'What's rightfully ours': Moroccan women petition reform against archaic inheritance loophole
“Allah decrees a will for your children; the male gets twice the share of the female" (Surah An-Nisa, 4:11). This single verse continues to hamper Moroccan women's path to equality.
Despite emphasising gender equality within the 2011 constitution and Morocco signing the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), the debate around inheritance remains a controversial topic in a country where conservativism is king.
In July, Nabila Bouaayach, head of Morocco’s council of human rights (CNDH), said inheritance equality enforces poverty among Moroccan women urging a reform of the sexist law.
"Economic, social and cultural inequality is a fact that cannot be denied or ignored. (...) The State must approach this issue from a human rights standpoint," said Bouayach in a debate focusing on the opinions of the Moroccan people about inheritance. His comments have since reignited a dormant debate about inheritance in Morocco.
"We've moved on from the patriarchal system where the man is the sole breadwinner of the family. And yet, [Moroccan] law continues to consider the man the guarantor of economic security and the protector of the family"
Religion limits the political debate
As in most MENA countries, religion and politics in Morocco interfere in "mysterious" ways.
The Moroccan constitution states that Islam is the religion of the country. However, Moroccan laws are far from being a mirror of Islamic sharia, except for a few texts that concern personal freedoms and women’s rights.
Moroccan king Mohammed VI, 'emir of the believers', remains the highest religious authority in the country.
In 2003, the young Moroccan king at the time Mohammed VI ordered updating the Moudawana, the Moroccan family code that governs areas of family law such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody.
The newly issued code guaranteed more rights to Moroccan women, driving conservatives and Islamists to the streets in protest.
However, the 'most progressive family code in MENA' kept the rule of Taasib in inheritance.
Taasib, a text inspired by Islamic fiqh, decrees that “female orphans who do not have a brother must share the inheritance with the male relative closest to the deceased … even if unknown and [has] never been part of the family.”
This stipulation pushes many Moroccan families to resort to other legal procedures to protect their daughters’ full rights in inheritance.
Fatma, a Moroccan mother of two daughters, tries with her husband to secure their daughters' inheritance by transferring ownership of their properties to the two daughters equally.
“Since I don’t have a son, my daughters must share the inheritance with the male relative closest to the deceased. In our case, we do not have any relationship with that relative. I don’t find this rule fair.”
“[Taasib] increases misogyny. That’s why you see people upset for having a baby girl, not a boy," she added.
In the seventh century, the Qur’an gave women a share of the inheritance, considered a radical move in a time when women were not allowed to benefit from inheritance at all.
As such, conservative religious scholars argue that since the Taasib rule is derived from the Quran, women should always be financially supported by a male relative.
Today with some 17% of Moroccan houses being female-headed, the Democratic Association of Women in Morocco (ADFM) says it is time to move towards ending Taasib and establishing equality.
“We've moved on from the patriarchal system where the man is the sole breadwinner of the family. And yet, [Moroccan] law continues to consider the man the guarantor of economic security and the protector of the family," Atifa Timjerdine, vice president of the ADFM told The New Arab.
The debate around inheritance first started in Morocco after the signing of the 2011 constitution.
Rocked by the Arab Spring, the palace had urged reform of the Moroccan constitution, declaring, for the first time, that women are equal to men in article 19 of the 2011 constitution.
The constitutional text inspired hope among women's rights defenders for a brighter future for Moroccan women.
However, Islamists who controlled the majority in parliament fought against lawmakers who dared to advocate reforming the sharia-inspired law.
Outspoken homophobe and a defender of child marriage, Abdellilah Benkirane, Morocco’s prime minister at the time, watered down all the initiatives aimed to open a debate about inheritance.
“Is inheritance politics or religion? You come to a young religious man and you tell him that you want to change God’s words. What are you looking for?” said Benkirane in an interview in 2015, in response to a call issued by the council of human rights to reform inheritance law.
Benkirane has even called on the head of the council to apologise for suggesting that there should be equality between sexes.
"Only 34 per cent of the Moroccan population supports reforming the inheritance law, with the anti-equality majority arguing that this interpretation of the Quran is perpetually valid"
Today, now in opposition, Benkirane and his party continue to attack the rising calls advocating equality, which he views as evoking “Fitna” in Moroccan society.
Amina Maa El Ainin, a member of the PJD, was the only politician in the party to endorse the importance of revisiting the inheritance law and Taasib.
Speaking to The New Arab, Mae El Ainine continues to stand by her position today, albeit she argues this is not the right time to tackle such issues.
“Today, we are facing many social issues such as inflation, and unemployment. The debate around inheritance does not really mirror the worries of Moroccan society today,” Mae El Ainine told The New Arab.
“I am just suspicious of the timing of tackling such topics. (…) However, I believe that when there is a debate about inheritance it should include all the segments of society and should tackle Taasib first, then equality,” said Mae El Ainine.
Only 34 per cent of the Moroccan population supports reforming the inheritance law, with the anti-equality majority arguing that this interpretation of the Quran is perpetually valid.
Nouzha Skalli, a former minister of women’s rights and author of A Woman in the country of Fuqaha said in an interview in 2017: “As soon as we said the word inheritance [to clerics], we were accused of blasphemy,” she recalled in her experience as a member of the Moudawana reform committee.
Only a few religious voices ventured to support the reform of inheritance, namely Asmae Lmrabet.
In 2018, Dr Lmrabet, Director of the Center for Women's Studies in Islam in Mohammedia's Council for Moroccan Scholars said during a conference: “Giving women an equal share of inheritance is part of the purpose of Islam, it is not against it.”
Her statements ignited a heated controversy driving Lmrabet to submit her resignation from the council immediately.
Contacted by The New Arab, Lmrabet said in a written statement:
“I don’t want to get into the controversy and political polemic on this topic [equality in inheritance]. I think that I have done my work on this and can’t do more than I have [already] done,” wrote Lmrabet to The New Arab.
Eyes now have turned towards Morocco’s new justice minister Abdellatif Ouahbi, a self-proclaimed progressive politician. Yet, it remains to be seen if he will be anything other than an empty vessel.
In its interview with The New Arab, ADFM [Democratic Association of Moroccan Women] stressed the government’s political and social duty in addressing the ongoing debate.
“The government can ease the way for this debate, (...) in recognition of the contribution of women toward the family’s income. The law cannot keep being based on presuming solidarity and goodwill of the extended family,” Atifa Timjerdine, the vice president of ADFM told The New Arab.
Basma El Atti is The New Arab's Morocco correspondent.
Follow her on Twitter: @elattibasma