This short article was written by the Da’wah Institute of Nigeria, Islamic Education Trust, Minna. A charitable organization based in the city of Minna in Northern Nigeria established in 1969 which is majorly devoted to da’wah, education and welfare, including areas such as water, medical and orphan support. The Da’wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN) is the research and Islamic propagation department of the IET, which is devoted to comprehensive capacity building of Islamic workers and organizations to effectively realize the Ummah’s potentials for the dissemination and application of the correct message of Islam for greater social justice and peaceful coexistence.
Q: Is it true that a Muslim woman’s inheritance is half that of a man’s?
A: Inheritance is defined as the property of a deceased person which is transferred to his/her heirs under the laws of inheritance (mirath), or by bequest through a will (wasiyyah). Many erroneously believe that under Islamic law a woman’s inheritance is always half that of a man. This is therefore usually viewed as a form of injustice, subjugation and oppression of women by Islam.
However, under Islamic law stipulates there are circumstances where a woman inherits more than, the same as, or less than a man. This is because the size of a person’s inheritance depends not on gender but on 3 other main factors:
- The degree or closeness of kinship or relationship with the deceased. So, for example, a daughter whose mother dies will inherit more from the deceased than her father who is the husband of the deceased. This is because the daughter is a closer relative (blood relation) than the father (who has a marital relationship) with the deceased.
- The generation to which the heirs belong. Grandchildren (such as a granddaughter) will usually receive more from their deceased parent than their grandparents (such as a grandfather) will. This is because the grandchildren will more likely face a longer future of financial responsibilities, and will be responsible for the elderly. Similarly, such a daughter inherits more from her deceased father than any inheriting uncle(s).
- The financial responsibility upon a particular heir. When the heirs are equal in the first 2 aforementioned factors, their shares of inheritance will be affected by the third. Because the Qur’an (4:4, 4:34, etc.) makes men financially responsible for women, this 3rd factor gives those men who are responsible for women more of the inheritance so as to justify the extra financial burden of responsibility for safety, protection and sustenance placed upon them. In this instance, a brother may inherit twice as much as his sister. However where the male (e.g. a half-brother) is not financially responsible for his half-sister (from a different father but same mother) as in Qur’an 4: 12, the two of them get equal shares of inheritance (either a sixth or a third each).
The former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, in his book “Responding from Tradition” cites the results of researchers into this subject who have concluded that there are only 4 scenarios in which a woman inherits half the share of a man; about 11 scenarios in which a woman inherits a share equal to that of a man; not less than 14 scenarios in which a woman inherits more than a man; and many situations in which a woman inherits and her male counterpart does not inherit at all.
Therefore, there are circumstances in which a woman inherits more than a man, the same as a man, or less than a man. Each case depends on closeness to the deceased, generation, financial responsibility and of course, and who else is entitled to a share of the estate. It is noteworthy that Islamic law is the only law that has guaranteed women (whether mothers, daughters, and wives) a fixed share of inheritance which they cannot be denied. Most other laws leave the sharing of inheritance entirely to the decision or will of the deceased. The Islamic laws of inheritance permit the bequest (wasiyyah) by the deceased of up to a third of the estate to others (including distant relatives, friends, charities, etc.) who are not entitled to inherit automatically. 
In those special or rare cases where it is clear that applying the normative provisions of Islamic law would lead to injustice being done to a particular heir(s), a competent scholar or a judge (Qadi) has the authority to adjudicate in accordance with “equity” or “juristic discretion” (istihsan) or “public interest” (maslahah). This was done by the second Caliph and respected companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Umar bin Khattab in the well-known inheritance case referred to by scholars as “The Donkey Case” (Mas’alat al-Himariyyah).
For further reading:
- Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Responding from the Tradition: One Hundred Contemporary Fatwas by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Fons Vitae, Louisville, KY, USA, 2011, p.46-53.
- Mohammad Omar Farooq, Toward our Reform: From Legalism to Value-Oriented Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, London, 2011, p.233-234.
 By the Da’wah Institute of Nigeria, Islamic Education Trust, Minna.
 Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Responding from the Tradition: One Hundred Contemporary Fatwas by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Fons Vitae, Louisville, KY, USA, 2011, p.46
 Unless it can be proven that it is not in the best interest of a child, the mother (or aunty) usually has the automatic right of child custody in Islamic law. Even so, the father (or uncle) is still always legally responsible for the financial needs of his children (or nephews) irrespective of who has custody rights.
 Quran 4:12
 Quran 4:11
 This also includes people of other faiths, illegitimate and “adopted” children, etc. See Ahmad bin Hanbal, Al-Musnad, Mu’asasat al-Risalah, 1420 A.D., Vol.3, p.83, no.1488; Muhammad bin Ismail al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Dar Tawk Al-Najat, 1422 A.H. , Vol.3, p.238, no.1295; Abu al-Husain Muslim bin Hajjaj Al-Qushairi, Sahih Muslim, Dar al-Jeel, Beirut Vol.5, p.71, no.4296.
 Saim Kayadibi, Istihsan: The Doctrine of Juristic Preference in Islamic Law, Islamic Book Trust, Selangor, 2010, p.118-119.