Why is the share given to women in Islam regarding inheritance is half of that given to men? What is the arrangement Islam introduced regarding the share of women in inheritance and equality?

The Share of the Woman in Inheritance and Equality

A. The Situation before Islam

One of the reasons why people claim that Islam regards men to be superior to women and that it violates the equality of men and women is the fact that the woman is given one share but the man is given two shares in inheritance. In fact,giving one share to women and to shares to men has nothing to do with men being superior to women. On the contrary, Islam protected the rights of small children and women who were oppressed and maltreated by the people of Jahiliyyah by giving women share from the inheritance. As a matter of fact, the following is stated in a verse:  

“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.”(an-Nisa, 4/7) 1

In the Arab community of Jahiliyyah, women were not given any shares from the inheritance. What is more, women were inherited like property when their husbands died. Only the men who could use weapons and could defend the country had the right to inherit. The property of the man who died was divided among his male relatives that could fight.  2 However, in Madinah, sons who had reached the age of puberty could inherit their fathers' property; younger sons, daughters and mothers could not inherit anything from their fathers.  3

“Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children's (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females.” 4

Therefore, when the verse above was sent down, the polytheists did not like this decree and said,

“The woman is given one fourth or one eighth; the daughter is given half share; little children are given shares. However, they could neither ride horses nor fight. Little children are also given inheritance but little children are of no use at war.” 5

What is understood from this viewpoint is that the value of man was measured by his contribution to economic life.  

This mentality is the mentality of the Arab Jahiliyyah, which still existed in the hearts of some people, against the method of division that Allah rendered fard based on justice and numerous wise reasons. The mentality of Jahiliyyah that is present in the brains of some people living today is not much different from the mentality of the Arab Jahiliyyah. The reason why this verse was sent down displays the situation of the women and children during the Era of Jahiliyyah clearly. The wife of Sa’d b. Rabi, who was martyred at the Battle of Uhud, went to the presence of the Messenger of Allah together with her two daughters. She said,  

“O Messenger of Allah! These are the daughters of Sa’d. Their father was martyred at Uhud. Their uncles inherited his property and they did not leave anything to the girls. However, these girls cannot marry without any property.”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) listened to the complaint of the woman and said, “Allah will send His decree regarding the issue." 6 Thereupon, the verse of inheritance was sent down. 7

Islam saved women and children from being deprived of inheritance; it gave them a social and legal personality together with men. Therefore, those who claim to defend women rights should not criticize Islam by saying, “Islam gives women half share”; on the contrary they should accept and appreciate the equity and superiorityof Islam, which gave women the right of inheritance through a great revolution. With this decree, the Quran did not only eliminate the inequality and injustice among older and younger children but also gave the rights of inheritance to the mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, granddaughter, etc by mentioning their names separately. These shares, which the Quran arranged as fixed rights, cannot be eliminated by any legal or traditional arrangements like a will.  They are regarded to be included in the category of(nasiban mafrudan) “a determinate share” (an-Nisa, 4/7). This phrase is the most obvious indication that the relevant decree is clear and understandable and that it cannot be changed.  

B. Verses Related to the Inheritance Regarding Women

It is obvious that the woman has the right of receiving inheritance like the man in Islam. The objections about the decree is related to the fact that the woman is given half as much share as the man.

First of all, we should state that the generalization that Islam orders the woman to be given half share in inheritance originates from not evaluating the verses related to the issue as a whole deliberately. When those verses are evaluated without any prejudice and carefully, it will be seen that this claim is not true: 

1. Giving the woman half share in inheritance is not valid for all cases; it is valid only when she is an inheritor together with her brother(s) of the same parents:

“Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children's (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half.”(an-Nisa, 4/11) 8

Therefore, it is clear that the rule of giving the woman half as much as the man in inheritance is not a general rule valid in all cases. Thus, to claim that the woman is given half as much as the man in inheritance is a general rule regardless of the state of the woman means to deviate the meaning of the verse mentioned above.   

2. As it is clearly seen in the verse, the share of the woman in inheritance is not half as much as the man as it is claimed. If the person that has died has only daughters (at least two), two-thirds of the inheritance will be given to them. If the person that has died has only one daughter, she will receive half of the inheritance. (an-Nisa, 4/11)

3. If a child of the parents dies and leaves inheritance andhe has children, the mother and the father are given one sixth of the inheritance each. If the person that has died has no children and the parents are inheritors, the woman will receive one third of the inheritance. If the person that has died has brothers, the mother will receive one sixth of the inheritance.    (an-Nisa, 4/11) 9

4. If the husband has died, his wife will receive one fourth of the inheritance. If the man that has died has more than one child from that wife or another wife, or if his son has sons, his wife will receive one eighth of the inheritance.

“…their (your wives) share is a fourth, if ye leave no child; but if ye leave a child, they get an eighth...”(an-Nisa, 4/12) 10

As it is seen, the claim that the share of the woman is always half as much as the man's share is not true. The share changes based on the people sharing the inheritance.  

C. Why Two Shares for the Man and One Share for the Woman?

According to the Quran, it might seem unjust that the woman receives half share when she is an inheritor together with her brother when it is viewed superficially but in fact it is just. Let alone being just, it will be seen that it is correct when it is viewed under the light of fairness and rightness. 

1. In Islam, inheritance is divided based on the needs and responsibilities of people.The sustenance of the mother, wife, daughter and sister has to be provided by the father, husband, son and brother. In general, the woman does not have to provide sustenance for other relatives. 11 The man has to provide sustenance for his wife, daughter, mother and sister in all cases. The man is the formal guard of his family and is responsible for everybody in the family. Therefore, in accordance with the rule “Bounties are based on responsibilities”, the man, who is responsible for providing sustenance his wife, daughters, mother and when necessary his sister, is given twice as much share compared to his sister, who does not have such responsibilities.

2. The woman has full authority to spend her property as she wishes. Even if the woman is rich, she does not have to spend any money for the family. 12 From this point of view, if the woman and the man were to be given equal shares, the balance would be disturbed against the man since he has to provide sustenance for the family; the woman does not have such a responsibility. Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states the following regarding the issue:  

The verse “...And for the man a portion equal of that of two...”is pure justice, so too is it pure compassion. Yes, it is justice, for the overwhelming majority of men take a wife and undertake to provide for her. As for women, they take a husband and load their livelihood on him, and this makes up for the deficiency in what they have inherited."13

3. If the woman is not married,she is a single person who does not have to look after anybody. When she gets married, her husband has to provide sustenance for her and her children as it is mentioned above. The woman has no responsibility of earning money. 14 Furthermore, the woman receives mahr from her husband and will have many gifts like gold, household appliances, money etc depending on the tradition. The woman does not have to spend the money she has. 15 If she wishes, she can increase it by investing. The brother will spend the inheritance he receives on marriage expenses, mahr and sustenance of the family. Besides, if the sister who is single cannot live on the inheritance she has received, the brother has to support her. 16 Therefore, when the issue is viewed from this viewpoint, to give the man one share and the woman half share is real justice. 

It is important to note that Islam proposes a structure in which women are interdependent socially but independent economically. This is important if we want to understand the emphasis of Islam on the mutual love, respect, tolerance and understanding among the members of the family. However, no matter how virtuous economic independence is, it does not mean that women have to provide their own sustenance and that they can live independently outside the family. The economic responsibility of the family always depends on the man. In fact, this privilege, given to women, shows the importance our religion gives to women.   

4. The brother can give equal share or more to his sister if he wishes while dividing the inheritance. It will be regarded as donation or gift. Nobody can prevent it.

5. The issue also has a psychological aspect. Islam is not peculiar to a certain time era, country or nation. It is universal; it takes into consideration all times, communities and the general human psychology in its decrees. In almost all communities, the daughters have been regarded as "girls who take the property of the household to other people" ; it is also valid today. In fact, even if she gets married, has a separate family and has children, she still needs the mercy, compassion and ward of her parents and brothers. The compassion and mercy she receives is more valuable than the property she receives from her family. In that case, to give the son and the daughter the same share while dividing the inheritance can harm this compassion and mercy. Dealing with the issue from this viewpoint, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi stats the following regarding the issue:

“It is also mercy, for a weak girl is greatly 1n need of kindness from her father and brothers. The Qur'an decrees that she receives kindness from her father without worry. Her father does not consider her anxiously, thinking of her as “a harmful child due to whom half of his wealth will pass to the hands of a stranger.” Anxiety and anger are not mixed with his kindness. She also receives her brother’s kindness and protection free of rivalry and jealousy. He does not consider her “as a rival who will destroy half the family and give an important part of our property to someone else." They will be no hatred and hostility mixed with his feeling of compassion and protection towards her. Thus, the girl, who is delicate and weak by nature, is apparently deprived of a small part, but in place of it she gains inexhaustible wealth in the form of the compassion and kindness of those close to her. And to give her more than her due with the idea of being more merciful to her than Divine Mercy, is not kindness, but a great wrong. Indeed, the savage greed of the present time, which recalls the appalling tyranny of burying girl children alive in the Age of Ignorance due to savage jealousy, may possibly open the way to merciless wickedness. Like this one, all Quranic rulings confirm the decree, “And we did not send you but as Mercy to all the worlds.” (al-Anbiya, 21/107)." 17

With this evaluation, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi deals with the issue from a deep viewpoint.

Conflicts occur between many brothers and sistersbecause men and women receive equal shares from the inheritance today. The brother cannot accept it when the sister receives half of the fortune of his father and takes it to other people. Due to this Jahiliyyah mentality, many inheritance conflicts occur between brothers and sisters in our country. Today, many people put pressure on their sisters and ask them not to take any shares from the inheritance or to be contented with a little amount. Sisters generally waive their rights under pressure. Women are persuaded and silenced in illegal family courts. As we see in the media, conflicts of inheritance can be transformed into unending blood feuds. Not to accept the method of God's division of inheritance and not be contented with one's share causes a lot of injustice and oppression.

Due to the reasons we have tried to list above, the man is given his share based on the rate of his financial responsibilities; the woman, who does not have any financial responsibilities whether she is rich or poor, is always under social security even when she is single, a daughter, wife, mother and widow; she is given a share accordingly. 18 If this decree of Allah, who has endless wisdom in His decrees, is not just, it means there is no justice on earth.

In conclusion, the law of inheritance, which is dealt with as the continuation of family law in the Quran, is one of the issues that are explained in every detail. To regard the equality of women in inheritance, which is one of the most current issues of today, from the viewpoint of equality only forms the basis of the mistake. For, the shares of the women are evaluated differently in different situations. She is dealt with in different categories depending on whether she is a wife, mother, the only sister or one of the sisters. Those who defend absolute equality in every issue including this pretend not to see the basic principles mentioned above. Therefore, that the woman is given half as much as the share of the man in some cases in inheritance has nothing to do with the idea of regarding men to be superior to women.  If it were like that, we would have to say that children are superior to their fathers since they receive a bigger share than their fathers. It would be a ridiculous claim. On the contrary, this method of division is directly proportionate to the responsibilities of the woman and man; it aims to distribute sustenance in a balanced way and to ensure love and justice both in the family and in social life. 

Besides, the fact that the necessities and the responsibility of the woman and man are deterministic here and that children, who are about to start life and who will face financial difficulties in life due to needing property more than the others, are given more shares than their parents and that the men are given more shares than the women aim to ensure humane life in the family, which is the smallest social unit. It is also an indication of steps taken to form the middle class. 19

Footnotes

1. an-Nisa, 4/7.

2. see Tabari, Jamiu’l–Bayan 4/262, Egypt, 1968; Razi, Tafsiru’l-Kabir 9/194, Beirut; Tahir b. Ashur, at–Tahrir wa’t-Tanwir 4/248, Tunus, nd; Ibn Kathir, Tafsirul-Qur’ani’l-Azim 2/161. Arabs used to say, “Those who do not fight with their spears, who cannot defend their country and who cannot get booty cannot be inheritors.” see ibid; for the practices of inheritance in the Era of Jahiliyyah, see  Ali Osman Ateş, İslâm’a Göre Cahiliye ve Ehl-i Kitap Örf ve Adetleri p. 379-388.

3. Hamidullah, Muhammad, İslâm Peygamberi 1/260, İrfan Yay. İst. 1980; For the practices of inheritance in Judaism, see Ali Osman Ateş, İslâm’a Göre Cahiliye ve Ehl-i Kitap Örf ve Adetleri p. 372-380.

4. an-Nisa, 4/11.

5. see Tabari, ibid 4/275; Ibn Kathir, ibid 2/197.

6. Abu Dawud, Faraid 4; Ibn Majah, Faraid 2.

7. Wahidi, Asbabu’n–Nuzul p.150; see Ibn Kathir, ibid 2/196; Qurtubi, al-Jami’ li Ahkami’l-Qur’an 5/39; Razi, ibid 9/203-204. Something that Jabir b. Abdullah experienced is also mentioned among the reasons why the verse was sent down. See Bukhari, Tafsiru’l-Qur’an 4; Tirmidhi, Faraid 6; Tirmidhi, Tafsiru’l-Qur’an 5.

8. an-Nisa, 4/11.

9. an-Nisa, 4/11.

10. an-Nisa, 4/12. A remarkable issue in this verse is that women are given the right of debt and will just like men.“In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child.” When a person whether male or female dies, his/her debts are paid, his/her will is fulfilled and then the inheritance is divided. It means the woman has all kinds of civil and social rights. The woman can own property, leaves inheritance, receives inheritance, bequeaths, fulfills wills, borrows and lends. That is, the Quran gives woman the right of owning property and using her property as she wishes; thus, it gives woman a free personality. See Süleyman Ateş, Çağdaş Kur’ân-ı Kerim Tefsiri, Yeni Ufuklar Neşriyat, 1988, 2/574; For more detailed information about the state of the woman whose husband dies regarding inheritance, see Hamza Aktan, İslâm Miras Hukuku İşaret Yay., İstanbul, 1991.

11. For more detailed information about the sustenance of the woman and her responsibilities, see  İslâm’da Kadın Hakları (Anthology) 2/178-283 Rehber Baş. Yay. 1. Baskı. Ankara, 1993.

12. For more detailed information, see Ruhi Özcan, İslâm Hukuku’nda Hısımlık Nafakası p. 68-84, Çağlayan Yayınları İzmir, 1996.

13. Nursi, Badiuzzaman Said, Mektubat p. 37, Envar Neşriyat, İstanbul, 1997; see also Sözler p. 381.

14. see Kasani, Alauddin Abu Bakr Ibn Masud, Badaiu’s–Sanai’ 4/28. Egypt, 1328; Sarakhsi, Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Mabsut 5/187. Egypt, 1324; Ibn Rushd’il–Hafid, Muhammad Ibn Ahmad, Bidayatu’l–Mujtahid 2/55, Egypt, 1379.

15. For instance, if the husband is poor and the wife is rich, the husband is responsible. The woman cannot be held responsible for the sustenance of her husband. The same decree is valid for the husband who cannot earn his keep and provide sustenance for his wife due to some reasons like being disabled. In this case, the sustenance of the man is provided by his relatives not by his wife. The woman is supported by her own relatives. The marriage sustenance that the woman is to receive from her husband is a debt that does not drop due to prescription. Even if the woman spends her own money, she can take this money from her husband. see Özcan, Ruhi, Hısımlık Nafakası p. 71.

16. For sustenance of kinship, see Ruhi Özcan, ibid p. 89-154.

17. Nursi, Badiüzzaman Said, Mektubat 37; Sözler p. 381.

18. For the social security of the woman in Islam, see Faruk Beşer, Kadının Çalışması Sosyal Güvenliği ve İslâm p.165-180, Nun Yay. İst. 1995; Bayraktar Bayraklı says, “If the father in a family is old and if the sons and daughter work together and earn money together, their shares in inheritance are equal.” He uses verse 32 of the chapter of an-Nisa as evidence. However, this verse cannot be evidence for the issue because this verse states that the woman, who was deprived of inheritance during the Era of Jahiliyyah, needs to be given her share from the inheritance. The share of the woman from the inheritance depending on various situations is determined by verses and hadiths. It is also necessary to say that the income of the girl in such a family belongs to the girl only. She does not have to spend her money on the expenses of the family. It is her personal property.  see Bayraktar Bayraklı, Kadın, Sevgi ve Temel Hakları p. 64, İşaret Yay. İstanbul, 2000.

19. For middle class and Islamic principles, see İzzet Er, Sosyal Gelişme ve İslâm p. 94-115, Rağbet Yayınları, İstanbul, 1999.

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