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A non-Muslim wife's right to a dowry

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Islam makes it incumbent for the man to give a dowry to the woman he wishes to marry. This is an Islamic obligation upon him.

My question concerns cases where a Muslim man marries a Jewish or Christian woman who does not recognize it a religious duty upon the husband to pay the wife a dowry and does not expect to receive one. Does a Jewish or Christian woman still have the right to a dowry that a Muslim woman has when she marries a Muslim man? Is it the religious obligation of the Muslim man to pay her the same dowry that a Muslim woman in her place would receive? In this case, must he make sure to explain to her the right she has to receive a dowry so that the value of the dowry can be properly set? What if she does not insist upon a dowry after that?

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Dowry is a condition imposed upon the marriage itself. It is a symbol of the husband’s respect for the woman he wishes to marry. It also is a sign of the weight and dignity of the institution of marriage. These factors are present, regardless of the bride’s religious profession. She is worth of the same respect and honor as a wife.

Indeed, Islamic legal scholars assert that the wife – regardless of her religion – has the right to forbid her husband to have sexual relations with her until he pays her the dowry that is her right, though the marriage contract is valid before he pays her the dowry and the husband and wife may have sexual relations together if they both wish to after the marriage but before he pays her the dowry.

It is better for the amount of the dowry to be stated in the marriage contract. However, it is not necessary to specify the amount of the dowry in the marriage contract – or even mention the dowry at all – for the contract to be valid. However, once the marriage is consummated, the woman has the right to receive a dowry of the value that a woman of her social status can generally expect to receive. It does not matter whether the woman in question is a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.

The husband may not spend, reclaim, or confiscate anything of the dowry that he pays to his wife. It is the wife’s exclusive property. Only if she freely and willingly gives him something of the dowry as a gift may he use it. Any gift she gives him must freely given without any pressure or coercion being bought to bear upon her.

The wife – Muslim or otherwise – may choose to waive a portion of the dowry owed to her. This is permissible as long as the woman does so of her free choice without being coerced or prompted to do so in any way.

Allah says: “And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, then take it and enjoy it with right good cheer. “ [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 4]

This shows that the dowry is a religious obligation imposed by Islam on the husband, regardless of whether the woman he is marrying is a Muslim, Jew, or Christian. The woman, regardless of her religion, may choose to waive her dowry or a portion of it. However, if she is a Jewish or Christian woman who is unaware of the teachings of Islam regarding her right to receive a dowry upon marriage with a Muslim man, then she needs to be fully informed of what that right entails, so she can make an informed decision on the matter.

And Allah knows best.

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