Muhammad Mukhtar Mami was hoping to persuade his mother’s uncles to give his mother her share of her grandfather’s land—worth millions of dinars—in the Sayeda Zeinab area, 40 kilometers west of Tripoli.

Muhammad Mukhtar Mami was hoping to persuade his mother’s uncles to give his mother her share of her grandfather’s land—worth millions of dinars—in the Sayeda Zeinab area, 40 kilometers west of Tripoli.

Mami’s grandfather passed away several years ago and his four daughters—one of whom is Mami’s mother, Umm Muhammad— got married and had children of their own. When their sons grew up, they realized that their mothers owned legitimate shares of their grandfather’s wealth and began demanding their proper share. However, their uncles neither responded to their demands nor acknowledged their sisters’ inheritance rights.

Muhammad Mami, the eldest son of the eldest daughter, has four children. He insisted on getting his mother’s share of the inheritance. He was summoned by his mothers’ uncles and their children together with his aunts’ children. They met to solve the issue but a misunderstanding resulted in a noisy quarrel between Muhammad and his mother’s uncle.  They started to beat each other and the uncle called for his younger son who had a gun and fired five bullets at Muhammad, one of which went straight to his heart. 

The younger son, his father and his cousin surrendered themselves to the police and are now in jail facing charges of murder and incitement to murder.

While this family’s feud is tragic it is not uncommon in Libya, especially in remote cities far from the capital. Women are commonly denied their shares of inheritance thanks to a cultural tradition that attempts to keep wealth and property within families-and to protect it from becoming owned by other families though the marriages of girls.

Manipulative methods

Not only brothers try to keep women from their inheritance, sometimes fathers devise schemes to keep wealth with only their sons. Fifty-five-year old Aisha told Correspondents that she and her sisters were deprived of their inheritance “in a very conniving way.”

In Janzour City, 10 kilometers away from Tripoli, Aisha’s father owned large areas of valuable property and sold all of it to his sons using fake contracts, which he kept in his cupboards up until his death. When he died, he no longer had any property in his name and could therefore bequeath nothing. His daughters lost their share of the inheritance as stipulated under Shariah law.

Fifty-four-year-old Salima told Correspondents that her uncles gave her mother a very small amount of money when they sold her grandfather’s land.  She knows that her mother did not inherit her share of her father’s property and she knows that she has the right to claim it.  However, Salima said: “I do not want to fight with my uncles because of my mother’s share of the inheritance.” 


The issue of inheritance is a legitimate right according to Shariah law, to which Libyan law adheres. In the case with Aisha, the fake contracts could be contested in court (a contract signed by a 10 year-old is invalid) and the judiciary would likely give a woman back her right to inheritance. 

“The common practice is the manipulation of the law,” said Ramadam Salem, a lawyer. “Men usually leave all their property to their male sons and they give nothing to females. In such cases, the Libyan law gives females the right to contest these contracts and to annul them.  In this case, the inheritance is distributed according to Shariah Law.”

According to Salem such cases are not usually settled by courts. “The Libyan law gives women their rights but women are reluctant to demand their rights,” said Salem.  “Women who are deprived of their inheritance right usually do not want to fight with their fathers while they are still alive and they do not want to fight with their brothers when their fathers die. They continue to yield to norms and traditions.”

Salem said women in Libya needed to become more aware of their rights, which could be helped by legal workshops and the publication of booklets and periodic leaflets. He also believes that a law criminalizing the deprivation of women to their right to inheritance should be issued. “Media campaigns should be implemented by women’s organizations,” he said. “Civil society and human rights organizations need to shed the light on these issues in the local media,” Salem said. 

A cycle of behavior

Sabri al-Maqtouf, Aisha’s sister, said that his father is to be blamed for depriving his sisters of their shares of  inheritance. “The papers written by my father before his death express his will and we are obliged to respect his will. The one who bears the responsibility is the one who wrote these papers and I am not responsible for them. I did not deprive anybody of her right and I myself am going to let my daughters inherit my wealth. I have already made my bequest and I wrote that the inheritance shall be distributed among my daughters and sons according to Shariah.”

Al-Maqtouf said that he still remembers how his father threatened his mother with divorce if she demanded her share of her father’s wealth. He said his father told his mother that her male brothers should take it all. “The three daughters died without getting their inheritance,” he said.

Al-Maqtouf gave each of his sons a piece of land on which to build a house but he didn’t give his daughters anything because they are married and they have their houses. “I will give them whatever they need when they are in need.”

Al-Maqtouf told Correspondents that he is surprised by the number of human rights activists speaking about this issue. “Why didn’t they speak about women’s inheritance rights before?  Where were they in the last 24 years?” 

Eight girls and one boy

Samira is one of eight sisters and they have only one brother. Their father died in the mid 1970’s and she did not ask for her share of her father’s buildings, land, shops and houses. Her brother now solely enjoys wealth from all these properties, their revenues and rents. 

Samira said that none of her seven sisters spoke up about their share of the inheritance. “It is for this reason that I don’t want to speak about this issue because I know that this will create problems and my relations with my brother and family may come to an end. However, I did not give up my right and will not give it up.”

Omar al-May, a human rights activist, said: “This is worrying indeed. If women do not revolt, the society dies. The pulse of life in any society can be measured by the voices of women.” 

Rajab Mukhtar, a university professor, said this is happening all over Libya. “Women do not ask for their share of the inheritance because if one day they leave their husbands’ houses and return to live again in their fathers’ houses, they fear that their brothers will not treat them well.”

According to Qasim Kamour, disputes over inheritance are usually about land and real estate.  Women usually inherit their share of the money and cattle according to the Islamic Shariah.

“Al-habs” for males

Al-Hab is a written will that deprives females of their inheritance rights and allows only males to benefit from these rights. They had been commonly used in different Libyan cities and regions. However, the former Libyan Mufti, Sheikh Tahir al-Zawi, issued a fatwa in 1973 to cancel this tradition and in the same year, law number 16 was passed to forbid the issuance of al-habs.

However, the fatwa as well as the law were not able to change the prevailing societal attitude of depriving women of their inheritance rights. For this reason the Grand Mufti of Libya, Sheikh Sadeq bin Abdul Rahman al-Ghiryani, issued a fatwa in early 2013 on the same issue.

The fatwa states: “Giving males the al-hab right and denying it for females is still a debatable issue by scholars. Based on Shariah, it is most probably not legal although it is practiced by most of the sects because it deprives women of their inheritance right. Thus, the al-habs shall not be religiously or legally practiced. The inheritance shall be distributed among males and females according to the Islamic Shariah.”