Perspectives on women's Issues (2)
DOWRY AND FINANCIAL SECURITY IN ISLAM
Tehran Times International Weekly
October 27, 1994. page 13
DOWRY AND FINANCIAL SECURITY IN ISLAM
By: Dr. Zuhair Araji
Do women need financial security in their lives? If women are capable to work and receive wages for their work, why do they need financial security from their husbands or fathers?
This is not an easy question therefore there is not an easy answer. If we view society as a whole, we will observe that men and woman have different social roles; however both may have equal opportunities but they cannot have identical responsibilities. In other words, exchanging social roles between men and women does not stimulate productivity of society; in fact, it places more confusion on the social system. While it is not argued that women have different roles in life than men, realistically we cannot expect all women to perform the same jobs as men just as we cannot expect all men to be engineers for example. The idea of having competitive social roles between individuals, regardless of gender, is essential in the normal functioning of society.
The issue of gender can be viewed in the area of productivity or creativity. We have been created differently. Our diversity in opinion, physical appearance, ability to be creative, and areas of expertise is part of the natural order of life and creation. As a result, our roles in life can produce different social rewards. The home for example is an environment for the purpose of sheltering, nurturing, expressing love and warmth, and giving emotional support. While motherhood results in a type of inner satisfaction and social accomplishment, it does not generate money. The division of family roles between father and mother is a necessity to perfect the function of the family. While one partner earns the means for living the other transforms this livelihood into happiness and joy.
This brings us to the question of financial security for women. Most contemporary social theories, such as the functional and conflict theories, have ignored the role of finance in family affairs, while at the same time this issue is so important that no feminist movement can ignore it today. Mistakenly, these movements consider finance from the perspective of wages and social rewards rather than a natural right that can be received through marriage .
The Divine message of Islam has secured the civil rights of women during marriage. The dowry is part of a civil agreement women receive after consummation of the marriage. The wide spectrum of civil rights for women during marriage includes financial rights such as nafaqa (obligatory financial security for women), the rights of motherhood, and the rights of heritage.
Although the dowry is not considered a condition for the validity of the marriage contract, it is an obligation on the husband that can be paid in the following three ways:
First, the dowry which is specified in the contract such as silver, gold, property, or money should be given to the bride immediately. It may be as simple as a silver ring.
Second, permission granted by the wife to her husband that he give a dowry of his choice; whatever he offers must be accepted.
Third, if out of negligence the dowry was not mentioned in the contract, it should be applied according to contemporary dowries at the time
It is strictly unacceptable in Islamic law that the dowry be used by someone other than the wife, whether it is her father, uncle, or brother.
The dowry can be paid immediately after consummation, or it can be postponed for a certain period of time such as in the case of the husband’s death, or divorce. This confirms that the dowry is essentially legislated as financial security for the wife when or if such circumstances occur. In Western social theories, the dowry is generally not discussed; in fact the wife is often compelled to work outside the home to supplement the family income. Employment for women brings us to our main question. If women are able to work why do they need financial security?
In natural law, women have biological characteristics that are designed for pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood which do to not exist in men. It is a life cycle they were born with. These natural characteristics hinder women from employment at some point in their lives. As a result a working woman’s financial rewards are less than men. There are exceptions to this rule for some women choose not to have children.
These biological responsibilities that women proudly bear during their lives make them liable for financial security. This should not give us the impression that all women should stay at home. There are older women for example who no longer have the responsibility towards child rearing, there are women who are childless, and there are women who out of necessity must be employed. The contributions of these women to society within Islamic laws in the fields of social services, medical institutions, or education, are an asset for the growth of the social system which should be planned and encouraged. Religious legal prohibition for these useful contributions to society doesn’t exist. However, jobs that degrade women such as truck driving, auto-mechanics, or working at construction sites are undignified and insulting. While these areas are not confined to men, nonetheless they are demeaning for women and violate the very essential biological characteristics of our human nature.
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