Islam abolished the former practice whereby inheritance went only to the oldest male heir. According to the Quran, a woman automatically inherits from her father, her husband, her son and her childless brother. The Quran contains specific guidance regarding the division of the inherited wealth among the rightful beneficiaries. The three verses that broadly describe the share of close relatives are found in chapter 4, verses 11, 12 and 176. In these verses, Allah establishes the right of children, parents and spouses to inherit a specific share without leaving the matter to human judgment and emotions. In the absence of certain close relatives a share is apportioned to more distant ones. The system of inheritance is a perfectly balanced product of the Creator’s knowledge of human need and takes into account His imposition of greater responsibility upon particular members of the family in varying situations.
In most cases, the female inherits a share that is half that of the male. However, this is not always so. There are certain instances when they inherit equal shares, and in some cases, a female can inherit a share that is more than that of the male. But even when the male is given a larger share there is a perfectly logical reason behind it. In Islam a woman has no financial obligations towards her family, even if she is wealthy or has her own source of income; the economic responsibility always lies upon the man. As long as a woman remains unmarried, it is the legal obligation of her father, brother or other guardian to provide her food, clothing, medication, housing and other financial needs. After she is married, it is the duty of her husband or adult son. Islam holds the man financially responsible for fulfilling all the needs of his family.
So the difference in shares does not mean that one sex is preferred over the other. It represents a just balance between the roles and responsibilities of family members according to their natural, physical and emotional makeup. In general, the woman is in charge of running the household and taking care of the needs of those within it, so she is alleviated from financial obligations. Despite this, she receives a share of inheritance which becomes her own property to save or use as she pleases. No other person has claim to any portion of her share. In contrast, the man’s share becomes a part of his property from which he is obligated to maintain his children and all female members of the household, so it is constantly being consumed.
Suppose someone died leaving a son and a daughter. The son’s share of inheritance will be depleted when he gives a dowry to his wife and supports his family, including his sister until she marries. Any additional income will have to be earned through his work. However, his sister’s share remains untouched, or might even increase if she invests it. When she marries, she will receive a dowry from her husband and will be maintained by him, having no financial responsibilities whatsoever. Thus, a man might conclude that Islam has favored women over men!
In addition, the Muslim may make a bequest at his own discretion, in which he can will up to one third of his property to anyone who would not inherit otherwise. The bequest can be a means of assistance to other relatives and people in need, both men and women. One may also allocate this portion or part of it toward charities and good works of his choice.