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Honorable Status of Women in Islam

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Women's Inheritance

Qur’an and the Bible have divergent vies on 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 once no male issue remained, the wife was not recognized as heir even in such conditions." 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 Book of 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 Islam abolished all these unjust customs and gave all the female relatives inheritance shares: Man and woman have been given the right to inherit from the parents and the near relatives by Qur’an: “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...” (Qur’an;4:7). A woman’s right to inherit is as much protected by law as that of a man. However, it must be remembered that whereas the right to inherit of both man and woman is equal, their shares in the inheritance may differ. In certain cases, the share of woman in inheritance is equal to the man, according to Qur’an: “For parents a sixth share of the inheritance to each if the deceased left children”(Qur’an;4:11), however in certain cases the woman gets half of what a man in her position would get. The cause of this variation is the financial responsibilities and liabilities with which man has been burdened, not woman. As compared to Muslim man, Muslim woman is financially secure and provided for as a wife, mother, daughter or sister by her husband, son, father and brother respectively. "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard"(Qur’an;4:34). If a woman has no male relations, then it is the responsibility of the state to maintain her. Whereas, a man, except in one or two cases, is supposed to not only look after his family and other needy relations, but also to make financial contributions to good causes in society. Thus, a larger share in the inheritance does not depict the supremacy of man over woman, but it is rather a concession granted to him in lieu of his financial and other responsibilities. Regrettably it is observed that in most of Muslims communities, while men happily get the more share than the women in inheritance but mostly they do not meet this obligation, which they owe to the entitled women. Such men would be answerable to Allah for this sin. 
To summarize the share of women in inheritance is not fixed; there are three types of shares for a woman's inheritance in Islam in different situations, as follows:
A woman may have an equal share as that of the man.
A woman will have an equal share to that of the man, or a little less.
A woman will have half the share of a man.
Gustave Le Bon says in his book Arab Civilization: "The principles of inheritance which have been determined in the Qur'an have a great deal of justice and fairness. The person who reads the Qur'an can perceive these concepts of justice and fairness in terms of inheritance through the verses I quoted. I should also point out the great level of efficiency in terms of general laws and rules derived from these verses. I have compared British, French and Islamic Laws of inheritance and found that Islam grants the wives the right of inheritance, which our laws are lacking while Westerners consider them to be ill-treated by the Muslim men."
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