Women's Right to Inheritance

Do Muslim women have the right to inheritance?

According to the Qur’an, women and men have equal rights to inheritance. More specifically, the Qur’an considers Muslim women as independent legal entities that retain their own name and financial independence before and after marriage. Unlike married men, married women are entitled to retain all of their wealth and earnings for themselves without having to consult their spouse. Contrary to common belief, gender is not a prerequisite to receive less than equal share of an inheritance in Islam.

Quranic Support

“Men will have a share of what they earn, and women will have a share of what they earn.” (Qur’an 4:32)

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one’s estate. And if there is only one, for her is half…” (Qur’an 4:11)

“Men shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behinds, whether it be little or much- a share ordained [by God]” (4:7)

Traditionally, men have inherited double that of what women inherit. This practice comes from the misinterpretation of the following verse: “Concerning [the inheritance of] your children, God enjoins [this] upon you: The male shall have the equal of two females’ share” (4:11). Before this verse was revealed, women came to the Prophet to complain that after their husbands died, their brothers would take all their wealth. As a response to this request, the above verse (4:11) was revealed to grant women economic rights.

Moreover, the Qur’an reveals over 10 scenarios in which women inherit more than their male counterparts. Though to modern standards, this ruling seems like a setback for women, this verse actually granted women rights that were previously unthinkable in ancient Arabia.

Today, women have been outspoken critics of outdated and obsolete inheritance laws that bar them from earning equal inheritance. In fact, Muslim jurists have asserted that Quranic inheritance laws depend on an individual’s relationship with the deceased person in question and often invoke the verse, “Men shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behinds, whether it be little or much- a share ordained [by God]” (4:7) to establish the equal right to inheritance for women and men. Furthermore, women’s organizations such as the Muslim Women’s Lawyers for Human Rights assert that the Qur’an asserts affirmative action to women and that preventing women from attaining equal rights to men is forbidden. Lawyers and social activists have spoken out globally against rulings that interpret religious texts through a purely patriarchal lens.

WISE Position

The Qur’an stipulates that women have the same access to their earnings as men do. Therefore, economic equality between genders is a fundamental value in Islam. Women are free and responsible agents who have equal right to economic freedom and inheritance. It is necessary to create laws that fulfill these obligations to women. Laws that prevent women from financial equality and equal inheritance rights have no Islamic jurisprudence.

WISE Women Active on the Issue

Nabila Freidji, Nani Zulminarn, Zainab_Paiman, Shahnaz Taplin-Chinoy, Ayesha Mattu

Related Articles

Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri. “Gender Equality and Islam.” Minhaj-Ul-Quran International. 8 March 2011. Web. Charrad, Mounira. "Nation-building, Islam, and Women’s Rights: Perspectives from the Maghrib." Conference Papers -- American Political Science Association (2002) Fassihi, Farnaz. "Iraqi Shiite Women Push Islamic Law On Gender Roles." Wall Street Journal - Eastern Edition 09 Mar. 2005.