Muslim women in Mauritius: A study of inheritance through the weave of family relationships and the laws

PhD Thesis

Kureembokus, Neezla B. 2010. Muslim women in Mauritius: A study of inheritance through the weave of family relationships and the laws. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Law
AuthorsKureembokus, Neezla B.
TypePhD Thesis

Inheritance is a woman's major means of access to property across the world and this thesis sets out to explore how Muslim women in Mauritius engage with inheritance matters within a situation of legal pluralism. For Muslims in Mauritius, the institution of inheritance appears to be subjected to two types of law in the form of the official secular civil law and unofficial religious Islamic law. The most distinctive difference between the two laws regarding a woman's inheritance is that civil law grants equality in the allocation of shares, whereas under Islamic law, a woman is entitled to half the share of her male counterpart
('2:1'). While the '2:1' feature of Islamic law of inheritance is intrinsic to the kind of research that is undertaken here, this study adopted a 'neutral' position, viewing the differences pertaining to the 'ideals' of inheritance entitlements between a male and female as a divergence between two forms of law. The intricacy and sensitivity that is associated with the rule was not directly 'questioned', but its significance in Muslim women's lives and its wider implications in the process of intergenerational transmission of assets in the Mauritian context were engaged from different angles.
This thesis explored through Muslim women's lived experiences, articulated viewpoints and attitudes how these two legal systems affect inheritance operation among Muslim
families in practice, and specifically, how women deal with their inheritance matters in a situation involving different sets of rules. It aimed to discover how the official civil and unofficial Islamic rules interact and the reasons for any interactions, examining the dynamics of the wider social order, contexts and family structures, and their connection with the civil and Islamic laws. This study was not specifically concerned with size and quantity' of Muslim women's inheritance shares and under which law shares were received. Rather, it sought to discover women's 'ideas' of inheritance, the meanings they
ascribe to the event of inheriting, the significance of any forms of inheritance they receive or want to receive and their subjective perceptions of the rules affecting their inheritance matters. As such, this exploration concerned an examination of the forces - relating to 'family conventions', social norms, state law, Islamic law and social processes at work in Muslim women's inheritance dealings and how they engage with them in the course of their dealings.
Interviews with Muslim women in Mauritius uncovered generally pragmatic attitudes to inheritance matters amidst the elaborate structure of law, with the most important and
effective 'inheritance tools', being the quality and closeness of family relationships, and family dialogues. Women in Mauritius value inheritance for its emotional significance in addition to economic benefits, with meanings attached to it far beyond simplistic considerations of 'equality' or '2:1'. For women, inheritance is not confined to land, money, jewellery or other obvious forms of tangible property, but also financial
expenditure towards education, contributions to the construction of homes and business support. Accordingly, inheritance is a lifetime process and not merely a post-mortem event, which is shaped by parents' resources, family relations, marriage and marital economics.
Civil and Islamic laws serve as a frame of reference to inheritance practices, but have a tangential position in the wider operation of inheritance. It was discovered that an influential legal factor in many women's decision-making about inheritance was the form of marriage, pure nikah (Islamic marriage) or nikah and civil marriage, with the former giving rise to a separate property regime and the latter generally 'community of property'. By probing into the family milieux and into women's interpersonal relationships, this research discovered a highly complex inheritance operation. The complexity arises from the weave of rules of different nature and with different orientations, the sensitivity associated with inheritance matters and family relationships, the involvement of considerations relating to morality, conscience, reason and emotions. The family milieu is where the diverse rules are 'churned' and it generates its own structure of 'law of inheritance' which is the 'family-woven law'.

KeywordsInheritance; Muslim women; Family-woven law
Publication dates
PrintNov 2010
Publication process dates
Deposited12 Sep 2013
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