Rabat – The question of inheritance in Islam has been sparking tense debates throughout Morocco. Activists created a petition on the grassroots action site Avaaz.org last month, seeking to abolish certain inheritance practices such as taasib, or “residues” in English.
According to the Hadith (reports of the Prophet’s statements and actions) and fiqh (Islamic legal interpretation), the taasib is the residual inheritance following a bequest. Assabat are typically distant relatives of the deceased owner of the estate, who benefit after the immediate family members have received their respective shares.
However, modern-day activists believe that taasib is unfair, stating that the immediate family deserves the entire inheritance and should not be legally obligated to split residual funds with distant family members, who often have weak connections to the immediate family.
Furthermore, women activists argue that when a family loses the father, his relatives, including his father and brother, typically do not financially support the children or their mother.
The petition reads, “[The] Moroccan family is most often reduced to just parents and their children… in the current social context, the rules of the taasib have become unfair, as uncles do not take care of their nieces, nor do cousins take care of their cousins…Generally, men do not take care of relatives far from their family, even if they are alone and poor.”
Thus, immediate family members deserve the bequest “leftovers” more than anyone else.
The appeal has already garnered backing from thousands of activists. So far, 6,661 people have signed on in support.
A Cry for Reform
According to the Qur’an, male relatives are to receive double the inheritance of women in most cases. A son inherits twice as much as a daughter, and similarly, a brother inherits twice the share of his sister. (However, in cases of uterine brothers and sisters, their shares will be equal.)
This gender inequality has been a point of contention for many women in Morocco.
Activists and feminists around the region have been increasingly lobbying to end the taasib practice, and to seek broader gender equality in inheritance, as evidenced by ongoing calls for reform in Tunisia. In conjunction with International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 10, Tunisians marched for the right to equal inheritance.
“Women are often very involved in taking care of the needs of their families. They are sometimes the sole supporter, and many must also financially assist their husbands,” reads the petition.
Some Moroccan women are demanding reforms of the traditional inheritance system, and have continued to show determination in defending their stance. In March, the issue of gender equality resurfaced in conjunction with the resignation of Islamic scholar Asma Lamrabet from the Mohammadian League of Scholars (Rabita Mohammadia des Oulemas).
In her press statement, shared with Morocco World News (MWN), Lamrabet confirmed that her resignation stemmed from her push for a progressive, reformist, and depoliticized interpretation of Islamic Law to “operate a new approach to the question of women’s rights in Islam.”
Lamrabet has called on people to support her stance and the “legitimate rights of women for a just and equal Morocco.”
Another Moroccan religious scholar, Mohamed Abdelwahab Rafiki, also know as Abou Hafs, recently shared similar sentiments with MWN: “In the society we are living in nowadays, taasib is unfair to women and girls.”
Reinforcing his argument, Abou Hafs said that it is unfair to distribute a family’s hard-earned wealth among distant relatives.
When asked about critics’ opinions regarding Shari’a law, Hafs said that many things in Islamic law have changed over time, such as widespread gender segregation.
Bouchra Abdou, an activist and a feminist, also affirmed Hafs’s statement. She voiced her opinion to MWN, emphasizing that the inheritance through taasib is unjust to women. As one of the signatories of the petition to end taasib, Abdou said that estates should go directly to the obligatory heirs (including daughters), without involving assabat at all.
“In some cases we see that the daughters are the ones who expanded the families’ wealth, thus it is unfair to distribute their fortune among other people,” Abou stated.
Abdou also discussed gender equality in inheritance with MWN, expressing her full support of women’ rights to inherit the same shares that men do.
Can Petitions Abolish Ordinance from Allah?
The petition to abolish taasib remains contentious among some Moroccan scholars of Islamic jurisprudence. Abou El Wafi, an adoul, or public notary, from the city of Sale, told MWN that he is against the petition, echoing the statement made by Moroccan Islamic scholar Ahmad El Raissouni: “[religious] obligations cannot be canceled by petitions.”
Unlike the Hadith and fiqh, which people consider liable to human interpretative, the Qur’an is considered the sacred and perfect direct word of God, and therefore, less amenable to interpretive changes. However, many religious scholars resist all alterations in religious interpretation, even when it is drawn from Hadith or fiqh.
The Moroccan adoul added that, “canceling aspects of inheritance through taasib will not solve women’s issues and gender equality in Morocco.” He added that the question of inheritance is therefore linked to religion, and “we cannot rework framework that is imposed by Islam.”
Last week, Raissouni said that the petition is calling for the abolition of the obligations ordained by Allah, and emphasized that the inheritance clauses are obligatory, referencing the surah Al-Nisaa:
“These are settled portions ordained by Allah, and Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
Abdelghani Harmachi, a Moroccan lawyer, reiterated the same sentiments in an interview with MWN.
“It is impossible to change divine provisions,” stated the lawyer, fully denouncing the petition.
Referring to gender equality in inheritance, the lawyer completely denied the push for reform. “When we get an inheritance case, we deal with it based on what is imposed in the Shari’a law. The Qur’an is valid in every era and area.”
Hicham Armidi, a researcher and PhD candidate in Islamic Studies and Law in Mohammed V University shares the same viewpoint as Harmachi.
Armidi said that Allah has provided women with all the rights they need, including financial support (nafaqah). The provision of financial support is one of the commandments given in Islam and mahr (a mandatory payment), and comes in the form of money given by the groom to the bride at the time of their marriage.
Beyond the Petition
In 2015, Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) urged the government to rewrite its family code and establish equality between men and women within the context of inheritance.
The council to has also been pushing the government to allow women to pass their citizenship to their foreign husbands.
Recently, the Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, Bassima Hakkaoui, emphasized that the government will soon codify this right in the family law.
On the sidelines of the 62nd UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62), held in March in New York, Hakkaoui said, “Borders should not deprive people of the right to nationality.” On Wednesday, the minister elaborated upon Morocco’s work on marital citizenship procedures.