There is nothing to celebrate in Sibsi’s inheritance reforms

I am surprised at the conduct of some of my friends who have celebrated Tunisian President Sibsi’s changes to the inheritance laws in the name of gender equality without the faintest idea as to how inheritance in Islam works.

Moreover, it appears they are almost celebrating the de facto ban on anyone who wants their estate to be divided in accordance with their religious beliefs.

First, Tunisia is the one of the most dubious countries to reference on matters of women’s rights. This is the same country that banned the voluntary wearing of the headscarf (which was celebrated and then copied by France), and shut down mosques in the pursuit of secular liberalism.

Inheritance in Islam is laden with rules that, when applied, lead to many instances where the woman inherits more than the man. (If you do not know which instances and you commented on Sibsi’s measure then you need to take a long hard look at yourself).

Secondly, inheritance is not an isolated issue and we should escape the mentality of ‘compartmentalism’. A wheel on its own is useless. But when attached to a cart and 3 other wheels then it becomes an essential part of a functionable mechanism.

Inheritance laws are part of a wider structural social framework that includes (but is not limited to):

– Men must pay dowry to a woman they wish to marry;

– Men are not entitled to a woman’s wealth (even if she is richer than him) but are obliged to attend to her financial needs. In other words, a woman is not obliged to spend on household necessities nor on the needs of her husband. If she does, she does so of her own free will;

– In divorce, men are obliged to pay nafaqa to sustain the divorced wife.

I will not repeat every right Islam has given to a woman. These have been lauded and praised by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. If the issue is the absence of implementation of these rights then the matter should be one of enforcement, not law.

What surprises me is the rather arrogant application of a Western social feud to a country with a completely different socio-historical memory. Tunisian women are not only those you find in Tunis, Sousse, and Monastir but also those in Gafsa, Kairouan, Sidi Bouzid, Gabes, Gbilli, Tozeur, Mednine of whom the overwhelming majority resent the attack on their Islamic identity as well as the unjust imbalance in social responsibilities. Unlike the West, concepts of Ubuntu (‘I am because we are’) still outweigh rabid individualism in other parts of the world.

(Remember, there is no equivalent to Europe’s war with the Christian Church in Islamic history. Scholars continue to be imprisoned to this day for opposing state malpractices.)

Furthermore, the flagrant hypocrisy of secular Tunisian feminists is extraordinary. To believe that inheritance rules are of such primary concern and not the lack of provision of basic necessities including water, sanitary goods, screams of an almighty disconnect with the ordinary Tunisian woman in el Kef, Beja, Bizerte and the country.
Instead of advocating and pushing through reforms to address these severe crises, the solution seems to be to wait until their fathers die and let their relatively meagre, non-existent estates bail them out.

My message here is simple. Before lambasting a rule, ask why it is there. Before lambasting a belief, ask why it is held. Before addressing a problem, ask where its source truly is. Understand the impact and realities of your beliefs on everyday life. For many Tunisian women, the brand of feminism being touted has led to alarming rates of divorce, the destruction of the family unit, and general unhappiness. Don’t believe me? Come and see for yourself. Enough armchair critics.

I write this as a Tunisian, in Tunisia, as your concerned friend.