Salaam alaykum wa rahmutullahi wa barakatuh, dear sister.
Firstly, let me express to you my sadness and anger when I read this question.
I am so sorry you have had to go through this situation, wrestling in your mind over something so serious.
I, myself, became quite distressed while doing my research for this article, as I saw example after example of men–yes, even respected sheikhs–justifying treating their wives as property.
To answer your question with utmost simplicity and clarity: no, you are not your husband’s property. No, paying the mahr did not make him your owner, authu billah (I seek refuge in Allah).
This concept violates the very basis of marriage in Islam. It is, however, a disturbingly common concept among some modern scholars and laypeople alike.
Egotistical men enjoy the idea that they can own and control a woman as though she belongs to him, and they use the idea of mahr to justify it.
Yes, a marriage (i.e.: the consummation of a marriage) does become legal in Islam upon payment of the mahr.
But, like Islamophobes—who like to skim off the surface of the Quran’s words to justify their bigoted ideas—these men twist the true purpose of mahr and indeed the nature of marriage, itself, in Islam.
Mahr Before Islam
In the first part of verse 19 of Surat an-Nisa, Allah said:
O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will… (Quran 4:19)
In the time of jahiliya (the time “of ignorance” just before Islam was revealed), it was a common practice for women to be treated as property.
During this time of ignorance, the mahr was paid to the bride’s family – not to the bride – and when a man died, he could bequeath his wives and his female slaves to others.
Allah forbade this practice, and indeed forbade treating women as property at all.
Property Is Bought and Sold
“Property” is something that can be inherited, and it signifies that something can be bought and sold.
Can a man sell his wife? Can he give her away to another man in exchange for money? Even the most ignorant Muslim would not argue that point.
As if this wasn’t clear enough, Allah has spelled out even more plainly in the Quran that mahr is not a price paid for ownership of a woman.
He said in Surat al-Baqarah:
And if you divorce them before you have touched (had a sexual relation with) them, and you have appointed unto them the mahr (bridal money given by the husbands to his wife at the time of marriage), then pay half of that (mahr), unless they (the women) agree to forego it, or he (the husband), in whose hands is the marriage tie, agrees to forego and give her full appointed mahr… to forego and give (her the full mahr) is nearer to At-Taqwa (piety, righteousness, etc.). And do not forget liberality between yourselves. Truly, Allah is All-Seer of what you do. (Quran 2:236-238)
Restated, once the mahr is agreed upon, the woman has a right to half of it, even before the marriage is consummated.
Furthermore, it is more righteous for the groom to give her the full mahr before consummation, though it is not required.
If mahr were nothing more than a price paid in order to own a wife, then she would not be entitled to any of it at all before consummation.
The True Purpose of Mahr: Security
People who try to manipulate the concepts of mahr and marriage to suit their egos do Islam a grave insult.
Mahr is not, nor has it ever been, a price of ownership.
Mahr can be a source of financial security to the wife when it is a gift of money or of high value. But it is also a symbol of commitment.
An Example from the Sunnah
When Ali ibn Abi Taalib (may Allah be pleased with him) asked to marry the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, he had no mahr to give.
However, the Prophet reminded him that he did have a shield which could be sold. If mahr were nothing more than a price to pay, then Ali could have presented her with his shield, which she could have sold herself.
Rather, he did the work himself, showing that he was willing to part with something of value to him and make some sacrifices in order to marry Fatima.
Marriage As It Was Intended
Regarding the true intention of marriage, Allah said,
And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. (Quran 30:21)
[Your wives] are a garment for you and you are a garment for them… (Quran 2:187)
Marriage is described as being a relationship of love and compassion, and of mutual respect and protection. Nowhere in the Quran does Allah hint at marriage being a relationship of owner and owned.
There are many stories of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, being loving and affectionate with his wives. He is never restrictive of them and he never treats them as property.
It is important to remember that although Muslims sometimes say something is “Islam”, anything that does not come from Allah and His messengers is not truly Islam.
Allah’s Word is clear. The example of the Prophet (saw) and his companions is clear.
Do not let the hateful voices of the ignorant drown out the beauty of the Quran and the example of our Prophet, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
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