“Muslim Women’s Rights to Inheritance. Shari‘a law and its practice among the Dawwodi Bohras of Udaipur, Rajasthan”

Zenab Banu, 1995, “Muslim Women’s Rights to Inheritance. Shari‘a law and its practice among the Dawwodi Bohras of Udaipur, Rajasthan”, in Engineer A. A., Problems of Muslim Women in India, Orient Longman: Hyderabad: 34-39.

This short paper addresses the case of the women belonging to the Dawoodi Bohras sect in Udaipur attempting to answer to the following questions:

  1. To what extent are women’s rights to inherit honoured in Islamic society? Do Muslim women actually get their share of movable and immovable property as prescribed in the Shari’a law?
  2. Is it true that Muslim are highly conscious about the Shari’a laws? Do they strive to obey the Shari’a laws in their everyday lives?
  3. Are the Shari’a laws obligatory in nature and do they apply equally to all men and women? Or are the provisions of the Shari’a laws implemented so as to bestow domination to male members of the Muslim community?

It investigates such issues by drawing on interviews (oral enquiry method) to a sample of 50 persons of different ages, educational background and income groups. Results show an overwhelming majority of people ignorant of Shari‘a laws, even if Dawoodi Bohras are known for their high literacy rate. Respondents who were asked to express their knowledge about women’s rights inheritance according to Shia laws (Dawoodi Bohras are a Shia Ismaili sect) were mostly confused while expressing their knowledge. Answers both demonstrated a restricted awareness of laws and highlighted actual practises really far from entitlements foreseen by law. Women received only few thousand rupees in cash or credit, while other immovable and movable property were distributed among the sons. Thus, even if Bohras claim to be true followers of Islam, the author highlights the fact that “they feel no guilt or accountability to God and Prophet for violating the laws of inheritance” (p. 37).

When unbalanced divisions of inheritance take place in the lifetime of the fathers, the daughters seldom object. Though, if the matter is decided after his death, then a sister may contest the will. According to Banu’s data, “Objections are usually confined to words alone. It is on rare occasions that a daughter/sister dares to take the matter to a civil court” (p. 38). In her opinion, official justice is rarely resorted to by women because such cases breed animosity and “destroy harmonious brother-sister relationship which is such a vital element of the Bohra social structure” (p. 38-39).

The paper ends with a short reference to mehr (dower), which is seen as a potential effective instruments in providing a woman financial security after her husband passed away. But, also in this case, the author comments that “unfortunately, among Dawoodi Bohras, the dower fixed is usually a nominal sun […]. Consequently, this practise also deprives a woman of the opportunity to receive something substantial from her husband property”.


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