she is extolled for her faithfulness. If society wants firmness and stability of the conjugal bond, it has no alternative but to follow the Qur'an, which has prescribed distinct rules for man and woman. The law of dower is in conformity with nature, because it is a symbol that shows that love is initiated by man, and woman only responds to it. Man offers a gift as a symbol of his love and respect for woman. Hence, it is not appropriate to repeal this law which forms a section of the basic law formulated by nature itself.
As we have observed, the Holy Qur'an abolished many pre-Islamic customs and usages in connection with dower, though the people of that time were very much attached to them. What the Qur'an has prescribed is different from the custom prevalent in those days. Hence, it cannot be said that the Qur'an attaches no importance to the existence, or non-existence, of the dower. It could have abolished the dower totally, but it did not deem it fit to do so.
Now that we know the views of Islam on dower, let us take up the objections raised by those who criticise this Islamic law.
A critic says: "As one has to spend money for getting a garden, a house, a horse or a mule, similarly money has to be spent to purchase a woman. And as the price of a house, a garden or a horse depends upon its size, beauty and usefulness, similarly the price of a woman varies according to her beauty or ugliness and her wealth or poverty. That is the philosophy of dower. There can be no conjugality without spending money and paying the price of the purchase".
Had it been a Western custom, could it have been possible to fabricate such a malicious slander against it? If one person gives money to another person, does that mean that he wants to purchase him? Should the custom of offering a present or giving a gift be abolished? The Qur'an expressly says that dower is nothing but a free gift. Furthermore, Islam has organised its economic laws in such a way that they do not allow economic exploitation of a woman by a man.
You may say that many husbands in the East actually exploit their wives economically. We admit that, but it has nothing to do with dower. These husbands do not say that they paid a dower to them. Actually there are other reasons why, in many cases, men dominate over women. Why should the natural law be wrecked instead of reforming the men concerned? The underlying idea of all such arguments is that the people of the East should forget their own philosophy of life and their human standards, so that they may easily be devoured by aliens.
The same critic adds: "If complete economic equality between man and woman is established, there is no reason why man should be held responsible for maintaining his wife and providing her with food, clothing and dower. Such precautions and double assurances have never been considered necessary in the case of man".
If we minutely analyse this argument, it simply means that during the period when woman had no right of holding property, and had no economic independence, the dower and maintenance were justified to a certain extent, but in the cases where woman has been given economic independence, as Islam has already given her, there is no justification for providing her maintenance and dower.
The critic appears to be under the false impression that dower is paid simply to compensate woman for her being deprived of her economic rights. The fact is otherwise. If reference to the Qur'an is made, the real philosophy of the dower can easily be ascertained.
Another critic writes: "As man and woman have been created equal, the payment of any price or wages by one to the other does not stand to reason. Just as man needs woman, woman needs man. In this respect both of them are on an equal footing. Hence it would be unfair to enjoin upon either of them to bear the expenses of the other. But as man had the right of divorce and woman had no guarantee of the continuity of a joint life with him, she was given a right to demand a sort of security from him".
He adds: "In case man does not have an absolute right of divorce, no justification is left for the continuation of the custom of dower.
It is clear from what we have said that these arguments are baseless. A dower is neither a price nor wages. No doubt man and woman need each other, but their position is not the same. Nature has placed them into two different positions.
It is still more baseless to describe dower as a financial security against the right of divorce. On top of that, to claim that this is the reason why Islam has prescribed it, is the height of absurdity. We would like to ask such people why, in the first instance, did Islam give the right of divorce to man. Had this right not been given, there would have been no need of any security? Furthermore, this statement means that when the Holy Prophet fixed the dower of his own wives, he provided them with a security against himself. Similarly, when he fixed the dower of Lady Fatimah at the time of her marriage with Imam Ali, he did so because he wanted to provide the former with a security against the latter.
If, for the sake of argument, we admit that dower is a form of security, then the question arises as to why the Holy Prophet counselled the women to consent formally to surrender their dower to their husbands as a gesture of goodwill. Why did he describe such an act as meritorious and rewarding? Why did he advise that, as far as possible, the amount of dower should not be large? Does not all this show that the Prophet considered dower to be a gift and regarded its voluntary surrender as a means of strengthening and consolidating love between a husband and a wife?
If Islam looked upon dower as a security, why did the Qur'an say: "Give the women their dower as a free gift'; and why did it not say: "Give the women their dower as a security?"
Furthermore, it appears that the critic is under the impression that, in the early days of Islam, dower had the same form as it has today. At present, the common practice is that the husband, at the time of marriage, undertakes to pay a certain amount, but usually the wife does not demand its actual payment, except in the cases where a dispute develops between the two. This type of dower may assume the form of a security. But, during the early Islamic period, the usual practice was to make a prompt payment of the amount promised. In these circumstances, it cannot be said that dower is a form of security.
History shows that the Holy Prophet was never willing to give any woman in marriage without fixing her dower. In this connection the following story has been mentioned in the books of both the Shiah and the Sunnis, with slight variations:
A woman came to the Prophet and said: "0 Messenger of Allah! Accept me to be your wife". The Holy Prophet kept quiet and said nothing. The woman sat down.
One of the companions of the Prophet rose and said:
"O Messenger of Allah! If you are not inclined, I am prepared to marry her". The Holy Prophet asked: "What dower will you give9" "I have nothing". "That won't do. Go to your house. Maybe you will find something to give this woman as dower".
The man went to his house. Soon he came back and said:
"I could find nothing in my house". The Prophet said: "Go again and search. Even an iron ring will do".
The man went again. He came back and said that he could not find even an iron ring. He said that he was willing to give the clothes he was wearing to the woman.
One of the companions of the Prophet, who knew the man well, said that he was aware that the man had no other clothes. So he asked the Prophet to assign only that of his clothes as dower to the woman.
The Prophet said: "If half of his clothes is assigned as dower, who will wear it? Whichever of these two will wear it' the other will go unclothed. That's not possible".
The suitor was sitting in his place. The woman was also waiting for the final decision. In the meantime, the Prophet and his other companions were busy talking about some other subject. When a long time had elapsed, the man rose to go away. The Holy Prophet called him saying: "Come here". He came. The Prophet asked him: "Do you remember the Qur'an?" "Yes, 0 Messenger of Allah! I remember such and such Surah". "Can you recite it from memory?" "Yes, I can". "Very good. That's right. I give this woman in marriage to you and her dower is that you teach the Qur'an to her".
The man grasped the hand of the woman and both of them took their leave.
There are some other points also connected with the question of dower, but we leave them for the present.
Adapted from the book: "Woman and Her Rights" by: "Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari"
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