The wife of ailing Yasser Arafat, Suha Arafat, may not have truly converted to Islam when she married the Palestinian leader, an issue that could be a major factor in the controversy surrounding the execution of his will and distribution of his fortune.
Suha was a 27-year-old Christian at the time she married 61-year-old Yasser Arafat in 1990. Although she ostensibly converted to Islam in 1990, that conversion appears to be somewhat in doubt.
According to a 2001 article by Danny Rubenstein in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “Suha was quoted in several interviews as saying that she had only accepted Islam for ‘diplomatic purposes.’ In recent years, she has been seen attending the Christmas Mass in Bethlehem, and according to Palestinian gossip, she was extremely angered at the reception in Bethlehem for Pope John Paul II, where the pontiff’s address was interrupted by the sound of the muezzin summoning the Muslim worshipers to prayer.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, Israeli sources say Suha hopes to delay as long as possible the announcement of her husband’s death to bide time while she tries to negotiate for herself a large inheritance. The validity of her conversion to Islam comes into play when considering Islamic law regarding inheritance and may in fact be at the foundation of the melodrama being acted out in Paris.
Arafat reportedly had a brain hemorrhage last night and is in critical condition in a Paris hospital.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Suha requested her husband last week draft a will leaving his multimillion dollar fortune to her, but Arafat refused.
Islamic inheritance law is somewhat complex, but basically inheritance is governed according to the following guidelines.
When a Muslim dies, the following sequence of events is mandated by Islamic sharia law:
1. payment of funeral expenses
2. payment of his/her debts
3. execution of his/her will
4. distribution of remaining estate amongst the heirs according to sharia law
Under Islamic law, there are many restrictions as to who can and who cannot inherit. First, illegitimate and adopted children have no rights of inheritance whatsoever, and most Islamic scholars agree that Christians do not have the right to inherit from a Muslim.
According to the Quran, the following heirs have the right to inherit from a Muslim:
Three other categories who can inherit have been designated by Islamic jurists, but these do not apply in the case of Arafat because his grandparents are no longer living, and he has no grandchildren.
Female heirs inherit one-half of the share to which male heirs are entitled.
In the case of Arafat, both of his parents are dead; he has no son. Arafat’s living heirs are his wife Suha, his daughter and his brother, Dr. Fathi Arafat. Fathi Arafat is currently being treated in a Cairo hospital for terminal cancer; if Fathi Arafat dies first, then his heirs will not stand to inherit from Yasser Arafat. Only if Yasser Arafat predeceases Fathi Arafat will Fathi’s family stand to inherit part of their uncle’s estate through their father.
Of the original seven Arafat children, only Fathi and Yasser are still alive; their sister Yusra died last year; another sister, Inam, is buried in the Khan Younis refugee camp. Another brother is buried in Gaza.
Laura Mansfield is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience dealing with Middle East issues. She is fluent in written and spoken Arabic. She spent nearly seven years living and working in the region for a wide range of clients, including the United States Embassy, the United States Agency for International Development, and various international corporations.