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Difference in Inheritance between Men and Women: Why?

08 June, 2017
Q Why does Islam give women half of men's share in inheritance?


All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.  

In this fatwa:

1- Gender is not the effective factor of inheritance variation.

2- There are three criteria that cause the difference in inheritance shares, namely, the degree of kinship, the generation position, and the financial obligations.

3- Males inherit more than females in 4 cases only.

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4- On the other hand, females inherit similar to or more than their male counterparts in more than 30 cases.

Dr. Muhammad `Imarah, Islamic thinker and writer, provides a logical and beautiful elaboration on Islam’s philosophy in distributing inheritance shares. The following explanation is based on his response to a similar question:

It is true that the Quranic verses regulating inheritance include the statement, “for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.” Yet, this is not a general rule or a universal principle.

The above verse does not say “As far as inheritance is concerned, Allah commands you that males get twice the females’ shares”. Rather, the Quranic statement goes as follows: “Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.” (An-Nisaa’ 4:11)

Thus, giving males more than females is not the rule; it applies to specific and limited cases.

Criteria of differentiation

The variation in inheritance shares is not due to gender difference, but rather due to divine wisdom and objectives that many fail to see. They even regard this difference between the shares of men and women in some cases of inheritance as something to prove the incomplete competence of women in Islam. However, the Islamic jurisprudence of inheritance is controlled by the following three criteria:

1. The degree of kinship between the receiver (man or woman) and the deceased. The closer the relation, the greater the share given regardless of the heir’s gender.

2. The position of the inheriting generation in the chronological sequence of generations. The younger generations usually receive larger share than the older ones regardless of gender. For instance, the daughter of a deceased man receives a bigger share than his mother does, and the daughter of a deceased woman receives a bigger share than her father does even if the daughter is an infant.

3. The financial responsibility imposed by law upon the heir. This criterion is the one from which difference results between males and females. However, such difference does not lead to any injustice done to women; it may be quite the other way.

Let’s explain this further; if a deceased leaves a son and daughter, the man inherits twice the woman’s share. But the man heir is obligated to support a woman (i.e. his wife) and their kids. On the other hand, the female heir is provided for along with her kids by another man (her husband). Now, the share inherited by the female is purely her own property. It is free of financial support obligations and she can save it for any needs or emergencies in the future.

It is women who inherit more

Furthermore, a comprehensive survey of various cases of inheritance show the following amazing facts:

1. Women receive half of men’s share in four cases only.

2. In much more cases, women receive the same share of inheritance as men.

3. In 10 cases or more, women’s share is bigger than men’s.

4. In some cases, women receive shares of inheritance while corresponding men do not. (Dr. Salah Sultan, mirath al-Mar’ah wa qadiyat al-Musawah.)

In other words, in more than 30 cases, women take the same or more than men take, or women take a share while men do not, while there are only four definite cases in which women receive half of men’s share.

Almighty Allah knows best.