The question of whether Muslim women can claim equality in succession and the extent to which a will can be executed under Mohammedan law is a complex interplay of religious doctrine, statutory law, and judicial interpretation. This article aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of these issues within the framework of Mohammedan law, focusing on relevant laws and sections, and highlighting the potential for reform in pursuit of gender equality.

Succession and Inheritance Under Mohammedan Law

The Basis of Mohammedan Law on Inheritance

Islamic inheritance law, or Faraid, is derived from the Quran, Hadith, and the consensus of scholars (Ijma). The Quran outlines specific shares for heirs, and these are further interpreted through Hadith and scholarly consensus. The principal sources are:

  • The Quran (Surah An-Nisa, 4:11-14)
  • The Hadith (sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammad)
  • Ijma (consensus of Islamic scholars)

Shares of Male and Female Heirs

Under Islamic law, inheritance rights are generally more favorable to male heirs compared to female heirs. For instance, a son receives twice the share of a daughter, and brothers receive twice the share of sisters. This principle is articulated in the Quran (4:11):

  • “Allah commands you regarding your children: for the male, a share equal to that of two females…”

Key Sections and Provisions

  1. Quranic Provisions: Verses from Surah An-Nisa detail specific shares for heirs.
  2. The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937: This Act mandates the application of Muslim personal law to Muslims in matters of succession.
  3. The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961: In Pakistan, this ordinance modifies certain aspects of inheritance law to improve the rights of female heirs.

Can Muslim Women Claim Equality in Succession?

Legal Context and Jurisprudence

The claim for equality in succession for Muslim women is often met with resistance due to the religious underpinnings of Islamic inheritance law. However, certain legal interpretations and reforms in different jurisdictions have aimed to address these disparities.

  1. Indian Context: The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, ensures the application of Sharia law in matters of succession. However, there have been calls for reform to ensure gender equality.
  2. Pakistani Context: The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, brought some changes to enhance the inheritance rights of women, but did not completely equalize the shares.
  3. Judicial Interpretations: Courts in various jurisdictions have interpreted these laws in ways that sometimes bolster women’s rights within the framework of Sharia, such as granting maintenance rights which indirectly affect inheritance.

Potential for Reform

Reform can be envisaged through a combination of:

  • Legislative Amendments: Introducing laws that balance religious doctrines with constitutional mandates for equality.
  • Judicial Activism: Courts interpreting existing laws in a manner that promotes gender equality.
  • Public Awareness and Advocacy: Campaigns by civil society to highlight the need for equitable succession laws.

Execution of Wills in Mohammedan Law

Limits on Testamentary Freedom

Under Islamic law, the testamentary freedom of a Muslim is significantly restricted compared to other legal systems. A Muslim cannot bequeath more than one-third of their property by will, and the remaining two-thirds must be distributed according to Sharia.

  1. Quranic Injunctions: The Quran (4:11) emphasizes fixed shares for heirs, limiting the scope of bequests.
  2. Prophetic Traditions: The Hadith further clarifies that exceeding one-third in bequests is not permissible (Sahih Bukhari).

Key Sections and Provisions

  1. Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937: This Act enforces the principles of Sharia regarding wills.
  2. Indian Succession Act, 1925: While this Act governs succession for non-Muslims, it influences the broader context of succession laws in India.

Case Law and Interpretations

Judicial precedents have reinforced the limits on testamentary freedom under Mohammedan law. For instance, in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985), the Supreme Court of India interpreted provisions related to maintenance which indirectly affect succession rights.


The quest for equality in succession for Muslim women and the constraints on testamentary freedom under Mohammedan law represent significant legal and social challenges. While Islamic inheritance laws are firmly rooted in religious doctrine, there is a growing recognition of the need to balance these principles with contemporary notions of gender equality.

Recommendations for Reform

  1. Amending Personal Laws: Legislative bodies should consider amending personal laws to provide more equitable shares for women, possibly through incremental changes that respect religious sentiments.
  2. Judicial Interventions: Courts should continue to interpret existing laws in ways that enhance women’s rights within the framework of Sharia.
  3. Educational Campaigns: Increasing awareness about women’s rights in inheritance can help build public support for reforms.

Ultimately, achieving gender equality in succession for Muslim women will require a nuanced approach that respects religious traditions while promoting justice and fairness in accordance with modern human rights standards.

Adv. Khanak Sharma

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