Our Spiritual Orphans
There have been among the Muslims, throughout their history, people – the more away in time from the origin of Islam, more their numbers – to whom Islam is a burden and a shackle. But since its creeds are beyond questioning, (Tawheed, Prophethood, etc.), it is the Shari`ah that is targeted for indirect criticism. This strategy helps the skeptics and antagonists remain (until they can manage to flee to kufrdom), within Muslims as Muslims enjoying the social benefits; and if they cannot flee, then remain within the polity but as belonging to the intelligentsia, although most of their gray stuff remains locked throughout their lives. For them, a single active principle does away with the need to use their own minds, namely, follow the Western Gurus.
An orphan’s share in his grandfather’s inheritance has been, for the last hundred years, a rallying point for this class. It is renewed for criticism at least once in a decade, in order to reduce people’s trust in Islam, weaken their relationship with the `Ulama, help them know their own strength in the society, and to distinguish between the potential foe and friend. When a selection committee in a Muslim country takes position for interviewing candidates for high governmental posts, a list of hopefuls is already there in its mind: the skeptics and antagonists.
This particular issue (of the orphan’s share) is raised – (as has been done by one of our readers, perhaps provoked by their propaganda machinery), in tones as if a high-priority attention is required in correcting the Shari`ah error – if catastrophe is to be avoided. Although in reality it happens so rarely that sometimes a man passes out his life without having come across a case where the following conditions are met:
(1) a person died,
(2) he was poor
(3) his wife was also poor,
(4) the children’s grandfather was alive
(5) he was rich,
(6) he refused to look after his grandchildren
(7) he too died,
(8) he had marked no part of his wealth during his life-time for his orphaned grandchildren
(9) his rich wife (grandmother of the orphans) also refused to do anything for the orphans, and so
(10) the orphans suffered a poverty-stricken life.
Conclusions: (1) The Shari`ah committed a faux pas. (2) It is incomplete. (3) The skeptics and antagonists are intelligent (4) They are concerned with the people’s welfare, (5) They deserve reverence and admiration, and therefore, (6) if peace, welfare, prosperity and justice to all, is the goal, then Islamic system will need some dressing at their hands such as, for example, removal of hijab, liberation of women, curbing the institutions teaching Qur’an and Sunnah, and so on.
Looking back at the list of conditions drawn by us, it must be obvious that there being so many of them, a case almost never occurs. One might note: It is not being said that the case of a poor orphan in the presence of a grandfather never occurs, but rather, a case where all the above conditions are met, is hardly ever observed. With so many conditions, it is like throwing a ten-sided dice. What are the chances you will call a number and win, not once, but ten times in an unbroken sequence?
All the same, we might as well offer a few points by way of clarification and removal of doubts. Firstly, the rule in question is entirely Islamic. It is not, nor ever was, an Arab custom to deprive an orphan of his grandfather’s inheritance. The Arab custom was to deprive the sons and daughters of their share in their father’s inheritance. Far from grandchildren, even sons got nothing: thanks to elders of the family. The Qur’an said:
“But rather, you do not honor the orphan; nor encourage one another to feed the poor; and devour (other’s) inheritance with great relish.” (89: 19-21)
This was the pre-Islamic pagan custom pertaining to inheritance, and this is the neo-Jahiliyy social law of our times.
Therefore, we can legitimately ask, why does the rule worry some people to paleness? They ask about a grandson’s share in his grandfather’s property! What about an orphan’s share in his own father’s property? Does he get any? Hardly ever. Adults around grab the best part of a man’s wealth after his death, if he happens to leave behind children of such little age as who cannot stand up, resist and fight: literally with their fists. In fact, what we see today is that the property a woman inherits from her husband is quite often devoured, by her own brothers, uncles and other kindly people (who have a business plan on mind, as soon a widow has money on hand). The business fails, the money disappears, and, after a while the dear woman is left to starve along with her little ones. Yet, we hear, what about a grandson’s share in his grandfather’s property!? (We may ask: Any business plans?).
Jewish law should be of interest to the energetic women NGOs: “And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And, if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsmen that is next of him of his family, and he shall posses it.’” (The Bible, Numbers, 27: 8-11).
So, daughters get a share in their father’s wealth only if he left no sons; and, in the absence of daughters, the male line alone (above and not below) bags all that’s there.
In Christianity, the first son takes all. By presenting the worst scenario possible, the Bible makes it so difficult that only a non-believer would dare break the rule: “If a man have two wives one beloved, and another hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated. Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn.” (Deuteronomy, 21: 15, 16).
In simpler words, even if the firstborn is a son of a hateful wife, and a corrupt one, as the text that follows leads to believe, it is he who gets all. What about other sons and daughters of the deceased, (brothers and sisters of the one who takes all), or the mother of the orphans, (wife of the deceased)? They get a sad face. Capitalism, the socialists who criticize the ancient law say, issues forth from the Scriptures. Down the line – the grandchildren? Quiet you better be. Such are the laws in Christianity, the religion of love, now being offered by priests hiding behind soldiers in Iraq. The soldier holds the gun. The priest holds the Bible. Christianity spread through love. Islam on the other hand is an incomplete religion, and needs some dressing as suggested by the Orientalists and their drummers.
To come back to the issue, a simple look at the situation that actually prevails is enough to convince that no problem exists where it is assumed to be a major shortcoming. Imagine. A man dies. He left a few minor children. The grandfather is alive. Assume that he is rich. At this point we might ask, are grandfathers rich? In majority of cases by the time a man becomes a grandfather, he would have spent off his life-time of savings on his children’s education and marriages. In that age, he is desperately in need of charity from his own children, rather than provide charity, dead or alive, to his grandchildren. In fact, most of those who have reached grandfather status are considered a burden on their sons (since they can’t earn for themselves), and in advanced, developed, and enlightened societies of the West, they are pushed into the arms of charitable organizations or stuffed into old-people’s homes. So, the case we are studying is entirely a stupid story.
In any case, to proceed, a man dies, leaving behind little children, and a grandfather who is rich or rich enough. What will he do with his grandchildren? We all know what he actually does in a Muslim society. He treats them like his own children, showering greater love upon them than he showered upon their father. [We know of a case where a grandfather wouldn’t eat without the orphan grandson joining him on the table].
What about the grandmother? She loves her grandchildren so much that the daughter-in-law blames her for spoiling them through excessive doting. Will she abandon her grandchildren after her son died? Will she allow her husband, the children’s grandfather, to abandon them? We do not think even in the West, a world of highly selfish people, a grandmother will abandon her grandchildren. (She belongs to a saner generation of old). So, the actual fact is, grandchildren are well taken care of by the grandparents.
But, stop. Grandchildren have another set of grandparents: from the mother’s side. Does it ever happen that none of the four grandparents has any love for the orphaned grandchildren? A law is required, they say. Will a law provide any relief if there are such heartless people in a society?
Next, what happens when a grandfather is about to die? He knows he is one in ten thousand cases where his grandchildren are under his care? Will he read out to them a page from a Fiqh books informing them that they will get no share from his wealth after him? Or, will he set apart a part of his wealth and let his family members know that it is for them, which will not be divided by the inheritors between themselves? So, where is the problem concerning a grandson not getting any share from his grandfather’s property? We are talking of Islam and Muslims. In our society (we mean the society of the committed Muslims) there are grandfathers who live for the sake of their orphaned grandchildren.
But the objection, the antagonist might say, is to the rule and not to its practice, which is a failure of common nature and not specific to orphans. Our answer: that’s where he has erred. The issue is not legal. It is social. And in social matters, no amount of legislation will ever solve any problem. The Qur’an, therefore, dealt with the issue in this light. As against all other Scriptures (which make it a point not to mention the orphan once) the Qur’an spoke pronouncedly about the rights of the orphans no less than 23 times. (Is it one for every twenty three years of the Prophetic mission – once an orphan himself?) The Qur’an and the Sunnah have spoken so much about the rights of parents, wayfarers, slaves, the poor, women, and orphans that these classes have the right to claim that the Prophet was raised for no other reason but to rescue them.
The greatest need of an orphan is not material, as these spiritual orphans – the shallow critics of Islamic law – would have us believe. It is psychological. His need of a compassionate guardian is greater than any other need. One might provide an orphan with every material need, but without a caressing hand on his head, without a loving person taking interest in his simple affairs .. why, without it even one with a father feels like an orphan. In contrast, give an orphan the barest minimum, but give him someone who will give him love and tenderness and watch how in seconds his troubled face sparkles with a blissful smile. The Prophet said, “I and the caretaker of an orphan will be like this in Paradise.” He pointed with his two fingers to demonstrate closeness.
The criterion of the division of inheritance in Islam (as pointed out by Mufti Shafi` Deobandi) is not the “needs of the people”. If need had been the basis the wealth of every dying person should have been ordered divided among the fakirs of the town. Islam has another system at work for the poor and the needy. It is that of Zakawaat, Sadaqaat, `Aqeeqah, Zakaat al-Fitr, animal sacrifices, expiation for unfulfilled vows, obligations, and so on. But rather, the criterion is relationship. And, if relationship is the basis, who should share the wealth left, but the closest of the deceased? Hence it is the wife and children who get before others, then parents, then brothers and sisters, then uncles, and so on; but not the grandchildren because they are far too distant in relationship.
Let us take a case for study. We assume a man who dies leaving behind say half a million Rupees, or five lakhs (which is quite unlikely in India, where the average income is $60 a month). That works to 10,000 dollars. First, all his debts should be cleared starting with the Mahr of his wife. Perhaps we will be left with $7000/= after the debts are cleared. Next, debit the cost of funeral etc. Then let us assume he left four children. Let us also assume each of his children has 3-4 children. That means around 12-16 grandchildren (to whom we have decided to grant share in his inheritance). What’s the amount we designate, since the Shari`ah has not allotted them any share? We are sure those who disagree with Islamic inheritance laws would like to designate a good amount. But the sons may cry out injustice. So, for the moment let us allow 10% of the total he leaves to be distributed among the grandchildren.
Now, according to law, the wife (widow) takes away one sixth of $7000, roughly $1200. We are left with $5800. Let us remove 10% for grandsons (i.e. $700). Now we are left with (5800-700=) $5100. This is to be divided among the three children, who, for ease, we assume are all males. Each one of them gets about $1700/= That is, around IRs. 85000. Remember, this is out of Rs. 500,000 that the man left. Now, let us find out how much the grandchildren get. It is (700 divided by 12=) $58, or Rs. 3000 each. What will this do to orphans?
But the critics might suggest, “Let us give share only to the orphaned grandchildren, and not every grandchild.” A clever idea; but only seemingly so, for, there is a hitch. Food, housing, clothing and education of orphans are, by Islamic law, legal responsibility of the uncles (brothers of the deceased). They have a right to say that if grandchildren are to receive a share from their father’s property, then, the financial burden of bringing up the orphans be taken off their shoulders. Why should they spend on those who get share at their cost? Is there a point in it?
Nonetheless, let us assume a man dies leaving behind him three sons out of four, one having died; and the son who died left four sons behind him. The 10% we have allotted above may be divided not among 12 but merely four grandchildren. The share that these orphans get is Rs.12,000, or $240! What financial problem does the change in inheritance law will solve?
We have, however, considered the Indian situation in the above example. Consider the case with Egypt, Indonesia, Palestine, Sudan, Yemen, or dozens of other countries in mind where a man leaves 10-12 children, and around 40-50 grandchildren.
We will leave the skeptics and the antagonists to do the division. And they’d love to do it. Because, in their own lives, every penny counts, especially the pennies they can spare for the orphans.
Finally, and here is a surprise for many: grandchildren do get a share in wealth left by their grandparents. This happens when a grandparent has no sons or daughters alive. In that situation, grandchildren inherit their grandfather. And, since we are talking of four grandparents, and just one condition (of one of them not having any immediate progeny alive), the chances of grandchildren receiving inheritance are not as remote in Islam, as in the religion of the Western Gurus of our spiritual orphans.
Islamic system is the only one which has a thorough-going set of laws pertaining to inheritance. It has no rival, neither in its thoroughness nor in its justice for all. It is well laid down in the Fiqh books. Its application awaits renewal of faith.