In truth, the only religious text that grants the right of inheritance to woman is the Qur'an. Indeed, many of the nations, termed today as progressive, have conferred upon women the right to inheritance only in the twentieth century. As for the Qur'an itself, it had declared unequivocally in the seventh century itself that, 'From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large, - a determinate share'¦'(4:7)
According to the Old Testament of the Bible, only sons have the right to inheritance. Therein can be seen verses, which suggest that the wealth of the deceased is to be divided amongst the sons of the deceased. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). There is also the recommendation, which requires that the daughters be given the right to inheritance if there are no sons. 'And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter' (Numbers 27:8). Even the widow had no right in the wealth of her husband. (Rev.A.C.Clayton: Bible Dictionary (Malayalam Version), P.113)
As far as the New Testament of the Bible is concerned, there is no mention, whatsoever, of any proportioning of the wealth of inheritance in it. The Christian church had, in all such matters, been following the commandments of the Old Testament. It was precisely for this reason that, until very recently, women had not the right to earn and save - not to mention any right to inheritance - in all such areas where the majority was Christian in population. It was in 1848 that women were allowed to earn money in New York. It was in 1850 that the law, which allowed for women to have the right to inheritance, came into effect.
The Hindu scriptures, which saw woman as the private property of man, and formulate laws in accordance thereof, does not even make a mention of making her a beneficiery in the wealth of inheritance. A reading of the Hindu books makes us to understand that the wife is the private property of the husband, which he can always give away in charity or for the use of another. Sudarshan who makes available his wife for the entertainment of the guest (Mahabharath: commandments) and Mithrasah who hands over his wife to Vasishta (Peace) both are indicative of this. There is nothing in the Hindu scriptures, which imply that the daughters are entitled to the wealth of their father. Indeed, the Manusmrithi has laid down the law that it is the sons who are entitled to the wealth of inheritance.
Oordan pishushcha mathrucha samethabrathrasamam
Bajeran Pytrakamriktha manishasthi hijeevatha (9:104)
'After the father and mother (are dead), the brothers should assemble and divide the paternal estate equally, for they have no power over the two of them while they are alive'.
The Qur'an recognizes the right of the sons and daughters to the wealth of their parents.Besides the right of the sons and daughters, the Qur'an clearly recommends the exact share that the parents, spouses and siblings of the deceased person have to be approportioned from that person's wealth. Indeed, the right of the son and daughter is but a part of this share allotment. So goes the beginning of the Qur'anic verses which deals extensively with the subject of inheritance: 'God (thus) directs you as regards your children's (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half . For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children and the parents are the (only heirs), the mother has a third, if the deceased left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases is) after the payment of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by God; and God is All knowing, All wise. In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child , ye get a fourth; after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; after payment of legacies and debts; so that no loss is caused (to anyone). Thus is it ordained by God; and God is All-knowing, Most forbearing.' ( 4:11,12). In short, therefore, the son of the deceased is to have a share in the inheritance that is twice to that of the daughter. However, is this meant to be an act of discrimination towards the woman? Is this a law that tends to highlight partiality towards the man? It will be of benefit if the following facts are understood before any conclusions are hastily arrived upon:
One: The Qur'an recognizes the right of woman to earn wealth. Indeed, to earn as much as she desires. There is to be no right for the man in any such earnings of hers. Her earnings will be hers alone.
Two: Under no circumstances will the protection and maintenance of woman; children or the parents become the duty of the woman. This then means that irrespective of how wealthy a woman might be, she is not duty bound to bear the expenses of her own self, children, parents or husband.
Three: Woman has the right to take, at the time of her marriage, her dower from her husband. This dower (Mehr) is then effectively treated as her own wealth.
Four: The protection of the family is the duty of man. It is man who is duty bound to bear the expenses of his wife and children. Furthermore, it is again his duty to protect his parents and other close relatives. In effect, therefore, all financial burdens have to be borne by man.
Five: Irrespective of how wealthy a wife might be, the husband has no right, whatsoever, to take from any portion of her wealth without her explicit permission.
The question may now be considered as to whether the Qur'an has dealt justly or discriminatingly with the woman.
The wealth of inheritance received by woman is hers and hers alone. None else has the right to this wealth. But what of that received by man? He has to pay his marriage dower, take up the maintenance of the women. And to bear her as well as the children's expenses. All falls under the responsibility of the man. Then is it man or woman who has found favourable treatment in the Qur'an?
All other religious texts, which confer financial responsibilities upon the man, have, in lieu of such duties, restricted the right to inheritance with the man. As for the Qur'an, while it does stress upon the fact that all financial burdens will be shouldered by man, it, nevertheless, provides for the inheritance of woman as well. Indeed, by approportioning half the inheritance of man to woman it has greatly honoured her.
What then, can be the non-Qur'anic recommendations of the critics on this subject? Two such recommendations may be raised:
1. Woman be given twice the wealth of man. Confer financial responsibilities upon woman.
2. Man and woman be given equal share in the wealth of inheritance. Distribute financial responsibilities equally between them.
Both these recommendations seek to burden woman with the yoke of financial responsibilities. This is an idea that is against the very nature of womanhood. For, during times of pregnancy and childbirth she yearns for the care and protection of the man. To burden woman with financial responsibilities, as a rule, is to create conditions of grave and far reaching consequences that will arise in the future. As such, it is certain that the law which the Qur'an has put forward as the subject of inheritance is, by far, the best that there is for woman's good.