Problems on Hold
The new draft family bylaws for Christians
It is obvious that the omission of inheritance provisions from the draft family bylaws for Christians has reopened an old wound that runs deep in the souls of many men and women. The three editorials I wrote on the topic in the last three Watani issues generated feedback from readers; I noted with relief that the majority of the feedback ran in favour of including inheritance regulations in the new family bylaws. Self-evidently, inheritance is a close concern of family affairs. Most of the readers who wrote to me expressed hopes to recover the equality lost between men and women where inheritance is concerned, and to entrench their equal stature and rights as seen by Christian doctrines. Current inheritance laws in Egypt are based on the Islamic sharia principle of a man inheriting double the share of a woman; in the absence of legal inheritance provisions for Christians, the general sharia-based law applies.
With Egypt’s Constitution stipulating the right of Christians to apply their own doctrines to their family concerns, it was thought the new family bylaws for Christians would include inheritance regulations, but the draft the Church wrote included no such provisions. Hence the disillusionment among Christians, who had hoped the new bylaws would allow them fair provisions that accorded with their doctrines. No official word has been heard from the Church to explain the omission of inheritance regulations from the draft bylaws, but explanations volunteered by prominent Coptic lawyers and other laymen ranged from the claim that there were no specific inheritance rules cited in the Bible to go by, to the allegation that it would offend Egypt’s Muslims if Christians were to apply inheritance regulations that treated men and women as equals. In the editorials I wrote on the topic, I made it my business to refute these allegations; hence the feedback from our readers.
Prominent among the literature I got on the topic was a letter from a female university professor who challenged the claim that the Bible included no reference to inheritance rules. She used Bible texts to refute this claim, including references that assert a woman’s right in inheritance equal to a man’s. She insisted that I present these biblical references to my readers, fearing that a very wide segment of Christians is not aware of them or reads them and makes no connection to current inheritance issues. I am including these biblical references, hoping that this campaign I have engaged in would bear fruit, and that the issue of inheritance would eventually find its way into the new family bylaws for Christians before it is time to present it to the Justice Ministry and on to parliament.
Here are a few inheritance-related references from the Bible; they all come from the Old Testament. I have no doubt that more references may be found by anyone who cares to research the matter more thoroughly.
1. Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.
2. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
3. Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.
4. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.
5. And Moses brought their cause before the Lord.
6. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
7. The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.
8. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.
9. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren.
10. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren.
11. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the Lord commanded Moses.
3. But Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, but daughters: and these are the names of his daughters, Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
4. And they came near before Eleazar the priest, and before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the princes, saying, The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brethren. Therefore according to the commandment of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among the brethren of their father.
5. And there fell ten portions to Manasseh, beside the land of Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side Jordan;
6. Because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons: and the rest of Manasseh’s sons had the land of Gilead.
12. So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.
13. He had also seven sons and three daughters.
14. And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Keren-happuch.
15. And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.
16. After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations.
17. So Job died, being old and full of days.
Thus it was the will of God since ancient times that women should enjoy stature and rights equal to men. Christianity did not grant men the right to treat women with condescension or to discriminate against them. Quite the contrary, Christianity saw man as the ‘stronger vessel’ that ought to support the ‘weaker vessel’ (1 Peter 3: 7).
10 April 2016