Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Half inheritance is unfair

Muslim apologists argue that it is just for a woman to get half the inheritance that a man gets because as per Islamic law the man hold all financial obligation (i.e responsibility to pay for the finances of their family members). For example Maulana Maududi in his commentary on Quran 4.11 writes:
"The first guiding principle about the division of inheritance is that the share of the male shall be double that of the female, and this is very sound and just. As the Muslim law lays the major burden of the economic responsibility of the family on the male and keeps the female almost free from it, justice demands that her share of inheritance should be less than that of the male."
I have the following three objections to this line of reasoning:

[1] Many women will prefer to take financial responsibility

The idea of ‘freedom from financial responsibility’ is sophistic. It actually means that Sharia law takes away the financial autonomy and freedom of the woman. For all her life she is forced to be made into a kind of beggar. First begging her parents for money, then husband, then son. The notion of women empowerment demands that women can attain financial independence if they desire. Now ofcourse there would be many women (and men) who donot want financial autonomy. Such persons would feel satisfied with the Quranic law in question. However there will be many women (just as there are men) who donot want economic Dependence on their relatives. And it is for these women for whom this law will hit the most. The division would be unfair for them because it will penalize them inspite their desire to willingly take financial responsibility. Ideally in a perfect law, the ratios of inheritance should be customizable and determined by the parties involved with 1:1 being the default set. Instead not only does the Quran sets the default at 1:2 it also prohibits any changes to it incase the parties decide differently. The ratio given in the Quran is not optional. It must be applied if we are to follow sharia law in matters of inheritance.

A woman might prefer financial autonomy and willing take financial responsibility for any of the following reasons :
  1. as an end in itself (i.e by her very nature she wants to be independent).
  2. Other might prefer it because they like being equal to their husbands i.e they donot want their husbands to be a kind of boss who just pays them for sex and housework and disciplines them like children (e.g. husband will know that if he beats her wife , she will leave him as she is independent and not financially tied down to him).
  3. She might pity her husband who have to suffer all the financial burden by working so hard thus willingly take on a part of the responsibility for the sake of helping him out.
  4. She may fear that in case of divorce the custody of child may not pass to her since she doesnot earns but is only dependent on the husband purely.
  5. although she may not be legally.morally obliged as per Islamic law to support her family but realistically a working woman will always contribute her wealth to her husband, children and household matters for the sake of a happy / harmonious family (What kind of a selfish wife will hoard all her wealth to herself? Perhaps some will but not all) thus such women would have effectively participated in the financial obligations even when they are not required.
[2] Housewife is indirectly supporting the family too

A housewife also works and supports the family financially in an indirect manner. If she refused to clean the house, cook, take care of children then the husband would be forced to hire servants (cooks, maids, childcare, Gardner) which will cost excessively. In this way she is indirectly generating income to the family by the saving of such expenses. It is true that in a sense she is "paid” for her services by the husband when he shares his income with her. but that does not eliminates the fact that had she refused to perform such task the husband would have been forced to pay for the such services in addition to sharing his income with her. Thereby reducing the total family income.
Additionally: share of salary that her husband gives to her may not be enough to payoff for such household services of hers . More generally: When the husband is poor and wife’s parents are rich then the wife is disadvantaged by a 2:1 split as husband will not even be able to pay off for all the “housewife services” that she is offering . on the other hand the brother of the wife will get far more then he would ever need to support his family. (This would be reversed in case of a rich husband and poor wife in which case she would be in advantage). This demonstrates that making a single fixed inheritance law without considering the respective status and conditions of the parties is unfair. in Reality the best way to resolve this is to make the inheritance customization as per the negotiations of the parties involved.

[3] Unnecessary

Having men burden a greater financial responsibility will not hurt men EVEN if the inheritance is done equally
  • when the amount of inheritance is small as compared to what husband earns. The contribution from inheritance would be negligible for the purpose of supporting the family.
  • When the inheritance is large as compared to what husband earns. even a reduced share (i.e equal share) to the man would be enough to deal with the necessary financial obligations of his family.
Conclusion: Based on these reasons I conclude that the Quranic suggestion for half inheritance is unfair to women.