inheritance shares totaling more than 100%
In response to the alleged internal contradiction by Jochen Katz
PRIMARY CLAIM #1: inheritance shares totaling more than 100%
Katz claims that there is a contradiction in the matter of inheritance. He says that the shares allotted to individual heirs in a particular case would add up to more than 100% of the available estate. If a man dies leaving behind three daughters, his parents, and his wife the allotments total one and one-eighth. Surah 4, verses 4:11-12 shows that in this case the three daughters together will receive 2/3, the parents together will receive 1/3, and the wife will receive 1/8. Hence a numerical discrepancy.
REPLY: Adding two unknowns
Katz misunderstood what he read in the Quran. The verses he refers to do not say what the parents will receive in this case. Nor does it say what the wife will receive in this case. To arrive at his understanding, Katz insists that he must take the Quranic statements in the most literal sense. Yet the text even when taken in a literal manner does not support his misunderstanding. The Quran does not literally prescribe what the parents will receive in the case which Katz proposes. It is true that the Quran literally prescribes that the parents will share 1/3 when a man dies leaving one child (4:11). But the case which Katz proposes is different. Katz’s case involves three daughters, and the literal Quranic prescription involves only one child. Hence Katz’ proposed numerical discrepancy is built on his confusing one case for another.
If we were to follow the Quranic prescriptions literally, in Katz's case the wife’s share is also not specified. The Quran literally prescribes a 1/8 share for the wife if the husband leaves only one child. But Katz's case involves three daughters. And the number three happens to be more than the number one.
Katz thinks that the stated shares in this case would be 2/3 + 1/3 + 1/8, whereas in fact since two of these shares are not actually stated in the Quran, the shares are 2/3 + ? + ? = ?
Since the Quran does not make a statement on this specific case, it is impossible for the Quran to be wrong. The details of this case is left to the comprehensive nature of the Islamic Shariah which does not depend on the Quran alone.
A note about the Islamic Law
My answer here does not enter into the details of the Islamic rules governing inheritance for that is not what the objection is about. Katz explains that his objection is only that if the Quranic statements about inheritance are taken literally then they yield numerical discrepancies. All we had to do here was to show that his objections are baseless. Even if we take the Quranic statements literally we find that the numerical discrepancies that Katz speaks of are not in the Quran but only in Katz's mind.
The source of Katz's confusion
Katz's confusion apparently springs from his reliance here on the translation of the Quran by Arthur Arberry. But Arberry in his translation of these passages mistakenly renders walad as "children" whereas walad is singular: "a child" (4:11, 12).
CLAIM #1b: The man with no direct heirs
Katz claims that there is a further discrepancy in this matter in the case of a man who leaves a mother, a wife, and two sisters. If the allotted shares are added up the total exceeds the total estate. In this case the mother gets 1/3 (4:11) the wife gets 1/4 ( 4:12) and the two sisters together receive 2/3 (4:176). These shares altogether total 15/12, more than the available estate.
REPLY: Dead mother gets no share
Katz is again mistaken. To arrive at the said allotted shares Katz refers to the shares allotted in Surah 4, Ayah 176 of the Quran. But that ayah refers to a man who leaves neither parent nor child. At the time of his death his mother already lays in her own grave and as such can lay no claim to a share of inheritance.
Katz's misunderstanding is again due to Arberry's translation. In the Quran in 4:176 the case described is that of a man who is called in Arabic "kalalah" which is correctly translated by Yusuf Ali as one who leaves "no descendants or ascendants."
More Objections Answered
Many of Katz's subsidiary objections fault the Quran for not providing a complete list of all possible cases and every detail. Then, after wasting many words on this, he concludes: "But since these cases are just not stated, let us not speculate about it and only look at the cases for which we are explicitly given instructions . . . ." What then was the point of raising such an issue?
Islamic Law Not Based on the Quran Alone
Katz objects that in many cases the Quran does not allot the entire estate to designated recipients. He thinks that the Quran ought to have given more detailed instructions. But here he misses a key point about the Quran. The book was sent along with its interpreter, the prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. He came to teach us the details of what the Quran lays out in general principles. After much discussion of his need for details in the Quran, however, Katz concludes: "Anyway, as long as the shares add up to less than one, things can be settled still 'relatively easily.'" Again, why the wasted discussion?
The Question is not About Islamic Law
His persistent question in a number of cases is, "Who gets the rest?" The text itself and the Shariah on the whole has ways of dealing with this. In his response to Randy Desmond, Katz himself admits: "I want to repeat again. Experts on Islamic law are just as intelligent as everybody else and they have found ways to distribute inheritance to the heirs in generally accepted ways."
The Rulings of Muslim Scholars
Often Katz objects that the Muslim scholars rule differently than what the Quran prescribes. This is a different objection that proving a contradiction or numerical discrepancy in the Quran itself. This matter he should take up with the said Muslim scholars themselves. Then such scholars will either have to correct themselves or teach Katz the details of Quranic interpretation. To deal with this is not my expertise. Nor is it required here.
Keeping to a Consistent Frame of Reference
Katz failed to remain consistent on his basic frame of reference. On the one hand he thinks of the prophet Muhammad as an intelligent man who wrote the Quran; on the other hand he cannot assume a basic level of intelligence for the prophet.
"Even if one would not put standards of perfection on these rules as is fitting for a revelation from God but only think it to be from Muhammad, it is strange that this successful business man, in charge of whole caravans for a number of years, was not able to correctly add up a few fractions."
Contrary to Katz's ambivalence between attributing intelligence and ignorance to the prophet, it is established practice that as we read a work we assume for the author a reasonable degree of intelligence consistent with our knowledge of the author's biography. Since we know from history that the prophet was a successful business man in charge of whole caravans for a number of years we have to assume that he had more than a child's intelligence.
Yet in order to attribute error to the Qur'an, Katz pretends that its author has not even a child's intelligence. On this basis Katz objects to 4:11 which prescribes that a daughter will get half of the entire estate available for inheritance. Since the same verse also prescribes that a son gets twice the share of a daughter, Katz thinks that in the case of one son and one daughter the shares of inheritance would be 50% for the daughter and 100% for the son thus totaling 150% of the available estate. Then he wonders how the parents and spouse will inherit when more than the whole is already allotted. He does not here allow for the author of he Quran to know that if a daughter gets half of the whole thing only the other half will remain for a son. Yet every child knows that if they have to share a cake and one person gets half the other person cannot get twice as much from the same cake. If Katz is to assume that the prophet is the author of the Quran and Katz admits at least a basic level of intelligence for him, how does Katz imagine such an idiotic explanation for the Quran? Does Katz want to have his cake and eat it? Here Katz's method has gone beyond even his admitted intention to approach the Quran with hostility.
"Daughters Only" Implies "No Sons"
Actually, again, there is no problem in the scripture itself, only in Katz's approach. The passage (4:11) first mentions the general principle that a son gets twice what the daughter gets. Then it goes on to prescribe in cases when only daughters remain. Only when there is no son, and only one daughter, does the verse prescribe half the estate for the daughter. So Katz's goings on about the double share for the son is mistaken. In this case there exists by definition a total number of zero sons and one daughter, and no other children.
The fact that this is a case of no son can be immediately seen from the Quranic text. Speaking of the children, the Quran moves over to a use of the feminine plural pronoun "kunna" which by definition cannot include males. Arberry’s translation again did not sufficiently emphasize this reference to females alone. Yet the translation is not alone to blame here. The problem rests with Katz. On the one hand he calls the prophet a successful businessman and the author of the Quran. Surely such a man would know that if you put half of the camels on one side the other side cannot have twice the number. Or, that if he already paid for half his merchandise he should not again pay for the remainder twice what he paid for the first half. Such a man would know that if he gave half his wealth to his daughter he cannot also give twice as much to his son.
The Author Must Have Some Intelligence
Katz ought to here align himself with the world in this matter. When we read a work we assume for the author a level of competence consistent with his biography. Those who believe that the Quran came from Muhammad and know anything about his biography cannot justifiably take the words of he book in the most silly meaning possible. Even a person like Katz who decided to use the approach of a hostile critic must have his limits.
It is due to his own such misunderstandings that Katz in his response to Al-Kadhi repugnantly states that "the author of the Quran shows incompetence at a very basic level." On the other hand, both Katz and I have to recognize our own incompetence. I cannot claim competence in fully understanding either the Bible or the Quran, and I am willing to be corrected if I overstep my competence in dealing with both books. Similarly, if Katz does not know the Arabic language, and if he is dependent only on English translations he should judge whether or not he is competent to be a justifiable hostile critic of the book. Hostile critic yes -- but justifiable?
Katz's Excessive Diligence in the Wrong Direction
Credit goes to Katz for his excessive diligence in searching for errors in the Quran. The allotment of inheritance shares involves a very detailed system. It itself is an area of specialization within Islamic studies. To sort through all the prescriptions in the Quranic text and decide individual cases based on the general Quranic principles takes much careful study. To invent hypothetical cases which would result in the apparent numerical discrepancies as Katz has done requires tremendous zeal. Yet Katz did not stop at that. He generally uses Yusuf Ali's translation of the Quran to analyze the difficulties he deals with. But in the matter of inheritance he turned to Arthur Arberry’s translation. Why? Katz explains: "because Yusuf Ali was even more difficult to follow." Yet my review of the two translations convinced me that whereas the inheritance law is itself complex, the two translations were roughly similar in their level of persistence needed to comprehend the subject.
Why Arberry's Translation?
The key difference between the translations, however, was that whereas the discrepancies Katz sought could be pressed on with the help of Arberry's translation, this often was not true for Yusuf Ali's translation. Though not itself perfect, Yusuf Ali’s translation is in the relevant verses closer to the original Arabic. Katz may have turned to Arberry's translation not only because he found it easier to follow, but because he also found it easier to use in support of claimed contradictions. What Katz needed to do was to channel his diligence in the search not for error but for truth. He should have compared the translations to make sure that the one translation on which he relies should not itself prove erroneous on this issue. This way he would have avoided skewering his results in the erroneous direction he took. But, then again, perhaps here again Katz did not put a reasonable limit on his diligence for locating internal Quranic errors.
Normally in Biblical studies it is demanded that studies be based on the texts in the original languages. Students who have no access to the original languages are advised to compare translations so as to ensure that a particular mistaken slant of one translation does not affect the general understanding. Moreover, a particular emphasis may be captured well in one translation but not in another.
If Katz had used this principle in studying the Quran he would have suspected that some of the discrepancies he points to are found in Arberry's translation but not in Yusuf Ali's. Then he might have sought clarification from the original text to find out the source of the apparent discrepancy. But Katz's excessive diligence was apparently not in the direction of establishing truth.
Even a Hostile Critic Needs Limits
We do not expect Katz to take an overly friendly approach to the Quranic text. Yet he ought not to take such a hostile approach either. Surely there is a happy medium between these extremes. How about an unbiased reading of the Quran? Apparently Katz abandoned Yusuf Ali's translation precisely because in this case Arberry's translation was more useful to the extreme hostile approach.
Katz Knew the Solution
In fact, Katz was aware that Yusuf Ali's translation and notes if followed would remove one of the problems cited above. We have already shown how Katz in one case due to his misunderstanding counted a share for an already dead mother. His misunderstanding depended on Arberry's translation which did not make sufficiently clear that the prescription in 4:176 dealt with a person who left neither a parent nor a child. While Katz was busy establishing that the total share including the mother’s share would exceed the available inheritance, he showed no awareness of the possibility that the mother is no longer around. Only later, when Katz was dealing with a different problem, did he show that he had this knowledge. He wrote that 4:176 deals with the situation when "there are no direct heirs (i.e. parents or children according to Muslim understanding – see Yusuf Ali’s translation and footnote)." If Katz knew of this understanding why did he not suggests that if the Muslim understanding is based on the Arabic reading then the claimed discrepancy disappears?
CLAIM: Brothers can inherit if only no direct heirs remain
Katz thinks that according 4:12 and 4:176 the siblings of the person who died only then share in the inheritance if there are no direct heirs (i.e. parents or children . . . ). Thus he concluded that a brother cannot inherit if a mother is alive. But he finds this conclusion to contradict 4:11 which seems to allot a brother a share along with the mother.
REPLY : Searching for the word "only"
Here Katz misunderstands both 4:12 and 4:176. Neither of these verses state that a sibling can inherit "only" if there are no parents or children. Hence Katz’s contention is without basis. This time his contention is not even based on Arberry’s translation.
CLAIM: Sibling share suddenly doubled
Katz claims that 4:12 contradicts 4:176. According to 4:12 when there is no direct heir a brother or a sister would receive 1/6 each; thus 1/3 altogether. But "4:176 says in the same situation that 'they shall receive two-thirds of what he leaves' [double of what 4:12 says]."
REPLY: Read Carefully
Contrary to what Katz claims, there is a key difference in the two situations. The pronoun "they" in 4:176 refers to two sisters whereas 4:12 refers to a brother and a sister. Since a brother and a sister is not the same thing, a brother plus a sister is not the same as two sisters.
The Arabic text clearly says, "in kanataa ithnatayn" which literally means "if they are two--females." Hence Yusuf Ali renders it: "if there are two sisters." Even Arberry's translation renders the passage: "if there be two sisters they shall receive two-thirds of what he leaves (4:176)." So the translation also made the matter clear. But in order to press home his claim of contradiction, Katz wrenched a phrase out of its context hence giving it a different meaning. He skipped the conditional "if there be two sisters" and quoted only "they shall receive two-thirds of what he leaves." Then Katz went on to argue as though the pronoun "they" refers to a brother and a sister. A quick review of the text, however, reveals that Katz's point is based on a misrepresentation of the Quran.
Lest You go Astray
I am struck by Allah’s mention in the same verse: "Allah makes clear to you, lest you go astray." I wonder now, by Katz's muddying the verse how many internet browsers may have gone astray. I pray that my humble effort here may become the means by which Allah may guide many.
To be sure, 4:176 then goes on to prescribe for the case of more than two siblings including brothers and sisters. But then the verse does not prescribe the specific shares to be allotted them except to reiterate a general principle that the males get twice what their sisters receive. Since the specific shares are not allotted they cannot be said to be different from the allotted shares elsewhere. Either way you look at it, Katz is very wrong.
Katz goes on to report the commentary of Razi to show how Razi got around the perceived problem with the assumption that the two verses speak of two different sets of brothers and sisters. Whereas 4:12 refers to a brother or a sister from the mother, 4:176 refers to full siblings or siblings from the same father. If Razi is right, then of course there is no problem. Katz thinks that Muslim commentators simply invented this explanation to get around the problem.
But even if Razi is wrong, there is still no problem. My clarification above does not depend on any commentary. I have just simply shown that if we took the verse literally as Katz wants to do then it speaks of two different things. Whether we take the verse literally or we take Razi’s commentary as correct, either way Katz is wrong.
CLAIM: One year’s maintenance not same as 1/8
Katz claims a contradiction between 4:11 and 2:240. A man leaves an eight of his estate to his widow if he also leaves a child. But 2:240 prescribes "one year’s maintenance for her." And this, except for some remarkable coincidence, will always be different from a 1/8 share.
REPLY: Why should they be the same?
Katz failed to distinguish between the inheritance shares and a bequest. In 2:240 the maintenance for one year is prescribed as a bequest (Arabic: wasiyyah). On the other hand 4:11 prescribes the 1/8 share to be given only after debts and bequests (wasiyyah) are settled. Even Arberry’s translation on which Katz depends says that men leave to their widows "an eight after any bequest they may bequeath, or any debt (4:11)."
It is sad to notice again that the problem is not Katz's lack of knowledge of the terms. Elsewhere he acknowledged "the rule that at most 1/3 can be given as a bequest to a person which is usually not an heir." Then he even goes on to provide links to sites which deal with Islamic inheritance law. So the problem is not that Katz does not know. The problem is that while he is concentrating on establishing one contradiction at a time he forgets anything he knows that could possible demolish the very claimed contradiction.
CLAIM: See Yusuf Ali's footnote
Katz claims that since many commentators recognized that they cannot in practice make a year’s maintenance for a widow equal to a 1/8 share of inheritance, they saw here a contradiction between 2:240 and 4:12. To support this claim, he writes: "According to Yusuf Ali’s footnote on 2:240, many commentators for this reason consider 2:240 abrogated by 4:12."
تحمَّلتُ وحديَ مـا لا أُطيـقْ من الإغترابِ وهَـمِّ الطريـقْ
اللهم اني اسالك في هذه الساعة ان كانت جوليان في سرور فزدها في سرورها ومن نعيمك عليها . وان كانت جوليان في عذاب فنجها من عذابك وانت الغني الحميد برحمتك يا ارحم الراحمين
REPLY: It does not say what you say
The support for that claim is based on a false allegation. I have checked more than one editions of Yusuf Ali’s translation for the opinion which Katz attributes to Yusuf Ali. And I could not find it. Katz’s claim is that according to Yusuf Ali many commentators deemed the two verses to be mutually contradictory, and that "for this reason" they consider 2:240 to be abrogated by 4:12.
On the contrary, Yusuf Ali’s footnote on 2:240 reads:
"Opinions differ whether the provision ( of a year’s maintenance, with residence) for a widow is abrogated by the share which the widow gets (one eighth or one-fourth) as an heir (Q. iv. 12). I do not think it is. The bequest (where made) takes effect as a charge on the property, but the widow can leave the house before the year is out, and presumably the maintenance then ceases."
That is the full extent of Yusuf Ali’s note #273 on 2:240 (American Trust Publications, 1977). Notice that the quoted words from Yusuf Ali do not imply anything about contradiction, only about abrogation. Yusuf Ali does not say that the commentators recognized here a contradiction and that "for this reason" they consider 2:240 to be abrogated. Here Katz’s enthusiasm overshadowed his caution, and he attributed to Yusuf Ali an opinion which Yusuf Ali did not hold.
Katz harbours the idea that abrogation means contradiction. But abrogation is not the same as contradiction. The difference is explained under the next head.
Katz claims that 4:7 contradicts 4:11. In 4:7 daughters are given an equal share with their brothers whereas in 4:11 they are given only half what their brothers get. This is clear from the parallel construction in 4:7 which says "to the men a share . . . and to the women a share."
It seems that Katz is willing to go to desperate lengths to keep making more claims. Why does he think that 4:7 awards an equal share to daughters? He thinks "the parallel construction makes that obvious." On the contrary, the only thing it makes obvious is that sons and daughters each get a share. Where does it say that the shares are equal?
On the other hand, it is reasonable to see that both statements are correct. One says that the son and daughter will each get a share. Another says that the share which the son gets will be double what the daughter gets. Putting the two statements together, we have this final instruction: Both the son and the daughter will have a share, the son’s share being twice that of the daughter. Where is the contradiction?
Katz supports his finding of a contradiction here by referring to Muslim commentators. He noted that all commentators recognized 4:7 to be abrogated by 4:11. This pair of verses is listed as pair #20 in the book Itqan. According to Katz, then, 4:7 was recognized by all commentators as an abrogated verse. This to him means that its content is contradicted by another verse, in this case 4:11. Hence he can claim the following: "That this was a contradiction was recognized by all commentators . . . ."
But surely here Katz misunderstands what an abrogation is in the view of Muslim commentators. Many used the term abrogation in the sense of specification. Hence if one verse gave a general instruction and a later verse gave a more specific instruction the latter is called an abrogating verse and the former is called an abrogated verse. However, this does not mean that the commentators recognized here a contradiction as Katz alleges. It only means that they recognized the later verse as being more specific where the former was more general. We have already seen that this is the case with the verses being discussed. Whereas the former verse 4:7 said in general that the son and daughter both inherit, the latter verse 4:11 specified that the share of the male would be twice that of the female. There is hence no contradiction between the two verses.
Moreover, even if commentators think that there is a contradiction that does not help Katz. His method was, as he stated, to ignore the commentators and take the Quranic statements in their most literal sense. If he cannot show a contradiction using this method, it is pointless to appeal to the commentators in desperation.
Furthermore, all commentators are not agreed that this is a case of abrogation. According to Shah Waliullah of Delhi, there are only five pairs of abrogated and abrogating verses, and this pair is not one of the five (Ahmad Von Denver, Uloom al-Quran, UK: Islamic Foundation, 1994; p. 108). So what does that prove? The crux of the matter here is not what the commentators said but what the verses actually say. Since the verses themselves do not contradict each other, Katz’s claim is ruined.
Katz complains that the Quran often does not provide for the estate to be exhaustively distributed. When the allotted shares are added they amount to less than 100%. His persistent question, therefore, is "Who gets the rest?" Since the Quran claims to be a complete guidance, it should provide instructions on such details.
The Bible is a much larger book than the Quran. Yet it contains less on inheritance than the Quran. And it too claims to be a complete guidance. How does Katz regard this?
The Quran is said to be about 4/5 the length of the New Testament. The Old Testament is much longer than the New Testament. And the Bible is made up of both testaments. Why is it that a book of such size include so little on a subject that Katz considers so important?
Katz feels that the allowance in Islamic Law for a person to bequeath up to 1/3 of his property "can lead to gross injustices." One can theoretically bequeath away his property thus leaving his elderly parents with no support. He further complains that the limit of 1/3 is not prescribed in the Qur’an.
Katz would be on better ground here if he took into consideration the entire Quran. The Quran does in fact prescribe that charity is first to one's parents, then to one's near relatives, then to others. If anyone disinherits his parents he would be going against this important directive.
Moreover, Katz should be able to demonstrate that the Bible is better at ensuring justice. On the contrary, the Bible in the Gospel of Luke shows that when a matter of injustice involving inheritance was brought to Jesus, on whom be peace, he refused to settle the matter (Luke 12:13). Muslims of course believe that Jesus stood for justice. Muslims would question any detail of the gospels which contradict this noble portrait of Jesus. But how does Katz feel about this gospel report?
Katz devoted an entire page complaining about how it is "very unjust" to allot a man twice the share of his sister as Islamic law does. His complaining may lead a reader to expect that his Bible teaches differently.
On the contrary, according to the Bible if there are sons they should take everything and the daughters should get nothing. Only if there are no sons can the daughters inherit (Numbers 27:8-11). However, such a daughter is required to marry into a family of her father’s tribe (Numbers 36:6, 11).
Katz complains of injustice because the Quran gives the woman only half of what her brother gets. How does he react to the Biblical prescription that the woman gets nothing if she has a brother?
Moreover, the Quran prescribes for a woman to inherit as a daughter, as a mother, as a sister, and as a wife. The Bible offers no such prescription. Rather, the Bible allots the entire inheritance to male relatives where such exist, leaving nothing for wife or mother. So why do Bible believers complain about the Quran?
CLAIM and REPLY
In his reply to Randy Desmond, Katz comments on an interpretation of a hadith which directs us to give the allotted shares as designated and then to give the undistributed remainder to the nearest male relative. Katz stretches this to mean possibly a male cousin of an uncle. Then he concludes that if he dies leaving a daughter as his only child his daughter would get half the estate and such a remote male relative would get the other half. Then comes his expression of incredulity:
". . . this remote male relative would get half the inheritance? As much as my daughter? That is what the hadith would suggest."
Aside from his misunderstanding of the said hadith and of Islamic inheritance law, Katz should be advised that if he follows the Bible on this matter his daughter may get nothing and the male relative would take all if the daughter marries outside her father’s tribe. Katz may think this law no longer applies today, but that does not help his position. Since Katz believes that this prescription came from God in the first place, and Katz thinks it incredible, then by implication he thinks that God’s prescription in the Bible is incredible.
Based on his misunderstanding of the hadith and of Islamic law, Katz is able to remark:
"According to my taste, this is not justified. [Neither do I know of any country’s civil or religious law where things are dealt with that way.] But then, maybe I am not the one to define what is justice." Neither is it done that way in Islamic law. On the other hand, has Katz read his Bible lately? According to the Bible, if a man has no kids his property goes to his brothers, or to his father's brothers (Numbers 27:8-11). How does Katz feel about this? Wife and mother are not mentioned in the list of inheritors. According to this list we should pass over a man’s wife and mother and give his entire property to his father’s brother. Perhaps Katz will explain to us how this fits his taste of what is justified.
Anything Left Unanswered?
I have in the foregoing discussion answered every significant point raised by Katz regarding the matter of inheritance. If there is anything left unanswered I would like to know. Then I can get to work on it right away.
by Shabbir Ally
تحمَّلتُ وحديَ مـا لا أُطيـقْ من الإغترابِ وهَـمِّ الطريـقْ
اللهم اني اسالك في هذه الساعة ان كانت جوليان في سرور فزدها في سرورها ومن نعيمك عليها . وان كانت جوليان في عذاب فنجها من عذابك وانت الغني الحميد برحمتك يا ارحم الراحمين
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