In Islam, marriage is a mutual contract that is signed with the consent of both parties involved. Mehr is something that is given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage, either during or after the completion of the marriage. It is obligatory according to the Quran and Sunnah.
The Mehr can be any kind of money, property, or service (including memorizing the Qur’an). This implies that it needs to be simplified for the groom according to his condition. Once the marriage has been consummated, Mehr belongs solely to the wife.
Extravagance, exaggeration, and excessiveness in demanding large Mehr are undoubtedly detestable or even prohibited. But these days the concept of Mehr has been replaced with that of dowry because of the synonymous usage of the words.
Dowry is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband or his family in marriage and this practice has a long history in Europe, South Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. In Indian society, this practice has been responsible for a majority of estranged marriages, violation of rights, and in some cases resulting in the bride’s death. Despite the Dowry Prohibition Act of May 1, 1961, Dowry is still widely practiced in India today.
It is a “demanded gift” by the groom’s family with the compliance of the bride’s family who gives it in an effort to ensure that their daughter is taken care of in her new home. This abolished custom is only leeway to extracting more dowries after marriage, resulting in mental and physical harassment and even suicide or murder of the bride. Dowry has become a burden on not only the bride but also her parents who often go out of their way to arrange for it.
Like with the absorption of other rituals and customs of Indian marriages, dowry is given and taken by Muslims. Indian Muslims, unfortunately, have been following this practice instead of giving Mehr.
The benefit of marriage will protect both the husband and wife from committing any ‘haram’ deed. But since the practice of dowry, marriages are being prevented by guardians because of their inability to pay such huge dowries that are demanded. So even if one wants to get married, he cannot afford to, this really defeats the entire purpose of marriage.
The Prophet said: “The best of marriage is that which is made easiest.”
Cultures that demand dowry from the bride's family are actually practicing the opposite of what Allah has commanded. When the woman brings less than the negotiated amount, she has to endure constant torture from her in-laws after marriage. When the husband or in-laws are not satisfied with the dowry brought by the bride, they even go to the extent of killing the woman after marriage.
The most severe of all the dowry abuse is "bride burning". The parties engaged in the murder usually report the case as an accident or suicide. It is a sad irony that women (mostly mothers-in-law) are oppressive towards other women (daughters-in-law). Mostly, mothers-in-law-to-be are the ones who demand dowry from the bride's family and who end up torturing the daughter-in-law after marriage if she brings less than the negotiated amount.
Dowry is purely a matter of culture. One should not feel obliged to continue these unIslamic traditions. If a culture contains unIslamic aspects, then one should not feel any shame to break the culture's traditional practices. Raising one voice may be enjoined by many voices and thus together we can terminate these so-called illegitimate cultures.