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Matrimonial Gifts In Early Islamic Egypt

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image of Islamic Law and Society

The mahr or sadāq is the only marriage gift required under Islamic law. But Islamic law did not necessarily determine actual marriage settlements, even in early Muslim societies. In this essay, I compare the early Islamic legal literature with the pattern of matrimonial gifts recorded in marriage contracts and divorce deeds preserved from early Islamic Egypt. In marriage settlements recorded in the papyri, the groom gave a sadāq that was divided into advance and deferred portions, and brides brought to the marriage a counterpart dowry (jihāz or shiwār). These marriage settlements, which were common to Muslims, Copts and Jews, resembled the Egyptian marriage settlements of late antiquity. The Islamic legal literature preserves the objections of contemporary jurists, including Mālik, to these Egyptian practices, which they initially regarded as an objectionable innovation. Eventually, the local traditions were incorporated, albeit with modifications, into the legal discourse.

Affiliations: 1: Princeton University


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