Women’s inheritance within the Ismaili sect in Syria rarely receives much attention because the sect lacks religious instructions on the issue. Thus, inheritances among Ismaeli women remain largely at the whim of social customs, families, individual cases, and social acceptance or rejection.
Similar to Alawites, Ismailis do not have special doctrinal status laws meant for their group, unlike other groups, such as Druze and Christians. On an official level, inheritance within the Ismaili sect is subject to the provisions of Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953 and its amendments, which are based on Islamic Sharia. In practice, however, social customs appear to be a stronger factor in determining the rights of Ismaili women to their inheritance.
A correspondent for The Syria Report met with a group of women in the majority-Ismaili city of Salamieh in the Hama governorate. The women agreed to tell their personal stories of struggling with inheritance, though it is worth noting that their stories don’t reflect the situation in Salamieh on the whole. Indeed, there does exist more positive inheritance cases among Ismaili women.
For years, Salma, a woman in her forties, lived in a Gulf country with her daughter and her husband, who is also her paternal cousin. She was forced to return to Salamieh recently with her daughter after her husband, who was still a young man, died in a work accident. Neither Salma nor her daughter received any inheritance from him, she told The Syria Report. Salma added that her husband’s brother, who lives in the same Gulf country, pressured Salma to authorise a general power of attorney on his behalf. As soon as she did, Salma said, he pressured her to return to Syria with her daughter.
At first, Salma and her daughter stayed in a home belonging to her relatives. When Salma later decided to move to a house that her husband had owned, his relatives forbade her, on the pretext that “I’m a woman, and I cannot live alone and need support,” Salma said.
Because her late husband was also her cousin, Salma now faces her family alone. “I’m in the midst of a big conflict with my family. I was forced to appoint a lawyer, and through mediations, I’ve been seeking ways to obtain my rights and my daughter’s rights,” she said. Salma’s aunt, her mother-in-law, was the most stringent against Salma receiving a share of the inheritance. According to Salma, her aunt told her, “If you had a son, that would have changed things, but under the current circumstances, you won’t receive anything.”
Salma said she felt certain that she would receive her share of the inheritance through the court, even if it is meagre.
The Syria Report also spoke with Rudaina, a mother of one whose husband was killed in 2018 while fighting in a battle alongside the pro-regime National Defence Forces (NDF) in Salamieh. Rudaina received no compensation from the NDF except for some food baskets.
At the time, Rudaina was living in a house that her husband had inherited from his family. However, two months after Rudaina’s husband died, her father-in-law demanded that she and her daughter leave the house to live with her relatives. His excuse, Rudaina said, was that the house was not the property of her husband alone, but that it was now shared amongst his brothers after his death. One of the brothers wanted to marry and had no other place to live. “It isn’t good for you to live with your husband’s brother and new wife,” Rudaina said her father-in-law told her. Her late husband’s family pressured Rudaina until she agreed to move into a relative’s home, where her mother had been living alone. Rudaina’s father-in-law promised her that if he sold her late husband’s house, he’d give a share of the proceeds to her and her daughter.
Rudaina said she now fears that if her elderly mother dies she will become homeless again. She could lose her and her daughter’s right to live in her mother’s house, should her brothers decide to split the inheritance of the house amongst themselves.
Lastly, The Syria Report spoke with three sisters from Salamieh whose father had bequeathed them a house downtown. He did not allocate any inheritance for his sons, as they were all in good financial condition, and each of them owned more than one house.
However, after their father died of old age in 2004, the eldest brother demolished the house without the permission of his sisters. In its place he constructed a multi-storey building and gave each of his brothers an apartment. He gave each of his sisters SYP 200,000. This sparked outrage from the sisters, who have since stopped speaking with their oldest brother.
One of the three sisters, Munira, said that she feels they bear part of the responsibility because they failed to claim their right in court. This was due to a sense of shame over the negative social attitudes towards disputing inheritances, she said.