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A Detailed Guide to Mahr: Rights and Rulings

by in Culture on 3rd January, 2024

Please Note: For privacy, pseudonyms have been used in place of the names below, but the conversations and situations are real.

This piece has been fiqh-checked by an Ustadha, however, we always recommend consulting with a local scholar throughout this process.


Understanding mahr, the marriage gift given to a bride, is much simpler than it’s drawn out to be. However, many complications come from the feelings that arise around mahr. Some women find it old-fashioned and unnecessary. Others are shy to discuss it because they fear repercussions from their families, potential spouses, and future in-laws. And most of us, sadly, don’t know how to feel, as there are rarely any discussions about mahr until it is time to ask for it.

Even if you aren’t speaking to anyone at this time, having some idea of how mahr works will help you prepare for the inevitable conversation and ease your anxieties around it.

Mahr Rights

Mahr isn’t merely a blessing for women; it’s a religious obligation for Muslim men to offer.

“Give women their bridal gift upon marriage, though if they are happy to give up some of it for you, you may enjoy it with a clear conscience.” (Surah al-Nisa 4:4)

This verse teaches us two beautiful things: that a Muslim man must offer Mahr, and that it’s completely optional for a woman to refuse it. Under no circumstances can a bride be pressured to give up a mahr in its entirety or partiality.

The Qur’an also mentions that mahr is a prerequisite to marriage in a wide variety of cases, even if the woman is:

  1. not free (Surah al-Nisa, verse 25)
  2. Jewish or Christian (Surah al-Ma’idah, verse 5)
  3. related to the groom (Surah al-Ahzab, verse 60)
  4. a revert to Islam (Surah al-Mumtahina, verse 10)

The Sunnah also mentions mahr in multiple narrations. The Prophet ﷺ said to a man, 

“Marry, even with (a mahr equal to) an iron ring.” (Bukhari 5150

We learn that the mahr doesn’t have to be extravagant, or even with a standard like gold or silver. The majority of scholars say that there’s no minimum to a mahr, nor a maximum. Some even argue that the mahr can be immaterial. However, many scholars recommend a cash value to the mahr.

The Prophet ﷺ also discouraged marriages without a mahr. 

“Allah’s Messenger ﷺ forbade Ash-Shighar, which means that somebody marries his daughter to somebody else, and the latter marries his daughter to the former without paying mahr.” (Bukhari 5112)

We see mahr in his ﷺ blessed life as well. One of the first questions the Prophet ﷺ asked a Companion who had gotten married, was: “How much mahr have you paid?” The companion, Abelrahman ibn Auf, replied: “For a date-stone weight of gold.” (Muslim 1427e)

All the wives of the Prophet ﷺ had a mahr upon their marriage, with some the equivalent of 50 dirhams. For Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), it was 20 goats, or 20 camels.

There is even a type of mahr known as mahr fatimi,” in reference to Fatima (may Allah be pleased with her), daughter of the Prophet ﷺ. Think about that for a moment. ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) was one of the first people who accepted Islam. He was someone whom the Prophet ﷺ considered like a brother. And he was still required to give mahr. And the Prophet ﷺ’s own daughter accepted that mahr.

And last, but certainly not least: mahr is only for the bride. The family of the bride does not receive a share of it, nor do they have a say in it. Whilst the groom can offer it, the bride can also stipulate it.

Now that we’ve established mahr as a part of our sacred text, we now need to go about putting it in context. Every bride and groom has different circumstances and stipulations, and alhamdulillah, there’s room for all of them. 

Mahr Decision Framework

There are two types of mahr: mu’akhar (deferred) and mu’ajjal (advanced). Similar to the way an apartment is rented, a Muslim man may offer the mahr in full, or offer a small payment and then “instalments” later.

Monetary values are also offered when it comes to the discussion of mahr. In the Hanafi madhab, a monetary value must be assigned to the mahr. Scholars suggest 10 dirhams, which equates to 2.975 grams of silver and £16.67. You can convert to other currencies as well, keeping in mind that 1000 grams are in one kilogram.

Let’s try it with mahr fatimi. 1469 dirhams was the total then, which comes to about £3395.96.

So, while a bride may want to ask for something like Hajj, a Sheikh may want to stipulate a pound value equating to that hajj package in the nikkah contract. The intent for hajj can still be there when that money is offered.

Jewellery in gold or silver is also acceptable, as jewellery also has a cash value. And, yes, even a cat can be given as mahr.

Bisma shared that her mahr was in two parts. Her husband’s deceased mother (may Allah have mercy on her) had requested that each of her sons give some of her jewellery to her future daughters-in-law as gifts from her. But Bisma’s husband then offered to her that he would also take care of Hajj expenses when the time came.

Another common method is mahr mithl. The groom looks at his locality, and what kind of mahr is being offered to brides there. He would then suggest a range or an average from the mahrs given to other women. Some grooms also look at the bride’s family, and what her aunts, sisters, mothers, and grandmother may have received in their marriages. Because of the prevalence of marriages nationally and internationally, along with different circumstances for each bride, this may be a trickier method to go with. Converts may not be able to use mahr mithl as well. But mahr mithl can still work for having an idea of where to start from.

“I didn’t have a specific amount in mind,” Hala wrote. “The mahr was something I saw as having to be fulfilled. Local scholars suggested that I ask my family what the typical mahr was for my female relatives. I asked my grandmother because I figured she’d been around for the most marriages. She gave me a number that I was fine with. When I related it to the local scholars and my fiancé at the time, all parties were happy—it was within his means, and the scholars had us sit two days after our nikkah so that he could give it to me. Then we were done, alhamdulillah!”

These general guidelines will, insha’Allah, help you with the negotiation part of the process. 

Negotiating Mahr

Remember that negotiation is a conversation. With Allah’s divine blessing, you’ll be able to navigate this part with all of its many factors.

If you have a certain lifestyle before your marriage, it’s your right to have that lifestyle maintained after your marriage. A mahr is your sole property, and cannot be given back to the husband in the case of divorce. No one else has rights over it.

Mahr is not a reflection of your worth; do not assign a price tag to that. Each woman is priceless.

You should also consider that mahr is not a divorce or death safety fund. Nor is it an opportunity to earn extra money. If you enter a mahr negotiation with that mindset, it will affect your marriage as a whole. Be mindful that whatever he can’t pay upfront is legally considered a debt for him. Asking for three months of his salary, for example, will make him feel immense pressure going into the marriage. Resentment may also come from him or his family. Which would you like to last longer—your marriage, or your mahr payment?

“I’ve heard horror stories,” Dahab told us. “$20K, $50K mahr. Mine was standard and traditional for my culture: jewellery. And I love gold! I knew that Allah is the one who provides rizq.”

“Right,” Humayra agreed, as her friend went on. “I only asked for $500. I didn’t want to keep it large, because I was avoiding the dowry culture from other religions. So I always advise to keep the mahr small. [Your husband’s] going to be the provider—the apartment rent, your food, so many other expenses. Make it easy and don’t be greedy.”

Know that mahr is separate from wedding gifts given during engagements. These fall into the category of hadiyah (gifts). He must specifically designate a mahr and not bring up the hadiyah at the last minute.

Think about whether you will work full-time, part-time, or in a domestic role after your marriage. Take also into consideration your husband-to-be’s current earnings and what his trajectory looks like. If he is in school, for example, but has a promising career, that’s something to keep in mind. 

If the mahr is too high, would it cause you to live with your in-laws (and are you satisfied with that?), or delay the purchase of a house (if you’d like one)? How soon would you like to have children? Would you like to travel after your marriage? Lay out your priorities and weed out the nice-to-haves as best as you can.

“I’d been working for a long time, and planned to work after my marriage,” Medina, a newlywed in her thirties, said. “So I didn’t prioritise mahr. We talked about it. I told my husband that it was whatever he was capable of. He gave me an amount. But out of respect, he went to my dad and brother-in-law with a plan of how he would pay it.” The groom decided to give a sum initially, and then pay the rest on a month-to-month basis.

Be wary of pressure from other people. Some may use the hadith where the Prophet ﷺ told us, “The best marriage is one that is easiest.” (Mishkat al-Masabih 3097) This does not refer to the mahr, rather, it refers to the other expenses of a marriage

Some suitors may want to lessen the mahr. Again, this is understandable, as we face economic crises and many unforeseeable trials in life. Remember that mahr is a gift in its essence. Do not make it a burden.

The Prophet ﷺ also told us that “The best dowry is one that is easiest.”(Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 4163) in terms of keeping a mahr small. This approach may work better for a young couple. If both of you are still studying or may have to live separately until living arrangements are made, it may be more practical to keep the mahr a lower amount.

Even if you aren’t younger, you may have an offer that is lower than what you were expecting. As will be the case in the rest of your marriage, insha’Allah, you may need to compromise. Know your worth, and pay attention to one of my teacher’s advice, “Don’t get bullied.” Be mindful of the suitor’s demeanour throughout this process as well, as it will also give you insight for future important discussions and conversations. Parents, in general, will pressure their sons to pay less, and their daughters to ask for more.

Asel writes, “I’ve spoken to brothers who were still in school. One had an exorbitant amount of loans from being in medicine, and another planned on getting a doctorate degree. While I initially wanted the cost of a Hajj package for my mahr, I lowered it down to the cost of other religious trips—like umrah or visiting Palestine. Although neither mahr negotiations led to marriage, that’s still a mahr I want to work with. One of my love languages is quality time. To build our marriage on trips like these… I don’t know if there could be a more special trip for us to enjoy each other’s company.”

Above all, this is a conversation between you, your spouse, and learned people in the community. Some families source mahr fatimi as proof that, since the Prophet ﷺ gave a suggestion for the mahr, they too can get involved in it. However, keep in mind that those people are not the Prophet ﷺ. He was acting as a messenger at that moment, not a father. The mahr is a gift from the groom to the bride, that the bride has the right to stipulate. Full stop.

Tips on Getting Started

Sometimes, this conversation comes up organically. A suitor might ask after you’ve been speaking for some time, “Have you thought about what you might ask for mahr?” Follow his lead from there. If you have an idea, mention it. He may agree, or negotiate. 

If the two of you are speaking within premarital counselling sessions, you may want to bring this up privately with your counsellor. They will know how to facilitate the conversation from there. Consult with local scholars, teachers, and family members for advice. We recommend keeping things as private as possible.

Feel free to use the following phrases as templates:

  • If less than what you were expecting: “I was hoping for a little more. Would you consider paying X amount? How about over time?”
  • If more than what you were expecting: “That’s generous, and I’m very humbled. However, I look forward to doing X and Y after our marriage, so I’d be comfortable if you lowered it to Z amount.”
  • If you’re happy with the offer: “I’m comfortable with that. What was your timeline?”
  • If there is no expectation: “What were you thinking?”
  • To those outside of the conversation: “He gave me an amount I was happy with.”

Like all blessings in life, responsibilities come with the package. Salah, for example, is an obligation, but it is also a gift. The mahr is a sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ and your right. Spend it wisely.

We pray that you are blessed with an easy mahr negotiation process and an easier marriage.


References

  1. Dr. Suleiman, Omar. “Aisha bint Abu Bakr (ra): The Early Years of Sacrifice | The Firsts.” Yaqeen Institute.
  2. Jangda, AbdulNasir. “The Sīrah Podcast: EP21 – The Prophet Marries Khadijah.” The Qalam Podcast.
  3. Welch, Yusuf. “Is It Permissible to Give a Cat as a Dowry (Mahr)?” SeekersGuidance.
  4. Qadhi, Yasir. “Can I Excuse My Husband From Paying Mahr – Shaykh Dr. Yasir Qadhi
  5. Weltch, Yusuf. “What Is the Minimum Stipulated Dowry (Mahr) in the Sacred Law?” SeekersGuidance.
  6. Younas, Salman. “What Would Be an Appropriate Amount to Ask for a Dowry?” SeekersGuidance.
  7. Popal, Omar. “When Should a Bride Receive the Mahr?” SeekersGuidance.
  8. Misra, Abdulla. “Some Rulings Related to the Dowry.” SeekersGuidance.
  9. Marriage with least burden, Mishkat al-Masabih 3097
  10. Hadith on Nikah: Best marriage and dowry are easiest, simplest.
  11. Qalam Hangout: Marriage.” Qalam Institute.
Hannah Alkadi

Hannah Alkadi

Hannah Alkadi is a Lawful Good Social Media Master, starving writer, cat mom, and total nerd. She is 29 years old and lives in Dallas, TX. Her current project is the revival of her blog, “Social Media Free Sabil Allah,” helping nonprofit and for-profit owners navigate the wild, wild web.