Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Hamdy Zakzouq
The President of Al-Azhar Center for Interfaith Dialogue
- In the pre-Islamic era, women were deprived of the right of inheritance. However, with the advent of Islam, they were granted a definite share of the inherited estate, despite the opposition voiced by many Arabs at that time, who considered that the right to inheritance was a privilege for men since they defend the tribe and fight its enemies.
In some cases, in Islam, the male heir inherits double the inheritance of the female: Allah (Glory be to Him) says: "Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children's (inheritance): to the male a portion equal to that of two females". [4/11] A hasty opinion on this matter may consider that such a ruling is unfair and unjust. However, Islam is completely innocent in this case, since the difference in the inheritance between males and females has nothing to do with favoring males and is based upon the responsibilities which are obligatory upon men not women.
2. According to the Islamic Law, man is responsible for maintaining and providing for his wife, children and other members of his family, which might include his father, mother, and brothers and sisters if they are not able to provide for themselves. His wife, on the other hand, is not charged with any financial responsibilities, and she is not even financially responsible for herself, however wealthy she may be, and her husband is responsible for her maintenance. When we understand this, we realize that when she inherits half of the inheritance, her financial position is still superior to a man's financial position.
3. In this context, it is important to emphasize that there is absolutely no general rule in Islam that women should inherit only half of what men inherit. Concerning this question of inheritance there is in the Qur’an only one rule concerning what children inherit:
“God (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male a portion equal to that of two females...” (Sure 4/11)
But in the whole text of Qur’an and Sunnah, there are only four cases in which the man inherits double share of the woman, but there are more than 30 cases in which the woman inherits either the same as man or even more or the woman inherits while the man does not inherit anything.
Haqaiq al islam fi mowagahat shubuhat al mushakkikin, P. 556 - 559, Höchster Islam. Rat, Kairo 2002.