Fatma: Is a mahr mandatory in marriage?
Sayyid: A marriage would not be valid without stipulating a mahr. Some people assume that the mahr is a form of buying a bride; it is not. The mahr is a gift. Traditionally, it has been money, but it is not necessary that it be money. It could be anything from an extravagant gift, sending one’s wife for her hajj pilgrimage, or presenting one’s wife with a Qur’an.
Fatma: Traditionally it has been money; therefore, there were monetary reasons for the mahr. What is Islam’s position regarding the mahr?
Sayyid: A monetary mahr can be a form of financially securing a woman with provisions. In the past, and even in contemporary times, many women have struggled for financial security. A monetary mahr may become a means of providing financial security for a woman who may in the future require assistance in which to live. Also, it may establish an opportunity to market the money to gain economic strength.
Fatma: What happens in cases where the mahr amount had not been settled? Would the wife then be entitled to a mahr appropriate for her socio-economic status (mehr-i-mithl)?
Sayyid: The mahr would be considered equivalent to that of her peers. Presuming one daughter’s mahr was $10,000 then it would be expected that the other daughter’s mahr to be the same.
Fatma: What happens if a wife dies and the husband still has not paid the mahr in full? Would the husband be required to pay into the deceased wife’s estate in order for her living parents and children to inherit from her?
Sayyid: If the wife died, and the husband had yet to pay the full mahr, then he would have to pay his deceased wife’s estate.
Fatma: How would the wife ensure her mahr if the husband died and he had not paid the mahr in full?
Sayyid: If the mahr had not been paid in full then it would be considered as a loan or as a debt the husband owed his wife. The wife, at anytime throughout the time of her marriage, may request her husband to pay the mahr. If the husband died before paying the full amount of the mahr, then the wife’s mahr would be considered a debt. It would need to be paid off from his estate before anyone could claim inheritance from his will.
Fatma: Consider the scenario that a couple agreed on a mahr in the sum of $10,000. At the time of marriage, the husband gave his wife $3,000 with a promise to pay her the remaining $7,000 in the future. Would the remainder of the mahr in the future be paid according to the exact amount ($7,000), or would it depend on a variety of circumstances, such as the cost of living, the currency of the country, or the financial status of the husband at the time of payment?
Sayyid: The remaining balance of the mahr would be equivalent to the present value of what would have been considered equivalent had it been paid off at the past market value. In other words, if the value of $7,000 ten years ago is presently worth $14,000, then the husband would be required to pay the cost of the current market.
Husbands must understand that if the mahr is money, and if it has not been paid in full, then it is considered a loan that must be paid. It is a promissory note to pay the full amount, and husbands must take into consideration that if they delay paying the remainder of the mahr, then they run the risk of the mahr increasing to the current market value.
Islam does not force men to settle on an exorbitant sum for the mahr. Men should offer according to their capabilities. The mahr does not have to be money. It could be anything that has value, whether it be a sentimental
gift or Currency
Fatma: Therefore, the currency of the country or the financial status of the husband cannot be used in modifying the remaining balance of the mahr, correct?
Sayyid: If the husband were unable to pay the remaining mahr, then the general rule of debt would apply.
“If the debtor is in difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if you remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if you only knew.” (2:280)