The Marriage Contract
In Islam, marriage is not merely a sacrament, but also a legally binding contract between two partners. A written contract establishes the couple's acceptance of one another as spouses and outlines their responsibilities to one another in all aspects of their interaction. A marriage contract is like a very detailed prenuptial agreement that helps minimize misunderstandings and false hopes in the relationship.
In order to be a valid contract, the marriage must be attested to by two Muslim witnesses, have the consent of both parties, and include the offer of a marriage gift. Unlike a traditional dowry, the marriage gift is given from the groom to the bride alone. Her father or other family members are to share no part of it.
In order for the marriage to be valid, the groom must present the new bride with a gift, called a mahr. This gift is for her enjoyment and security alone, and it acts to protect her from violations in the marriage contract. There are no specifications for the minimum or maximum worth of the mahr; it may be in the form of cash, property, or other tangible assets. The mahr may be given at the time of the marriage, or, if both parties agree, all or part of it may be deferred to a later time.
Both the man and the woman may make certain stipulations in the marriage contract that outline conditions to be fulfilled for the marriage to remain valid. These conditions are put into writing at the time of marriage and agreed to by both parties.
In the contract it's not necessary to rewrite all aspects of Islamic marriage law, as those rights and responsibilities are understood and enforceable without being specified. But it is acceptable for either spouse to include additional conditions to address their own personal taste and needs if they would not violate Islamic law. Such conditions may include where the couple will live, clarification of the woman's plans for education and employment, or any other issues of concern to either party. The open discussion of these issues prior to marriage helps the couple to identify problem areas and come to an understanding on these issues before entering into the marriage.