The Price of Love

by Zubaida Ali

My son has found his one true love at the age of 28. She is a delightful young university graduate, who is the perfect match for him. There is talk of marriage and the traditional ‘masuk meminang’ event that has become part of our Malay culture. With it, is the inevitable discussion of the hantaran that is the amount that we, the groom’s side is willing to set as the dowry for her. Her family decided that $10,000 is a good sum that goes with the prevailing market rate as she is, after all, a graduate. As the mother of the groom I find the concept of ‘paying’ for a daughter-in-law disturbing and against my values of equality and feminism. While the young woman in the center of this is inclined to agree with these values, she is caught in the filial piety she has for her parents. She will not broach the subject of breaking away from such norms.

What is the dowry meant for anyway? To compensate for the expenses that the parents have invested in the person we are marrying into our family? To give the couple a positive head start in life? If that is the case, then the couple should get to keep the hantaran but that is unheard of. Usually the hantaran goes into a black abyss and is pocketed by the bride’s parents. Apart from the hantaran or dowry, there is the mahar or maskahwin, in the form of a piece of gold, like a ring or chain, as a symbol of their marriage. This is sunnah, just like what the Prophet has encouraged Ibn Ali to give to his daughter Fatima before marrying her. And finally the wedding expenses itself, that the wedding couple is supposed to bear. Since the bride has only recently graduated and is jobless, the task of coming up with the wedding expenses falls on the groom, a bill that comes up to $40,000 for a typical Malay void deck wedding.

So far this is what the costs look like:

Wedding expenses

Dowry/Hantaran: $10,000
Mahar/Maskahwin: $2,000 (est.)
Wedding expenses: $40,000
Mak Andam (makeup artist) and costumes: $5,000

Total: $57,000

This does not include the romantic honeymoon that the soon-to-be-wedded pair would like to go to after their wedding ceremony, another bill that could come up to $5,000. Neither does it include the token sum to the kadhi for performing the nikah ceremony. Gifts in the form of money to the ‘pengapit’, groomsmen or wedding party before getting on the pelamin or wedding dias and so on.

A financial output of between $50,000 to $60,000, three times the cost of a degree education is what it needs just to get married in Singapore.

Of course, the couple need not go through such financial hoops to get married. A simple nikah ceremony in a mosque with a modest reception for family members, with a mahar of a few recitations of the Al Quran will do too. However, the family my son is marrying to, is one steeped in local Malay culture and “it is what we are used to” has been set up front during the wedding negotiations attended by delegations of aunts and uncles from both sides.

My heart goes out to the young people from our society today faced with these challenges in order to start a family. This pressure is worrying and has the element of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ that has become prevalent in our culture today. It is time for members of our society to speak out against such trends and emphasise what really matters — the overall readiness and wellbeing of couples intending to set off on this marital journey together and the support that the community could give. Now that will be a wedding gift worth giving.


Zubaida Ali is a community worker, mother of four grown up children and activist on social issues. She occasionally writes on relevant issues pertaining to the Muslim community.

Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu