Speaking the Truth in Love

Questions Sincere Muslims Ask – What about Dowries and Arranged Marriage

The Old Testament speaks of arranged marriages. Gifts are given to the father of the bride. In Muslim culture if a man wants a wife, he goes to her parents and asks for her hand. The parents will ask for money or some other gift (a dowry/mar). It’s an ancient custom. Women sometimes don’t know whom they are to marry. The marriage is arranged without their knowledge or consent. Is this Muslim practice consistent with the Bible?

The Old Testament contains numerous references to ancient marriage customs. Infertile Sarah exercises a stipulation in her Mesopotamian marriage covenant when she gives Hagar to Abraham. Legally, the child of the slave woman is to belong to the mistress of the house (Gen. 16:1-2). Laban arranges marriages for his daughters, Leah and Rachel, and works out the terms of the dowry to be paid for them (29:15-30).

The law of Moses also contains regulations to provide for and protect women in certain difficult situations. For instance, if a man dies and leaves no children, the young widow can ask an unmarried brother-in-law to marry her and carry on the name of the deceased (Deut. 25:5-6). If an unengaged woman was raped, her assailant was required to pay a steep fine and marry her for life (Deut. 22:28-29).

If misunderstood, this commandment seems barbaric. Is the raped woman forced to marry her rapist? No. The choice is hers—or her father’s. The big fine and marriage requirement strongly discouraged rape. If a young woman was violated, finding a husband was difficult. Forcing the rapist to marry his victim meant that he would have to provide for her all his life. This kept her out of the poverty that a rape might cause.

The old covenant was made with Israel, a small nation living in a unique time and place. For this reason many of the regulations in the Law of Moses were specific to ancient culture. God’s commandments (when obeyed) created an environment in Israel better than anything found elsewhere. But the old covenant was still Israel specific. God was shaping and preserving his people for the coming of the Messiah.

The new covenant is different. It is for people in every nation and every age. For this reason Jesus gives no culture-based commandments concerning marriage. It is no violation of Christ’s teaching for a father to arrange a marriage for his daughter, but choosing one’s own husband is perfectly biblical too. However, Jesus teaches his disciples to treat others as they wish to be treated (Matt. 7:12). If I’m a Christian father living in a nation accustomed to arranged marriages, I should ask myself some questions before making a marriage contract for my daughter: As a daughter would I want to be consulted? Would I want to marry a person displeasing to me? Would I want my father to pass over the man I love to marry me to someone with more money or prestige?

Share This