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Inheritance laws in Egypt needn’t follow strict Islamic law

Heba Yosry

Published: Updated:

There has been an ongoing debate recently in Egypt concerning the laws of inheritance. In the country family law is mainly influenced by Islamic law and hence the discourse was among religious scholars, but was followed closely by numerous Egyptians who are directly impacted.

The underlying - and in many ways ancient question that sparked this controversy is: is it permissible to sell one’s assets completely to one’s children before death?

Historically, the answer invoked direct quotations from the Quran stating that God knows best and that one is forbidden from tampering with Divine wisdom that guides laws of inheritance.

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Accordingly a person who willfully chooses to leave his or her belongings solely to their children might face ramifications in the afterlife because of disobedience. Furthermore, allowing an uncle to have part of the inheritance or giving the son double will allow the males in the family to take better care of the female members.

It is claimed that it will also provide cohesion and retain the family’s wellbeing because men will naturally feel moral, and take financial responsibility for the women, remaining as their main source of support. Often customs can include the stipulation that a girl can get married and her husband can financially support her while a boy needs to support himself.

To appease concerned parents asking questions about the ins and outs of inheritance law they are told that they are free to leave an endowment to whomever they wish, but the amount cannot exceed a third of what they themselves own.

For some this seems appropriate, but from personal experience and anecdotal evidence suggests that inheritance laws do not bring feelings of cohesion and togetherness: it instead brings strife, discord and a very quick disintegration of family relationships. There is a naivety thinking that bonds grow stronger.

When my father died 12 years ago, a level of ugliness and greed appeared that wasn’t present before. It led to an uncle harassing and filing a string of lawsuits against his nieces and I, and our mother.

Muslims perform evening Tarawih prayers inside Al-Azhar Mosque on the holy fasting month of Ramadan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the old Islamic area of Cairo, Egypt, April 13, 2021. (Reuters)
Muslims perform evening Tarawih prayers inside Al-Azhar Mosque on the holy fasting month of Ramadan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the old Islamic area of Cairo, Egypt, April 13, 2021. (Reuters)

Living in the world of idealism it’s easy to believe that uncles have moral and can offer balanced financial responsibility towards his nieces and nephews, but in reality over the decades many have suffered.

This is why when the Azhari scholar Sheikh Ahmed Kereima announced that it is permissible for a parent to sell, and even if the sale was strictly on paper, all assets must go to the children made me jubilant.

He explained that inheritance laws should be brought in the event of a person’s death, and since a person is still alive and can exercise their own freewill that person can do with those assets what they wish. His view is logical, modern, and realistic and doesn’t negate Divine commandments in any way.

Some argue that God ensures the child’s rights by allowing a third of one’s assets to be endowed in the form of will which should be given to the beneficiary even before any debts that the deceased might have.

True, the will can be viewed as a continuation of the deceased’s agency even after their death. Yet, sometimes it is simply not enough, and sometimes adults take what the children need because it is their rightful inheritance with no sense of responsibility or remorse because God has given it to them and who can debate with God.

What Sheikh Kereima has done is simply present a factual statement: that is, inheritance only applies after death, and emancipated the desire to give our children what we own from the shackles of fear from retribution and God’s wrath. For that he should be commended and not attacked.

The rules of inheritance that are enumerated in the Quran were introduced to the harsh terrain of the Arabian Peninsula, where women and children were historically barred from inheriting assets with all acquiesced to the uncle.

Hence, Islamic rules of inheritance were progressive at that time. Now, when several women are sole providers to their families or when a girl’s future isn’t inevitably marriage and when uncles and brothers are no longer morally or financially responsible for their mothers, sisters and nieces, is it still fair for them to inherit the bulk?

Does the sight of a sister who sold everything to her child for her brother to come and take it back because it’s rightfully his according to God? Does this please God? I don’t think it does.

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