This Monograph deals comprehensively with the status and Rights of Women and Inheritance in Islam in the light of Qur’anic injunctions and Traditions of the Prophet (SAWS). It also discusses the significant reforms which have been enacted lately in a number of Muslim countries regarding marriage and divorce in order to protect the status and rights of women in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Qur’anic injunctions. Some major reforms in the law of inheritance have also been briefly highlighted.

The Monograph empasises the fact that Islam emancipated women from pre-Islamic slavery and tyranny and raised them to the status of a respectable member of the family and of the society as a whole and equal in every respect except biologically. Islamic society, as evolved during the life of the Prophet (SAWS) granted full freedom to women to express their views on any matter freely and openly. Surah Mujadalah (Chapter 58) in the Qur’an eloquently and abundantly testifies to this freedom of speech to women. Islam systematically demolished all such pre-Islamic customs, which degraded the status of women and humiliated them. The Zihar and Ila systems of pre-Islamic divorce which were most repugnant, arbitrary, unfair and depended only on the whims and fancies of men were abolished together with the inheritance of widow/widows of the deceased and his property by his brother or step-son. Women in Islam were given the right to own and dispose of their property long before any other religion or society had conceded these rights to them. They were granted rights on par with men to offer protection to any person they chose and this would be honoured. The institution of marriage in Islam and procedure for divorce together with reforms introduced with the passage of time in order to protect the rights of women have been dealt with at great length in this Monograph.

Before the advent of Islam marriages and divorces in pre-Islamic Arabia were arbitrary, chaotic and fully controlled by men. They could keep as many wives as they liked and could divorce them at will with no provision for their maintenance. Islam systemtised, regulated and institutionalised the custom of marriage. Women were granted the right to reject the marriage proposals fixed by their parents. The pre-Islamic custom of paying the dower amount to the father of the bride was stopped. Instead it was made payable directly to the bride to utilise it as she liked without the interference of her parents and husbands. The maximum number of marriages a man could contract was restricted to four. This was however under exceptional circumstance and subject to the condition that all the four wives will be looked after with absolute equality in every respect. In fact the Qur’an favoured and encouraged monogamy. The Monograph highlights an interesting fact that in a survey of polygamy in different communities in India the Muslims are the least polygamous. Marriage in Islam, though contractual, is a sacred and honoured covenant which can be terminated only under most compelling circumstances and only after all efforts at reconciliation have failed. Divorce though permitted in Islam is most disliked by Allah (SWT) according to an authentic Tradition of the Prophet (SAWS). The Muslim jurists through their rigid interpretation have blocked many progressive measures which are permissible according to Qur’anic injunctions and traditions such as the right of women to seek divorce from her husband on valid grounds, without his consent. This is being gradually remedied in many Muslim countries by introducing significant reforms to conform with the injunctions of the Qur’an and Traditions of the Prophet (SAWS).

The Monograph further stresses the point that significant reforms have been introduced in a number of Muslim countries such as Turkey, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan etc. In their marriage and divorce laws in order to bring them in conformity with the Qur’anic injunctions and traditions of the Prophet (SAWS) which protect the rights of women and prevent their exploitation. These newly introduced reforms have abolished the abominable practice of pronouncing three divorces in one sitting. Every divorce has to be registered and approved by a court of law before it is made operative. Further those who resort to such arbitrary divorces are even penalised and legally forced to pay maintenance allowance to their divorced wives from 1 to 3 years. All the marriages have to be registered. In the marriage contract the woman can lay down certain specific conditions. As for instance, if the husband contracts a second marriage she could seek immediate divorce. In Egypt, Libya and Algeria women can for some valid reason, seek divorce without the consent of their husbands. A unique feature of this monograph is that besides the Sunni Muslims it discusses the marriage and divorce laws among the Shia Muslims as well.

The system of inheritance, as ordained in the Qur’an, has largely remained unaltered yet in certain areas where the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet have remained silent certain important reforms have been introduced to protect the rights of the grandchildren and of the brothers. It has now been legislated in almost all the Muslim countries that the grand children will be entitled to the same share as their father if he had been alive. In Egypt the same result has been achieved by enacting “Oldigatory Bequest”.

Finally the author has provided a draft text of a model Nikah Nama (Marriage Contract) for general discussion and debate and adoption with modifications if necessary.

It is hoped that this monograph on a most crucial aspect of Islamic Law will excite the interest of both the scholars and the authorities in the Muslim world.

Author: Dr. Mrs. Zeenat Shaukat Ali is a distinguished scholar in Islamic studies and an established authority on Muslim Personal Law. She is Professor of Islamic Studies at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India. She has participated in numerous national and International seminars and has lectured extensively in India and abroad on the rights, status and empowerment of women in Islam. Her books: Marriage and Divorce in Islam (1986); and Empowerment of Women in Islam (1997) have been very well reviewed in professional journals and have been widely acclaimed as authentic works in this field.