Why Dowry is both Illegal and Haraam?

By: Md. Faiyaz Alam Qasmi

[The author is the Qazi of Darul Qaza in Mumbai City under All India Muslim Personal Law Board] 

Jahez or dowry that is given to the boy or his family in the form of cash and goods by the girl or her family on the occasion of their marriage is called dowry. This is actually a Hindu ritual, interjected in Muslim society in the name of gift, as gifts have been given to the children and other relatives on the occasion of happiness since immemorial times. But with the passage of time, the causes and factors became involved, making a preferred practice unpopular in the Shariah point of view. Of course, gift transactions take place in a spirit of love, compassion and sympathy; but when the gift goes beyond the Shariah limits, the seeds of hatred are sown instead of love and differences instead of unity and brotherhood. It leads to disputes and quarreling instead of mutual cooperation. On the contrary, sometimes marriage, which is an important worship and the Prophet of Islam (saws) had included it among his Sunna, seems to be broken or getting ceased by divorce or Khula, which is most disliked by Allah (swt) in terms of halal things. The dowry, unfortunately, has become a central part of our society in the name of gift, which has gradually become a nuisance, and engulfed the whole society like a plague. Because of this, inestimable girls are counting the days of their lives without getting married. There are so many young women whose hands are deprived of being hennaed.

As a result of this dowry, when the daughter steps on the threshold of puberty, some parents begin to lose peace and tranquility in life. Every now and then they remain worrying about their daughter’s upcoming marriage and how to manage dowry. It is quite possible that a daughter will be tortured or even divorced just because of dowry, are some of the thoughts that do not allow parents to sleep peacefully.

It is a fact that brides are dying, many women are forced to commit suicide for extra pressures from their in-laws because of dowry. The incidences of beating women, killing and burning them are just regular stories of our newspapers in India. According to a report in The Indian Express, 24,771, women deaths are recorded in India from 2012 to 2015 due to non-receipt or inadequate dowry from the girl’s side. According to National Crime Records Bureau – 2019 record that in India a woman is subject to cruelty by her husband or in laws every four minutes. Every 73 minutes, there is a dowry death – 23 bodies a day (The Hindustan Times). 3.5 lakh domestic violence cases are pending the in the courts.

Mrs. Manika Gandhi, the former Minister for Welfare of Women and Children, the Govt. of India, had accepted in the Lok Sabha that 25,000 women were killed due to dowry related issues in India, while replying to a question in 2016. In addition to this, because of this repulsive ritual of dowry, many people commit the heinous crime of female feticides. Consequently male – female birth ration is getting seriously disturbed in some states of India.

According to both the Divine Law of Islam – Shariah and the law of the land – Indian Constitution, it is haraam and illegal, respectively, to demand for dowry. In order to avoid the terrible effects of dowry, first anti-dowry law was enacted in Bihar province in 1950, and eight years later Andhra Pradesh did so in 1958, then other provinces took the initiative and enacted stricter laws against dowry demand. Dowry was declared illegal and a punishable offense by Parliament in 1961. Afterwards, several amendments were made in this act, the last amendment reveals that the family members cannot demand dowry from the girl or her family members in any way, whatsoever. If anyone does so, he or she can be sentenced to seven years or life imprisonment.

It should be noted that the difference between a gift and a dowry is that a gift is neither demanded nor expected. Gift is not connected to rituals and customs, nor is the gift brought under social pressure, on the contrary, dowry is demanded, or hoped for, and is given under social pressure while practicing on customs and traditions. 

Islam has also declared the demand for dowry is unlawful and haraam, some 14 centuries ago. Prophet Muhammad (saws) said:

“He who marries for honour does not get anything out of humiliation, and he who marries out of greed for wealth does not get out of poverty.”

[Al-Mojamul Ausat Lit-Tabrani: 2342]

In another Hadith, he said that ‘it is not permissible to eat or use another person's property without his consent, it is haram and unlawful’.

[Sunan Baihiqi: 16756]

Islamic Fiqh Academy of India which is the acknowledged academic organization of Indian scholars and deals with new issues has passed the following decision against dowry in its 13th National Seminar held on April 7-8, at Katoli, Malihabad, Uttar Paradesh which is as follows:

‘This meeting of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India expresses its deep concern over the fact that in our marriages today, buying and selling of boys has become a business venture, and they have been turned into a commodity; sometimes by boys, sometimes by their parents and relatives and some other times – the girls themselves become the buyers. There is not only the price charged, but there is lot of bargaining and speculations exist as to who will offer the highest price. Taking valuables from the girl or her family – whether it is in the name of Tilak, for dress or in the name of the usual dowry is unlawful in the sight of Shari’ah. The commandment of the Shari'ah is that Allah (swt) has made it obligatory for men to spend money in marriage and look after his wife and children.

This meeting of the Academy draws the attention of all Muslims in India to the practices and teachings of the prophet Muhammad (saws) which he had prescribed for them; and to keep their marriages as simple as possible. The Prophet of Islam (saws) had said:

“The most blessed marriage is the one which has the least expenses”

[Abu Dawud Tayalisi: 1530].

Muslims should perform nikah as per Sunnah – without coercion, without any demand and without extravagance.’