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Why Woman Was Deprived of Inheritance?

The main reason of the deprivation of woman of inheritance was the prevention of transfer of wealth from one family to another. According to the old belief, the women's role in procreation was insignificant. The mothers served only as receptacles, where the seed of the father developed into a child. On this account, they believed that the children of a man's son were his own children and a part of his family, but the children of a man's daughter were not a part of his family, for they were a part of the family of their paternal grandfather. Thus, had a daughter received an inheritance, that would have meant the transfer of property to her children, who belonged to a family unconnected with that of the deceased.

The late Dr. Musa 'Ameed says that in the olden days religion, and not any natural relationship, was the basis of the formation of a family. The grandfather, besides being the social head of his children and grandchildren, used to be their religious head also. The execution of religious ceremonies and rituals was handed down to succeeding generations through the male descendants only. The ancients regarded only men as the means of preserving progeny. The father of the family not only gave life to his son, but also passed to him his religious beliefs and rituals. According to the Hindu Vedas and the Greek and the Roman laws, the power of procreation was confined to men only, and hence family religions were the monopoly of men, and women had no hand in religious affairs except through their fathers or husbands. As they could not take part in the execution of religious ceremonies, they were naturally deprived of all family privileges. Hence, when the system of inheritance came into being, they were excluded.

The exclusion of woman from inheritance had other reasons also, one of them being that she was not fit to be a good soldier. In a society in which great value was attached to the heroic deeds and the power of fighting, and a warrior was regarded superior to a hundred thousand non-fighters, woman was deprived of inheritance, because she lacked the fighting capacity.

For this very reason, the pre-Islamic Arabs were opposed to inheritance by woman, who could not inherit as long as a male member of the family, howsoever distant, existed. That is why they were greatly surprised, when the Qur'an expressly said: "For men is a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether it be little or much - an appointed share', (Surah an-Nisa, 4:32)

It so happened that the brother of Hassan bin Thabit, the famous poet, died in those very days, leaving behind a wife and several daughters. His paternal cousins appropriated all his property and did not give anything to his widow or daughters. The widow complained to the Holy Prophet who called her deceased husband's cousins. They said that a woman was unable to carry arms and to fight the enemy. It was the men who defended themselves and the women. Hence, they alone had the right to inherit the property. Thereupon, the Holy Prophet conveyed to them the command of Allah, as revealed in the above quoted verse.

Adapted from the book: "Woman and Her Rights" by: "Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari"

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