Practices of inheritance amongst Muslim widows in Cape Town

Working paper number: 450
Author: Vayda Megannon
Unit: FaSRU

regulation of inheritance practices in Muslim families. This paper draws on the findings from a qualitative study which explored experiences of inheritance in Muslim families, using case law, archival research and in-depth interviews with six Muslim widows in Cape Town. In discussing the research findings, the paper focuses on women’s experience of, and attitudes towards, inheritance in middle class Muslim families, interpreting how these experiences relate to the governing principles of equality and diversity in the South African Constitution. Fairness and reciprocity serve as guiding principles of inheritance practices, evidenced through gendered conditionalities of inheritance shares and the practice of gifting while alive. To a large extent the experiences of inheritance practices for Muslim women are aligned with the principles of equality and diversity in the Constitution. In this context, Muslim women’s agency is conceptualised as proactively and strategically shaping their lives and the lives of female family members. However, these patterns of inheritance do occur in a context of gendered family practices. It is therefore argued that the challenge arises from the informality of inheritance practices, characteristically occurring in the private sphere. In instances where fairness and reciprocity are not given primacy, women tend to experience downward social mobility. Weak legal protection for Muslim widows during instances of discriminatory inheritances practices is resultant of the lack of a transformative mandate in the public sphere. Existing international discourse regarding family law reform on a state level is relatable in this instance as gender-sensitive reforms do not erode the foundations of religion and family, but merely challenge the tenuous balance of power.

Publication file:megannon.pdf