Prenups usually rear their head in modern American culture when a wealthy man wants to make sure his wife-to-be doesn’t run off with his fortune, and are generally viewed as an unromantic sign that modern couples don’t take marriage as seriously as their parents did.
But prenuptial agreements aren’t a new invention for a less committed generation; they’re thousands of years old – and enshrined in Islamic law
Marriage in Islam not a sacrament. It’s a covenant, an agreement – one that can be revoked. The Qur’an says that Allah granted Muslims spouses so that they might find tranquility with them, and has placed “love and mercy” between them. But the Qur’an also recognizes that those relationships sometimes break down, irreparably, and that when they do, women are the ones who are the most vulnerable.
That’s why the nikah, or Islamic marriage contract, was such revolutionary and powerful tool for Muslim women – and remains one today, if we would just take advantage of it.
The nikah, which both the husband and wife must consent to and sign in the presence of two witnesses, is the agreement that will govern their relationship. Anything that the couple agrees to can go into the nikah, as long as it isn’t forbidden by Islam, and this is the chance for a prospective Muslim bride to gather all the assurance she can that her husband intends to respect her and their marriage.
The conditions can range from what the wife is owed in the case of a divorce, to where the couple will live, and even custody of any children they may have. The marriage contract also dictates the mahr, or marriage gift, which the Qur’an says a Muslim groom is obligated to give his bride in order to marry her. Not to be confused with a dowry – a payment by the bride’s family in exchange for marriage, which does not exist in Islam – it is any gift of the bride’s choosing, monetary or otherwise, that she can use to test her intended’s devotion or ensure her future in the case that he proves lacking.
Some brides ask for an amount of money or gold, and since the mahr is the sole property of the bride even in the case of divorce, this can serve as insurance against desertion. But the mahr can also be non-monetary – she may ask her husband to teach her a skill or trade that he has, or to memorize a certain part of the Qur’an for her.
The conditions of the nikah and the mahr aren’t something that should be decided by your country’s custom or your husband’s family, but should be made by the bride after thinking carefully about her specific needs.
Too many Muslim women have found themselves duped by men who fill their ears with promises before marriage, which evaporate into the air afterward, knowing that cultural stigma surrounding divorcees will prevent his wife from leaving him.
Which makes it incredibly disturbing to learn that many – if not most – Muslim women don’t place conditions in their wedding contracts at all. Some don’t even read them.
The conditions of the nikah and the mahr aren’t something that should be decided by your country’s custom or your husband’s family, but should be made by the bride after thinking carefully about her specific needs. tweet
In some cultures, it’s even considered rude for the bride to ask to see her contract.
The nikah should be an active process where the woman seriously informs her future husband about what she expects from her marriage. Cultural stigma, shyness, or even love shouldn’t stop any woman from demanding a marriage contract that protects her.
He promises that he won’t take a second wife? Put it in the contract. He swears that he won’t move your family outside of the country? Ask him to put his money where his mouth is. He says he’ll fund your education and supports your plan to work after you have children? Then write it down and sign on the dotted line.
If the man a woman is planning to marry is hesitant to solemnize the promises he’s been making her in a contract, it’s likely he wasn’t planning to keep them anyway.
May Allah ensure all Muslim women have strong prenups that they never need – but protect them if they do.