Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality

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  • Women In Islam versus Judaeo-Christian Tradition The Myth & The Reality

  • 13. Female Inheritance?

    One of the most important differences between the Quran and the Bible
    is their attitude towards female inheritance of the property of a
    deceased relative. The Biblical attitude has been succinctly described
    by Rabbi Epstein: "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. In the more
    primitive scheme of succession, the female members of the family were
    considered part of the estate and as remote from the legal personality
    of an heir as the slave. Whereas by Mosaic enactment the daughters were
    admitted to succession in the event of no male issue remained, the wife
    was not recognised as heir even in such conditions." 44 Why were the
    female members of the family considered part of the family estate?
    Rabbi Epstein has the answer: "They are owned --before marriage, by the
    father; after marriage, by the husband."

    The Biblical rules of inheritance are outlined in Numbers 27:1-11. A
    wife is given no share in her husband's estate, while he is her first
    heir, even before her sons. A daughter can inherit only if no male
    heirs exist. A mother is not an heir at all while the father is. Widows
    and daughters, in case male children remained, were at the mercy of the
    male heirs for provision. That is why widows and orphan girls were
    among the most destitute members of the Jewish society. Christianity
    has followed suit for long time. Both the ecclesiastical and civil laws
    of Christendom barred daughters from sharing with their brothers in the
    father's patrimony. Besides, wives were deprived of any inheritance
    rights. These iniquitous laws survived till late in the last century.

    Among the pagan Arabs before Islam, inheritance rights were confined
    exclusively to the male relatives. The Quran abolished all these unjust
    customs and gave all the female relatives inheritance shares: "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" (4:7). Muslim mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters
    had received inheritance rights thirteen hundred years before Europe
    recognised that these rights even existed. The division of inheritance
    is a vast subject with an enormous amount of details (4:7,11,12,176).
    The general rule is that the female share is half the male's except the
    cases in which the mother receives equal share to that of the father.
    This general rule if taken in isolation from other legislations
    concerning men and women may seem unfair. In order to understand the
    rationale behind this rule, one must take into account the fact that
    the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women
    (see the "Wife's property?" section). A bridegroom must provide his
    bride with a marriage gift. This gift becomes her exclusive property
    and remains so even if she is later divorced. The bride is under no
    obligation to present any gifts to her groom. Moreover, the Muslim
    husband is charged with the maintenance of his wife and children. The
    wife, on the other hand, is not obliged to help him in this regard. Her
    property and earnings are for her use alone except what she may
    voluntarily offer her husband. Besides, one has to realise that Islam
    vehemently advocates family life. It strongly encourages youth to get
    married, discourages divorce, and does not regard celibacy as a virtue.
    Therefore, in a truly Islamic society, family life is the norm and
    single life is the rare exception. That is, almost all marriage-aged
    women and men are married in an Islamic society. In light of these
    facts, one would appreciate that Muslim men, in general, have greater
    financial burdens than Muslim women and thus inheritance rules are
    meant to offset this imbalance so that the society lives free of all
    gender or class wars. After a simple comparison between the financial
    rights and duties of Muslim women, one British Muslim woman has
    concluded that Islam has treated women not only fairly but generously.

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