Women in Islam : Economics

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Women in Islam Part 10: Economics


Of the great faiths, Islam has been foremost in  assigning  to
woman  a  position  of economic independence. It is well known
that in the United Kingdom till as  late  as  1882,  when  the
first Married Women's Property Act was passed by Parliament, a
married woman could hold no property of her own, independently
of  her  husband.  Any  property  that a femme sole (unmarried
woman) held in her  own  right  vested  automatically  in  her
husband  on  her  marriage. A hundred years later traces still
linger in certain aspects of British Law  which  illustrate  a
married woman's position of dependence upon her husband.

In  Islam  the independent economic position of woman has been
established since the very beginning. Mention has been made of
the  obligation  of  the  husband  to make a settlement on the
wife, in proportion to his means, at  the  time  of  marriage.
This  settlement is called dower (mehr). If at the time of the
death of the husband the wife's dower should be still  unpaid,
it  ranks  as  a  debt  to be discharged out of his estate, in
priority to all his other debts. In  addition,  the  widow  is
entitled  to  her  share  in  the  husband's  estate, which is
determined by law.

Any property that a woman might acquire by her own effort,  or
might  inherit  as  an  heir  or  receive as a legacy or gift,
belongs to her independently of her husband. She may  ask  her
husband  to  manage  it,  but  if  she  chooses  to  manage or
administer it herself, he cannot interfere in  her  management
or administration of it.

A  married  woman  who  possesses means of her own may, and in
most cases does, contribute a portion  or  the  whole  of  her
independent  means towards the upkeep of the household, but is
under no obligation to do so. The upkeep of the  household  is
the  entire  responsibility of the husband, even when the wife
is in her own right better off than her husband.

This is well illustrated by the following incident.  The  Holy
Prophet,  peace be on him, on one occasion admonished women to
spend in charity out of their own means also.  Thereafter  two
women,  both  bearing the name of Zainab, one of them the wife
of the well known companion Abdullah bin Masood, came  to  him
and  told  him  that  their  respective  husbands  were men of
straitened means, but that  they  in  their  own  rights  were
comparatively  better  off.  Would  it  be an act of spiritual
merit if they were to assist their husbands out of  their  own

The Holy Prophet assured them their spending on their husbands
would be doubly meritorious, as it would rank both as  charity
and   as   graciousness   towards   kindred.  The  Holy  Quran

Covet not that whereby  Allah  has  made  some  of  you  excel
others.  Men  shall have a portion of that which they earn and
women shall have a portion of that which they earn. Ask  Allah
alone  of  His  bounty. Surely, Allah has perfect knowledge of
all things. (4:33)

For everyone leaving an inheritance We have  appointed  heirs,
parents  and  near  relations,  and also husbands and wives to
whom you are bound by solemn covenants. So give  all  of  them
their appointed shares. Surely, Allah watches over all things.

The Islamic system of succession and inheritance, set  out  in
4:12-13 and 177, aims at a wide distribution of property. If a
person should die leaving his or her surviving  parents,  wife
or  husband,  sons  and  daughters,  they  all  share  in  the
inheritance; the general rule being that the share of  a  male
is double that of a female in the same degree of relationship.
In this there is no discrimination  against  female  heirs  in
view  of the obligation of the male to provide for his family,
while the female has no such obligation. In practice the  rule
works out favorably for female heirs.

A  Muslim may not dispose of more than one-third of his assets
by testamentary directions. Legacies, whether for  charity  or
in  favor  of  non-heirs,  must  not  exceed  one-third of net
assets;  nor  may  the  share  of  an  heir  be  augmented  or
diminished  by  testamentary  direction.  There is no room for
discrimination between the heirs under the Islamic  system  of
inheritance,  like,  for instance, primogeniture, or exclusion
of females.

A direction designed to secure the preservation  of  testimony
relating  to civil transactions, which requires that they must
be reduced to writing, is sometime mistakenly seized  upon  as
evidence  of  discrimination against females. The direction is
as follows:

Procure two witnesses from among your men; and if two  men  be
not available, then one man and two women, of such as you like
as witnesses, so that if either of the two women should be  in
danger  of  forgetting,  the  other  may  refresh  her memory.

There is here not the slightest trace of  discrimination.  The
normal  rule  is  that women should be safeguarded against the
contingency of having  to  appear  as  witnesses  in  judicial
proceedings.  Therefore, normally a woman should not be called
upon to attest a document recording a transaction.  This  rule
may  be  relaxed  in an emergency. But then another difficulty
would arise. In the case of male witnesses their memory  of  a
transaction  that  they attest as witnesses would be refreshed
when they met socially and the transaction  was  recalled  for
one  reason  or another. In the case of a document recording a
transaction, which is attested by  one  male  and  one  female
witness,  the female witness, under the Islamic social system,
as will presently be  appreciated,  would  not  normally  have
frequent occasion to meet the male witness and talk to him, so
that there would  be  little  chance  of  her  memory  of  the
transaction   being   refreshed.  To  overcome  this  lack  of
opportunity of refreshing the memory, it  is  wisely  provided
that  where  only  one  male  witness  is available two female
witnesses may be called upon so that, in the very words of the
text, one may refresh the memory of the other.

This  provision  is  concerned  only  with the preservation of
evidence, and does not deal with the weight to be attached  to
the testimony of a male or female witness. An illustration may
help to clear up any  doubt  on  the  matter.  Assume  that  a
transaction  recorded  in  a document attested by one male and
two female witnesses becomes the subject of  a  dispute  which
comes  up  for  judicial  determination. It is then discovered
that one of the two female witnesses has in the meantime died.
The male witness and the surviving female witness are examined
in court and the judge finds that their respective accounts of
the  terms of the transaction are not entirely in harmony; but
he feels very strongly that taking every relevant factor  into
consideration  the  testimony  of  the  female witness is more
reliable than that of the male witness.  In  such  a  case  it
would be his plain duty to rely on the testimony of the female
witness in preference to that of the male witness. There could
be  no  question  of  discrimination  in favor of or against a

Thank you.
Shakeel Virk

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