The Daughter’s Share in Inheritance
Economic Issues
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

Why are women treated as inferior to men in Islam? Of the many things that have continued to bother my mind is the share daughters get in relation to their brothers. As a brother, I feel ashamed that I would be getting double my sister’s share. Please clarify.


Before I answer your question, I would like to allude to a few points as far as the issue of inheritance is concerned.

It is a universally acknowledged fact that the extent of help and co-operation which a person receives from his parents, children and other similar relations has little chances of being paralleled by any other association. Undoubtedly, the world has always considered the kith and kin of a deceased as the rightful beneficiaries of the wealth he has left behind. But certain issues in this regard have always remained unresolved; for example, who among the kindred is nearest with respect to the benefit he holds for the deceased? and how should the inherited shares be ascertained on this basis? In this matter, the extent to which the human mind has faltered and stumbled can be seen from the frequent history these blunders have continued to make. It is not that human endeavour in this regard has fallen prey to any lack of application, rather it is due to certain inherent limitations of the human mind which have made the task itself beyond its reach. Love, hatred, prejudice and other emotions have made it impossible for human intellect to come to grips with this challenge. Consequently, the Almighty Himself has guided mankind in this affair to relieve an Islamic society from the disorders which have originated on this account:

You know not who among your children and parents are nearest to you in benefit. This is the law of God. Indeed, God is Wise and all-Knowing. (4:11)

Two implications of the above verse are very clear:

Firstly, since the Almighty Himself has indicated who the heirs of a deceased should be, a more just law in this regard could not have been enacted. Hence, after this Divine Directive, no one has the right to bequeth his wealth in favour of the heirs designated by the Almighty Himself. The verse, in fact, admonishes all ill-advised elements, who on the basis of their own intellect or personal inclinations may desire to amend the law: A warning is being sounded to them that these shares have been apportioned by the immense knowledge and wisdom of the Creator of the heavens and the earth, which encompass all His directives. Man inspite of his formidable talents can neither acquire the vastness of His knowledge nor comprehend the profundity of His wisdom. If he is a true believer, he must submit to the Word of God.

Secondly, the law of inheritance as stated in the Qur’ān is based on the underlying cause of ‘the benefit of kinship’, as indicated by the words lā tadrūna ayyuhum aqrabu lakum naf‘ā (you know not who among your children and parents are nearest to you in benefit). Consequently, the directive in reality does not pertain to the relatives but is related to the underlying cause present in this relationship, which actually entitles them to become the heirs. All the relatives whose shares have been stated in the Qur’ān will be considered eligible to be the recipients only in case the underlying cause of this directive ie, benefit can be proven in their relation to the deceased. This benefit is by nature present in parents, children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and other close relations. Hence, in normal circumstances, they will be considered the heirs to the legacy of a deceased. However, in certain unusual circumstances (for example in case of patricide), if an absence of benefit in any of these relationships is seen by sense and reason, the style and pattern of the verse demands that such a relative should not become an heir to the legacy. Therefore, in such cases, if someone is deprived from his share, it would be perfectly in accordance with the purport of the verse, to which its words so clearly testify.

After this background, I now come to your question. It is evident from the above analysis that the basic reason why the share of a son is more than that of a daughter is the fact that in the life of parents the son is usually more beneficial to them than the daughter. This is so simple a fact that it can be easily understood in societies where the institution of family is still very strong and has deep roots. In a family system, parents become dependent on the children as they grow old. The ease and comfort they feel in living with a son is much more than what they feel while living with a daughter. The simple reason is that a son is independent in taking decisions while a daughter, once she gets married, is actually more dependent on her own husband and is not so independent. The modern western mind feels averse to this distribution because the family system is dwindling in their society. Parents are generally more uncomfortable in living with either the son or the daughter, both of whom become independent at a very early age. So I would say that they can only understand (and marvel subsequently at this distribution) if they are first able to grasp the importance of the institution of family.

A thing which may be worth mentioning here is that there may be cases even in societies having a strong family system where a daughter may prove more beneficial to her parent(s) than the son; in this case, the provision is there in Islamic law whereby a parent in his lifetime can gift as much wealth as is deemed necessary to the daughter. Similarly, there may be the case that the daughter in her specific circumstances may need more money; here again wealth can be gifted to her. Parents, as discussed in the explanation of the verse, can also deprive a son(s) from inheritance if the son(s) becomes ‘non-beneficial’ to them in any way.

In short, the 2:1 ratio pertains to normal circumstances; in exceptional ones there are many remedies in Islamic law -- some of which I have tried to explain.

Lastly, this difference of share is among the children only since the difference in benefit exists. On the other hand, as far as receiving the inheritance of a child is concerned, in most cases stipulated by Islamic law, both the mother and the father receive an equal share (ie one sixth) because for a child the benefit from a mother and a father are equal.


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