Dowry; a Custom or a Crime?

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Dowry is a multi-faceted, deep-rooted gender issue with social, economic and health consequences. This social evil has brought fatal effects to the lives of ordinary women of our society. This social crime has recently made footings in some countries, which were traditionally free of this evil like Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but our focus here remains Pakistan. The paper concentrates on the religious, social and economic structures of the Pakistani society to explain the age-old tradition of extortion of dowry that has taken a brutal form today. This immoral custom has adversely affected our women, individually, and our society as a whole. Gender discrimination and marginalization of women are identified here, to be the root-cause of dowry. This research paper aims to stimulate a thinking process by sensitization and creating awareness against the institutional practice of dowry and dowry violence against women in Pakistan.

What is Dowry?
Like all other societies, cultural institutions, beliefs, norms and practices also govern Pakistani society. The contemporary culture in spite of undergoing transition, mirrors images of centuries-old civilizations and indigenous cultures. One such cultural heritage, which has been adopted as an institution, is dowry or jahez. What is dowry? "A gift; endowment", "The money, goods, or estate, which a woman brings to her husband in marriage; a bride's portion on her marriage." (Webster's 1913 Dictionary). A dowry is an archaic marriage custom where the bride or her family is required to give a gift of money or valuable goods to the groom or his family. In some areas where this was practiced, the size of the necessary dowry was directly proportional to the groom's social standing, thus making it virtually impossible for lower class women to marry into upper class families. In some cases where a woman's family was too poor to afford any dowry whatsoever, she either simply was forbidden from ever marrying, or at most became a concubine to a richer man who could afford to support a large household.(Encyclopedia)

Dowry and Islam:
A lot of research has been done on the basic question i.e. ‘Is dowry Islamic in origin?' It is very strange indeed that in practice the dowry is paid by the bride or her family to the groom or his family. This is contrary to the Islamic principle, which makes it obligatory on the groom to give dowry/ mahr/ Hejiziah as a bridal gift to the bride, which can be of monetary or property value, and becomes her exclusive property. Dowry is a form of culturally sanctioned and socially acceptable violence against women and has nothing to do with Islam. All major Islamic jurisprudences agree that Mahr/ Bridal gift is solely the women's property, thus neither the groom nor the bride's family can have any share in or control over it. The bride can retain her marriage "Gifts" even if she is later divorced "You shall give the women their due dowries, equitably. If they willingly forfeit anything, then you may accept it; it is rightfully yours." (4:4) (Quran). "O' believers, the best woman is the one whose Mahr is the easiest to pay…the wealthy according to his means, and the straitened in circumstances according to his means. The gift of a reasonable amount is necessary from those who wish to act in the right way." (2:236) (Quran) It becomes evident by the teaching of Quran and the Prophet that dowry is a pre-requisite for a marriage, and is to be paid by husband to his wife, and should be equitable. What is an equitable dowry is what one has to assess for himself. It depends on case to case. The rich as he can afford and the poor as he can. The husband and wife can mutually make any adjustment to the dowry. So, the current inhuman and shameful Dowry/"Bride-price" has never been sanctioned by Islam and rather Islam has ordered exactly the opposite of what is being currently practiced. We must be careful not to confuse inhumane and illegal practice of dowry with the...
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