The ruling on the shabka and the cost of readying the marital house after breaking off an engagement
My daughter's fiancé broke off their engagement. What is the ruling on the shabka he gave her? We bought the furniture with his knowledge and participation and now we are forced to sell it for a reduced price. Am I to bear this financial loss alone?
Preludes to marriage
The engagement, recitation of the surat Al-Fatiha, receiving the dowry and accepting the shabka (jewelry traditionally presented to the bride from the groom) and gifts are all from among the preliminaries of marriage. They are considered a promise of marriage provided the marriage contract has not been concluded with the pillars and conditions prescribed by Islamic law. It is customary to hold an engagement before conducting the marriage contract to allow both families to become better acquainted with each other.
Rights consequent to breaking off an engagement
It is established in Islamic law that the husband is under obligation to pay a dowry by virtue of the marriage contract. If either party decides to break off the engagement before conducting the marriage contract, the following is determined:
- The fiancée does not deserve any of the dowry and the fiancé is to take it back.
- The shabka is customarily considered part of the dowry because it is usually agreed upon in the context of marriage. This therefore removes it from the scope of gifts to that of dowry. Islamic law takes into account customs with regards to legislation due to the words of Allah the Almighty Who says,
Hold to forgiveness; Command what is right. [Al-A'raf: 199]
A non-Prophetic report through Ibn Mas'ud (may Allah be pleased with him) states, "What Muslim deem good is good in the eyes of Allah, and what they deem evil is evil in the eyes of Allah" [reported by Ahmed in his Musnad and by Al-Taialsi in his Musnad].
The shabka is therefore part of the dowry; a fiancée whose engagement has been broken off is not a wife and therefore does not deserve any of it. A woman deserves half the dowry by virtue of the marriage contract and the full dowry if her marriage is consummated.
Based on this, the fiancé is entitled to the shabka when either or both parties break off the engagement; the fiancée is not entitled to any of it regardless of who broke off the engagement.
The default is that an engagement is merely a promise of marriage as mentioned above, and is non-binding to either party—each is free to break it off whenever they wish even if for no apparent reason. This is because an engagement is merely a prelude to the binding [marriage] contract and does not accrue any consequences. However, this meaning is not met if either party is threatened with having to compensate the other for merely breaking off the engagement. But if the separation is coupled by detrimental acts, then the harm necessitates compensation commensurate with the harm done. The legal maxim states: "Do not harm and do not reciprocate harm". The Egyptian appellate court has based its ruling for case no. 13 for the judicial year 9 on this maxim.
Acts that call for compensation include either party demanding the other to come up with uncustomary things such as the fiancé asking his fiancée to purchase a wedding gown suitable for the wedding celebration or asking her to buy certain furniture that is of no benefit to her if the wedding is called off. The person who is financially harmed by the broken engagement is to provide proof of such harm in the legally determined manner and the decision is made by the court.
Allah the Almighty knows best.