Many times when female inheritance in Islamic law is discussed, the issue of “The male receives twice the share of the female…” always comes up as evidence of the injustice that Islam imparts to woman in the areas of wealth, gender equity etc. This misunderstanding is based on either extreme ignorance or is intently malicious in nature.
Upon closer examination, we see that the context of this verse is speaking specifically about those cases in which siblings, both male and female, survive the deceased mother or father. The question remains if this principle is to be extended to other areas such as maintenance of children, etc. A cursory glance at the Sunnah of the Messenger of God would tell us that this principle is not to be applied in areas of maintenance, being that it is reported by Ibn ‘Abbas that he said “Give to your children equally and if I were to prefer one over the other I would have given preference to females.”*
In any case, bearing in mind the specific conditions set for each situation, it can be said that a woman’s inheritance has seven possibilities in Islamic inheritance law:
In three of these the woman takes more than the man:
1-A daughter with no siblings, but there is a grand-daughter surviving.
2-A sister with no full-siblings, nieces or nephews, nor any parents remaining, but there is a half-sister surviving.
3-A granddaughter with no siblings, uncles or aunts, but there is a wife, mother or grandmother surviving.
All three of these women will take half (1/2) the total inheritance.
In one case the woman will take an equal amount to the man:
4-In the three above cases, if the women mentioned are the only surviving females.
In the three remaining a woman will take less than at least one of the men, but may take more than another of them:
5-A daughter with siblings
6-A wife with or without children
7-A mother with or without children remaining**
In the above, we see that in 4 out of 7 cases, a woman takes either equal or more than a man, certainly proving wrong the supposition that a woman always takes less than a man.
It should be noted however that in the last three cases that the surviving men are obligated to maintain the woman who survive the deceased in this case. That said a woman who is not being maintained by her male relatives has the ability to seek damages for mistreatment and neglect if those surviving male relatives do not support her. One question that remains to be answered is: if the surviving woman in one of these three cases knows of previous negligence on the part of the surviving men, can she petition the probate council responsible for distribution of the inheritance so as to receive her maintenance prior to neglect, thus saving herself and the courts the hassle of seeking damages later?
* This hadith was narrated by Sa’id ibn Mansur, Al-Bayhaqi, and Al-Tabarani. Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar declared it Hasan in Fath Al-Bari (8/72)
** Such as in the case when a woman dies and is survived by his mother, grandfather, and husband. The husband takes ½, the mother takes 1/3, and the grandfather takes the remainder. Here the female took less than one man (the husband) but more than the other (the grandfather).