Women and the Koran

Who Gets What

The Invisible Woman

Which came first; the divine instructions that led to the seclusion of believing women or the divine instructions that made it easier for men to accumulate wealth at the expense of believing women? An argument could be made that the first made the second inevitable.

Allah’s instructions on how women should dress, with whom they can be seen in public and how they should behave in private and in public have been interpreted in traditional Islamic societies as meaning that women should be invisible except to their immediate family, their husbands and, with certain restrictions, their husband’s family. A good believing wife will not invite into her husband’s home anyone of either sex whom he does not approve of.

In keeping with Allah's commands, traditional Islamic societies require that post-pubescent girls (teenagers) and women remain secluded in their fathers’ or husbands’ houses. If they must go out in public they are required to be accompanied by their father, husband or a male relative covered from head-to-toe in a voluminous sack-like blue garment with a mesh grid over the eyes (a burqua) or a shapeless black robe and black gloves with a face-covering black veil with a slit for the eyes (a niqab). Usually a sign that the individual is a follower of one of the more strict or radical schools of Sunni Islam.

Traditional Islamic societies guided by Allah’s ideal of the perfect women, see the post-pubescent female’s role in simple terms: baby making machines, stay-at-home mothers, housekeepers and sexual gratification objects. Daughters are married off as early as possible after they have started menstruating and in some countries even earlier, as in Iran for example.

The Ayatollah Khomeini in his monumental collection of commentaries on Islamic jurisprudence and morality, the Tahrirolvasyleh, wrote that “it was better in the eyes of God if a girl started menstruating in the home of her husband instead of that of her father and that any father marrying his daughter so young will have a permanent place in heaven.”

In traditional Islamic households the mother is expected to raise her daughters until her husband can arrange an advantageous and usually profitable marriage. A marriage to a relative is preferred, usually an uncle or a nephew so as to keep the wealth within the clan, tribe or family and to strengthen clan, tribal and familial ties. The mother is also responsible for raising sons until they reach the age of seven, when the proud father will then take over their up-bringing.

Considering the onerous restrictions placed on women in traditional Islamic societies and their limited role in their children’s education which consists mostly of teaching them the Koran and familiarizing them with Islamic laws and traditions it is understandable, only reasonable, that education for women and girls would be seen as a luxury by many in the umma, the community of believers. The Taliban took the interpretation of the Koranic view of believing women’s limited but crucial role as mothers, housekeepers and lovers to its logical extreme and simply denied females the right to a formal education.

The severe dress code, the denial of an education at least equal to a man’s and the restrictions place on women’s freedom of movement in traditional Islamic societies makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for women to work in a well-remunerated job outside the home or in a job that will earn them as much as a man. Also, the lion’s share of any wealth they may accumulate must, under Allah's inheritance and property laws, sooner or later, usually sooner, end up in the pockets of their husband, their husband’s brothers, their husband’s parents and their male offsprings.

The net result is that, in traditional Islamic societies, it is next to impossible for women to earn an income of their own or accumulate any real wealth, thus making them totally subservient and beholden to the men who have the means of providing them with everything from the basic necessities of life to simple luxuries.

I suspect that the Prophet’s first wife, an independent, wealthy woman in her own right, would not have been pleased. The Prophet Muhammad, we are told, loved and respected his first wife, which is why I believe the forced seclusion of women and all the ills that it entails may have had nothing to do with Allah wishing to condemn believing women to a prisoner-like, subsistence existence.

This forced seclusion of women and teenaged girls may just have been Allah’s way of helping His middle-aged Messenger manage his burgeoning household of beautiful young wives, concubines and slave-girls.

Some of His revelations pertaining to the close supervision of females may also have been meant to ensure that His Messenger was never again embarrassed by the type of rumours that circulated when the youngest of his fourteen wives, Aisha, got lost in the desert and was found and returned to the Prophet the next day by a young man, and to stop his women from gossiping about what went on behind closed doors.

While the seclusion of women may have been an unintentional consequence of Allah trying to help His Messenger extricate himself from an embarrassing situation, Allah did close a number of loopholes in pre-Islamic laws and traditions that might lead women to “accidentally” accumulate wealth or at least more wealth than a man; for example, inherited wealth. To avoid such an eventuality God’s Messenger received a number of revelations on the disposition of an inheritance from a deceased spouse.

Wills and Witnesses

On first reading of revelation 5:106 it would appear that only men can bear witness to a will. Allah’s inclusion of “another folk” may have given Islamic scholar a way of allowing women to bear witness to a will without running afoul of Allah’s men-only decree.

5:106 O believers, when death approaches any of you, let two just men from among you act as witnesses at the time of testament; or two other from another folk, if you happen to be travelling abroad and are overtaken by the calamity of death. You will detain them (the two others) after the prayer and they will swear by Allah if you are in doubt: “We will not sell Him [Allah] for any price, even if a near kinsman is involved, and we will not keep secret the Testimony of Allah (the testimony which Allah enjoins); for then we would surely be sinners.”

The legal requirements for the validation of wills will vary from country to country where the requirements of Islamic law are not recognized as legally binding. Where Islamic law or the Sharia is permitted, or is the law of the land, an attempt must usually be made to find two believing men to witness a will.

If two male believers cannot be found, one or two male non-believers may be asked to perform the duties of the believers.

If no males, or only one male can be found, then up to four females may be called upon as witness in keeping with Allah’s observation in revelation 2:282 about women being unreliable witnesses: “… And call to witness two witnesses of your men; if not two men, then one man and two women from such witnesses you approve of, so that if one of them (the two women) fails to remember, the other will remind her…” The witnesses should, of course, be sinless and swear to that effect.

5:107 If, however, it is discovered that they have committed a sin, then two others shall take their places from among those against whom the first two had sinned. Whereupon they shall swear by Allah: “Our testimony is more truthful than their testimony and we have not transgressed, or else we would surely be evildoers.”

5:108 Thus, it is likelier that they will bear witness properly, or fear that other oaths will contradict their own oaths. Fear Allah and listen well; for Allah does not guide the wicked people.

Another revelation about what to do when death approaches which, “According to some classical commentators”, writes Fakhry in a footnote, “… was abrogated by the law of inheritance.”

2:180 It is prescribed for you that when death is imminent for one of you and he leaves wealth, he should equitably make a testament in favour of the parents and the near of kin. This in incumbent upon the righteous.

A self-evident revelation about whoever falsifies a will followed by what should be an equally manifest revelation, that helping a dying man and his kin come to an understanding as to the fair dispossession of his estate is not a sin.

2:181 Whoever then changes it after he had heard it, the sin committed is that of those who change it. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

2:182 Should anyone, however, fear any inequity or offence from a testator and reconciles them (the testator and the beneficiary), he shall incur no sin. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Narrated Usama bin Zaid:

The Prophet said, "A Muslim cannot be the heir of a disbeliever, nor can a disbeliever be the heir of a Muslim."

Bukhari 80.756

Husband Dies

Narrated Ibn Abbas:

The custom (in old days) was that the property of the deceased would be inherited by his offspring; as for the parents (of the deceased), they would inherit by the will of the deceased.

Then Allah cancelled from that custom whatever He wished and fixed for the male double the amount inherited by the female, and for each parent a sixth (of the whole legacy) and for the wife an eighth or a fourth and for the husband a half or a fourth.

Bukhari 51.10

Following are revelations pertaining to the disposition of a recently deceased male's property. As mentioned earlier, male offsprings get the lion’s share. Sisters are only entitled to half the share of a brother and, if there are more than two females, the male is entitled to one-third, with the rest being divided among the females (I assume sisters) whatever their number.

4:11 Allah commands you, with respect to your children, that the male shall inherit the equivalent of the share of two females. If there be more than two females, then they should receive two-thirds of what he (the deceased father) leaves; but if there is only one female, she is entitled to one-half …

If he did not father any children and he has no brothers:

4:11 … To each of his parents, one-sixth of what he leaves, if he has any children; but if he has no children, then his parents will inherit him, the mother receiving one third …

If he has any brothers and dies childless the formula changes. No mention is made of sisters of the deceased being entitled to anything in this revelation.

4:11 … But if he has any brothers, then his mother receives one-sixth, after any will he had made or any debt he had incurred [is taken care of] …

As proof that even rulings from Allah can be interpreted so as to increase their equitability, brothers of the deceased father in the Shi’ite version of Islam are not automatically entitled to a share of an inheritance.

The verse ends with Allah acknowledging that it is difficult to choose between who is the better investment, fathers or sons (no mention is made of daughters) when it comes to the proceeds of an inheritance, and finishes with the usual praise for the rule maker.

4:11 … Your fathers and sons – you know not who of them is of greater advantage to you. This is a law from Allah; Allah surely is All-Knowing, Forbearing.

Less they missed it the first time; Allah reminds the believers of His two-for-one rule in His instructions on the disposition of an inheritance where the only beneficiaries are brothers and sisters of the deceased.

4:176 [If] they consult you, say: “Allah enjoins you regarding him who dies leaving neither children nor parents. If he leaves a sister; she is entitled to half of what he leaves behind; and he inherits her if she has no children. If he leaves two sisters, they are entitled to two-thirds of what he leaves behind; but if they are brothers and sisters, the male will have the equivalent of the share of two females. Allah makes it clear to you lest you go astray. Allah has full knowledge of everything!”

What about the family home? From my reading of the following revelation, the former wives of the dearly departed are allowed to stay in the family home for up to a year before the relatives of the deceased husband move in and they have to move out.

2:240 Those of you who die leaving wives behind should bequeath to them a year’s provision without turning [them] out (from their homes). If, however, they leave [their homes], then you (the relatives of the dead) incur no offence for what they do in a rightful way to themselves. Allah is Mighty, Wise.

Wife Dies

Allah’s instructions as to the dispositions of a deceased wife’s property, as far as I can tell, are all contained in verse 4:12. The key provision here again is, that the husband who has lost his wife is entitled to more than a wife who has lost her husband. The two-for-one rule appears to still apply. I will let you do the math.

4:12 You are entitled to half of what your wives leave, if they have no children; but if they have any children, then you are entitled to one-quarter of what they leave, after any will they had made or any loan they had incurred [is taken care of]. And they are entitled to one-quarter of what you leave, if you have no children; but if you have any children, then they are entitled to one-eight of what you leave, after any will you had made or loan you had incurred [is taken care of]. And if a man or a woman dies having no children or parents, but has a brother or sister, then each shall have one-sixth; if they are more than that, then they shall share one-third, after any will made or debt incurred [is taken care of] without prejudice. This is a Commandment from Allah, and Allah is All-Knowing, Forbearing.

Islamic scholars like Yahiya Emerick dismiss this double standard in Allah's revelation regarding the disposition of an inheritance saying “in Islam only the man is compelled to spend money in support of his family therefore he should be entitled to a bigger share of the inheritance.”

How convenient. A woman, under a system that has made her less wealthy than her partner is denied her fair share because she is less wealthy than her partner. Divine circular reasoning! Accept this decreed biased distribution of inherited wealth and you will be amply rewarded in the hereafter; don’t, and the Fire will be waiting.

4:13 These are the Ordinances of Allah, and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, He will admit him into Gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever. That is the great victory!

4:14 But whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger and transgresses His bounds, He will admit into the Fire, wherein he shall abide forever, and his will be a demeaning punishment!

Since Allah's Ordinances pertaining to wills overwhelmingly favour males, they are unlikely to transgress, therefore, the promise of eternal pain is probably meant for females who would seek a more equitable share. Remember, the pronouns he or him, usually refer to either or both sexes.

Polygamous marriages must make determining a fair share for each wife from the 25% (or the 12.5% if children are involved) of their husband's estate somewhat difficult to determine.

How do you arrive at a fair share for a young wife who has only been with her husband a short time, and another who has given him children and who, because of her age and other factors is unlikely to find another man to look after her.

The formula, even if Allah had decided to include one in His Koran and hastened the discovery of algebra to allow for unknown values such as the number of wives, days of marital bliss, pregnancies etc. would have been complicated in the extreme, and not befitting a god who likes to keep it simple e.g. his two for one rule.

A Vicious Circle

Allah's revelations as to the disposition of an inheritance are, in my opinion, part of a vicious circle of self-serving regulations that favour men and that ensure that Muslim women will always have difficulty accumulating the resources needed to look after themselves.

Should they succeed in accumulating any wealth, on their death the lion’s share of any wealth they might have inadvertently accumulated must go, by an order of the Koranic God, to the male members of her husband’s family and their male offsprings – their daughters, and their daughter’s daughters… doomed in perpetuity to start their adult life at a disadvantage.

It is a vicious circle that ensures wealth, and the power it conveys, will invariably accumulate in the pockets of men. And what can a Muslim man do with the wealth so generously provided by Allah? Purchase the object of his affection. The woman or the girl dares not oppose the transaction; her very survival depending on the buyer’s beneficence, Allah having denied her the means to look after herself.

With the purchase came some responsibility: the responsibility to pay, to paraphrase Allah, the room and board for their wives, sons and daughters. In most societies, and Islamic society is no different, who pays the piper calls the tune – who pays the piper is in charge.

4:34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth. Hence righteous women are obedient, guarding the unseen which Allah has guarded. And those of them that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them. Should they obey you, do not seek a way of harming them; for Allah is Sublime and Great!

It really is a clever set-up worthy of a god. Making women dependent and beholden to the very men who, because of a divine ordinance, have legally deprived them of what was rightfully theirs and which would have given them the freedom to make their own choices on how they wished to live their lives.

Allah’s Revelations pertaining to bequests from deceased parents or dead relatives. Details as to who gets what are not available.

4:7 Men should have a share of what parents and kinsmen leave behind; and women a share of what parents and kinsmen leave, whether big or small, as an obligatory portion.

4:8 And if the division is attended by kinsmen, orphans or poor men, then give them a share of it and speak to them kindly.


4:33 To every one We have appointed heirs to inherit part of what the parents or the kinsmen bequeath. Those with whom you made a compact, give them their share. Surely Allah is witness to everything.

Who gets whatever is left over (no surprise here):

Narrated Ibn Abbas:

The Prophet said, "Give the Fara'id, (the shares prescribed in the Qur'an) to those who are entitled to receive it, and then whatever remains, should be given to the closest male relative of the deceased."

Bukhari 80.729