The Manifestation of Qur’anic Wisdom in the Laws of Inheritance
يُوصِيكُمُ اللّهُ فِي أَوْلاَدِكُمْ لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الأُنثَيَيْنِ
God enjoins you concerning your children: the male shall have a share (of inheritance) equal to the share of two females; (al-Nisa, 4/10)
وَإِن كَانُواْ إِخْوَةً رِّجَالاً وَنِسَاء فَلِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الأُنثَيَيْنِ
And if there are (several) siblings, men and women, then the male shall have the like of the portion of two females; (al-Nisa, 4/176)
As mentioned in the foregoing verses, Islam has ordained that the share of the man in inheritance should be twice that of the female and has called its followers to practice this Divine decree. This matter requires some deliberation and analysis; however, before we begin a discussion about this ruling, we need to remind ourselves that:
A debate about the respective inheritance of men and women must not be devoted to supporting the rights of men while ignoring the high status and actual rights of women; rather the intention should be to defend the sanctity of revelation, which has prescribed a course based on the intrinsic nature of human beings and what is in their true best interest. Accordingly, it becomes evident that the discussion at hand will not be influenced by man-made social norms, which are subject to change in every era, even though the social environment in its own way exerts such a tremendous influence on the thinking of the populace that it even sways the opinions of some of its intellectuals.
After this preamble, we now embark on a closer study of the issue:
Islam treats men and women in a manner that is comprehensive, taking into account all aspects of their existence, in recognition of their valuable place in creation. On the one hand, in its prescriptive guidance (revelation), Islam considers the essential worthiness and the spiritual potential of men and women to be the same; each one of them, through suitable actions, can achieve their maximum and deserved potential.
On the other hand, if we consider the opinions and findings of psychologists and physiologists about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual differences between men and women based on their research and observation, we find that the rights and responsibilities of men and women have been prescribed by taking into account their inner and real differences, which does not affect their essential equality or their dignity as human beings. In other words, in the view of religion, the actual and natural differences of the two sexes does not mean that there is any difference in their respective worth.
There is no doubt that in the course of the social development of human beings, the female sex has always been the subject of oppression and denial of rights. She has suffered much deprivation at the hands of men.
On the other hand, there is also no doubt that the many remedial and radical developments through the ages, have inclined towards the opposite extreme; and the attempts to resolve the conflict has not achieved a balanced result in this regard, despite well-meaning efforts.
Amongst them, the seekers of women’s rights are no exception and we have witnessed many times their disproportionate behaviour in the defence of the rights of women.
As for the fact that equality in every aspect between the rights of men and women has been declared as a basic and established truth by those who defend women’s rights; we must analyze the basis on which this view has been formed, and to what extent it is logical and whether it is compatible with reality.
It is true that both men and women are partners in the human race, and both possess equal human rights and virtues; however, there are undeniable differences in their physical and emotional compositions. Of course, these differences are not defects, by which one sex can claim superiority over the other; rather, they are differences that make them distinct from one another. Consequently, when it is claimed that the two sexes “must” have the same rights as each other, we need to ask, where is this “must” derived from?1
The equality of rights of individuals of one sex is a matter that is logical and tenable; however, the equality of rights, in all aspects, of two different sexes (in view of their emotional and physical differences) requires proof to support the claim; and if a proof for this equality in all aspects and dimensions is not forthcoming or produced, then the claim of the need for equality of rights is baseless and illogical; in truth, a robust validation of this claim is still pending.
A cursory glance at the many and varied feminist ideas and views will reveal the truth of the matters stated above:
The ideology of feminism was established in the West as a movement that sought women’s rights; even though it is possible that its proponents, especially women, started this movement sincerely in order to attain the true rights of women, the existence of capitalist and economical motives behind the propagation of the feminist ideology at the stage of its inception cannot be denied. 2
However, aside from the factors that influenced the dawn of this ideology, even nowadays, feminism has been transformed into many different schools and theories, and every group who propagates this ideology has embarked on its own particular course, often criticizing the stance of others and insisting that their own opinions are the most progressive.
The proponents of women’s rights originally advocated equality of rights for men and women. The views of Simone de Beauvoir, as outlined in her book, “The Second Sex” – which has become famous as the “Bible of Feminism” – are based on this same principle that since men and women are both human beings, they should have equal rights.
However, the course of social development forced feminists to review their thinking, to the degree that they were no longer content with espousing equal rights for men and women, but went further to state that females were the superior sex. In essence, this was the exact opposite of the extreme view that had deprived women of their rights in the first place. Extremism appeared in the school of feminism, to the extent that one radical feminist, Andrea Dworkin, embarked on a scathing criticism of masculinity and considered maleness to be essentially synonymous with violence, death and destruction.
Today, in practical terms, the principle of equality is not always practised in western societies; for instance, when they say that men and women must receive equal rights because of the fact that they are both human beings, in the matter of child custody the courts rule in favour of women on the basis of their sex, and not on the basis of their membership of the human race. Contrary to the claim of equality in every respect, this is a legal rule that is openly biased and unfair to men and which the judiciary invariably supports.
Finally, the emergence of post-modernism in contemporary times, which has influenced many modern ideologies and schools of thought, has also changed the focus of feminists regarding the pursuit of women’s rights. Specifically, a new group of feminists have stood up against the excesses of the era of modernism, by emphasising the importance of the maternal role of women. In fact, this group believe that both men and women possess special unique qualities. Thus, they extol matters such as pregnancy and the nursing of infants as distinctive values which are exclusive to women, and criticize the extremists by asking how they could ignore this precious feminine quality when considering the rights of women? 38
In any case, in view of the transformations in the ideology of feminism, in addition to the fundamental question already mentioned about the absence of logical and decisive proofs to validate their main claims, we also need to ask how long and to what degree will these various contrasting opinions about women’s rights continue to change? And where will this development ultimately stop and settle?
Furthermore, who is the most qualified to select the correct view from amongst the plethora of opinions on the subject, and will the view of these experts not be later subjected to criticism and review?
It must not be forgotten that that although the proponents of equal rights for men and women have not explicitly discussed the different faculties of reasoning, intellect, labour and management of the two sexes, nevertheless they always take into account these undeniable and fundamental differences that are integral to the two sexes and apply them in the variety of social issues. This fact is borne out by statistics which analyse how, in practice and in different social settings; men are selected much more often than women to managerial posts. They also conclusively show how, in societies which clamour about equality of rights between men and women, the intellectual and labour output of men and women are rewarded in an inconsistent and biased manner.
It is a clear reality that the physical constitutions of men and women are suited to particular responsibilities; men are suited to performing heavy and rugged work and in contrast, women are more suited to lighter and more delicate tasks. This is a difference that the Creator has placed in the essence of the two sexes.
If the rights of both sexes must be identical, then the work that the two can do should likewise be distributed in an identical manner, because it is not logical that the tasks be different but the rights be the same!
The other factor that results in the difference in rights, is the difference in responsibilities. Let us consider a factory, an office or a manufacturing plant in which there are many workers busy doing a variety of tasks. One is the president, and others, depending on their level of expertise, are advisers, employees and labourers. It is obvious that the rights of the president are different from that of everyone else and this difference will not be considered to be unjustified, because his rights are proportional to the responsibilities he bears.
This is a sensible system that has been accepted by all societies. If all the salaried workers in one department are men, or all of them are women, or both men and women run the department, even then, the situation will be the same. A president, even if she is a woman, will have a higher salary than the male employees, because her responsibilities are different. Therefore, in these situations, no one will claim equal rights for men and women.
This difference in responsibilities, which in turn causes the difference in rights, is an accepted convention. At this point, the question arises that when a difference in responsibilities results in a difference in rights – and this matter raises no protest or objection – then why should the differences in the responsibilities of men and women due to their nature and disposition, which are immutable and go back to the essence of their respective existences, not result in a difference in the rights of the two? Is there an argument that proves that the differences in responsibilities which raise and lower individual rights, are only limited to conventional responsibilities, and do not encompass natural and existential differences?
The implication of the foregoing question is that, if the proponents of equal rights between men and women want to ignore the natural and distinct responsibilities of the two sexes by formulating laws bases on equal rights, then they are acting contrary to nature. Laws can always be made according to their whims and desires, but nature itself cannot be changed!
And finally, there is another question that arises here, and that is: When national and private companies are allowed to make distinctions in the job specifications of the male and female employees, and thereby, allocate different rights to them, and diverse societies also accept this practice as normal, why is a religious school of thought not allowed to pronounce the rights of the men and women who are its adherents on the basis of the responsibilities it has allocated to each one?
If the differences in conventional rights as practised by private and public institutions or by particular individuals have raised no objections and are accepted norms in all societies, why are the differences in rights as espoused by a religion challenged? When an ordinary employer has the right to decide the duties of the employees working in his company as well as their rights, why can’t the founder of a great intellectual and spiritual movement not do the same for its followers and adherents? That too, a religion that has placed a great financial responsibility on the shoulders of its male followers; a religion that makes a man responsible for procuring every necessary provision for his wife commensurate to her status and rank; in these circumstances, justice dictates that the share of men and women in inheritance must be different.
Let us assume that a father who wishes to allocate some money to his two sons, gives the married son twice as much as the one who is unmarried. Can one say that the right of the unmarried son has been violated, or that he has been disadvantaged because he received less? Here too, there is a difference, but it is based on justice and fairness, because if the father gave both sons the same amount, morally he would be guilty of unjust discrimination; similarly there is a difference in the inheritance of men and women according to the law of sharia; however, it is a just distribution based on the lighter responsibility placed on the woman, and which is fairly reflected in the lesser amount that she inherits.
This is when in general, for most families, one can reasonably say that the expenses a man incurs in supporting his wife in the course of their married life is many times greater than the amount which the woman would inherit if she was to receive equal shares to her male siblings.
As a rule, the financial commitments that a man undertakes has an influence; when the man guarantees the living expenses of his wife, he feels a greater sense of responsibility towards her. This will engender a positive reaction from the wife, who sees herself as indebted to her husband and strives to repay her debt by fostering a relationship with him based on love, respect and collaboration.
As a result of the increased sense of responsibility on the part of the husband towards his wife on the one hand and the sense of indebtedness on the part of the wife towards the husband on the other, there is an increase in their mutual love and affection and this will help to strengthen the foundations of their family life. This same strengthening effect would not arise if the woman received a greater share in inheritance.
From the dawn of Islam to the present, millions of Muslim brothers and sisters, wives and husbands have lived genially side by side, without the disparity in the share of inheritance causing any disruption in the order of Muslim family life; in fact, there has not even been much evidence of dissatisfaction at this arrangement which would cast a shadow on their cordial relations or cause rifts between family members. And, the rare events when there have been family disputes due to the shares in inheritance, do not invalidate the general situation stated above.
One of the interesting developments in recent times is the increased tendency for women in the West (in comparison to men) to turn towards Islam. Despite all the efforts of some western agencies to convince women that Islam denies women their rights – and in their widespread propaganda they do not refrain from every allegation of the violation of rights – nevertheless, more women turn to Islam than men.
This fact can be easily seen from statistical reports and must not be dismissed lightly; rather we need to study this matter carefully and think about the possible factors that would make a woman from the western society become prepared to ignore the equal right of inheritance that she has been granted through the laws of her country (a law that was enacted with the material benefit of women in mind), in favour of a religion which has directed that the share in inheritance of men is twice that of women.
Is it possible to overlook the influential factor of innate human nature (fitra), which is related to the true essence of human beings and ignore the specific essential nature of the female sex in this regard? Especially when we know that Islam has taken into account the spiritual and physical differences between men and women as the basis for the laws of inheritance. When a law has been enacted on the basis of justice and is rooted in the depths of human nature, why should it be subject to change and reform? And what should it place as its focus instead of justice and innate human nature?
If man-made laws had positively addressed the needs that originate from the depths of the human being and satisfied his inner feelings, then such issues would not warrant consideration.
In addition to what has already been mentioned, another aspect of the Divine wisdom in the laws of inheritance is the economical aspect; specifically: In the west, the wealth that reaches women through inheritance is equal to that which men receive in the same way.
However, in most cases the wealth of women is used less in the way of industry and sound business, and a large portion of it is usually spent on decorations, superfluous ceremonies, luxuries and jewellery, nonessential goods and various diversions; not only is this wasteful, but it is also against moral decency, causing emotional anguish in poor families and ultimately resulting in a social malaise and a culture of overindulgence and extravagance; it is possible that if this same wealth was in the hands of men, they would use it to develop business and financial enterprises and investments that would appreciate in value, resulting in a betterment of their economical status.
It is not without reason that the development and flourishing of the economies in western societies has come about from the wealth of men, and most businesses and financial institutions in these same societies that are clamouring for equal rights for men and women, are in fact related to men.
Another factor is to do with the supervision of the family. In reality, the role of men and women is to complete and perfect one another, therefore, the correct use of the capacity of each one in the assistance of the other enables their joint life to proceed smoothly, and this division of responsibilities and planning in their associated lives caters for the needs of the family.
When the Qur’an places the responsibility of protection and supervision on the shoulders of men by stating:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاء
Men are the protectors of women (al-Nisa, 4/34)
it does not mean to say that men are the leaders or that one sex is superior to the other at the level of humanity. When a man and woman live together as partners and embark on family life, especially a family founded on the principle of mutual cooperation and understanding, which of the individuals has the better ability to supervise the family and provide for its expenses; the man, the woman or the children? 4
When we look at the prevailing situation in society, we see that the owner of a business, who has employed several individuals, and whom he pays for their services, naturally takes over the role of supervisor of his employees without having been elected to the post by anybody. This is a conventional practice and the employees accept the situation without question.
The Qur’an also mentions the role of the man as the supervisor of the family unit as a matter of accepted practice and not a new innovation. It supports what is the normal practice in society, and by the use of the phrase, “and because they spend out of their wealth” (bima anfaqu), in the verse above, it alludes to the same issue that the greater claim of the man to the role of supervisor and protector is linked to the responsibility of providing for the family’s needs that rests on his shoulders.
This rational principle is intertwined with the essence of existence; meaning that, in addition to human beings who have acknowledged, out of a natural instinct, the role of the man as a supervisor and protector, the same situation exists naturally in the animal kingdom as well, and examples of this behaviour are clearly observable in many aspects of their life.
Here it is appropriate to mention another issue also; that which is commonly heard in the west from the same groups of enlightened thinkers and proponents of freedom is the rights of homosexuals, and there is a tendency even amongst the most distinguished thinkers to be drawn towards this matter in the name of the defence of freedom. Perhaps it will not be many years before the rights of homosexuals are catered for in the whole of western society and their rights are accepted as a natural and expected feature to a point where any objection raised will be considered as an unacceptable about-turn and no one will be able to say anything or raise any objection about the matter.
When it becomes acceptable to base legislation on the low and base desires of humanity, every sacred value will be discarded and society will descend into moral decadence and decay. The fact is that the procedure of this legislation is fundamentally incompatible with the essential nature of mankind, and that which is presented in the name of the preservation of freedom, should be confined to that kind of freedom that facilitates the wholesome and balanced needs of humankind, and not the demands that arise from unnatural and unhealthy temperaments.
If, under the banner of freedom and the protection by law, this abnormal and aberrant sexual conduct becomes pervasive and common, then, as a consequence of the actions of the same enlightened and broadminded thinkers and defenders of women’s rights, half of humankind in western society itself – its women – will become deprived of marrying and having a normal physical relationship with the opposite sex and in the fullness of time, this community will have to face the threat of extinction. Is the enactment of such laws in the best interests of mankind and do they have results and consequences worth defending?
If we review the history of legislation in different nations of the world, we come across laws for which thinkers and experts had put in a lot of thought and effort; yet with the passing of time, and on deeper reflection and analysis, the miscalculations of the legislators, and the weakness, inadequacy and ineffectiveness of those laws have been ultimately exposed. That which in yesteryears was considered by visionaries to be the ideal and most effective manner of governing their societies, has come to be acknowledged as the product of an improper and incomplete understanding.
Therefore, they turn to a new system of legislation, and despite the progress in ideas and thoughts of intellectual and experts, the search (for perfect law) still occupies the minds of researchers.
How often have a large group of scholars unanimously backed a particular ideal, yet with the passage of time and the advance of knowledge, the weakness and error of their views is conclusively proved.
It is universally accepted by scientists, working in different fields, that without understanding and taking into account the essential nature of man, planning and the creation of schemes and programs will be of little worth.
It cannot be denied that today, despite the vast knowledge at mankind’s disposal in every field, there are many peaks that have not yet been scaled, especially in matters to do with the inner and spiritual realm that exists inside man; indeed in his spiritual potential man is a deep ocean and our knowledge about it is negligible. As a consequence, planning and the formulating of legislation to govern the life of man, whose true identity and essence is shrouded in mystery, is similar to planning a course of treatment for an invalid whose illness is unknown.
The formulation of legislation not only calls for a complete and all-encompassing knowledge about every facet of man’s being, rather it also requires a thorough knowledge of society and its convoluted social interrelationships as well as the knowledge of other creatures whose lives are also interwoven with mankind.
On what authority and knowledge do those who claim that they desire the flourishing and felicity of human society base their plans and schemes?
The fact is that the knowledge and perception of mankind is not yet able to fully comprehend the inner physical and spiritual properties of human beings and the mysteries of social conduct that arise from the interaction of individuals with one another. As a result, man is unable to address the diverse needs of humanity and distinguish the correct course from the multiple paths that present themselves before him.
Even if the principles that lead to human perfection are understood, human knowledge and intellect is unable to solitarily answer the multitude of questions that arise, and take sole responsibility for directing the progress of humanity in every sphere according to the Divine plan. It is only when man searches within himself and makes use of the values that are buried in his heart and nature that he will achieve success and create a system that takes into account the different aspects of his existence.
The truth is that when formulating legislation, man is not able to remain immune from his own personal nature and character; the differences amongst individuals in their upbringing, cultural and social norms, familial customs and other factors deeply influence their perceptions, decisions and opinions. The interpretation of terms and ideas are not the same by all individuals in a society, each understands according to his own insight and views. The thoughts and ideas of legislators and regulators who embark on studying human nature are also drawn, knowingly or unwittingly, towards preconceptions acquired from their particular environment and therefore they are unable to make impartial analyses of situations.
All this indicates the futility of expecting human intellect and knowledge to single-handedly be able to serve this need and it is a decisive affirmation of the fact that human legislation can be potentially very damaging. It is here that we must acknowledge that one cannot submit with certitude and confidence to such a doubtful system and entrust one’s prosperity to it. Even if we assume that a day will come when the knowledge of man will be able to encompass all facets of human existence, even then that will not guarantee the wellbeing of mankind because man is naturally prone to making decisions based on his personal and selfish interests.
Keeping these various difficulties in mind, the well-known western thinker Rousseau writes:
“To discover the best laws which will be beneficial to nations, one has to necessarily seek out a perfect intellect, who is cognizant of all human lusts and frailties but is himself not affected by them. He should have no relationship to nature, but yet have a complete knowledge of it. His own prosperity should not depend on us, but he should be ready to assist us to achieve our own prosperity...” 5
Dr Carrel writes on the same subject:
“The systems of government, entirely constructed in the minds of doctrinaires, are valueless. The principles of the French Revolution, the visions of Marx and Lenin, apply only to abstract men. It must be clearly realized that the laws of human relations are still unknown. Sociology and economics are conjectural sciences – that is, pseudo-sciences.
Thus, it appears that the environment, which science and technology have succeeded in developing for man, does not suit him, because it has been constructed at random, without regard for his true self.” 6
Therefore, the right to formulate law is more suited to the One whose sacred being is not subject to the conditions and influences of the environment, nor can failure in any task be ever imagined for Him. His limitless knowledge completely encompasses the entirety of existence and He knows the fundamental and true needs of man and is aware of the boundaries of his potential and the changes and developments that human beings and the universe are yet to go through. And He is God, and the right to systematize legislation is only befitting for Him.
The Qur’an states:
أَفَحُكْمَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ يَبْغُونَ وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ مِنَ اللّهِ حُكْمًا لِّقَوْمٍ يُوقِنُونَ
Is it then the judgment of (the times of) ignorance that they desire? And who is better than Allah to judge for a people who are sure? (al-Ma’ida, 5/50)
- 1. To date, those who defend the rights of women have always presented the principle of equal rights as fundamental and undeniable and therefore, they have questioned why there is a difference between the inheritance of men and women in Islamic law. However, they have ignored the point that the actual question they should first answer is that on what basis is the principle of equal rights of the sexes founded, when there are clear differences between men and women.
- 2. The historical background of this ideology and coincident with its inception, is the industrial revolution in England, which led to the movement demanding voting rights for women. In the face of the industrial changes that were sweeping across Europe the governments could now tax women, because only those who paid taxes had the right to vote in elections.
- 3. For a more comprehensive review, refer to “Modern Political Ideologies”, by Andrew Vincent. (The author has relied on a translation of this work by Murtada Thabitfar); also “Huquq-e Zan dar Keshakesh-e Sunnat wa Tajaddud”, by Muhammad Hakimipur, “Feminesm ‘Alayhi Zanan”, by Sayyid Ibrahim Husaini, as quoted in the Journal of Book reviews, Faslname-ye Kitab naqd, No. 17, Winter 1379 (lunar).
- 4. It is possible that in some cases women are more qualified to supervise than their husbands, however, invariably, the law does not mention all special cases, and is concerned with the general situation amongst human beings.
- 5. Social Conventions, p. 81.
- 6. Man, the Unknown, p. 30.