Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 July 2020

Marriage is much more than a fancy wedding day

Rym Ghazal explores the history of the Islamic dowry and examines current pressures on tradition
Masoud Al Ahbabi in the majlis of his villa in the Al Falaj area of Al Ain on May 10, 2016. Al Ahbabi has taken a stand against ever-lavish dowries, excepting coffee and dates for some of his daughters to ease the financial burden the grooms face when getting married. Christopher Pike / The National
Masoud Al Ahbabi in the majlis of his villa in the Al Falaj area of Al Ain on May 10, 2016. Al Ahbabi has taken a stand against ever-lavish dowries, excepting coffee and dates for some of his daughters to ease the financial burden the grooms face when getting married. Christopher Pike / The National

At a time when more women are finding it difficult to meet someone who wants to settle down, and the reasons for that are many – including the impact of apps such as Tinder, which give men the feeling they always have more options – we should make it easier on them.

Masoud Al Ahbabi is doing just that. As reported in The National, instead of demanding expensive gifts, large payments and lavish weddings, Mr Al Ahbabi’s dowry requirements for six of his daughters were simple: Arabic coffee and dates.

Rather than have his future sons-in-law stump up money for sumptuous banquets at expensive wedding halls, Mr Al Ahbabi insisted that his daughters’ weddings take place at his home.

“Focus on the important things, such as the character of the men and the future of your children,” he said.

This reminded me of a story we heard as kids at school in Jeddah. One of our teachers told us that one of Prophet Mohammed’s companions gave “the weight of a date stone in gold” as a dowry.

Another companion tried to find an iron ring. When he couldn’t, he promised to teach his future wife whatever he had memorised from the Quran.

I recall how romantic we all found that, and some friends have gone on to demand the simplest of things for their dowry: one asked that her future husband memorise the Quran for the sake of Allah and compose a love poem or two for her.

The payment of dowry – called mahr – is a requirement of the groom under Islamic law. It can be any amount decided on by the bride and her family and it is there for a woman’s protection and is one of her rights.

But in recent years some brides have made excessive demands. I have heard women argue that “I deserve it, and I am worth all that and more”.

Sometimes it becomes a kind of public valuation of the marriage, and so the bigger and more expensive the wedding, the more important the bride and groom.

But why put a monetary value on love? Sure everyone wants to be comfortable and to be settle down inside a house that is owned not rented, with new car, new furniture, new wardrobe, new everything.

Money is important but it is not everything.

A few decades ago, married women kept their most precious possessions inside their wooden dowry chest, known as mandoos. In other cultures it was known as a hope chest or trousseau chest. They would take this chest with them from their family home to their husbands’, and when I discussed it with women who are now in their seventies and eighties, some said it would hold “precious” things like a wooden comb.

“Life was tough, and so when my husband got me a pearl as a dowry, I felt I was the queen of the freej (neighbourhood)”, beamed one Emirati woman who has been a widow for 20 years and is in her seventies but remembers the first time she met her future husband in her family’s majlis.

“He was shy and averted his gaze, but had the most beautiful smile as he held this pearl,” she says. “I fell in love with him right then.”

Unfortunately, some people have become more “practical” these days and want a bit more guarantee before they say “I do”.

The high dowry demand is being quoted as one of the reasons some men would choose to marry someone outside their community or someone from a different country and culture. I am sure there is more to it than that, but if it is true, then compromises will have to be made on both sides, to reach a middle ground.

Whatever the case, one of the most important things we need to get past is that marriage is more than a wedding day. Unless both partners work at it, no amount of money can save their marriage.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @arabianmau

Updated: May 11, 2016 04:00 AM

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