Mantasha Binti Rashid // In some Muslim societies unfortunately we still follow the age old and practices under which a girl child is treated as a liability
Women and inheritance in Abrahamic faiths: Judaism & Christianity The Judao-Christian tradition virtually extends the leadership of the husband into ownership of his wife. Rabbis asserted the husband’s right to his wife’s property as a corollary of his possession of her: “Since one has come into the possession of the woman does it not follow that he should come into the possession of her property too?”, and “Since he has acquired the woman should he not acquire also her property?” Thus, marriage caused the richest woman to become practically penniless. The Talmud describes the financial situation of a wife as follows:
“How can a woman have anything; whatever is hers belongs to her husband? What is his is his and what is hers is also his…… Her earnings and what she may find in the streets are also his. The household articles, even the crumbs of bread on the table, are his. Should she invite a guest to her house and feed him, she would be stealing from her husband…” (San.71a, Git. 62a)
The fact of the matter is that the property of a Jewish female was meant to attract suitors. It was this dowry that made Jewish daughters an unwelcome burden to their fathers. Thus, a girl in a traditional Jewish family was a liability and not an asset. This liability explains why the birth of a daughter was not celebrated with joy in the old Jewish societies. Christianity, until recently, has followed the same Jewish tradition. Both religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire (after Constantine) required a property agreement as a condition for recognizing the marriage. Families offered their daughters increasing dowries and, as a result, men tended to marry earlier while families postponed their daughters’ marriages until later than had been customary.
It is very interesting that in most parts of the world Christians and Jews have been able to get rid of these discriminatory practice but Muslim communities still practise these pre-islamic traditions. Many still see girl as a burden, raise dowry from girl’s birth, actively insist that women bequeath their property and jewellery to preserve relations. Kashmir is no exception.
Islam on Women’s right to property
Islam, since the seventh century C.E., has granted women and married women in particular an independent personality. Traditionally in Islam, the bride and her family are under no obligation whatsoever to present any gift to the groom. The girl as per Islamic thought is no liability. A woman is so dignified by Islam (at least in theory) that she does not need to present gifts in order to attract potential husbands. It is the groom who must present the bride with a marriage gift. This gift is considered her property and neither the groom nor the bride’s family have any share in or control over it. In some Muslim societies unfortunately we still follow the age old and discriminatory practices under which a girl child is treated as a liability and after her birth, parents start worrying about dowry and marrying her off. Even today, a girl is acculturated in to becoming a wife more than becoming an intellectual and spiritual human being, which Islam encourages us to become, irrespective of our sex or gender. The Quran has stated its position on this issue quite clearly:
“And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer” (Quran 4:4)
We tend to read the verse backwards and stress on how acquiring the dower (Mehr) from woman is legal under Islam but forget that it is completely under free will. Women need to determine their dower and their right to possess it. Their fathers and other male relatives do not have any right to do this for her The wife’s property and earnings are under her full control and for her use alone since her, and the children’s, maintenance is her husband’s responsibility. No matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to act as a co-provider for the family unless she herself voluntarily chooses to do so. Moreover, a married woman in Islam retains her independent legal personality and her family name also. This is another major violation Muslims in today’s world happily do. A girl neither retains her name after marriage nor does she mostly acquire a share of her parental property.
Women and everyday economics
In today’s Muslim societies most of the men want to marry women who work such that they can utilize their wife’s earning towards the household expenses, which certainly is not bad but what is understated is the ‘free will’ of woman. Any debate about free-will of a woman is seen as Western or modern, whereas free will to work, to spend on family and to retain dower is in entirety a woman’s absolute free will, in religion. On one hand, men look for earning spouses but on the other hand shy away from helping their wives in household work. Also, many respected men take away their women’s salaries and give them a pocket money to spend, based on the assumption that women cannot be prudent with finances which has its origin in denying the status of a complete thinking human being to a woman. Prophet Muhammad’s lived experience is again rejected as an example in the sense that prophet who used to do all his work on his own is side-lined and some sort of hyper-masculinity is challenged if a working woman demands her husband to help in kitchen or with child rearing. In my own extended family, I have seen men call their wives when the diapers of the child need to be replaced. This is a topic of discussion for another time but it connects here in our swift rejection of actual Islam when it comes to the clearly stated rights of women.
Whereas well-defined property rights are one of the fundamentals for women’s economic security as well as wider economic development, we choose to deprive our women of this. It is no exaggeration that customary law prevails in Kashmir when it comes to the property distribution among siblings. Women from rural areas are told that since they cannot take care of the agricultural land, they better give it to their brothers. In most cases they are not even told that their share in property exists. In land revenue offices, many times men quietly get the property transferred in their names leaving out their married sisters who if at any time want to fall back on their parent’s share do not find it there. I have been a witness to this during my wok. The officials and people do it under the garb of preventing agricultural land from turning fallow. It is an implicit understanding that since land is immovable property, it is better that it remains with the family, i.e the male members.
Similarly, in urban areas, when it comes to property distribution and property essentially consists of a house, the woman who is married in most cases is told that her room (which is her share in the property) shall remain intact, which in simpler words means nothing. In both cases, most of the times women are not the owners of property, which religion and even legal system guarantees them.
I am sure that many people will say that their parents or families give their women a share in property but that is an exception rather than the norm. In fact, it is an important aspect about which awareness in the society should be raised and since it comes under Muslim Personal Law, its application in practice should be ensured. we need to ensure that customary laws that implicitly justify the economic deprivation of women re discouraged. In these matters most of the society is quiet when Muslim personal law is not followed, simply because it serves the need of the powerful and sadly women give in so quietly.
The prophet of Islam was probably the first feminist man and came up with the revolutionary rights for women to own property in the time when women were themselves considered properties in Jewish and Christian traditions and in modern times, Muslims are racing backwards and even justifying this backwardness under the garb of religion only. Following Islamic principles, today we must have had granted more rights to our women in the light of new time and age but irony is that we have to remind our community to even practice the free-will and empowerment that Islam talked about hundreds of years ago and they’re bend on rejecting thinking that it is western thought.
(The author is a Fulbright fellow in gender and policy and has borrowed from multiple academic sources. A recent initiative of the author and few other women is the Kashmir Women’s Collective that works on women’s issues in Kashmir)
The article was first published in Daily Greater Kashmir