“I’m just on a green card. I have no rights.”
A woman laments her fate to two unsuspecting Arabic store employees. The customers wanted the imam-boast of a white American woman’s journey to Islam. A few alhamdullillahs and mashaAllahs to celebrate the tale. Instead, an uncomfortable silence permeated the room, leaving the two men in the awkward position of finding light in such a statement.
This sister had married a man from overseas. The brother came highly recommended by all she encountered in the community. However, a significant aspect of her now-husband’s life was left out — he had no papers. The marriage was tumultuous at best, built upon a lie only revealed to her after the courthouse and the celebrations. Not a word from the Imam who completed her Islamic marriage contract in a foreign language, and a disappointing silence from a community she was told were her sisters and brothers.
Immediately preceding her shahadah, the single convert is encouraged to marry with the incorrect notion that having a man will make the transition easier and will ensure she remains on the straight path.
Too often, female converts are led to believe that marriage will complete their deen. Immediately preceding her shahadah, the single convert is encouraged to marry with the incorrect notion that having a man will make the transition easier and will ensure she remains on the straight path. Without a wali and proper Islamic knowledge about her rights before the marriage takes place, I’ve encountered many women who settled for brothers who did not have the best intentions, and who refuse her basic rights (e.g. mahr/dowry, financial support).
As a convert of seven years, the stories of women who are made to support their families financially while the husband continues to live his single life are more than I’d like to admit. Although these issues impact women born into Muslim families, the lack of advocacy for convert sisters in our communities is noteworthy.
When our sisters reach out to masjid leaders and other women in the community, they are met with prayers for sabr. An inadequate response to a legitimate issue that demands action and accountability of our brothers.
It’s time to open the conversation without waiting for permission and validation from community members who have long promoted a culture of silence and unnecessary anguish. It’s time to raise our sisters’ voices and to empower one another with proper Islamic knowledge.
In terms of financial matters, sisters, go to the sources. The Qur’an and hadith are accessible guides for managing our affairs. A brother not wishing to discuss the virtues of these texts should become a memory, not a marriage partner.
Let’s Talk Mahr
First, let’s explore mahr, or dowry.
It was reported in al-Saheeh (no. 1425) narrated from Sahl ibn Sa’d al-Saa’idi, who said:
“[…] A man from among the Sahaabah said, ‘O Messenger of Allaah, if you are not interested in her, then marry her to me.’ He said, ‘Do you have anything?’ He said, ‘No, by Allaah, O Messenger of Allaah.’ He said, ‘Go to your people and see if you can find anything.’ So the man went, then he came back and said, ‘No, by Allaah, I could not find anything.’ The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, ‘Look and see (if you can find anything), even if it is only an iron ring which you can give.’ So he went, then came back, and said, ‘No, by Allaah, O Messenger of Allaah, not even an iron ring. But (I have) this izaar (garment) of mine, she can have half of it.’ The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘What can she do with your izaar? If you are wearing it she will have nothing of it.’ The man sat down, then after a long time had passed, he got up (to leave). The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) saw him leaving and called him. When he came, he said, ‘What do you know of the Qur’aan?’ He said, ‘Soorah Such-and-such and Soorah Such-and-such.’ He said, ‘Do you know them by heart?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Then go, you are married to her by what you know of the Qur’aan.’”
Although a mahr is a required component to an Islamic marital agreement, it’s not necessarily a monetary value. It’s important to bear this in mind and to be reasonable with your expectations. At the same time, the mahr must be acceptable to you, and you have a say in what it is. I’ve encountered sisters without a wali whose marital contracts were completed in a foreign language. When they consented, the sisters did not understand that they were forgoing their mahr. With or without a wali, be your own advocate. If a brother can’t handle the conversation, then this is a red flag.
Financial Rights by Gender?
Secondly, the Qur’an and hadith clearly explain the financial rights of men and women after marriage.
“Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them)” (Ahmed Ali, Al-Qur’an: A Contemporary Translation, Princeton University Press, 1988: 78).
“Let the man of means spend according to his means: and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him.”(Soorat At-Talaaq, 65:7).
The Prophet ﷺ said, “A man who neglects those who are under his care would surely be committing a sin.” (Sunan Abu Daawood: 1692).
As always, sisters, it’s important to hold reasonable expectations of your spouse. However, you do have the right to maintenance within his means. The responsibility for accommodations, food, clothing, and basic necessities is a right. If you are working, then you are free to contribute. Anything you contribute is seen, Islamically, as charity and he, technically, has no right to it.
Of course, we live in a society where many people struggle to live on one income. There are many couples who would benefit from two spouses working and with a wife contributing to the household expenses. This is a conversation that can take place prior to the marital agreement or as the issues arise during marriage. The most significant aspect of this for sisters is that they have a voice. A brother denying you the right to maintenance or one who coerces you into taking over the financial responsibilities is not in line with the deen.
Sabr and silence are not solutions to these problems. Some converts feel vulnerable because they lack a strong Muslim support group of family and friends. I’ve encountered situations where brothers seemed emboldened because they perceived that converted sisters had no one to answer to. Do not feel discouraged from asking for your rights prior to, or following, the marriage. The Qur’an and sunnah are very clear on these matters and offer the ultimate protection for you. It’s your right not to settle for less than your worth.