Demystifying the Mahr in the Islamic Marriage Agreement upon consideration of marriage

                                                       Mahr who?
 Courts struggle with the mahr provision that is a part of all Islamic marriage contracts. To be valid, an Islamic marriage has to have a mahr provision. The mahr can be anything from a book to a diamond ring or a certain amount of money. It is something of value that the man gives to the woman in return to her agreeing to marry him. If there is no mahr specified in the marriage contract, there is no Islamic marriage.

                                                       Mischaracterizing Mahr
 The courts have been all over the place over this issue. The questions asked have been: Is it a pre-nuptial agreement, is it a dowry, is it bride price or dower rights? It is none of the above. It’s not a pre-nuptial agreement since it is not designed to deal with property rights in the event the marriage ends. It is not a dowry since it is not the money or property that the woman brings into the marriage. It’s not bride price since the money or item of value exchanged is not given to the family of the bride. It’s not dower because dower is each spouse’s interest in the property of the other.

                                            Mahr: Consideration for the Marriage

 The mahr is simply the consideration for the woman agreeing to marry the man. Under established American law since this is a situation where the promise to marry or the actual marriage is the consideration for some promise other than an exchange promise to marry, this agreement has to be in writing to be enforceable. This agreement falls under the marriage provision of the Statute of Frauds. It has to be in writing. The usage of the word mahr makes the situation sound exotic and foreign. But the essence of the matter is far from unique. The American statute of frauds covers such situations, an exchange of promise to marry with something other than a return promise to marry.

                                                  The Not-so-Exotic Mahr

 Therefore the idea of the mahr should not be seen so novel and alien. There is no reason if this is the reality of the mahr that an American court of law should hesitate to enforce the promise. There is no need to read Islamic law treatises to understand this issue. It is not a religious issue. It’s agreement upon consideration of marriage. And if it’s in writing and meets the requirements of a valid contract under state law, a court should not hesitate to enforce it.

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