islamic law on inheritance

Women In Islam : Islam­ic Law On Inheritance

To dis­cuss the issue of Islam­ic law on inher­i­tance, we must first of all under­stand what inher­i­tance” entails. Inher­i­tance deals close­ly with the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, i.e. deal­ing with the trans­fer of the prop­er­ty of the deceased to the descen­dants. In most of the ear­ly soci­eties in ancient civil­i­sa­tions, the right to inher­it the deceased prop­er­ties is often giv­en to the eldest son and male rel­a­tives. Female rel­a­tives are giv­en less­er right to inher­it, and most of the time their right is denied. In fact, in the more mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion, the Eng­lish Com­mon Law did not give the right for women to own their prop­er­ties until 1880s. The Mar­ried Wom­en’s Prop­er­ty Act was only approved by Par­lia­ment as late as 1882 in Unit­ed King­dom, to abol­ish the pre­vi­ous law which stat­ed that a mar­ried woman can­not held any prop­er­ty inde­pen­dent from her hus­band. A sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion hap­pened in France, where this right was only recog­nised in 1930s, which is less than 100 years ago. This is how the ear­ly soci­eties dealt with the mat­ter of inher­i­tance, where the treat­ment is favourable to men, while women were treat­ed as the sec­ond class creations.

This paper is intend­ed to exam­ine on how the unfair treat­ment on women is improved by the new set of rules intro­duced by Islam, and at the same time answer the crit­ics on the unfair reg­u­la­tions on inher­i­tance in an Islam­ic environment.

The Qur’an on Inheritance

More than 1400 years ago, Islam has out­lined specif­i­cal­ly the reg­u­la­tions con­cern­ing inher­i­tance via the Holy Qur’an. The reg­u­la­tion set in the Book is used as the basis of dis­tri­b­u­tion of the deceased prop­er­ties in Islam. The ques­tion is whether or not Islam dealt fair­ly with this mat­ter, espe­cial­ly with regards to the dis­tri­b­u­tion to women heirs ? First­ly, whether or not Mus­lim women can inher­it at all out of what is left behind by their fam­i­ly is not an issue, as the Holy Qur’an clear­ly stated :

From what is left by par­ents and those near­est relat­ed there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the prop­er­ty be small or large, a deter­mi­nate share. 1

And that is the clear rev­o­lu­tion brought by Islam, as com­pared to the sit­u­a­tion pri­or to the Islam­ic era. Before the Qur’?c injunc­tion on inher­i­tance, the Arabs tra­di­tion, in line with the ear­ly civ­i­liza­tions in the world, gave the enti­tle­ment on inher­i­tance of the deceased prop­er­ties exclu­sive­ly to the male rel­a­tives. While the jahiliyah tra­di­tion in Arab dur­ing that time con­sid­ered a woman as an object that can be inher­it­ed and can be eas­i­ly abused, Islam improved the sta­tus of a woman with regards to inher­i­tance by giv­ing her the right to inher­it prop­er­ties from her fam­i­ly. In light of this sit­u­a­tion, we would see clear­ly how Islam via the divine rev­e­la­tion revealed to Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH) man­aged to over­come the prob­lem of unfair treat­ment of the ear­ly soci­eties, long before any mod­ern soci­ety can cre­ate an unbi­ased law on inher­i­tance which will ben­e­fit both men and women alike.

A com­par­i­son can also be estab­lished between this rule on inher­i­tance as set in the Holy Qur’an with that of the oth­er sis­ter reli­gions. Let us see the Bib­li­cal injunc­tion on this mat­ter, via the rev­e­la­tion to Moses in the Old Testament.

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, say­ing : The daugh­ters of Zelophe­had are right in what they are say­ing, you shall indeed let them pos­sess inher­i­tance among their father’s broth­ers and pass the inher­i­tance of their father on to them, You shall also say to the Israelites, If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inher­i­tance on to his daugh­ter. If he has no daugh­ter, then you shall give his inher­i­tance to his broth­ers. If he has no broth­ers, then you shall give his inher­i­tance to his father’s broth­ers. And if his father has no broth­ers, then you shall give his inher­i­tance to the near­est kins­man of his clan, and he shall pos­sess it. It shall be for the Israelites a statute and ordi­nance, as the Lord com­mand­ed Moses.“2

Look­ing at the injunc­tion in the above vers­es, a daugh­ter can only inher­it his father’s prop­er­ty in the absence of a son. In the case, when there is even one son left, the rights of the daugh­ter will be denied alto­geth­er. This treat­ment is some­what quite biased. In addi­tion, the most impor­tant ques­tion is : where are the rights of the wid­ow ? Num­bers 27 con­tin­ues to out­line the list of heirs enti­tled for the prop­er­ties left, with­out a sin­gle woman men­tioned as the legal heir, not even the wid­ow. One would ask, what is the future of the wid­ow when she is left with no means of support ?

Now we shall com­pare this to the injunc­tion via the rev­e­la­tion in the Holy Qur’an :

God (thus) direct you as regards your chil­dren’s (inher­i­tance) : to the male, a por­tion equal to that of two females. If only daugh­ters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inher­i­tance. If only one, her share is a half. For par­ents, a sixth share of the inher­i­tance to each, if the deceased left chil­dren. If no chil­dren, and the par­ents are the (only) heirs, the moth­er has a third. If the deceased has broth­ers (or sis­ters) the moth­er has a sixth. After pay­ment of lega­cy and debts. Ye know not whether the par­ents or your chil­dren are near­est to you in ben­e­fit. These are set­tled por­tions ordained by God, and God is All Know­ing, All Wise.“3

The above verse clear­ly pro­tects the right of both male and female heirs, where­by it guar­an­tees the right of the sons, daugh­ters, par­ents as well as broth­ers and sis­ters, in a man­ner not avail­able in Num­bers 27

The Qur’an con­tin­ues by out­lin­ing the following :

In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child. But if they leave a child, ye get a fourth, after pay­ment of lega­cies and debt. In what ye leave, their share is a fourth, if ye leave no child. But if ye leave a child, they get an eight, after pay­ment of lega­cies and debts. If the man or woman whose inher­i­tance is in ques­tion, has left nei­ther ascen­dants nor descen­dants, but has left a broth­er or a sis­ter, each one of the two gets a sixth. But if more than two, they share in a third, after pay­ment of lega­cies and debts, so that no loss is caused. Thus is it ordained by God, and God is All-know­ing, Most For­bear­ing.“4

In con­trast to the Bib­li­cal injunc­tion via Num­bers 27, Qur’an specif­i­cal­ly includes the right of the wid­ow togeth­er in this verse. This verse, togeth­er with verse 176 of the same sura also out­lines the dis­tri­b­u­tion in the sit­u­a­tion where there is no ascen­dants or descen­dants of the deceased, in which it still gives a fair right to both male and female. Need­less to say, the rules on inher­i­tance stat­ed via the Qur’an is com­plete, and the most impor­tant fac­tor, is that it pro­tects the right of both male and female heirs, the qual­i­ty in which is not avail­able pri­or to the Islam­ic era.

The attacks upon the Islam­ic inher­i­tance law how­ev­er con­cen­trates on the issue of the inequal­i­ty” between the share inher­it­ed by a man and the share inher­it­ed by a woman, as stat­ed via verse 11 and 12 of An-Nisa’. Look­ing at these vers­es in iso­la­tion, it is easy for the igno­rant crit­ics to con­clude that while the Qur’an still pro­tects the right of the women heirs, it is being done unfair­ly” by giv­ing less­er right than that enjoyed by men heirs (although this so-called unfair” treat­ment only applies to the chil­dren, while par­ents and sib­lings are treat­ed equal­ly in both vers­es regard­less of gender).

How­ev­er, we shall exam­ine this rule togeth­er with oth­er rules set by Islam in rela­tion to prop­er­ties to see the bal­ance and the val­ue behind the reg­u­la­tions out­lined in An-Nisa’ verse 11 – 12. First, we have to see the over­all respon­si­bil­i­ties of a man with regard to woman in Islam­ic context :

Men are the pro­tec­tors and main­tain­ers of women, because God has give the one more (strength) than the oth­er, and because they sup­port them from their means.“5

The Holy Qur’an made it clear in the above verse that the pro­vi­sion for main­te­nance of a woman is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of a man. Under the sharia’ law :

a) For a sin­gle woman, the main­te­nance should be pro­vid­ed by her father. In the absence of her father, her male rel­a­tives, includ­ing broth­ers, grand­fa­ther and uncles, are respon­si­ble for the pro­vi­sion of her maintenance.

b) The pro­vi­sion for main­te­nance of a mar­ried woman is exclu­sive­ly the respon­si­bil­i­ty of her hus­band6, and a hus­band is required to pay the dowry for his wife upon mar­riage (An-Nisa’:4). This dowry is exclu­sive­ly owned by the wife, and the hus­band has no right to take it back even upon divorce7.

c) A woman has no finan­cial oblig­a­tion at all, and what­ev­er she earns or inher­its is exclu­sive­ly her own prop­er­ty. She is free to spend her trea­sure the way she wants it, and a hus­band has no right to take even a sin­gle cent, except what is will­ing­ly giv­en by her.

d) Upon divorce, a hus­band is required to pay for her mut’ah (Al-Baqarah:241 ) and main­te­nance dur­ing iddah8. The respon­si­bil­i­ty for the main­te­nance of the chil­dren upon divorce is on the shoul­der of the hus­band9.

By exam­in­ing the points as stat­ed above, one could see how heavy is the finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty assigned to a man, with regards to the main­te­nance of a woman, while woman has very lit­tle, and more often than not, no finan­cial oblig­a­tion at all. If the right of a woman to inher­it is denied, it would be unfair for her as she’s relat­ed to the deceased. The right is still giv­en to the women, as a pro­tec­tion to the women in case of any dis­pute, which may result in the inse­cu­ri­ty or oppres­sion to the women them­selves. How­ev­er, if the share of the prop­er­ties assigned equal­ly between a man and a woman, it will be unjust for the man as he has greater finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty than the woman. This is the val­ue behind this injunc­tion, in which most crit­ics failed to con­sid­er. Islam out­lines this mat­ter beau­ti­ful­ly, by cre­at­ing a bal­ance between the rights enjoyed by both men and women. It is clear that, no one is there­fore worse off as a result of this rule.

Con­clu­sions

The accu­sa­tions of inequal­i­ty and unfair­ness of the Islam­ic law on inher­i­tance there­fore stands with no basis for the claims. While the mod­ern soci­ety strug­gles to define the best way to pro­tect the rights of both men and women alike, Islam is a step ahead by out­lin­ing the most refined and spe­cif­ic rules on inher­i­tance that is known to the civ­i­lized world, 1300 years in advance. What is more amaz­ing is that while Islam emerge at the time when the sta­tus of a woman was at an all-time low and her rights were total­ly deprived, Islam has nev­er failed to grad­u­al­ly improve the sta­tus of the women to the high­est stan­dard by giv­ing a fair treat­ment to them, which is beyond imag­i­na­tion if the sit­u­a­tion 1400 years ago is tak­en into consideration.

And only God knows best !Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Rafi­dah Abdul Jamal, Women In Islam : Islam­ic Law On Inher­i­tance,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Sep­tem­ber 22, 2005, last accessed April 17, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​i​s​l​a​m​/​w​o​m​e​n​-​i​n​-​i​s​l​a​m​/​i​s​l​a​m​i​c​-​l​a​w​-​o​n​-​i​n​h​e​r​i​t​a​n​ce/
  1. Qur’an, Sura An-Nisa’:7[]
  2. Num­bers 27 : 5 – 11[]
  3. Sura An-Nisa’: 11[]
  4. An-Nisa’: 12[]
  5. An-Nisa’:34[]
  6. An-Nisa’:5[]
  7. An-Nisa’:20 – 21[]
  8. Al-Talaq : 6[]
  9. Al-Baqarah:233[]

Comments

4 responses to “Women In Islam : Islam­ic Law On Inheritance”

  1. Fayroozah Avatar
    Fayroozah

    One should also look at this new study about the Dis­tri­b­u­tion of the wealth in islam :

    http://​www​.quraan​ic​stud​ies​.com/​n​o​-​e​r​r​o​r​-​i​n​-​q​u​r​-​a​n​-​d​i​v​i​s​i​o​n​-​o​f​-​i​n​h​e​r​i​t​a​n​c​e​-​a​c​c​o​r​d​i​n​g​-​t​o​-​q​u​r​an/

    it proves that there is no prob­lem in the divi­sion of inher­i­tance in Quran.

  2. Xman Avatar
    Xman

    The Bib­li­cal Inher­i­tance Laws have been described by Rab­bi Louis Epstein in his book about Jew­ish Mar­riages where he states : The con­tin­u­ous and unbro­ken tra­di­tion since the Bib­li­cal days gives the female mem­bers of the house­hold, wife and daugh­ters, no right of suc­ces­sion to the fam­i­ly estate”

    And this tra­di­tion has been fol­lowed by the Chris­tians until about 100 years ago, when the sec­u­lar gov­ern­ments of Europe began to give females the same rights that were giv­en to Mus­lim ladies over 1400 years ago!!

  3. Xman Avatar
    Xman

    Pro­fes­sor Almar­ic Rum­sey (18251899) of King’s Col­lege, Lon­don ; Bar­ris­ter-at-law, stat­ed that the Mus­lim law of inher­i­tance, com­pris­es beyond ques­tion the most refined and elab­o­rate sys­tem of rules for the devo­lu­tion of prop­er­ty that is known to the civilised world.”
     — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
    Unit­ed Nations document :
    The Islam­ic inher­i­tance rules despite their appar­ent dis­crim­i­na­to­ry nature, where they are imple­ment­ed in let­ter and spir­it and con­strued holis­ti­cal­ly, pro­vide a sol­id start­ing point for women – and oth­er mem­bers of the fam­i­ly — in assert­ing the full range of their prop­er­ty rights.”

    http://www.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/3546_3490_ILP%206.doc

  4. Xman Avatar
    Xman

    To prove that Islam­ic Inher­i­tance Law has noth­ing to do with male supe­ri­or­i­ty, lets give the exam­ple of a deceased per­son, who’s only inher­i­tors are his child and moth­er and father. Accord­ing to the Mis­sion­ary’s the­o­ry, the father should get dou­ble that of the moth­er. But the Holy Quran stip­u­lates that both the Moth­er and the father each get a sixth of the inheritance.

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