Praise be to Allah. May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad.
The Islamic Sharia is unique in nature, for it is effective and valid beyond times and places. As a sign of flexibility, it considers all conditions of people, given their diverse cases and differences. This flexibility is not a feature of all texts of Sharia; some texts are constantly invariable and inalterable; they are not open for further human reasoning, such as the texts related to faith, worship and morality.
The Islamic texts of inheritance belong to this definite section, which accepts no human reasoning or change. Allah, the Almighty, has prescribed its rules and norms himself for their importance and significance. The noble Sharia has explained this area and removed all causes of conflict and discord, but fake claims, objections, and accusations of being unfair and biased never ended. Before we clarify the philosophy of the distribution of inheritance in Islam, the following points must be clarified:
First: A Muslim, who truly submits to Allah—the Almighty, with firm and sincere faith in Allah as his Lord, and in Muhammad as his Prophet—finds it enough to know that Allah—the Almighty, is the One who commands these laws, so s/he would accept them.
Second: It is essential to understand the difference between justice and equality. The achievement of justice depends on achieving equality.
Third: If we want to demonstrate the philosophy of inheritance in Islam, especially the inheritance of women, we should not lose sight of the reality of other nations regarding the same issue.
Fourth: Islam had excelled other positive laws and legislations in relation to giving women fair treatment and equal rights through the following:
1. Islam has abrogated all unfair practices against women, especially in the area of inheritance. The Holy Qur’an refers to some of these unfair practices saying, “O believers! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness to take away part of the dower you have given them” (Qur’an 4:19)”
2. Islam has granted women the right to guardianship over her property, giving her an independent financial competency to undertake liabilities and receive rights. Allah, the Almighty, said, “To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn, and ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah has full knowledge of all things” (Qur’an 4:32).
3. Islam has declared women qualified to conclude all financial contracts by themselves, such as contracts of sales, pawns, partnerships, etc. The Prophet even said, “Woman are the counterpart of men” (Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi).
4. Islam has given women specific shares in the estate of the deceased. Allah, the Almighty, says, “Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether there is little or much of it; a stated portion” (Qur’an 4:7).
To sum up, men and women have equal rights under Islam to earn money, work, wages, and financial dues.
Actually, the system of inheritance has an independent philosophy, which can be summarized through the following points:
First: The claim that Islamic inheritance system gives males as much as double the share of female’s share is misleading and untrue. Investigating the details of inheritance system proves a woman may, in some cases, receive more than men or receive the same share of men. Or she may be entitled to a share in inheritance while men have nothing, which occurs in more than thirty cases. She receives half of man’s share in four cases only.
Second: The variation of shares in the Islamic system of inheritance has nothing to do with masculinity or femininity at all. In fact, it depends on three factors:
1. The degree of kinship: the closer the degree a person has to the deceased person, the greater the share of inheritance s/he receives.
2. The position of the inheriting generation; the younger the inheriting generation, the greater share they receive. Thus, the share of the deceased’s son is bigger than the deceased’s father even if the son is still an infant for s/he is in more need of money.
3. Costs and financial burdens: In case the degree of kinship and the inheriting generation are equal, shares vary in line with the expected financial burdens of inheritors. The legal maxims states that “Entitlement to profits goes in line with burdens and responsibilities undertaken i.e. profits are parallel to the legally imposed burdens and duties.
Third: Islam, upon the time of revelation, observed the realities of people’s life and reformed imbalance. It educated the arrogant pre-Islamic people and turned them into a nation that keeps covenants, fulfills rights, and gives women the right to inheritance through a just and integrated legal system.
It is unforgettable here to stress that depriving women of heritage or forcing her to yield and abandon it for a sum of money or benefit is totally forbidden in Islam. Abu Bakrah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said, “There is no sin whose punishment is more worthy that Allah hastens to apply it in this world, let alone what is in store for the sinner in the Hereafter, than tyranny and severing ties of kinship.” Undoubtedly, depriving a woman of her inheritance is a kind of severing ties of kinship and oppression, which incurs quick punishment in this life and in the hereafter as well.
Islam is a wholly integrated and perfectly inseparable religion. It is unfair to judge it without perfect implementation in life. The issue of inheritance is related to a series of other issues. This article is just an endeavor to highlight of these interrelated relationship to reconsider the situation from a different approach.
May Allah grant us good understanding, inclusive knowledge, and guide us to the right path.