Women winning the inheritance rights as men may not sound like hot news, but it is when that's the decision of the parliament in Tehran. The legislation still has more steps to go – in particular, it must pass muster with the hard-line Guardians' Council, which will not be easy, as the council has previously rejected enhanced rights for women. Should the council turn this legislation down, it will likely go before the Council of Experts, the Iranian government's ultimate decisionmaker. Further, the legislation has limited scope; it does not affect "blood money"—what a victim's family is paid if it pardons the killer—or the value of women's testimony in the courtroom, both of which remain half that of males.
Yet what has happened is major news in itself because Islamic law (the Shari‘a) unambiguously gives females a lesser portion of inheritance shares; for the self-styled Islamic Republic of Iran to rescind this age-old precept is a momentous event. It means, in effect, that today's legislators are declaring themselves competent to reinterpret basic elements of the Shari‘a. This in turn is a giant step toward the modernization of the religion, as I previously sketched out in "Islam's Future" (where I noted the rather less significant matter of the Turkish religious authorities permitting women to pray next to men and attend mosque services while menstruating; for an interesting update on the situation in Turkey, see "Turkey orders sermons on women's rights" in yesterday's Chicago Tribune).
Islam has changed in the past and can do so again. The process won't be easy, swift, or pretty, but the sooner it starts the better for everyone. (May 10, 2004)