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Women Inheritance in Islaam

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Inventing a lie and repeating it very often results in those who invented it believing it. And by continuously bolstering the invented lie with more lies, the origin of the story becomes so hazy that it would take a real expert, armed with unwavering integrity, to sift through the rubble of the shattered myths; and only then the truth will reveal itself.

The truth we are talking about here is the issue of women inheritance in Islaam.

If I were to defend a loosing cause, just because I happen to sympathise with this cause, then I would spare no flow of eloquence to win you over, fellow reader. But I need not do this, for fact speaks louder than eloquent myths.

In pre-Islaamic Arabia, those who fought and won the spoils of war were eligible for inheritance. Women, therefore, in addition to children and old men who could not fight in battle were denied any share in the patrimony. The rationale was: How could money be given to those who cannot protect it. Ibn ‘Abbaas narrated: “The custom [in old days] was that the property of the deceased would be inherited by his [male] offspring; as for the parents (of the deceased), they would inherit [only] by the will of the deceased.” (Albu’kaary)

Islaam annulled this practice once and for all. Allah ordained in the ’Qura~n: “For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share.” (The Holy ’Qura~n, chapter of Annisaa-, verse 7) It is of great significance to note that the laws of inheritance make up the only chapter in Islaamic jurisprudence that is based completely on verdicts elaborated explicitly in the ’Qura~n. Except in a couple of situations, which were addressed very early on by the second Caliphate ‘Umar, the statute laws of inheritance, which described all permutations and possibilities, were not left open to human interpretation.

The Supreme Legislator ordained the laws of inheritance and fixed them, thus curtailing any possible attempt at depriving the weaker inheritor, normally being female, from her share in inheritance; and no interpretation or reassessment would be admissible: case closed.
Another interesting aspect of the statute laws of inheritance is that they, i.e., the laws, mandated that heirs with fixed shares must receive their fixed shares prior to the distribution of the patrimony between the remaining inheritors. The overwhelming majority of the fixed shares inheritors are heiresses, such as the mother, sister(s) without brother(s), daughter(s) without son(s), and granddaughter(s). The father and the husband are the only males with fixed shares in the inheritance. This approach guaranteed that no matter how many inheritors there are, the relatives with fixed shares are guaranteed their shares in the patrimony.

Take for example the following scenario: A man is survived by his mother, wife, daughter and brothers. His daughter inherits half the patrimony, his mother one sixth, his widow one eighth, and the remaining sum is divided equally between his brothers. The inheritors with fixed shares, all being heiresses here, received their guaranteed shares prior to distributing the remaining portion of the patrimony among the brothers.

Before we discuss the issue of women inheritance in Islaam, it would help to shed some light on the categories of heirs according to Islaamic jurisprudence.

1- Heirs with fixed shares: The offspring, spouse, and parents of the deceased all have fixed shares in the patrimony, as prescribed in the ’Qura~n.
2- Heirs with analogous inheritance:  When all the heirs with fixed shares have received their shares of the patrimony, and when there is nobody else (from the list given below) to inherit, the remaining portion of the patrimony is divided once again as per the distribution of the fixed shares.
3- Agnates: Male relations, for the most part, receive, according to set rules, the remaining portion of the patrimony, after distributing the fixed shares.
4- Heirs through allegiance: Manumission (during the times when slavery was still practiced) was encouraged to gradually eradicate slavery. As a bonus, whatever remained from the patrimony after distributing the fixed shares was given to the former slave owner who had set free the deceased former slave, when there would be nobody else to inherit other than the former slave owner.
5- Heirs through kinship: Relatives through maternal side of the deceased would inherit whatever remains after distributing the fixed shares, if there were no agnates living at the time of patrimony distribution.

Now that we have discussed the different types of inheritance, let us see how heiresses fare according to Islaamic law.

Generally speaking, only one inheritance statute law is ever quoted by critiques of Islaam, which allots to the daughter of the deceased half of what her brother inherits. I am not denying that this is truly the statute law of inheritance in this particular case, but this is not the only scenario. Let us entertain the following scenarios and use the statute laws of inheritance to distribute the patrimony:

I. A man is survived by one son and one daughter. The daughter inherits one third of the patrimony whereas the son inherits two thirds.
II. A woman is survived by her daughter, husband and father. The daughter inherits half of the patrimony, the husband one fourth and the father what remains.
III. A man is survived by his daughter, a full sister, and a half brother from the father’s side. The daughter inherits half of the patrimony and the full sister the remaining half. The half brother is blocked from inheritance by the full sister.
IV. A man is survived by his mother, a full brother, a half brother, and a half sister both from the mother’s side. His mother inherits one sixth of the patrimony, the half brother and the half sister divide between themselves one third, and the full brother inherits the remaining portion of the patrimony which amounts to one half.

We have seen above four different statute laws for women inheritance. The first, which happens to be the most well known, is when the woman inherits half of her brother’s share. In the second case, her inheritance is double that of the male heirs. In the third case, the full sister blocked the half brother from any inheritance. And in the fourth case, both the half brother and half sister shared equally one third of the patrimony.

Since the share of women inheritors differs significantly from one case to the other, then what is the rationale behind allotting half the share of their male counterpart in certain inheritance scenarios? Upon closer inspection, we find that in all cases of inheritance where the woman inherits half of the share of her male equal, the male equal is legally responsible for the sustenance of the woman in question. When the father of the deceased inherits twice as much as the mother, he has to provide for her, and she is under no obligation whatsoever to partake in any spending. The same applies when a full brother inherits twice as much as the full sister of a deceased. The brother is legally responsible for the sustenance of his sister, and she has no financial obligation whatsoever neither towards him nor towards herself.

The woman’s share is hers alone, but the share of her male equal is not his alone; he has to provide for his female co-inheritor.

We mentioned earlier that there are a couple of exceptional cases in which the second Caliph, ‘Umar, resolved a dispute among the scholars with respect to two inheritance scenarios.

Those two scenarios are:
1- A man is survived by a widow, a mother and a father. His widow takes one fourth of the patrimony, his mother one third of the remaining three quarters, and the rest belong to the father.
2- A woman is survived by a wife, a mother and a father. The widower takes half of the patrimony, his mother one third of the remaining half, and the father takes what remains.

In both scenarios given above, the point of contention was that if the mother were to take one third of what remains after the spouse of the deceased receives his/her share, then the fixed share statute law of the mother’s inheritance is violated. Ibn ‘Abbaas (the Prophet’s cousin) and one of the most respected scholars of Islaam opposed this opinion and insisted on the mother receiving the fixed share allotted to her.

The argument in favor of the distribution according to the second Caliph ‘Umar is that the mother has no financial obligations but the father does, and since both inherit from the deceased son/daughter then the person who is responsible for the sustenance of both should have a larger share.

Machael Alfayez -
Machael Alfayez [Mashaa‘il Alfaayiz] is a Saudi writer, she has a B.A. in arts and education with specialisation in Islaamic sharee'ah.Read More >>


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