Woman and inheritance rights
The way that women enjoy half the share of men under inheritance law is another subject frequently misinterpreted by many people. Some people who fail to grasp the spirit of the Qur’an, the basic essentials of Islam and the protectiveness and affection of our Lord seek to provide evidence for their own claims by analyzing verses describing the distribution of inheritance separately instead of as a coherent whole. Yet inheritance law is actually another sign of how women are protected in the Qur’an.
The verses about women’s share of inheritance are as follows:
Men receive a share of what their parents and relatives leave and women receive a share of what their parents and relatives leave, a fixed share, no matter whether it is a little or a lot. (Qur'an, 4:7)
God instructs you regarding your children: A male receives the same as the share of two females. If there are more than two daughters they receive two-thirds of what you leave. If she is one on her own she receives a half. Each of your parents receives a sixth of what you leave if you have children. If you are childless and your heirs are your parents your mother receives a third. If you have brothers or sisters your mother receives a sixth, after any bequest you make or any debts. With regard to your fathers and your sons, you do not know which of them is going to benefit you more. These are obligatory shares from God. God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (Qur'an, 4:11)
As shown in the first verse, inheritance in Islam is a right enjoyed both by men and by women. The second verse describes the distribution of that inheritance, based on people’s needs and responsibilities.
The fact that the financial support of a woman is the responsibility of a man does not significantly restrict that woman. The precaution here is a symbol of the value attached to women.
Looking at the Qur’an as a whole, we see that the maintenance of the mother, wife, daughter or sister is a responsibility bestowed not on them, but on a son, husband, father or brother; this applies throughout a woman’s entire life. In other words, a son, husband, father or brother is responsible for a woman under his protection until the end of her life.
For example, when a woman gets married she is given a dowry by her husband. In the view of the Qur’an, the dowry is given directly to the woman, not to the family. After marriage, the physical maintenance of the woman and her children is the total responsibility of the man. As we shall be seeing in detail in due course, that maintenance and financial responsibility continues, even after divorce. Any and all expenses not imposed on woman are therefore the responsibility of a man.
The fact that the financial care of a woman is the responsibility of a man does not mean that any restrictions are imposed on her, however. It does not also mean that woman is a needy entity. The precautionary measure here is a symbol of the value attached to women and is intended that a woman never suffers throughout her life. A woman is free to live as she wishes, free to work or not, earn money or not, start a business or not and even govern a state, just as she wishes. Her being under male protection in financial terms does not restrict her social life, stop her from being free or sealed up indoors like a prisoner. A woman being under the protection of a man also does not mean that he has any right of command over her; the Qur’an says nothing about a man being able to command a woman. The financial responsibility imposed on men is intended to ensure that women, who are under special protection in the Qur’an, never suffer throughout their lives.
However, in the view of the Qur’an, a woman has no such responsibility toward anyone. In the same way that she has no responsibility for the maintenance of anyone else, she is also under no obligation to take care of herself. She need not work if she does not wish to; she has no such obligation.
In addition, a woman has the right to spend her own possessions as she wishes. Even if she is rich, she is under no obligation to contribute to the family budget. She is under no obligation to assume any financial responsibility for her children. Even if a woman is richer than the man, his financial obligation nonetheless persists.
A woman can put her share of an inheritance to work if she so wishes, or spend it on herself, or save it. But a man is under an obligation to use his share for the maintenance and care of the woman. The maintenance, well-being and comfort of his wife, children and sister - if he has any - are entirely his responsibility. Let us remember that this is intended, not because a woman needs it, but to prevent her from being wronged throughout her life.
Considered in the light of the facts explicitly stated in the Qur’an, if man and woman were given equal shares of inheritance, the balance would be impaired against the man since he has an obligation to take care of the family, while the woman is under no such obligation.
The following provision in the verse is also very important, “...after any bequest you make or any debts.” If a deceased person has left a legacy behind, any action must be in line with that legacy. The deceased may have left all his property to the woman and nothing to the male members of the family: In that event, the bequest will be valid and everything will go to the woman.
There is special wisdom in the way that God places financial responsibility for women upon men. If God so wished, no such burden would be imposed on men and women would be responsible for their own maintenance, and even that of their children, in the absence of any financial guarantee. That would be a great responsibility and a heavy psychological burden. No such material burden is imposed on women in the Qur’an.