The Islamic concept of dower is unfortunately one of the most misunderstood concepts of Muhammadan law. Those who lean towards the contractual element of a Muslim marriage tend to equate it with consideration. On the other hand, those more familiar with the Indian concept of dowry, confuse it with that concept. The truth is that mahr or mehr (dower) is not a form of dowry; rather it is a significant institution in Islamic law, occupying a unique position of its own.
Dower (mahr) is a sum of money or other property which the wife is entitled to receive from the husband, in consideration of marriage. According to Muhammadan law, marriage is a civil contract, and dower is a necessary result of it, being a part of the consideration of her agreement to become her husband’s wife by consummating the marriage.
However, the word “consideration” is not used here in the same sense in which it is used in the Indian Contract Act. Indeed, it is not the sale-price of the bride and a Muslim marriage contract is not a commercial transaction. In fact, it would be more correct to say that under Muhammadan Law, dower is an obligation imposed upon the husband as a mark of respect for the wife.
Mr. Justice Mahmood (in Abdul Kadirv. Salima, (1866) 8. All. 149) defined the term dower as under:
“Dower, under the Muhammadan law, is a sum of money or other property promised by the husband, to be paid or delivered to the wife in consideration of the marriage, and even where no dower is expressly fixed or mentioned at the marriage ceremony, the law confers the right of dower upon the wife.”
The amount of dower may be fixed either before, at the time of, or after marriage. The wife is competent to relinquish her dower, provided she has attained puberty at the time of the relinquishment.
Recently, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board unveiled a “model nikahnama”, under which it is suggested that payment of mahr (or mehi) should be in terms of gold and silver, instead of money. The reasoning given by the Board is simple: If a bride is promised Rs. 30,000 as mehr, what remains in the value of Rs. 30,000 ten years later?
According to the Board, mehr paid several years after the marriage loses its value if paid in currency notes because of devaluation of money. “We advise that mehr should be in gold and silver, so that the devaluation problem gets tackled on its own”, observed the Board.