What does dowry mean? Jahez or Mehr….

Written and Narrated by: Rabia Nazir

The literal meaning of dowry stands as ‘gift or present’. In a south-Asian society, dowry is referred to as a collection of household items, jewellery, and cash given as gift to the bride by her family at the time of marriage. Happily or unhappily, changing its form from time to time, dowry is in practice in almost all social strata of Pakistan commonly known as ‘Jahez’. Jahez has been adopted from pre-partition times in subcontinent when Muslims and Hindu used to live together in an integrated society. In Hinduism, the custom of dowry emerged due to the lack of inheritance rights of women. Hence dowry at the time of marriage could be thought of financial security to the bride while preventing the division of family assets. As I have discussed the inheritance right for women in Islam in my previous article, it clearly makes no sense of jahez in the name of ‘dowry’ according to Islamic teachings.

Quran has frequently used the word of ‘dower’ while laying out the matters on family life. Let’s see what does it mean? Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And give the women their dowries with a good heart…” [4:4]

“…All others have been made lawful for you provided you seek (them in marriage) with your property…” [4:24]

These verses from Quran refer to ‘mehr’ as ‘dowry’ given to the bride from the groom. Mehr solely belongs to her and at her disposal. It does not belong to her guardians, husband and anyone else unless she willingly foregoes it. I have come across a misconception from people who interpret ‘dowry’ as ‘jahez’. They refer to the event of marriage of Hazrat Fatima (R.A), the beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) when she was given basic household items including cooking utensils and mattresses etc. A little deeper study about the household of Prophet (P.B.U.H) makes it clear that the modest dowry of Hazrat Fatima (R.A) was purchased with the money that Hazrat Ali (R.A) offered as ‘mehr’ by selling his only sword to Hazrat Usman (R.A). It surely did not cost anything to Prophet Mohammad (P.B.BU.H).

The craze of ‘Instagram weddings’ is increasing as ever with enormous amount of money wasted on designer dresses, venues, photography and so on! The average cost of a reasonably ‘OK’ wedding in Pakistan may range anywhere 1,500,000 – 3,000,000 PKR. The most loving and caring parents on earth perceive the weddings of their children as one of the most financially challenging events in their lives. For a working couple, sometimes the cost of wedding exceeds their own annual income and even the average per capita income of our developing homeland. I have been curious to understand the reason behind this craze, so I decided to have an informal discussion around my acquaintances. Surprisingly, hardly any man supported the highly budgeted week-long series of celebrations whereas much to my disappointment these are the ladies who are pushing the boundaries. Almost every girl dreams of a fancy wedding from very early age but it has not been of any benefit in future. This has now slowly been turned into unspoken expectations and shameless demands from both sides of families which often lead to distance and frustration in the life of newly wedded couple afterwards.

I am sorry to say that we women themselves are playing a vital role in their own exploitation. We are to remind ourselves that our religion has granted enormous dignity to the woman who should not be traded-off like an object in the exchange of valuables. I am sure that we all love to be desired and respected in our relationships. Let me please include myself too to say that our worth cannot be calculated by the number of ‘thumbs-up’ for how exclusive was the ceremony. Please support your fathers, brothers, and life partners to say ‘NO’ to big-fat desi weddings. I wish everyone of you realise your real worth!!!

 

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