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The Moroccan Debate on Inheritance

The Moroccan Center of Human Rights recommended that all forms of discrimination against women, including in matters of inheritance be eliminated
Moroccan women sing at the Women Center of Ouarzazate, Ouarzazate, Morocco. Photo Hollandse Hoogte/Nick Hannes

A recommendation by the Moroccan National Council for Human Rights on 20 October 2015 that all forms of discrimination against women, including in matters of inheritance, be eliminated led to a raging debate between supporters and opponents.

While the supporters rely mainly on the provisions of the 2011 constitution and the UN definition of discrimination against women as any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of sex, the opponents rely mainly on the Quranic verse “Males shall have two shares (of inheritance) while females have one,” which clearly states that women should inherit half of what men do.

The debate has been taken up by the media (including social media), political parties, NGOs, and individuals. For example, lawyer and human rights advocate Mustafa Almanusi, who fervently supports the recommendation, stated that he will take measures that will ensure that the division of his estate amongst his wife, sons, and daughters is made on equal terms, meaning that, upon his death, the members of his family will receive equal shares of his estate. By so doing, this supporter of human rights wants to set an example for all Moroccans.

In an interview with the programme “Eye on Democracy,” Almanusi also asserted that the initiative of the National Council for Human Rights constitutes a preliminary step towards enforcing the implementation of the constitution.

Almanusi sees in this implementation more impetus to work in favor of women’s legitimate rights and effective action towards alleviating the social fragility and poverty that characterize most Moroccan girls and women. All in all, most of Almanusi’s arguments are crafted within a human/women’s rights framework that does not consider religion as a key factor.

Almanusi’s statements were met with strong opposition from many commentators, some of whom state that equality in inheritance suits Marxists and ilmani (secularists) and does not speak to the majority Moroccans (men and women) who consider the Quran a key source of law. The fact that the inheritance law—which, unlike many others, is clearly stated and detailed in the Quran—is, for them, strong proof that it is the prerogative of God and not of jurists, however qualified the latter may be.

Sociology professor Idriss Lahlou believes that the debate over equality in inheritance is linked to the debate raging over whether women can lead mixed prayers and that the two issues are part of the broader issue of parity between women and men, which is very present on the political scene. For him, these debates are not accidental and may need additional time and reflection. For this to happen, Lahlou suggests that the debate be positioned in a religious anthropological-sociological framework and not in jurisprudence. Given that inheritance law is part of Islamic jurisprudence, he believes that debates that involve religion will always be confrontational and stresses the need to avoid the sensitive issue of having to choose between the Quran and some other source of law. In the latter case, people will tend to choose the Quran, given the central role played by Islam in the life of Moroccans.

In other words, Lahlou believes that a religious anthropological-sociological framework will allow the Moroccan community enough distance from religion and sufficient opportunity to be more pragmatic and realistic. He also insists on involving all parts of society in the inheritance debates, in order to reach decisions that can actually be implemented. By doing so, the topic of equality in inheritance will not be politicized and will take into account the various realities in Morocco, where women are, in some areas, themselves inherited, along with other assets. The solution for Lahlou is the adoption of equity as an introduction to the issue of equality in inheritance and making sure that the whole debate is conducted from the perspective of religious sociology and religious anthropology.

This perspective is viewed differently by different people. For the well-educated and pro-equality people, it seems a good way out, dictated by rational practicality. Most secularists and progressive women’s NGOs would agree with this viewpoint. For many others, however, such as the Azzahra Network, it is an import from a “corrupt West” that seeks to weaken Muslim societies from within.

Another opinion is expressed by young activists (men and women) who see in the debate around inheritance law and gender equality a step forward in the freedom of expression. Ait Kaci, a scholar, for example, is happy that the previous taboo on equality in inheritance has been “marginalized,” and he hopes that more things explicitly expressed in the Quran will be open to discussion, even when the discussion is controversial.

Others pointed out that the main proof that the fuqaha (religious scholars) have been advancing is that men had to provide for their wives and children, but that now women take up jobs and are sometimes the only providers for their families. This change in the status of women in the family needs to be reflected in the law.

The controversy over family law has also affected political parties. The leading Islamist party, the PJD (Justice and Development Party) strongly opposes any reform of the inheritance law, while the leftist party USFP (Socialist Union of Popular Forces) supports it.