Legislating a limit to women’s dowries
Source: Al-Nass Wal-Ijtihad, Text and Interpretation
By: Allama Abdul Husayn Sharafuddin al-Musawi
The dowry of a woman must be from among what a Muslim man has possessed; such as material properties, religious things or some kinds of services. Deciding that belongs to the spouses themselves whether it is much or little on condition that it has not to be too little that it may have no value such as a grain of wheat for example. It is desirable that it has not to be more than the expense of a year which is about five hundred dirhams. 215
Once Umar decided to prohibit the excessiveness in women’s dowries in order to make marriages easy to keep the youths away from adultery and sins. One day he made a speech on this matter. He said through his speech: “If I am informed that a dowry of a woman exceeds the dowries of the wives of the Messenger of Allah, I will get that back from her.” A woman got up and said to him: “Allah has not left that to you to decide on it. Allah has said: “And if you wish to have (one) wife in place of another and you have given one of them a heap of gold, then take not from it anything; would you take it by slandering (her) and (doing her) manifest wrong. And how can you take it when one of you has already gone in to the other and they have made with you a firm covenant” (Qur’an 4:20-21).
He changed his mind and gave up his decision saying: “Do you not wonder at an imam, who has mistaken, and at a woman, who has been right? She vied with your imam and defeated him.’ 216
In another tradition Umar said: “Every one is more aware than Umar. You hear me saying like this and you do not deny that of me until a woman, who is not more aware than your women, refute me.” 217
In another tradition it has been said: “A woman got up and said: “O Ibn al-Khattab, Allah gives us and you deprive us of (our rights)” and she recited the mentioned above verse. Umar said: “All the people are more aware than Umar.” Then he gave up his decision.” 218
The defenders of Umar justified this event as evidence on his fairness and confession! And how many such cases he had with men and women showing his fairness and confession whenever he admired a saying or a doing!
As it has happened to him with the Prophet (S) when he had been asked about some things he disliked. Al-Bukhari mentioned that Abu Musa al-Ash’ary had said: “One day the Prophet (S) had been asked about some things he disliked for they did not concern reasonable people nor were they among the matters that the prophets had been sent to explain. When his companions asked him many such questions, he became angry for they insisted on silly things which had no use to them.
Then he said to them: “Ask me” as if he found that they became ashamed or shy because they made him angry and so he wanted to ease them and to show them his mercifulness by saying to them “Ask me”. Abdullah bin Huthafa asked him: “O Messenger of Allah, who is my father?” The Prophet (S) replied: “Your father is Huthafa.” Another one, who was Sa’d bin Salim, asked him: “O Messenger of Allah, who is my father?” The Prophet (S) said: “Your father is Salim the mawla of Abu Shayba.” They asked the Prophet (S) such questions because people had suspected their lineage. When Umar saw that the Prophet (S) was very angry, he said: “O Messenger of Allah, we repent of whatever makes you angry.”
Umar became pleased when the Prophet (S) approved that Abdullah was the son of Huthafa and Sa’d was the son of Salim as their mothers had claimed.
Al-Bukhari also mentioned in his Sahih that Abdullah bin Huthafa had asked the Prophet (S) who his father was and the Prophet (S) had said to him that his father was Huthafa.
Muslim mentioned in his Sahih: “Abdullah bin Huthafa was ascribed to other than his real father. When his mother heard about his question to the Prophet (S) about his real father, she said to him: “I have never seen a son more undutiful than you! Have you believed that your mother has committed what the women of the pre-Islamic age had been used to commit so that you expose her before people?”
When Umar heard the answer of the Prophet (S) to Abdullah, he knelt down before the Prophet (S) and said admiring the answer of the Prophet (S) that approved the claim of Abdullah’s mother: “We have been satisfied with Allah as god, Islam as a religion and Muhammad as a prophet.” 219 Umar said that joyfully because the Prophet (S) had covered many mothers, who had committed adultery in the pre-Islamic time; nevertheless believing in Islam cancelled (forgave) the sins committed before.
215. According to the value of that time.
216. Sharh Nahjul Balagha, vol. 3 p.96 and mentioned by other historians and scholars of Hadith.
217. Az-Zamakhshari in his Kashshaf when interpreting the mentioned verse.
218. At-Tafseer al-Kabeer by ar-Razi, vol.3 p.175. Ar-Razi had a stumble in his speech when talking about this verse. He said: “I think that the verse has no evidence showing that exceeding in dowries is permissible…to the last of his crooked speech, in which he wanted to refute the woman in order to defend Umar but he complicated the situation unknowingly. Refer to Tareekh Umar bin al-Khattab by Abul Faraj al-Jawzy, p.150. it has a tradition narrated by Abdullah bin Mus’ab and another one narrated by Ibn al-Ajda’ showing the speech of Umar, in which he has decided to prohibit the exceeding dowries and the refutation of the woman which has led Umar to give up his decision after confessing that the woman was right.
219. Al-Bukhari's Sahih, vol. 1 p.19.