In a landmark move, the federal government of Pakistan has finally outlawed the practice of demanding dowry from the bride’s family in Pakistan. The groom’s family can no longer demand dowry from the bride’s family.
— Rava.pk (@ravapk) October 12, 2020
The South Asian dowry tradition
The South Asian tradition of demanding dowry from a bride’s family places a lot of social and financial pressure on families with daughters. The groom’s family then places the dowry on display. A bride’s value is often associated with the material value of her dowry.
The dowry acquiring practice has even been deemed a reason behind female infanticide in the world’s largest populations, China and India. Families prefer not to raise girls as that means a loss of significant wealth as dowry. The impact of dowry in Pakistan is similar. Some parents commit suicide due to their inability to wed off their daughters. Similarly, women also follow the same path out of guilt to relive their family of the burden of paying a dowry.
In Pakistan, details of ‘gifts‘ and dowry given to a bride are even documented in the Nikkah-Nama (marriage certificate). This can determine if the bride loses her dowry if she is divorced. Additionally, this certificate also details whether the in-laws will pay for remittances and damages to the dowry if the bride takes her dowry with her in case of divorce.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has decided to ban the tradition of dowry. However, the new law does not entail a complete prohibition of dowry in the country. According to the new law, the allowed dowry will be just clothes, but only for the bride only. Gifts also include bed-sheets. In the case of divorce, the groom’s side has to return all the gifts and dowry to the girl.
Prior to Pakistan, both India and Bangladesh have already outlawed the practice of demanding and accepting dowry. However traditional factions of society still indulge in the practice in secrecy. Will outlawing dowry in Pakistan have a similar fate? Time can only tell.
Dowry in Islam
It would be interesting to note that Islam has no concept of giving or receiving Dowry, yet in several Muslim customs, this tradition seems to be increased – particularly in regions like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In actual fact, the custom of giving dowry has never been legitimated by Islam and is not widely spread in Muslims of other ethnicity. It appears to be the replication of previous Hindu customs in which daughters had no share in the property of the family but were given expenditures in the form of household goods and commodities. On the contrary, the daughter in Islam has a full right in their family property and inheritance.
Dowry is mostly given in the form of cash, goods or belongings by the bride’s family to the bride in order to catch the attention of her in-laws and her husband, and moreover, after marrying, would become the property of him or his family, which is not practiced in Islam and is against the injunctions of Islam. Islam disallows a woman to be traded in such a way, for it is highly offensive to demand money from the bride’s family.
Way before Islam, the concept of dowry was considered as the property of the girl’s custodian. The concept of presenting the bride gifts of cash or property or extravagant spending on wedding feasts, and/or presenting a house, or giving furniture to the groom’s house etc are neither required nor celebrated in Islam.
Uqbah ibn ‘Amir reported the Prophet (PBUH) as saying, “The best marriage is one that is easiest.” The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself had borne four daughters. When Hazrat Fatima got married to Hazrat Ali, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave her various modest gifts in the form of household items – such as a single bed sheet, a leather water bag and a pillow stuffed with grass and fiber – yet there is no evidence of giving gifts to any of his other daughters on the time of their marriages. If giving gifts was the original and mandatory practice of Islam, it is highly unlikely that the Prophet (PBUH) himself would have deprived his remaining daughters of these gifts.
Despite the Prophet’s efforts to elevate women to the point where they, like men, acquired legal and social rights, in South Asia the birth of a daughter remains something to mourn or, at best, to tolerate with perseverance. A change in this mindset is not only necessary, but integral for the community to advance socially. The new ban on dowry is only one step in the right direction.
The author is a sub-editor at Global Village Space and an LLB Hons graduate.