Written and narrated by: Rabia Nazir
The act of inheritance has a long history in human race and is also not spare from the effect of religion. The laws of inheritance are diverse round the globe due to cultural and religious influences. For instance, In the Old Testament (Torah) it is said,
“Therefore, tell the Israelites; if a man dies without leaving a son, you shall let his heritage pass on to his daughter; if he has no daughter, you shall give his heritage to his brothers; if he has no brothers, you shall give his heritage to his father’s brothers; if his father had no brothers, you shall give his heritage to his nearest relative in his clan who shall then take possession of it.” (Numbers 27, 8-11)
Unlike other religions, a Muslim can generally do whatever he wants with his wealth during his life but his will have certain restrictions according to Islamic Law. In continuation of my series of podcasts about general misunderstandings about the ‘financial standing of a Muslim women’, today I am opening up the debate on the practices in our society regarding the inheritance rights of women. A great beauty of our religion is that woman ‘inherits’ and is also entitled to receive share from the property of her close male relatives such as father, husband etc. The Islamic laws of inheritance for women has also been clearly laid out in Surah Al Nisa:
(Allah commands you as regard to your children’s (inheritance); to the male, a portion equal to that of two females. [4:11]
Here, I shall also refer to an incident from the life of the companion Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqqas who was a wealthy man and had only one daughter. He was on death-bed and requested to bequest most of his wealth as charity, or a half of it. The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) forbade him and only allowed him to give a third, and said:
“A third and a third is a lot, and it is better that you leave your heirs wealthy rather than leave them needy begging from the people. You will not spend anything seeking Allah’s countenance, but you receive a reward for that expenditure, even the morsel of food you put into your wife’s mouth.” [Bukhari #2591 & Muslim #1628]
As a general principle daughter have a right to half the share of their brothers or 2/3 if there are no brother/s with further differences depending on the configuration of the family and depending on the sect. Family law has been amended to favour and recognize women’s inheritance rights even if this is in conflict with social practices. The Constitution of 1973 broadly speaking also protects women’s inheritance and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011 specifically prohibits women’s disinheritance with section 498 A (Prohibition of depriving woman from inheriting properly) and 498 C (Prohibition of marriage with the Holy Quran). However, inheritance rights though present in white and black are often denied due to socio-cultural practices. One of World Bank’s report on gender gap between policy and practice with respect to family law in Pakistan has shown that only 5% of women own a piece of land as compared to 45% of men in the possession of land.
The most common belief I have seen is that ‘dowry is the substitute or at least a part of the inheritance’ for a girl. The concept of dowry itself needs a separate discussion and I shall come to that in a later script. I believe that we all have witnessed one of those high-budget wedding ceremonies at some point where a great deal of money is spent on a series of unnecessary formalities. For a middle-class family with two or three daughters, it is a heavy financial burden on earning hands to get them married even in a respectable manner. However, fear of being looked down upon by the society is the driving force to become a part of this practice.
Now, the other side of the coin shows an entirely different story. The girls who were once a part of well-established families and were married off like princesses were denied of their inheritance rights later. This is usually done by close male relatives from her own family including brothers, cousins or other male relatives. Because a Muslim woman is also entitled for a share in her deceased husband’s property, I have seen widows struggling with life due to denial of their inheritance rights by their husband’s families. If, unfortunately, she is not educated or skilled enough to support herself, how would she survive?
Our society is full of sealed lips who are deprived of their justified rights. These are lips of ‘happily married’ women who are afraid of speaking for inheritance because they may lose family-ties with their parental families in the time of need. They are silent to keep up appearances because it can jeopardize her relations with her in-laws who would tease her for having no respectful place in her father’s family. Getting legal advice and help from court is also a matter of shame and disrespect for them and their families.
I want to put this question forward that if it is ‘OK’ to spend loads of money on wedding in which clearly there is no financial security for the bride why is it not ‘OK’ for her to receive a legitimate share from the property of her father which will put her in a much more secure financial status?
It is perfectly fine to spend money on wedding if someone can happily afford it, however it should not be done with the expectation of ‘dismissing’ the inheritance rights of the bride. ‘Dowry is an option’ whereas ‘Inheritance is a right’. Let’s not substitute the ‘inheritance’ with ‘dowry’, lets replace ‘dowry’ with ‘inheritance’ and give our daughters and sisters a secure future. Household items given in the name of dowry will not support her on a rainy day, but a small piece of land will! Isn’t it a fair deal?