Home > Religion, Social Trends > Inheritance Laws: A Theory Why India’s Muslims Lag

Inheritance Laws: A Theory Why India’s Muslims Lag

How ancient marriage and inheritance customs shape modern society.

Hate The Muslim Woman cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Hate The Muslim Woman cartoon by Khalil Bendib.


Why are the populations of Saudi Arabia (2.81 crores – 2011), Jordan (0.62 crores – 2011), Syria (o.23 crores – 2011), Iraq (3.3 crores – 2011), Iran (7.48 crores – 2011) so low?

Say, compared to other Islamic countries like Pakistan (17.7 crores – 2011), Bangladesh (15.1 crores – 2011), Indonesia (24.2 crores – 2011) – even Malaysia (28.9 crores – 2011).

To get a perspective, population of Maharashtra is 11.24 crores (2011).

Part of The Answer

The answer is late marriages in the Arab world-Middle East due to meher.

Since meher system is not strictly followed outside the Arab world-Middle East, early marriages are common. Marriage itself as an element is more common outside the Arab world-Middle East. Marriage in the Arab world-Middle East is a sign of rank and status.

Meher also drives the system of multiple wives – ‘If she is worth US$100,000, then I am good for at least US$75,000’ kind of thinking operates among women.

Dowry on the other hand helps to push-start the young to start a family – which improves population growth.

Could it be that the poor performance on economic and social indicators by India’s Muslims today doesn’t just reflect current disadvantage and deprivation, but also has far deeper historical, cultural, and religious roots?

Timur Kuran, an economics professor at Duke University, together with Anantdeep Singh, a researcher at the University of Southern California, in a new study have argued that the roots of Muslims’ lagging performance may be attributed to institutional differences that go back to the British colonial period. In doing so, they discount conventional explanations including the supposed “conservatism and insularity” of Islam, the supposed “demoralization” of the Muslim community after the fall of the Mughal empire, and the supposed animosity of the attitude of British colonizers against the Muslims and in favor of the Hindus.

Instead, Mr. Kuran and Mr. Singh argue that the real culprit is the Islamic inheritance system, which the British codified and enforced after coming to power in India. They suggest that the typical Muslim form of saving across generations, family trusts known as Waqfs, were not well suited for the pooling of capital across families, nor were they well suited to pursuing profit-making enterprises. What they were good at, though, was providing a safe way for an individual family to save its wealth over time.

By contrast, more flexible Hindu inheritance practices were much better suited to capital accumulation within a given family, the pooling of resources within extended family and clan networks, and the preservation and growth of wealth across generations. What is more, Hindus tended to do business within family run enterprises that were able to transition to modern corporate setups in the 20th century, whereas Muslims tended to rely on transitory and short-lived business partnerships with other Muslims that were difficult to translate into the structure of a modern corporation.

While it’s obviously true that Islamic inheritance practices predate British rule, the study documents that these laws were only loosely enforced during the late Mughal period and many Muslims, especially converts, continued to live by non-Islamic customs including inheritance practices. However, the British, who set up common law courts, more rigorously applied the distinct inheritance laws of different communities. Crucially, as Mr. Kuran and Mr. Singh argue, the British, being unfamiliar with Indian traditions, institutionalized a more “classical” or Arabic form of Islamic law than the more flexible practices derived from Persian and other sources that had existed under the Mughals.

The end result was that in practice many more Muslims became subject to a stricter enforcement of Islamic laws. Tellingly, the Muslims who’ve fared best economically come from small ”nonconforming” communities that converted from Hinduism – the Khojas, Bohras, Memons and Girasias – who as it happens were allowed by the British to retain their original inheritance practices. Azim Premji, India’s richest Muslim and the only Indian Muslim on the Forbes list of billionaires, is a Khoja.

via Economics Journal: A Theory Why India’s Muslims Lag – India Real Time – WSJ.

  1. October 3, 2012 at 9:27 pm

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