When Brothers Become Enemies

National Yemen

Asma al-Mohattwari

Fatma’s only dream was to marry someone from the city to rescue her from her village’s traditions. She was living with her three brothers who thought only about their sister’s property and inheritance rights. They showed her love and hid their evil inside them.

The man she was dreaming of came when her neighbor’s relatives came to their village to visit. They admired her and decided to marry her to their son. No one can describe her happiness at that moment. “Finally, I will marry a man from the city,” Fatma said.

Unfortunately, her happiness ended when her brothers gave her two choices: either sign a waiver of inheritance rights or marry someone from the same family because they didn’t want the property of the family going to strangers. Fatma knew that no matter what they would not give her any rights and would find excuses so that she signed the waiver they wanted. “I thought a lot, and I preferred to lose one thing instead of losing my rights and my dream,” Fatma explained.

Some tribes in Yemen still prevent women from their rights for inheritance because they think that women will get married and husbands are responsible for them. Dr. Mortadha Al-Mohattwari, a law professor and founder of the Bader Mosque, said that inheritance must be fair apportionment, even if women get married because Islamic law mandates the husband to pay all the women’s expenses, even if she is rich. “Any inheritance or property the woman takes from her father or one of her relatives is her right and no one can use it instead of her. The Quran clarifies everything and Muslims believing in Allah cannot object. We should join hands with women to give them their rights.”

From the beginning of humanity, women have suffered unequal and unfair treatment. Some of this treatment can be traced back to the earliest stories of the world’s religions. Everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve, the first two human beings that God created to live in a paradise on earth. Some religious figures—many of them male—believe that Eve was responsible for Adam’s eating from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. As a result, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden and in their punishments were created all of the suffering and injustice in the world we now inhabit.

The Qur’an, however, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Qur’an can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree, or even that she had eaten before him. Eve in the Qur’an is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. God, according to the Qur’an, punishes no one for another’s faults. Adam and Eve committed equal sins and then asked God for forgiveness; He forgave them both.

Humans have addressed the issue of women’s rights for a long time without ever achieving a satisfactory solution. Before Islam, women were held accountable for many negative events, and they had no rights within their societies. According to the traditional Islamic narrative, women in Pre-Islamic Arabia had almost no rights. They were not considered equal to men and were thus living under a strict patrilineal system. They were viewed as objects and constantly humiliated. Women had very little control over their marriages and could not inherit property. In the family, their purpose was no more to bear children, even though they had no rights to these children once they were born. When a woman gave birth to a female, it was considered a disgrace to the family. Female infanticide was a common practice.

Prior to Islam, and within the Arabian Peninsula, the system of inheritance was confined to male descendants. Women not only did not have any share of inheritance, but they themselves were inheritable too. Siblings from the mother’s side, like half-brothers or half-sisters, were completely excluded. Other Semitic cultures also practiced primogeniture, under which all property went to the eldest male child.

The Qur’an introduced a number of different rights and restrictions on matters of inheritance, including general improvements to the treatment of women and family life. The Qur’an also presented efforts to fix the laws of inheritance, and thus forming a complete legal system. This development was in contrast to pre-Islamic societies where rules of inheritance varied considerably.

Furthermore, the Qur’an introduced additional heirs that were not entitled inheritance in pre-Islamic times, mentioning nine relatives specifically of which six were female and three were male. The laws of inheritance in the Qur’an also included other male relatives, like the husband and half-brothers from the mother’s side, which were excluded from inheritance in old customs. The heirs mentioned in the Qur’an are the mother, father, husband, wife, daughter, uterine brother, full sister, uterine sister, and consanguine sister.

The problem is not with brothers but also with judges. When Fatima decided to demand her rights by filing a lawsuit, the sentence was to her favor but she did not find any way for implementation because of interference from higher officials.

Women still don’t know their rights well; illiteracy and the surrounding environment help to deprive them of their share of inheritance.