Would you like to make English your default language on this site?


New Tunisian film calls attention to inheritance law

By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis - 08/10/08

  • 15

A new movie from Tunisian filmmaker Kalthoum Bornaz is stirring debate for raising the controversial issue of inheritance law and how it may highlight inequality between men and women.

The director has been accused of differing with sharia. Bornaz countered that she did not create Shtar Mahaba (half the love) to create sedition or cast doubts on the Qur’anic verse that explains inheritance and its distribution among male and female heirs.

"I am not into politics or Islamic jurisprudence," said Bornaz. "I am a filmmaker and an artist. I only want to discuss the issue of inheritance from a humane and social perspective."

Before she started filming, Bornaz said, she talked to several attorneys and Muslim scholars, even those who are known for extremism.

"The issue is controversial in Tunisia and no one dared to discuss it in cinema," she told Magharebia. "I am aware there is an official bill that urges to enforce equality between genders in inheritance."

The movie depicts Selim and Selima, twins whose mother died during childbirth. While growing up, Selima learns that under the law, a girl’s share of an inheritance is only half that of her brother.

Selima, confused by this law, asks her father whether the reason for such a disparity is that parents love their daughters half as much as they love the sons. The father--French educated and influenced by Marxism--tells her that the issue is clearly decided in the Qur'an and the law. When the father dies, the brother distributes the inheritance according to sharia. Selima's fate is left unknown in the movie.

"It is against wisdom, sharia and humanism to deprive a girl of the legacy she is entitled to just because she is a woman," actress Sihem Mseddek, who played a role in the film, told Magharebia. She added that she knew many men who agreed on distributing their inheritance evenly with their sisters.

According to scriptwriter Mohamed Raja Farhat, women in Islamic societies are still at the forefront of social, economic, development and intellectual tragedies. The movie just calls attention to an existing issue.

"What wrong have we done for bravely introducing women’s issues and unravelling their hidden problems?" asked Farhat.

"The fact that the issue is not debatable from a religious point should not forbid us from discussing it from a humane and social perspective," he added. "Should intellect be shackled if fundamentalists were enraged?"

The movie is listed on the Carthage Film Festival's official list to be screened soon. People involved in the industry predict harsh criticism by fundamentalist currents.

Khadija Sherif, head of the Tunisian Association for Democratic Women (TADW), said that two years ago the association managed to collect thousands of signatures on a petition calling for gender parity regarding inheritances. The Association is still pursuing the cause.

Although the association got support for the cause from leftist parties, it faced strong opposition from conservative religious groups. Detractors called inheritance equality "a violation of the Qur’anic verse and the Sharia laws".

Tunisians themselves disagree on the issue.

Seham Al Majri, a student in her twenties, said that inheritance "is an issue that should be codified by overcoming the religious conflicts, which can only be done through the Ijtihad of Muslim scholars".

"Inheritance is a family affair and no one should have anything to do with it," commented Amal bin Brahim, a merchant in her forties.

"Families know best the interest of their children. Therefore, there is no need to debate the issue religiously or legally," she added.

What do you think of this article?


Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.


Anonymous thumb

You are not signed in. Anonymous comments are subject to moderation. Sign up to have your comment posted immediately - Learn more

Or post your comment using:


  1. Anonymous thumb

    Rawda 2011-9-9

    Ignorance is catastrophic. I do not know why people have only remembered that part of the Holy Qur’an’s sura “Ennisaa” (Women) about two parts for a man and one for a women when the same sura has a lot of situations where women inherit more than men. Do you think that we know better than God Almighty what is good for us and what is not? God Alone knows. God knows what He is doing and He makes decisions as such. There is no need for discussion. Mind other things. There is famine and unemployment and so on. Do films on these topics.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    sami 2010-7-9

    This is good.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Amen ALLAH 2009-10-1

    In the name of God the Beneficent the Merciful. I don't know much about inheritance law or inheritance shares. I know that the sources of this science are Qur'an and the tradition of the prophet, finally the jurisprudence of the companions, God bless them. We all know that Qur'an is valid for every time and place. What we understand from the verse of God the Almighty, the male has two shares [and the female has one share]. This is because the male is required to provide for the family. But the female has no financial duties. It is her father and then her husband who must subsist for her. This interpretation could find its justification in previous years. But with the progress of social, cultural and economic life in Islamic countries, woman now has reached an important rank, she has achieved total equality with man in all fields. However, in the issue of inheritance, we cannot change the rules of God the Almighty. We must follow the Sharia of God but not contradict them. We cannot ask for equality between females and males because we must refer to Qur'an texts. From that starting point there can be reforms according to the conditions of every family; God knows better the wisdom in the inequality in inheritance and its benefit. This is my opinion. I respect all opinions. Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    HUNTER 2009-7-19

    I want to say to this director, respect the orders of God. By God, I don't know why directors tackle such religious and Islamic topics. This reflects their spiritual voidness. Whatever the level of limited knowledge they reach, they will not reach the knowledge of God the Wisest.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    السافي 2009-4-7

    Where are the comments administrators of the site? Or do you advocate freedom of opinion while you bury opinions. You wear the dress of virtue while you encourage wickedness.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    المنتمي 2009-4-7

    Why attack her? Why all this fuss? She has talked and expressed her opinion from a cinematographic point of view. This is the roof of her knowledges with her Godfathers who are her example in knowledge. She is one of the daughters of Descartes and Freud. To speak with objectivity and freedom of expression, I tell her I don't belong to a sect and I am not an extremist, I will just say my opinion according to my limited understanding. Women were not treated unjustly by Islam in the division of inheritance. Islam gave her more than you expect and those who share such ideas. How? Woman inherits half from her brother, inherits from her sons individually if they die, she inherits from husband with her children if he dies. So make the sum of the inheritance of woman then discuss in your cinematographic way with those whose culture you believe in. I will give you another example to reduce the level of your ignorance of the Islamic religion. Have you heard about the killing of the son of Mohamed El Faid and princess Diana? Sure, you belong to the same category. But what is the relationship of inheritance with killing Diana? It is because if Diana were to have given birth to a kid, his brother will be Muslims and Arab. Maybe be he will share with him the rule of Britain. Therefore, these infidels killed their princess and her lover so that races wouldn't mix. I tell you for the last time, this is the roof of your knowledge and of most of what you will read. I ask God to show you the truth.


  7. Anonymous thumb

    majhol 2008-12-1

    I think that you are all ignorant because the story is nice. This time read the story again and again to understand it. Then you can judge, ignorant people. With my respects to everyone.


  8. Anonymous thumb

    Hajer 2008-10-27

    I agree with Mr.Walid.I think that this shouldn't be a controversial issue, if we learn more about our religion. and though it is clearly mentioned in the Quran that male has twice as much as a female, 'Al wasia'or Will can make the necessary modification according to each family circumstances. I emphasize that our religion rules are adaptable for every time and place, and all what we need is to learn more about it.


  9. Anonymous thumb

    وليد 2008-10-15

    Women don’t inherit less than men in all cases. The director of the film should have taken counsel from scholars to know the legal meaning of dividing the inheritance in that way before presenting the topic in a movie.


  10. Anonymous thumb

    علي 2008-10-15

    God’s curse on them, those like them and the idle comments which want to violate the orders of God, our scholars and erudites. God replies to them in His holy book “And among men there is he who disputes about Allah without knowledge and without guidance and without an illuminating book. Turning away haughtily that he may lead (others) astray from the way of Allah; for him is disgrace in this world, and on the day of resurrection. We will make him taste the punishment of burning”. God the Almighty says “so ask the followers of the Reminder if you do not know”. God says the truth. I don’t think that the director and writer of the film are followers of the Reminder. We know such people. We know their malicious intentions. They want to switch off the light of God by their hands. They are controlled by west agents. Their statements won’t turn us away from our religion. The religion of God is eternal against their will. We are astonished at the Tunisian authorities and their censorship which allow such violations of the religion of God. But if they were against their president Ben Ali, there would have been a commotion. But these are just the words of God, so there is no problem. We are not astonished at their action as Hijab was banned, alcohol, adultery and Riba were allowed with the orders of their government. As to the Tunisian cinema, there is nothing odd about such vices. This is not the first time. “Terrace bird” and “La Goulette” are a pride of the Tunisian cinema. God suffices us and He is the best protector. Ali from Libya.


  11. Anonymous thumb

    mouldi 2008-10-14

    This is for jamii .Thank you for your comment but you have forgotten the HOLY KORAN comes to solve the conflict and segregation between genders and the same for multi-marriages.If there is a will (wasia) that is signed and witnessed there is no conflict of interest between female and male gender ,indeed the will is very much respected be it in your way of life or your death.This subject was poorly put to the late Bourguiba who in turn made it illegal and if you remember the uproar and condemnation that followed but you can not do the same with ZINE AL ABIDEEN BEN ALI common sense as he lives this kind of subject to scholars and authorities on the subject and never interferes in religion but will do so in any other conflict of interest that may affect the tunisian ,arab or muslim way of life.


  12. Anonymous thumb

    جمعي 2008-10-11

    In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful. I thank the author of this idea for its courage in tackling the topic of equality between man and woman in inheritance in Islamic countries. Even if I haven’t watch the film to comment it, but I agree with this idea of equality. I also call for this idea honestly and sincerely. I think that it is the right thing in inheritance. The old understanding of our scholars badly needs a review with the eyes of the twenty-first century according to the knowledge system of our era. It is justice, mercy and equality to grant woman the same as man according to the text in the book of God the Almighty. If we want to respect the teachings of Islam, we must change the rules of inheritance according to the knowledge of the era. Yes, it is high time to change the rules of inheritance because the verses of the inheritance talk about the minimum share which should be granted to women. The male receives twice as much as a female if the number of the group of males is equal, this is one, to the group of females, this is two. This means that the share of the male follows the share of the female. (If she is one, she receives the half). This is equality. If there is a group of women over two, that is three and more, they receive two thirds, and this is the maximum. To conclude this comment, I want to say that religion is the religion of God; custody of the religion isn’t exclusive for the scholars of Sharia. The understanding of people has developed. It is only the sacred text which never changes. God says the right and guides to the right path. Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you. Your brother Jamii from Batna, Algeria.


  13. Anonymous thumb

    Radja 2008-10-9

    Why doesn’t anybody think that perhaps the Qu’ran’s verses on inheritance offer only the minimum that should be paid to women? It does not say that this share cannot be increased. I am already excited about reading the comments from my brothers who are more knowledgeable than me.


  14. Anonymous thumb

    Sofiene de tunis 2008-10-9

    I completely agree with the spirit of this film and the claims it makes. Indeed, it is so unjust and inhumane to treat women as though they are incompetent, allowing them only one half the inheritance a man gets. If we must respect Islam’s rules, then we should probably be living in a tent in the desert!!! Indeed, we should change the rules to modernise our lives and social relationships and give rights and freedoms to everyone without any discrimination whatsoever between men and women. In Tunisia, polygamy was abolished and replaced several religious rules. It is time to change inheritance, which remains a social problem and raises serious fundamental problems in the relationship between men and women.


  15. Anonymous thumb

    رياض.ن 2008-10-9

    In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful. I say that this creature ignores religion. If she has read “Al Nisa” chapter from the Qur’an, she would have understood her rights and obligations about inheritance which we teach to our sons in the secondary education (not of a movie director).In such conditions, the state must issue court orders against anyone who dares to violate religion in one of its principles which is defined by religion. This topic requires no debate because it causes strife of ignorant people like her whose numbers are highly increasing in the Maghreb recently. I state the quote of the sister Amal Ben Brahim, a merchant in her forties "Inheritance is a family affair and no one should have anything to do with it,". She added "Families know best the interest of their children. Therefore, there is no need to debate the issue religiously or legally". I add to her statement “Only if a side accepts to relinquish and everyone agrees”. Finally, peace, mercy and blessings of God the Almighty be upon you.


Anonymous thumb

You are not signed in. Anonymous comments are subject to moderation. Sign up to have your comment posted immediately - Learn more

Or post your comment using: