Misinterpretations of Shariah (Islamic) laws are preventing Saudi women from benefiting from their legal inheritance. Many women today are robbed of their endowment rights because of cultural norms and tribal customs that go against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah. Sadly, there are many cases today of women living in poverty after their fathers die because only the men in the family enjoy inheritance and endowment rights. Sometimes even fathers in their will choose to deprive the female children of the endowment.
Islamic scholars are called upon to address this injustice and implement the true teachings of the Holy Qur'an that abolished all the adverse customs that confined inheritance rights exclusively to the male relatives, a practice that was prevalent during pre-Islamic times. Islam granted women the right to inherit from their parents or relatives and specified an obligatory share for them. The Holy Qur'an says: “For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much — an obligatory share.”
These topics have been discussed at a series of symposiums presented across the country by the Businesswomen of the Eastern Province, a group of concerned women which seeks to bring these un-Islamic practices to the forefront of public concern. The issues certainly have implications beyond the overriding concern of simple justice and adherence to Shariah laws; they hamper the economic well-being of women and their ability to fully contribute to the Kingdom’s economy. On a commercial level, these practices can wrest control of a thriving family business from a woman and place it in the hands of unscrupulous male relatives primarily concerned with their own enrichment.
The law office of Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Qassim also assisted with the symposiums to raise public awareness about these injustices.
Such initiatives should be commended and encouraged by the Ministry of Justice. Women activists today continue to call for a national campaign to implement social justice, and they are determined to end the discrimination against them.
Dr. Ahlam Al-Awad, author of a book on endowments, has criticized the discrimination between men and women in the distribution of endowments in many Saudi families today. During a symposium on women and commercial inheritance and family law, she called upon the higher authorities and the Ministry of Justice to refer back to Shariah teachings in order to stop the existing inequality. She said that, unfortunately, many men in our society today continue to deprive women of their endowment rights because their children do not carry the family name, and they want to keep the wealth within the family.
Dr. Al-Awad indicated in her extensive research on Islamic endowments that new terminologies of lineage have been introduced to distort the teachings of the Holy Qur'an and Prophetic principles. She said that Islamic scholars need to address these distorted teachings in order to apply divine justice and end the discrimination commonly practiced against many women today.
In the national interest
In order to correct the misinterpretations in Shariah laws, the issues of inheritance should be studied in more detail to include all cases of inheritance. Shariah scholars must address the legal impediments and methodology involved in evaluating and distributing inheritance. There should be effective training programs for judges and Shariah scholars in order to preserve the legal rights of women, which essentially is a religious obligation.
Neglecting the rights of women could have negative consequences for our national interests, as well. Seventy-five percent of all cases in courts are related to women; therefore, holding such symposiums that address women's issues should be a national concern.
The initiative to address women and commercial inheritance and family law has been welcomed by many women in society who have suffered for years with no one to hear their pleas for justice. The symposium reviewed case studies and listened to aggrieved women of all ages. Academics, social workers and economic researchers as well as Shariah law students debated the issues and came up with important recommendations to serve the neglected interests of women. They include the creation of a department at courts that deals only with distributing inheritance, issuing penalties against family trustees who delay the distribution of the inheritance and deprive women in the family of what is rightfully theirs as well as integrating women’s issues into the national strategies of the state.
Legal family disputes over inheritance, which usually take years to resolve, are affecting the productivity and performance of many businesses. Ultimately, disputes can cause significant losses or even the total collapse of the business. Dalal Al-Zaid, a Bahrain Shoura Council member and legal consultant who was one of the main speakers at the symposium, emphasized the necessity of educating women about their rights of inheritance and of teaching women how to run their own business. She gave an inspiring presentation urging women to seek the support of the progressive members of the Shoura Council or of decision makers who are known to be advocates of women’s rights. She criticized the male guardian rule and called for a more effective campaign by the media to address the discrimination against women, which has adverse effects on both the economic and social progress of the country.
At the end of the event, the sponsors promised to submit the recommendations to those concerned within the government and to members of the Shoura Council. Hopefully, these recommendations will be taken seriously, and decision makers will finally address the cultural inequities and adopt the much-needed judicial reforms.
This article was first published in The Saudi Gazette on June 13, 2013. http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20130615169872
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”