Until I attended a gender and reproductive health course, in South Africa, fourteen years ago, I had no idea anyone has a problem with our mode of inheritance. I thought all Muslims agree with it because it was divinely-ordained and Non-Muslims have no quarrel with it because it does not affect them.
But during this course, at the Witts University in Johannesburg, I heard views from women who said the Muslim system of inheritance discriminated against women.
A Muslim participant from Malaysia actually said that even when her husband dies she will demand 50% of whatever he owned before she also settles for 1/8th of the remaining 50%. All this was new to me because I never knew that Muslims even question the Sharia provision concerning inheritance.
Of course, those of us who believe we can’t question the wisdom of Almighty Allah on such matters, tried to defend the Islamic position on inheritance but it was clear to us that those who considered it discriminatory could not be swayed. They kept saying it went against the spirit of CEDAW, which is the Convention for the Eradication of all Discrimination Against Women – a post Beijing ‘95 initiative.
Back home in Nigeria, I attended a conference on Sharia implementation in some Northern states, at the Abuja Sheraton two years later. One of the paper presenters kept calling on the Federal Government to implement all international conventions to which Nigeria was a signatory. As her paper’s discussant, I reminded her that some of those international conventions went directly against the letter and spirit of the Sharia, so we should be careful how we advise the government to implement them. In particular I cited the issue of CEDAW and how it’s contents sometimes conflict with provisions of Islamic law, in areas like the system of inheritance.
But, it’s obvious that over the years, the agitation to tamper with the Islamic provision on inheritance has not abated. Instead it grew in momentum and has now manifested itself as a bill seeking to become law under the ‘gender and equal opportunities bill.’
Naturally, Muslim scholars have reacted to the proposed bill.
Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi of the Tijjaniyya Sufi order, cast the first stone by warning Muslim lawmakers to desist from assenting to the bill, as doing so will amount to challenging Almighty Allah’s will and eventually lead to apostasy.
Sheikh Sani Yahaya Jingir of the Izala movement, echoed the same sentiments when he advised Muslim senators to reject the bill because it is an infringement on the rights of Muslims.
And just yesterday, in his Friday sermon, Imam Murtadha Gusau also cautioned against tampering with the Islamic law of inheritance, when he spoke extensively about the need for Muslims to obey Allah’s injunctions on everything, and about the wisdom behind a man inheriting double the estate that his sister gets at the death of their parents; and a husband inheriting from his wife a double percentage of what she will get from him if he died first.
Now those agitating for us, Muslim women, to inherit exactly the same as our male siblings or husbands think they are doing us a favour by fighting a law that discriminates against us. I advise them to know that we have no quarrel with the sharia provision on our inheritance, because we know that the wisdom behind it actually favours us.
In Islam a woman has the right to be protected and be provided for by a male relation without any questions asked. She is his responsibility as long as she is under his roof, as a mother, wife, sister, aunt or cousin. He must provide for her with what he owns but she is not expected to bear her own expenses unless she insists on doing so herself.
On the contrary whatever she owns is hers to keep. She is not obligated to take care of any male dependents unless she wishes to or except they are her young children whose father is dead or otherwise absent. Even in this situation she is expected to be assisted by her husband’s relatives or associates.
And there are cases where a woman inherits the same as a man, like in the estate of their deceased child, where they both inherit one- sixth of what was left behind. Or where she inherits even more than the man, due to certain intricate reasons. But it isn’t possible within the scope of this short treatise to go into such legal provisions.
My simple advice is for Muslim lawmakers to heed these ulama and reject any attempt to tamper with Islamic provisions on the issue of male/female inheritance ratio. It might seem discriminatory to non–Muslims but they shouldn’t worry about what concerns only us.
As for those of us who are Muslims, it is not our right to question Almighty Allah’s injunctions even if we do not understand the wisdom behind them. And for this reason, I say we must remain in tune with the ulama and reject any move to change our Islamic inheritance law.