'Muslim women can use their inheritance as pocket money, they don't have financial responsibilities in Islam'

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On March 12, Sunday, around 300 men and women gathered at the British-built Kozhikode Town Hall demanding an amendment to the British-era Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. Photo: Special Arrangement

Kozhikode: The spar over India's Muslim Law of Inheritance is heating up in Kerala. On the one side are the 'victims' -- mostly women -- demanding gender equality in the law that gives men more financial rights, and on the other side are the conservative Muslim organisations rooting for the status quo, saying the law is divine. The twain may not meet.

On March 12, Sunday, around 300 men and women gathered at the British-built Kozhikode Town Hall demanding an amendment to the British-era Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.

They met under the banner of the Forum For Muslim Women's Gender Justice. There were writers, movie makers, school teachers, Islamic teachers, psychologists, social activists, and gender activists calling for a change in the Act that makes the "discriminatory" Muslim Law of Succession binding on all Muslims born in India.

Victims of the law shared their stories. The others expressed solidarity. The event that started around 11 went on till 4 pm.

forum for muslim women
The women, who met under the banner of the Forum For Muslim Women's Gender Justice, had writers, movie makers, school teachers, Islamic teachers, psychologists, social activists, and gender activists among them calling for a change in the Act that makes the "discriminatory" Muslim Law of Succession binding on all Muslims born in India. Photo: Special Arrangement

At 4.30 pm at Nalanda Auditorium, a three-minute walk from the Town Hall, the Wisdom Youth, the youth organisation of Wisdom Global Islamic Mission, organised a seminar on 'whether Shariat should be corrected?'. Though it ended with a question mark, it was a rhetorical question. It was a resounding no from all the speakers belonging to the Mujahid or Salafi school. The seminar went on till 9.30 pm.

One speaker, a practising High Court lawyer, derided the organisers for even posing the question "because Shariat is Islam".

Mohammed Shabeeb Swalahi, the author of 'Islamile Anantharavakasham' (Inheritance in Islam), said gender was not the criterion in dividing the property among legal heirs under Muslim Personal Law or Shariat.

Inheritance is divided based on three criteria: one, to settle liabilities, two, based on proximity to the deceased, and three, the position of the heirs in different generations. "Among the three, settling liabilities is the priority," he said.

In some instances, male heirs get more than female heirs and some people highlight the differences because they do not see the "consideration given to women" in Islam.

To be sure, sons get double the share of daughters while dividing their parents' inheritance. The only girl child, even if she is an adult, is entitled to only 50% of her parents' inheritance.

A deceased person's family has no right on the person's ancestral property.

When the husband dies, the wife is entitled to only one-fourth of his estate, if the couple has no children; but if the wife dies, the husband is entitled to half of his wife's estate, if they have no children.

If they have children, the husband gets one-fourth but the wife would get only one-eighth.

Shabeeb Swalahi said: "In some cases, women get half the share that of men because men have more responsibilities. Men have to take care of their sisters, parents, and children."

He said under Islamic law, women had no financial responsibilities. "They can use their share as pocket money," told his all-men audience in Nalanda Auditorium.

Muslim women's rights activist Sharifa Khanam inaugurating the get-together of Forum for Muslim Women's Gender Justice in Kozhikode on Sunday. Photo: Special Arrangement

Predeceased persons do not have inheritance rights, and so their families cannot inherit the ancestral estate of the deceased persons in Islam.

Swahali defends the law by saying that the restriction is in place to stop crimes for financial gain.

As an example, he said: "Assume, I have a brother. If I die and my children inherit my father's property after he dies, it may trigger resentment among my brother's children because they will not get anything as their father is alive. Such a provision can endanger my brother's life (from his own children)." Pretty far-fetched.

On boys getting double the share than girls, he said boys have the responsibility to financially take care of their family when they grow up. Islam does not impose any such responsibilities on females.

Another speaker Abdulla Basil C P, a dentist by profession, said women and men were given equal share in inheritance in the west, but with equal share came "double the responsibility", which contributed to depression among women. "Western women are more depressed," he said.

In Islam, he said, women were getting more properties without responsibility, but for men, assets came with responsibilities.

Advocate Aliyar M M, an expert in Muslim Personal Law, said Islam safeguarded the inheritance of heirs by fixing their share depending on the relationship with the deceased. "In secular Indian Succession Law, one can write a will and give away their entire property to an unrelated person," he said, mocking the presumed fate of Adv Sheena Shukkur, head of the Department of Law at Kannur University, who registered her marriage with Adv C Shukkur under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954.

Under the SMA, a person ceases to be Muslim for the purpose of inheritance. The Shukkur registered their marriage under the SMA to come under the Indian Succession Act of 1925, which treats heirs, irrespective of their genders, equally.

But under Muslim Inheritance Law, the Shukkurs' three daughters would be entitled to only two-thirds of their property; but if they had even one son, their estate would not go outside their nuclear family. The Shukkurs found the Muslim law discriminatory and humiliating towards their daughters.

Adv Aliyar, a native of Muvattupuzha, said if women wanted equal inheritance rights, then the special laws that gave protection to women in India should also be removed.

Members of the Forum For Muslim Women's Gender Justice said the arguments of the conservative organizations were far removed from reality.

Advocate Smily Salim (45), a native of Mala in Thrissur, said when her husband died of liver cirrhosis in 2018, his two younger brothers came to her the following day enquiring about her bank balance. "My husband underwent a liver transplant and died of a heart attack three days later. You know how expensive an organ transplant can be. The two younger brothers did not help us nor did they enquire about his health before and after the transplant," she said.

When her husband was alive, she and her two sons, now aged 15 and 13 years, were with her in-laws. Now, she has moved to her parents' house with her children. "My in-laws are rich. My father-in-law was a good man. He died before my husband. But we will not inherit anything because the assets are in my mother-in-law's name," Adv Smily said.

But she said she was now practising and was not dependent on her husband's inheritance for survival. "But the Muslim Law denied my children their rights," she said.

Ayushumma E M (68), a native of Tanur in Malappuram district, is running from pillar to post after her husband Hamza Koya (75) died of a heart attack on December 30, 2018.

Koya worked as a municipal cleaning staff in Ajman in the UAE for 20 years but all he could build was a three-room house on a nine-cent plot. The couple has three adult daughters.

They borrowed money for the first daughter's wedding and sold the house for the second daughter's wedding. Then she sold her inheritance, raised Rs 12 lakh, and bought an incomplete house on an 18-cent plot. The house was not plastered. The main door was just a framed tin sheet. There were no doors or windows inside. But they had a home.

"All this was more than 20 years ago," she said.

After her husband died, she borrowed some money, and invested another Rs 8 lakh to plaster and whitewash the house, fix doors and windows, and do the floor. "I thought I would sell the house, pay off the debt (of around Rs 15 lakh) and save the rest and move to a rented house," she said.

But the plan came a cropper when she was told her husband's two sisters and brothers were legal heirs of the house because she has only daughters.

The brother agreed to give their consent but not the two sisters. "They want a share of the house as said in the Muslim law. I did not know anything about it," she said.

Inheritance law expert Shabeeb Swalahi said in Ayushumma's case, the first priority was to clear the debt and her husband's sisters should give their consent. "You cannot blame Islamic law if it is not adhered to," he said.

But in reality, only laws favouring men are strictly implemented under Muslim Personal Law, said Adv Ramlath Puthusseri, joint convener of the gender justice forum.

She said getting consent from extended family members was one of the biggest hindrances to the financial independence of a bereaved Muslim woman. "And if the legal heirs from the extended family die, their children's consent is needed. It is a never ending legal knot," she said.

Under secular law, if children are alive, extended family members do not have inheritance rights.

Adv Ramlath also disagreed with the responsibilities of women in modern society and family where they are partners and not subordinates.

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