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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Denial of share in the inheritance to women is rampant
By M H Lakdawala, Mumbai

Zainab Khan, Shahista Khan, and Nushrat Khan, daughters of an iron pipe trader received just a couple of thousands of rupees in heritance whereas his two sons got couple of crores each. Abida Mansuri, a widow has to sell odd items such as masalas and pickles door to door. Her father’s property of a three-bedroom flat and a Kirana shop was sold off by her five brothers and the proceeds divided equally amongst themselves. Abida was promised her share, but never given anything.

Pretexts used to deny inheritance to women include: expenses incurred in marriage, gifts given by father to daughter, the property is in use by the members of the family, woman herself is not interested in having inheritance, the business and property was taken care by the males...

Sisters Reshma and Razia Parekh were asked to sign the property documents by their elder brother Rauf on the assurance that they will receive due share in the property of their father. Since three years, both are still awaiting their share, which was divided between their three brothers. 

Islam has given women certain rights in the property of their father. But Muslim society blatantly infringes on this right. Irrespective of any community or status, the denial of share in the inheritance to women is rampant. Even in those cases where the woman receives her share in the father’s property, her husband or in-laws take it away.

As a case study, MG selected five cases of inheritance. Two, where inheritance was given according to the Islamic injunctions, two where inheritance was denied and one where the share was not divided as prescribed in Islam.

In the first case, one of the top timber merchants in Mumbai though distributed the inheritance to three of his sisters and two brothers as prescribed by Islam, but on the pretext of giving them partnership and investing the money in the family business, money was retained. The percentage of profit retained by the brothers is far greater than what was due to the the sisters and not proportionate to their investment in the business.

In the second case, the amount received by the woman was taken away by the husband and invested in his business without giving any profit to the wife. In the third case, Bilkis, a housewife and mother of five, was denied her share in the inheritance by her three brothers. She was made to believe that the jewellery and other items, which she received during her marriage, was her share in the inheritance. 

In the fourth case, Maryam was denied her share on the pretext that their father’s shop is still run by two brothers and two houses are used by them. Since property is not sold, she cannot be given any share in the inheritance.

In the fifth case, Sabira, the unmarried daughter of a businessman, was asked to vacate her parents’ flat after their death as it needed to be sold so that inheritance can be distributed as prescribed by Islam. She was given a 225 square feet one-room in the suburbs as her share and Rs 2000 for monthly expenses, while both her brothers got a two-bedroom flat at a prime location and equal share in the business with no share for their sister. Islam has given clear direction for the distribution of inheritance and women have their share. Su’rah Nisa’ says: “God enjoins you about your children that a boy's share is equal to that of two girls’. And, if there are only girls among the children and they are more than two then they shall receive two thirds of the inheritance, and, if there is only one girl, then her share is half (4:11). Sahih Bukhari (volume 8, book 80, number 725) has the following saying of the Prophet: “Narrated Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas: I was stricken by an ailment that led me to the verge of death. The Prophet came to pay me a visit. I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have much property and no heir except my single daughter. Shall I give two-thirds of my property in charity?" He said, "No." I said, "Half of it?" He said, "No." I said, "One-third of it?" He said, "You may do so for it is better for you to leave your off-spring wealthy than to leave them poor, asking others for help. And whatever you spend (for Allah's sake) you will be rewarded for it, even for a morsel of food which you may put in the mouth of your wife."

Those who do not follow these guidelines are guilty of refusing to accept Allah’s will. The empowerment of Muslim women will never be possible unless the right of inheritance is given to them as prescribed by Islam. The reasons given by the male members for denying inheritance to women are untenable in Islam. The pretexts are that expenses incurred in marriage is the woman’s inheritance, gifts given by father to daughter should be considered as her inheritance, the property is in use by the members of the family hence no inheritance can be given, woman herself is not interested in having inheritance, the business and property was taken care by the males and it is they who have worked hard hence they deserve the total share, not the female members... These and similar reasons do not take away even an iota of the women’s right in inheritance.

When we say that Islam has given greatest rights to the women, non-Muslims do not believe this. The reason is that the Muslim society is not the true reflection of Islam. Unless others see Islam in action in Muslim society, it will be difficult to make them believe that Islam is the best. 
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