Jihaz (dowry) or trousseau is the amount of clothes, household linen, furniture and other belongings contributed by the bride and/or her family to the marriage. It has to be distinguished from the mahr, which is an agreement between the wali (guardian) of the bride and her future husband by which the groom pays certain sum of money or its equivalent to the bride at the signing of the marriage agreement. The mahr is an obligation on the groom, stipulated by the Quran, to be given to the future wife, while the jihaz is not an obligation on the part of the bride or her family. (For more information on the mahr agreement, see our article on http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com.
The Jihaz is not nafaqa (support) either, because nafaqa is the material support given by the husband to his wife as soon as the marriage is consummated. The nafaqa covers clothing, food and shelter for the wife. (For more on the nafaqa, see our article on http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com
In the Middle East, as elsewhere, the brides are often given house furnishings and clothing by their parents or family members when embarking on marriage. There is no obligation in the Islamic Shari’a to fulfill the jihaz, however, in most cases, brides bring such jihaz to their houses once they are married.
Consequently, the groom cannot force his future wife to bring the jihaz as part of the household, and if her family is asked to contribute such jihaz, they may decline the demand.
Once the jihaz is given to the bride, it becomes her own property. Her family cannot claim it as part of their estate unless the jihaz was given as a loan agreement. Under such circumstances, they may demand the return of the jihaz.
The groom cannot have claim on the jihaz, unless it was purchased by the bride or her family, with monies given by the groom as part of the mahr agreement, where the jihaz becomes a mahr and therefore belongs to the groom.
The bride’s father may have a legal agreement with his daughter stating that certain pieces of the jihaz she took with her upon marriage were in fact a loan, and therefore revert to her family upon death. Otherwise the jihaz is considered a private property of the bride and becomes part of her estate.
The jihaz contributed by the bride and /or her family endorses the idea that she enters into marriage as an empowered individual. The marriage arrangements in the Middle East involving jihaz, predate the rise of Islam.
There is no provision in Islamic Shari’a that forbids the exercise of women’s right to contribute jihaz to their marriages. In fact, under Islamic law, married women have legal rights to share in family estate. They may own properties, or be named as beneficiaries of religious waqf (endowment) assets.
Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background, professor of Middle East Constitutional Law, Islamic Shari’a, Arabic and Aramaic. Expert Consultant in matters related to recognition and enforcement of Islamic divorce, child custody, banking and finance in US courts. Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association; Associate Member of the New York State Bar and the American Bar Associations. Editor of http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com
Author of the Aramaic Language of the Qur’an http://www.syriacaramaicquran.com
Author of an upcoming book on Islamic Divorce in US Courts.
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