The word "ujoor" for women in the Quran

Is it an up-front one off payment (Dowry), or an

on-going payment throughout marriage (Wages)?

The universally agreed upon meaning of the word 'ujoor', as used in the Quran with reference to women in marriage, has always been 'the Dowry' (wedding gift) which is paid as a lump sum to the woman as a condition for marriage. However, recently, a new understanding for the word 'ujoor' has been advocated. The proponents of this understanding claim that the Quranic commandment related to 'ujoor' does not refer to a single lump-sum dowry payment, but rather an on going wage, paid by the husband to his wife throughout the marriage.

Both understandings recognise that the 'ujoor' for women is an obligation (Farida) laid by God, on every man who takes a wife. This article attempts to research the truth of this matter in the light of the Quran.

Dictionary Meaning:

The word 'ujoor' when looked up in an Arabic dictionary gives the meaning of wage and also reward. It is thus necessary to consult the best dictionary, the Quran, to determine how this word is used in the Quran.

Usage of the word 'ujoor' in the Quran:

To demonstrate the Quranic use of the word 'ujoor', let us read some of the verses, in which it occurs:

And as for those who believe and do good deeds, He (God) will pay them their 'ujurahhumma' (their rewards) in full. God does not like the transgressors. 3:57 (also 4:152, 4:173, 35:30, 2:277

It is clear here that God is not going to pay monetary wages to the righteous in Heaven, but rather that God will grant them their reward. So the next obvious question would be: Is that reward a one-off reward, or an on-going one? The reply is that the reward in Heaven is naturally an on going reward and not an initial one off reward.

The proponents of the on-going wage definition will agree to the on going meaning in 3:57, but they attribute it to the fact that the word used in 3:57 and similar verses is the word 'ujoor' in the plural and that is why it denotes an on going meaning. However, it can be easily demonstrated that the plural 'ujoor' and the singular use 'ajr' are not necessarily connected to whether the reward is a one off reward or an on going payment. A clear confirmation of this can be found in other verses which also speak about the reward in Heaven (which is a continuous reward) but with the use of the singular word 'ajr':

And certainly, the 'ajr' (reward) of the Hereafter is better for those who believed and were reverent. 12:57

Not so! He who submits his face to God, and is a good-doer, will have 'ajrahu' (his reward) with his Lord. No fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. 2:112

So let those who trade the worldly life for the Hereafter fight in the cause of God. Whoever fights in the cause of God, then gets killed or attains victory, We shall grant him a great 'ajr' (reward). 4:74

This Quran guides to what is most upright and gives news to the believers who do good deeds that they shall have a great 'ajr' (reward). 17:9 (also 33:31, 48:10, 16:97, 39:35 and 57:19).

All the above verses speak of the reward in Heaven, which is an on-going reward, yet the singular word 'ajr' is used. This indicates that the use of the singular or the plural does not bear any implication on the issue of whether the reward is a one off or an on-going one.

The word 'ajr' is also used in the Quran to denote a reward in this life:

The magicians came to Pharaoh and said, "Will there be an 'ajr' (reward) for us if we are the victors?" 7:113

In total, the words 'ajr' and 'ujoor' have been used in the Quran a total of 105 times. Six of these are related to marriage. The other 99 verses use these two words to mean 'reward' in various forms. These words are used, for the most part, to denote the reward which is received by the believers in the Hereafter.

In addition, it has to be noted that in the verses where 'ujoor' for women are mentioned, God is always speaking about women (plural) and not one woman (singular). Thus, the use of 'ujoor' (plural) could also be understood to be corresponding to the reference to women in plural and not to a single woman.

Duties of the wife:

The proponents of the 'wage throughout marriage' definition explain that when the wife enters a marriage, she bears the brunt of the new shared responsibilities. Primary among these, is the bearing and suckling/raising of the children. They refer to the Quranic example of divorced mothers who are nursing infants. In 2:233 and 65:6, God commands that payments for this service must be made to them. It is an activity that warrants a wage. The counter argument is that the wage paid by the man to his divorced wife is not a payment for her personally but a payment which is his rightful contribution to the expenses and needs of the child. In contrast, when the woman is still married to the man he would still be naturally paying for the keep and raising of the children. He would not need to pay a personal salary to his wife to do her lawful duty set on her by God. A wife does not work for her husband in that sense, but she is merely fulfilling her obligation to bear, suckle and raise her own children.

The proponents of the on going wage say that in many households, it is common for the wife to assume the domestic household duties, like cooking, cleaning, etc., as well. She is therefore entitled to be compensated and paid a regular wage from her husband.

The counter argument is that there is no Quranic grounds for assuming that all wives must stay at home and play the role of the housewife. As the Quran legislates for all times and not just the time of fourteen centuries ago, God knows that there will come a time (like today) where both partners are working, both earn a salary and both of them share the household duties equally. There is nothing in the Quran that either prohibits this arrangement, nor in any way suggests that it is unrighteous. We also know that God is the Most Fair Judge, consequently God would not command the man to pay his wife a wage for household duties when:

1- The man is sharing half these duties

2- The woman is employed and has a salary of her own.

Moreover, the Quranic commandment for the man to pay the 'ajr' of his wife is not spoken of as being a conditional one. In other words, we cannot say that in the case when the wife is working and has a salary, then the husband is relieved of the duty of paying her the 'ajr'. This is because the payment of the 'ujoor' in the Quran is a commandment that is addressed to all men when they take a wife, and regardless of whether the wife is working or not.

But this is not all, even if we assume that many wives stay at home and are full house wives, we also know that many men are the sole bread earners and that they work hard outside the house to sustain their wives and children. Should we in that case also say that they too deserve to be paid an on going payment by the wife from her savings or possessions for the hard work they do outside the house?

The question here is: why should only one partner be paid a monetary wage by the other partner for the work they do, when at the end of the day they both work hard, whether it is inside the house or outside?

The case of 33:33:

Keep yourselves (O wives of the prophet) to your homes and do not display yourselves as the displays of the old days of ignorance. Observe the Salat and give the Zakat, and obey God and His messenger. God merely wishes to remove un-cleanliness from you, O people of the House, and to purify you thoroughly. 33:33

The claim here is that the wives of the prophet are, in this verse, commanded to pay their Zakat (obligatory charity). A non working housewife would not be able to observe her religious duty of Zakat unless her husband pays her a regular wage.

The counter argument is that the payment of Zakat in the Quran (see: Zakat) is conditioned to the existence of an income. Consequently those who do not have an income are exempt from paying a Zakat:

Eat from their fruits when it yields, and give its decreed obligation (Zakat) on the day of its harvest. 6:141

The payment of the Zakat is linked to the existence of an income/harvest. It follows that if there is no harvest/income, there is no Zakat to be paid.

In this verse, however, the wives of the prophet are specifically instructed "not to mingle excessively", implying that they spent most of their time in a domestic environment, and therefore not working.

Moreover, the payment of Zakat is due on any acquisition of wealth. Income is not the only source of wealth. Zakat is payable on gifts, donations, inheritance, etc. A wife may receive gifts from her husband or from any close one. This is an acquisition of wealth and so she must pay a Zakat on such gifts. Thus 33:33 should not only be interpreted to be speaking about the Zakat on employment income, it also speaks of all other zakat (gifts, inheritance ... etc).

The case of 2:237:

And if you divorce them before touching them, but after you had set the FARIDA for them, then half of what you agreed upon is to be given unless they voluntarily forfeit their rights, or the one who executed the marriage contract on their behalf does so. And if you pardon, you would be closer to reverence. And do not forget to act gracefully towards each other. God is Seer of what you do. 2:237

In 2:237, we read that the farida (decreed obligation), which is spoken of as 'ujoor' in other verses, must be halved and paid to the divorced wife if the divorce takes place before the marriage is consummated. Now let us suppose that the husband (according to the on going wage interpretation) agrees to pay his wife a monthly wage of £400. If he divorces her before consummating the marriage, he would only need to pay her £200! This does not seem fair, and hardly a deterrent against a hasty divorce. However if we take the 'ujoor' to be a dowry and if the agreed amount was £10,000, for example, and if divorce takes place before the marriage is consummated, then the man is obliged to pay the woman £5000.

Also consider the concept of Zawag Al-Mu'tah, literally translated as: marriage of pleasure (see: Mu'tah Marriages). According to this arrangement some Muslim sects allow marriage to be contracted for a specific period of time. In reality, this arrangement has nothing to do with marriage. It is nothing more than a man hiring a woman for sexual services for an appointed time, and fooling themselves by claiming it is within God's law. They attempt to justify the legality of these marriages by stating that the word Mutaa has been used in the Quran in connection with marriage (see 2:236 and 2:240). Unfortunately, this is a very feeble justification. The word Mu'tah means joy or pleasure, and yes any marriage should be filled with joy and happiness. The word mutaa refers to the spirit of the marriage and not to the length of its term!

Under the 'wage' concept of 'ujoor', and since the Quran does not fix a minimum period for any marriage, men would be able to use this interpretation to marry a woman for fancy for 3 or 6 months, pay her some wages and divorce her when they have had enough of each other.

However, under a sizeable upfront lump sum gift, many men would think twice before going into such farcical arrangements. If we add to that the compensation due to the divorced woman in the case of divorce, plus the fact that God decreed that the divorced woman cannot be evicted from her marriage home (unless she has committed a gross sin) then we can see that God has the woman’s security and welfare well legislated for.

The case of 33:50:

We have made lawful for you your wives whom you have paid their ujoor. 33:50

The words in 33:50 read "Allati Ataita Ujurahhunna". The second word here , which is "Ataita" (you have paid), is in the past tense and not the present.

The use of the past tense here (have paid) indicates a payment that has already been paid, rather than a continuous payment. Once again the significance of this observation indicates that the man may marry the woman only after he has already paid her the dowry, which once again indicates a lump sum to be paid up front.

The proponents of the on going wage concept argue that the 'ujoor' used here is in the plural form. Thus the verse speaks of more than one payment, which indicates continuous payments. However, and as explained earlier, the plural (ujoor) is used here rather than the singular (ajr) simply because the verse speaks of 'wives' in plural and not (wife) in singular.

The case of 60:10:

O you who believe, when believing women come to you as immigrants, you shall test them. God knows best about their belief. Then if you know them to be believers, do not return them to the disbelievers. They are not lawful for them nor are the disbelievers lawful for them. Return to the disbelievers 'ma anfaqu' (what they had spent). There is no blame upon you if you marry them, provided you pay them their dowries. Do not keep disbelieving wives. You may ask back 'ma anfaqtum' (what you spent) and they may ask back 'ma anfaqu' (what they spent). That is God's judgement; He judges among you. God is Knowledgeable, Wise. 60:10

The key words here are:

"ma anfaqu" (what they have spent/paid)

"ma anfaqtum" (what you have spent/paid)

The money spent by the disbelieving husband must be returned to him, if the wife flees and joins the believers (and vice-versa).

The question here is, what is to be returned to the first husband? Should we adopt the one off dowry meaning? Or, the on going wages spent throughout the marriage?

To demonstrate the scenario, let us first assume that the words (what they have spent/paid) is talking about the wages that were paid by the man to his wife throughout the marriage. That would mean all the amounts paid over time to the wife must be calculated – a seemingly unwieldy proposition.

This sum would also be payment for ‘duties’ performed for another man. But if we consider the words (what they paid) to mean the dowry, then it is natural that the new husband should pay it since he would have paid a dowry anyway to marry any woman.

Therefore, he would not be paying for the work done by his wife for someone else, he is simply paying his due dowry for acquiring a wife.

An example from the story of Moses:

He said (to Moses), "I wish to marry you to one of these two daughters of mine, provided you 'tajurani' (work for me) for eight pilgrimages. If you complete ten, then that would be extra from you. I do not wish to cause you hardship. You will find me, God willing, one of the righteous. 28:27

Moses paid a fixed amount to his wife’s father to wed his daughter. That fixed amount was labour for eight pilgrimages (with 2 extra voluntary). In other words, and since the pilgrimage is an annual event, thus the dowry which Moses paid was to work for his father in law for 8 years. The mention of a fixed term (8 years) confirms that the ajr Moses paid to marry his wife was not an on going payment throughout the marriage. At the end of 8 years, the obligation was deemed paid in full.

We find that the concept of a dowry is well defined in the Torah, this being a nuptial present; some gift, as a sum of money, which the bridegroom offers to the father of his bride as a satisfaction before he can receive her. In most Muslim countries, paying the father is still in common practise.

"And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give. Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife." (Genesis, 34:11-12)

"If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins." (Exodus, 22:16-17)

"But it came to pass at the time when Merab Saul's daughter should have been given to David, that she was given unto Adriel the Meholathite to wife. And Michal Saul"s daughter loved David: and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son in law in the one of the twain. And Saul commanded his servants, saying, Commune with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee: now therefore be the king"s son in law. And Saul"s servants spake those words in the ears of David. And David said, Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king"s son in law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed? And the servants of Saul told him, saying, On this manner spake David. And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king"s enemies. But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines." (1 Samuel 18:19-25)

"Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was dull-eyed, but Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, "I"ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel." Laban said, "It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me." So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her." So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her." (Genesis, 29:16-23)

We also note that we are told in the Torah that Jacob had no dowry to give for his wife, so he gave his services for an appointed fixed time (as is with the case of Moses in the Quran).

It is noteworthy to add here, that the Torah, and Quran are identical in the fact that each makes it absolutely clear that a man may not have his wife until he has paid the due dowry:

We have made lawful for you your wives whom you have paid their Ujoor. 33:50

It is also important to remember that God's law is unchanging (33:62) and thus we must take the incident of Moses as a clear indication that the 'ujoor' refers to a fixed payment and not an on going payment.

He has legislated for you of the religion what He has instructed for Noah. What We inspired to you, and what we instructed Abraham, Moses and Jesus, is to establish the religion and not be divided therein. 42:13


Why does God command the man to pay an Ujoor for taking a wife in the first place? Obviously no one can speak on behalf of God and why He does things, His wisdom eclipses all others, so any reply given here is a personal opinion, and God knows best.

By making this payment, men demonstrate that they regard the marriage to be a long lasting bond and not a temporary arrangement. They also confirm that women are valuable companions and marriage is a sacred bond.

Related Subject:

- New Wave Interpreters