Courts Disagree on Dowry Enforceability

  • Print

Although one Muslim man’s marriage contract calls for a $25,000 dowry to be paid to his wife, he doesn’t have to pay her, now that they are divorced, because it is a religious agreement rather than an enforceable legal contract, an Ohio judge has ruled.

The decision, the first on the issue in the state, conflicts with rulings in New Jersey and New York that did enforce the dowry required by an Islamic religious contract signed by husband and wife, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

A lawyer for the man in the case, Mohammed Zawahiri, 29, says his client didn’t understand that he was arguably agreeing to pay a large dowry under the religious marriage contract, and Judge Dana Priesse held it was not enforceable under state law in part because he was not given a chance to consult with a lawyer to review it beforehand, the newspaper reports.

The article doesn’t say whether his former wife, Raghad Alwattar, 21, will appeal the Oct. 10 ruling in Franklin County Common Pleas court. However, even if she doesn’t, there is another potential avenue of redress, points out Mouhamed Tarazi, an imam in Columbus. “This is in the Quran. It’s not up to him to interpret,” the imam says. “He will have to pay it in this life or the hereafter.”

The dowry provides important security for Muslim brides, who often don’t work outside their homes and have limited prospects in their conservative culture if the marriage doesn’t work out, says Tarazi. “If the husband decides after a year or so to divorce them, they’re going to be left alone. No one’s going to marry them again.”

In the future, the imam says, he plans to have the groom sign a promissory note along with the religious marriage contract, to make sure his promise to pay a dowry is enforceable in court.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.