Inheritance is among the most widely contested of legal issues in the world. It has been a prevalent issue since ancient times since it concerns the division of a deceased person’s property among the living. The advent of Islam marked the first proper Islamic inheritance laws. Other systems (both religious and worldly) of inheritance lacked the equality and logical division of assets which were provided by Islam. Moreover, they did not encompass humanity within their frameworks. This meant that the chief beneficiaries of these laws were select people which has had a dominating hand. As the divine religion of Allah, Islam provided a complete logical basis on its reasoning for the laws of inheritance.
The 4 Fundamentals Following Death
There are 4 fundamental things which must be taken care of following a Muslim person’s demise.
- Covering the funeral expenses.
- Clearing their debts.
- Proceeding with their will.
- Proceeding with the distribution of assets among beneficiaries.
While the first 2 duties are logically easy to perform, it is the remaining 2 which are of great consequence. The splitting of inheritance primarily involves identifying which people are entitled to receive share from the deceased person’s property and the amount in their share. As Allah says, “It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any opinion in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, has indeed strayed into a plain error” (Quran 33:36). By following the commandments as set in Islam, Muslims follow the will of Allah and honor the deceased by adhering to the principles of Islam in matters concerning them even after death. This ensures that their identify as a Muslim is fully preserved in this life and beyond.
It is vital that the Sharia law be followed to ensure that the inheritance is split in a way which honors the deceased person’s beliefs as a Muslim. Any form of injustice and malpractice should be strictly punished by governing authorities. Moreover, it is considered a grave sin to try and commit any form of malpractice in Islamic inheritance. As evident from the Quranic verse, “And whosoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, and transgresses His limits, He will cast him into the Fire, to abide therein; and he shall have a disgraceful torment” (Quran 4:13-14). From these verses, the punishment in hereafter for transgressing the laws of inheritance can easily be understood.
About Islamic Inheritance Laws
As previously discussed, Islam formed the first basis for inheritance laws. It laid the foundations for governments to refer when chartering their own laws. Since the teachings of Islam have been perfected to be universal and the inheritance laws are supported with logic, they are applicable for every society.
The systems if inheritance in Islam do not take influence from the Arabian practices at all. Before Islam was revealed in Arabia, the conditions were opposite to what was being preached by the religion of Allah. Males were the only people to be qualified for receiving inheritance. The eldest would often be the one to claim the lions share, which often led to internal dispute and even violence. The closes blood relatives would receive the most share, with the rest being given in an equally descending order of magnitude.
While Islam does specify that the share of a male should be twice that of a female according to Islamic laws of inheritance, it offers equally logical reason for it. The male is responsible for looking after the females in the family and will be providing for them as long as they are under his care. This provision of resources and security is taxing in nature and the male does not have any monetary gains from it, even though he will readily do it out of love for his family. The increased share is in response to the increased burden that they will carry. The share will also be going towards the family and as such, the inheritance is equally distributed.
Rights of Women According to Islamic Inheritance Laws
It should be noted that the pre-Islamic times gave women less rights than an animal, which were subject to much cruelty even then. They used to be buried alive on birth and be treated little less than breeding livestock. Islam fought against these corrupt, cemented ideals and gave respect to the women by elevating their status and officially placing their claims in inheritance. Islamic inheritance laws also specified the special rights of women in society to ensure they would be respected for all time to come in all places of the world as the religion would spread. The inherited shares of a women are often contributed towards their offspring, for which they selflessly sacrifice. As mentioned in the Holy Quran, “Allah commands you regarding your children. For the male a share equivalent to that of two females” (Quran 4:11).
The Holy Quran on the Matter
To start, the Holy Quran has dictated the principles regarding males and females who are of equal standing in terms of relation. For example, a son will have twice the share of a daughter and a brother will have twice the share of a sister. There are exceptions to that rule, such as in cases where the brothers and sisters may inherit equally, with the same being applicable for the descendants of that bloodline.
As the Quranic verse states, “If (there are) women (daughters) more than two, then for them two thirds of the inheritance; and if there is only one then it is half” (Quran 4:11). The verse clearly adds exceptions which should be followed for adhering to the rule of Sharia. The women here are referred to as the daughters. Furthermore, the Quran has added 9 obligatory shareholders for inheritance, which have been modified with the addition of 3 more according to Ijma and Qiyas, putting the total at 12.
Taking the matter Further
If there are no sons, then the inheritance will be shared equally among the daughters. This changes when the deceased has male heirs, as they will inherit twice as much as the daughters. If there are no daughters but paternal granddaughters, then the laws are applicable on them. If there are 2 or more daughters, then they will exclude the granddaughters. In case of a single daughter or agnatic granddaughter, the inherited share is set at one-half.
For 2 or more of them, the share is changed to 2/3rds. In case of 2 or more daughters, the granddaughters will be completely remove granddaughters from the inheritance. In case of a single daughter and a single agnatic granddaughter, the daughter will get one-half share, with the agnatic granddaughter getting 1/6th of the share, making it 2/3rds of the total. In case of agnatic grandsons, the 2x inherited share factor will remain constant. “And for his parents for each of them there is one-sixth of the inheritance if he has a child, but if he does not have a child and the parents are the heirs then for the mother one-third” (Quran 4:11).
Interpreting the Quranic Words
According to Muslim scholars, the word “walad” defines children and agnatic children. Each parent will inherit 1/6th of the share if they have a child or agnatic one. If both are absent, then the mother will inherit 1/3rd while the share of father is not specified. However, they are entitled to residuary shares, which specifies that they will get what remains after the total shares have been given out. The mother, father, maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather have been included according to Islamic inheritance laws based on Ijma and Qiyas.
In verse 4:11 of Quran “… but if he has brothers (or sisters) then for the mother one-sixth”, the word “Akhwatun” in Quran has been translated according to context to mean 2 or more brothers and sisters. This means that the presence of full, kindred or uterine brothers and sisters means that the mother will have 1/6th share from the inheritance.
The same goes for interpreting the Quranic verses: “And for them one-fourth of what you leave behind if you did not have a child, but if you have a child then for them one-eighth of what you leave behind …” (Quran 4:12). The word “walad” is interpreted to be the direct child or agnatic grandchild. Furthermore, the husband has rights over ½ of the share if there is no child or agnatic grandchild. In case they exist, he will have ¼ of the inherited share.
Learning Further From Verse 4:12
We can see from verse 4:12 of Quran: “And for them one-fourth of what you leave behind if you did not have a child, but if you have a child then for them one-eighth of what you leave behind …” the rulings on widows. The wife is entitled to ¼ if there is no child or grandchild, which is reduced to 1/8 if they are present. If there is more than 1 wife, then the same law applies on them. If a woman dies and the husband and parents are left as the heirs, then husband will have ½ of the property. But this means that if the mother has 1/3rd of the share then the father will have 1/6th.
This raises the question whether the father will get twice the share of mother when they are of equal standing. This issue was addressed during the Caliphate of Umar ibn Khattab (RA) who consulted with the highest Muslim authorities and scholars of that point this yielded the result that the father will receive 1/3rd while the mother will have 1/6th of the share.
As verse 4:12 continues, it becomes a source of intense interpretation, particularly due to the word “kalala”. The word has been interpreted to mean siblings of same mother but different fathers. They are entitled to inherited shares if no other descendants and ascendants. But they maintain status through their mother and will be entitled to 1/6th of the share. If they are 2 or more, then they will have 1/3rd of the shares in total, which will be divided among them. The heirs mentioned in Quran are mother, father, husband, widow, daughter, uterine brother, full sister, uterine sister and consanguine sister. Ijma and Qiyas has added paternal grandfather, maternal grandmother and agnatic granddaughter.
Basic Exceptions in Islam Inheritance Law
The Quranic heirs can receive shares from residuary inheritance. Primary heirs are always ranked first since for fixed inheritance; they will always have a share according to Islamic inheritance laws. These include the widow or widower, the parents, the sons and the daughters. The other heirs can be eliminated from inheritance in the presence of the primary heirs. While discussing the overall nature would be a very diverse topic, it would suffice to mention some of the most basic rules.
- A person who happens to have a more direct relation to the deceased (e.g. brother over adopted brother, who are related only through the father) is excluded.
- A person having a more direct relation to the deceased in terms of degree (e.g. son over grandson) will have precedence to inheritance and may also override them.
- Direct relations have precedence over half-blooded relations (e.g. brother over half-brother. This applies to brothers with different mothers and same fathers but not on those with different fathers and same mother).
- The inheritance shareholders can be excluded in cases if they have been disqualified. The matter for exclusion is quite debatable, but there are 2 cases where disqualification is set in stone; if the person if convicted of murder or is not Muslim. This can be clearly verified from the hadith The Prophet (SAWS) said, “A Muslim cannot be the heir of a disbeliever, nor can a disbeliever be the heir of a Muslim.” (Sahih al-Bukhari). Another hadith states Allah’s Messenger (SAWS) said, “One who kills a man cannot inherit from him” (Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah).
- Muslims are not eligible to claim inheritance from non-Muslims. However, the Hanafi fiqah does have an exception where the Muslims can inherit from someone who has left the circle of Islam (ex-Muslim).
- The inheritance beneficiaries only includes those people who have a direct blood relationship with the deceased. This also applies for illegitimate children and adopted children, since Islam does not allow the format of legal adoption practiced in the West.
- Remainder of property after division is called al-radd and is subject to further division as was practiced on the original amount. In case the inheritance falls short, the shares of everyone is decreased in a proportional manner to ensure it still remains equal.
Example of Flexibility in Islamic Inheritance Law
The modern Muslim laws have combined Quranic principles with that of logical laws in accordance with Ijma and Qiyas. This has led to some issues which have been ingeniously resolved by Muslim jurists on this matter. A notable incident is that which happened in the Caliphate of Umar ibn Khattab (RA). The deceased woman has a widower, mother, 2 brothers with different fathers and 2 full brothers. The inheritance was conducted according to Islamic inheritance laws, by which the husband received ½, the mother inherited 1/6 and the 2 brothers sharing same mother received 1/3. The full brothers did not inherit any assets since there was no residual property left. They argued that they had direct relation with the deceased, the same as the uterine brothers. After consideration, the Caliph revised his earlier decision and they also received 1/3 shares, the same as uterine brothers.
The modern Islamic inheritance laws bear the same spirit of the religion when it was perfected under the Holy Prophet (SAW). Over time, they have been subject to modifications by Islamic jurists, which has changed them to a certain degree. However, they remain true to Islam. Moreover, they incorporate logical reasoning for every decision which makes them acceptable and have a codified form, which makes them easy to implement. They are not bound by cultural and social norms, which makes them universal in nature, just as Islam was meant to be. This means they can be practiced anywhere without being constrained by such elements.
In modern times, inheritance has become a major issue, which has torn families and even motivated them to murder for worldly gain. Islamic inheritance laws are perfected in a manner to ensure these issues do not arise and the legal heirs inherit what they deserve without complications.