Tuesday, 21 of October of 2014

Avoiding the trophy wife trap

My EMEL column from July 2012

With wedding season upon us, we need to have a serious discussion about mahr, which is the gift given by the groom to the bride.

For those unfamiliar with mahr, it is a reversal of the traditional dowry that brides were obliged to bring to the groom. I’m gob smacked by some of the sums set by brides these days. For young people setting out in life, ten thousand, or even five thousand pounds can be crippling. If there was ever a way to set yourself up as a wife whose primary motivation is money, then asking for a big mahr is surely it.

In marriage, the Holy Prophet advises people to avoid wealth, beauty and status as criteria, instead prioritising piety. Money comes and goes, but a man of good character will always treat you well.

Let’s dispense with the usual protestations against a lower mahr. Most importantly, it is the choice of the bride. If she wants ten, fifty or a hundred thousand pounds, or something non-monetary, that is up to her. I can’t argue against the ‘bridal choice’ factor. But I’ll explain why I—and Islamic tradition—suggest a more modest mahr.

There is also the ‘protection after divorce’ argument. Families argue that the mahr will allow the bride to support herself if she is divorced. Even before addressing this point I say: why have you not equipped your daughter to be able to support herself if circumstances dictate? What if she is widowed, her husband made redundant, or misfortune befalls the family? Even if mahr is for post-divorce support, how far will ten thousand pounds stretch: a year? Then what?

A related argument is ‘insurance against divorce’: if the mahr is stipulated very high, and payable on divorce, then a husband will think twice about divorce. First this flies in the face of the Islamic recommendation that mahr should be paid in full on the wedding night. Second, if the mahr is so high that the husband will not divorce his wife because it’s expensive, that means he sees his wife as a financial transaction. Who wants to be in a marriage with a husband who is only in it to avoid handing over the money he owes? These arguments all boil down to one thing: a marriage predicated on money. That is what is commonly referred to as being a trophy wife.

The mahr is a sign of the husband’s affection, not a purchase price. It sets a tradition of kindness. And the way that the wife approaches the mahr also says something about the tone she wishes to set in the marriage. If we look at the tradition set by Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Holy Prophet, her mahr today would be worth around one hundred pounds. Yes! One hundred pounds.

If you wish to instil love and affection into your marriage, rather than base it on monetary worth, then indicate this to your husband-to-be through your generosity of spirit, and by considering his financial situation. By being considerate of his finances, it conveys that the wellbeing of your husband and your family is important to you. These qualities are crucial as you begin a new and challenging journey. Would you rather be the understanding, mutually supportive wife, or the money-focused trophy wife?

It’s also worth remembering that a large mahr doesn’t just magically appear out of nowhere: the husband must find the money, even from a loan. To ask for this is short sighted; it just means he will have less money and more strain after marriage. And why would you want your husband to go into debt to get married?

Some families feel that because other women receive large mahrs, then if their daughter doesn’t, she will be seen as of lower status. I would say this: do you judge a woman’s worth by her mahr? Is your daughter a financial transaction? Islam teaches us to look at people’s qualities. In fact, there are some traditions that say that the best mahr is the lowest one.

Please do not trade your daughter for a bank balance: give her to a man of quality and worth, who appreciates how to treat her well and respect her, who avoids going into debt, and will show her that he values her not by finances, but by her kindness, compassion and mutual understanding.


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