I think its pretty interesting that all my engaged friends.. have one thing on their minds. Rings. All my girls are concerned about style, cut, caret and clarity. I never thought a ring would be that big of a deal but I guess.. it is. Especially since in the American Ummah – the Ring is now the Mahr.
Mahr aka Groom’s gift to the Bride. Traditionally this functions as an insurance policy to take care of the wife should the husband die for any reason. Which of course.. the brides aren’t hoping for.. InshaAllah they are hoping for a long lasting marriage with their husband to be.
The Mahr can be also be something that isn’t tangible – like asking the groom to quit smoking or getting debt free. However Mahr has become socially within the Ummah a statement of both the wealth of the groom and a statement of the value of the bride -thus a point of pride for both individuals and their families. The trend of grossly extravagant Mahrs has historical precedent as among the Arabs to be stingy during the time of the Prophet was worst than being dead.
In one story I have heard recounted an Arab has a price put on his head. When the assassin came to kill him – the soon to be victim asked the assassin- how much did they pay you? I will pay double. The assassin told the victim is your life so paltry that you only offer double the price? The victim said then name the price and kill me. I’d rather die than be known as stingy and still be alive.
So just one small example of how deeply important begin generous is in the Arab culture. However its gotten out of hand on both sides of the Kitab.. men waiting till their 40 to get married because they feel an insane amount of pressure to pay the outrageous Mahrs or meet other social conventions.
Good example of this is in Egypt. The prospective bridegroom besides inshaAllah being a pious good brother needs to also provide the flat, house etc where the bride is going to live – paid for and decorated minus furniture and appliances before the wedding. If we were to apply this example to the Bay Area this means a man needs to have saved and then paid for a property in the range of $250 -1 million dollars. At the least saving $250 k is going to take like 5 – 10 years if the brother is earning like $70- 100 k – maybe sooner if he lives at home, eats only top ramen and clips coupons to really save some money. This of course doesn’t account for the desired education level that many women are looking for – as more the 50% of Muslim women have attained an bachelors degree in the United States – so add in like 5- 10 more years getting out of debt from the $16 – 40,000 a year he racked up hitting the books.
So basically to be financially ready a brother needs like 20 years after he graduates from college to even begin to market himself to a prospective wife. Which is no good!
And sisters.. we have room for improvement too. Some asking for more money because they think this represents their value to their husband and his family. Some asking an amount because to not out do someone else’s amount in the community would be a lowering of their social status. In asking for such large amounts $25,000, $100,000, $150,000 and up. Sisters we have bought into the idea we are commodities to be bought and sold. Indeed wasn’t this what Islam was revealed to liberate us from? Sisters let us also not ask for items that our family wants such as jet ski’s or new counter tops in the kitchen – this is not the purpose of Mahr.
So the American Muslim Ummah has moved towards a trend of incorporating the preexisting social symbol of marriage-the ring. A symbol of infinity- never ending number, never ending love and how god is also infinite.
The engagement ring and the wedding band have also become status and fashion symbols. A signal to the society at large not just of your marital status but your wealth and fashion status too. As Muslims we also have laws that we must follow regarding this – men can’t wear gold or silk as these are deemed feminine and thus for women only. Although they get to put kohl on and perfume their beards as is Sunnah.
So Muslim men have taken to wearing silver, stainless steel and platinum rings. Which some might argue is bida – innovation – but I am not touching that one with a ten foot pole. However Imam Webb said Islam was sent to distill and purify the existing culture of the Arabs. Why wouldn’t it be the same for the American Muslims? In the case of the engagement and wedding bands its one way a person could potentially limit excessive Mahrs. However as we know the sky is the limit with based on personal preferences.
So this also becomes an issue for a woman seeking divorce from her husband. More in the next post.