S.African Muslim Women Can Inherit

 

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Hassam won a court ruling to amend legislation to allow widowed Muslim women to claim part of their husbands’ estate. (Times photo)

CAIRO — Fatima Gabie Hassam chuckled with joy after a court ruling granting her the right to claim part of her husband’s estate.“I’m celebrating on Madiba’s birthday,” Hassam told South Africa’s The Times on Sunday, July 20, referring to former South African president Nelson Mandela.

“I’m the happiest woman in the whole wide world.” 

Hassam, a mother of four, won a court ruling to amend legislation to allow widowed Muslim women to claim part of their husbands’ estate.

Hassam’s husband died in 2001, leaving her penniless and without any right to his estate.

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The husband had taken a second wife before his death.

After the husband’s death, authorities sought to evict the 61-year-old from her tiny two-bedroom home in Cape Town.

“When my husband died, I didn’t get anything,” said the soft-spoken woman.

“And then they wanted to take the roof from over my head. I lived in that house with my husband for 36 years of marriage.”

Polygamy is not recognized under South African law.

When a polygamous man dies, his wives can’t claim a right to his estate, which is divided among his children.

“The practical implication is that Muslim women in the position of the applicant (Hassam) will no longer stand to be deprived of their homes and money accumulated during the course of the marriage,” said Hassam’s lawyer Igshaan Higgins.

Islam sees polygamy as a realistic answer to some social woes like adulterous affairs and lamentable living conditions of a widow or a divorced woman.

A Muslim man who seeks a second or a third wife should, however, make sure that he would treat them all on an equal footing, even in terms of compassion.

The Noble Qur’an says that though polygamy is lawful it is very hard for a man to guarantee such fairness.

Victory

The court ruling drew applause as a victory for South African Muslim women.

“This is a huge victory for all South Africans,” said Higgins.

“And, especially to marginalized or vulnerable groups, it shows that the constitution can provide for everybody.”

Jennifer Williams, the director of the Women’s Legal Centre, agreed.

“The order will affect a class of women who will now be economically and socially empowered.”

Hassam finally gives a sigh of relief after the court verdict.

“I prayed to God for all those years. I never had a good life with my husband and now, in my old age, I’m so happy about keeping my house.”

South African Muslims make up to 1.5% of the country’s 44 millions population

 

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