Since Bangladesh is a pluralist country and not established on an Islamic religious basis, no religious debate should be about civil, criminal, and family laws. It is noticeable the majority of the rules are secular and uniform except Islamic family law. Bangladesh is a multireligious country; thus, family law can be designed following the uniform civil code.
It is commonly stated that Islam deprives women by making their inheritance law unequal share, half that of men. But, as Islamic scholars think, the claim is unfounded. Thus, it calls for an in-depth analysis of the inheritance law stipulated by the Qur’an and Hadiths. As there is little scope to discuss inheritance laws in this feature, I will highlight in brief to clarify what Islamic inheritance law states and how a remarkable need-based Islamic law can be used to reduce inequality between men and women.
To identify the problems and solutions about Islamic inheritance law, I used information from different sources. First, I had conversations with a few Islamic scholars about Muslim women’s equal rights on properties. And I used literature on Islamic inheritance law and Bangladesh’s role in women’s development policy.
No need to mention that the Islamic inheritance law is complex, and most of the local preachers and general people are uninformed of Islamic family laws. The Islamic inheritance laws reviewers attempted to justify that ultimately, in the end, girls get an equal share as boys. But could not come up with a solution for the greater good, looking at the current demands.
Three categories of wealth share system: Most of the reviews (analysis of the Islamic inheritance law) indicate that the difference in Islamic inheritance law is not based on the gender of the heir. Preferably, the law is founded on these three primary conditions where women receive more share than men:
- The degree of kinship to the deceased.
- The generation to which the heir belongs.
- Financial responsibility.
In the first category (the degree of kinship to the deceased), a deceased woman’s husband gets one-fourth of her property, but her daughter is entitled to half of the share of her mother’s property.
In the second category (the generation to which the heir belongs), we can see the need-based rule for the next generation, which is not gender-based. Grandchildren usually receive more inheritance to meet their financial needs. It is important to note that the daughter of the deceased inherits more than the deceased’s mother (alive Grandmother) because they belong to different generations. Similarly, the daughter of the deceased (father) inherits more than the deceased’s father (Grandfather). This rule implies even if she has a brother who inherits with her.
The third classification (financial responsibility) shares that inheritance differs from the other two categories according to gender (male and female). However, this category needs to analyze if disparity causes injustice to the female or not.
According to Islamic inheritance law, let’s look at the third category, why the son of the deceased father receives twice than the daughter. According to Islamic inheritance writers, this arrangement was done thinking the male is more responsible for the financial upkeep of his wife and children. Therefore, it was assumed, his sister’s financial upkeep is the sole responsibility of her husband or father. Thus, the financial obligations of a Muslim man included the payment of a dowry and financial support of his wife, children, parents, and extended family members.
Thus, the wealth a woman inherits is not pertinent to share for the family needs or household expenses, or social obligations. Instead, the three categories of wealth she receives are for her safety, for her future requirements. At this point, readers might see the finer point of just Islamic inheritance law.
However, in 2021, from my perspective, this sort of heavy financial responsibility on men and not sharing of financial responsibility (individual responsibility) idea restricts women from staying out of the family and social responsibility. It allows them to be weaker, docile, and unskilled and confines them to only child bearers and rearers, the homemakers. Consequently, a woman cannot meet her own basic needs for the lack of skills and cannot run a family independently if needed.
I consider in ancient time, 1400 years ago, a male had more responsibilities than female outside of the home, including in the 1940s, during my mother’s time. Even in the 1980s, a male was considered the breadwinner and responsible for everything, such as shelter, food, health, and education.
Nevertheless, men’s and women’s roles are changing slowly worldwide, and they are sharing tasks equally at home and outside. In addition, kinship patterns have been changed. These days, most urban families focus on their own family needs and build a nuclear family cocoon, wife and children, seldom older parents. These days people are not much concerned about two other property distribution sources, such as extended families like uncle, aunt, and grandparents. Instead, they care and depend on their parents’ wealth.
Many mothers (knowingly or not knowingly) allocate their properties to their sons, not their daughters, following the first category. And most people do not have enough information about the source of the second category of properties. Therefore, securing properties from the extended families (grandmother) for a female child does not occur accordingly.
We can see first two categories are more sensitive to women about the property share, but practically it does not happen for the female child. And the third category builds a challenge to entitle (to get an equal claim) to father’s property. So, these all categories placed Muslim women in lower socioeconomic conditions.
Need-based share: In this modern-day, to make sure women’s equal share, there is a need to reform the third category of Islamic inheritance law (father’s wealth share). It is acknowledged that many Muslim women are not getting a percentage of the wealth from their husbands, mothers, grandparents. The actual scenario is not having any shares from her husband and relatives. For example, perhaps some women are unwilling to get married (or unable to get married) for their sickness, or they have other priorities in their lives. It was not decided how the deceased father’s share will be distributed among these women.
Furthermore, a woman can return to the father or brother’s home as a widow along with her children. And she might have not enough skills and education to survive by herself or did not receive wealth from her poor husband. In this case, how this destitute woman will receive her share.
On the other hand, if a son is too young, sick, special child, or unable to complete education, stand on his feet on his own for income-earning; he requires more support than his capable siblings (brothers or sisters).
In these cases, an equal share or a need-based share will be helpful for both a male or a female child, and there will be no chance of discrimination in the father’s wealth.
The inheritance law is a very important law to ensure Muslim women’s rights in parents’ property. Many articles have details about the Inheritance law. Still, in the end, they provided a weak statement, and it is unclear how women’s rights can be established within Sharia law. About the income (not family wealth), if a woman is an income earner, Shariah law dispenses women to spend their income based on their choices. But the man’s income is supposed to be used to meet the needs of his family. Therefore, a Muslim man gets more responsibility to share his income than a woman.
We can see as an exceptional case (the third category), Islam determines a woman’s share is half that of a man. And the Islamic law ensures that a woman’s wealth share or income is to keep for herself, only for paying a certain amount for Zakat (poor-dues). Thus, the Islamic inheritance laws clarify how it protects the wealth of women and preference (biases) women over men. As a result, the Islamic inheritance law writers explain that women become wealthy enough, financially strong, and get less family burden in Islam. However, this social scene is absent practically, as the wealth is not distributed strictly following the Islamic rules.
Even, the income-earning law also initially seems men’s role to women is very pleasing and supportive to women, but this law (biased) ultimately makes women weaker and socially irresponsible. However, in reality, a woman often cannot use her income without her husband or parent’s permission….
To read Part II, Click Here.
About the writer:
Dr. Pamelia Khaled is an expert on Curriculum and Pedagogy (Peace and conflict resolution through science) , University of Toronto.