Sunday 6 January 2019

Laws of Inheritance in Islam

Before the advent of Islam, the laws governing inheritance were purely for men. The women what to talk of given any share in hesitance, were buried alive as they were considered as humans by the pagans of Makkah or anywhere on the Arabian peninsula. Even int other faiths, women had no share in the properties left by their fathers or husbands.

In the Holy Qur'an, mention is made how the inheritance is to be divided between the heirs of the deceased. And by doing so, there are "clear cut entitlement and specific shares of female relatives." This amply highlights the status Islam gives to the women, which henceforth was not prevalent in the pre-Islamic era. Thus Islam not only elevated the position of women but simultaneously safeguarded their social and economic interests as long ago as 1400 years. 

There are two places in the Holy Qur'an where the basic rules of inheritance have been mentioned:
Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one's estate. And if there is only one, for her is half. And for one's parents, to each one of them is a sixth of his estate if he left children. But if he had no children and the parents [alone] inherit from him, then for his mother is one third. And if he had brothers [or sisters], for his mother is a sixth, after any bequest he [may have] made or debt. Your parents or your children - you know not which of them are nearest to you in benefit. [These shares are] an obligation [imposed] by Allah . Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise. [Quran 4:11]
They request from you a [legal] ruling. Say, " Allah gives you a ruling concerning one having neither descendants nor ascendants [as heirs]." If a man dies, leaving no child but [only] a sister, she will have half of what he left. And he inherits from her if she [dies and] has no child. But if there are two sisters [or more], they will have two-thirds of what he left. If there are both brothers and sisters, the male will have the share of two females. Allah makes clear to you [His law], lest you go astray. And Allah is Knowing of all things. [Quran 4:176]
However, it  has also been cautioned that those who do not do justice in inheritance will draw wrath of Allah:
And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger and transgresses His limits - He will put him into the Fire to abide eternally therein, and he will have a humiliating punishment. [Quran 4:14]
This commandment in fact changes the entire complexion of the rules of inheritance that prevailed before Islam. The pagan system of inheritance was confined to the male agnate (a person descended from the same male ancestor as another specified or implied person, especially through the male line) relatives ("asaba") of the deceased. In this old customary system only the male agnates were entitled to inherit. Among the male agnates there were rules of priority, which determined which of the surviving male agnates were entitled to inherit.

Setting aside portions of inheritance for women was a revolutionary idea at its time. In ancient Arabia, like in many other lands, women were considered part of the property and were themselves to be shared among purely male heirs. In fact, only the eldest son used to inherit everything, depriving all other family members of any share. The Quran abolished these unjust practices and included women as inheritors in their own right. [5]

A question generally arises in the mind of women about the half share as compared to the full share of men. Muslim theologians explain this aspect of inheritance by looking at Islamic law in its entirety, which bestows the responsibility and accountability on men to provide safety, protection and sustenance to women.[Qur'an 4:34]. Anther explanation of why a daughter is entitled to only half that of the son is that Islam decrees that women, upon marriage are entitled to a "dowry" from the husband (in addition to any provision by her parents). It is thereafter the husband's obligation to care for and maintain his wife and the "dowry" is, therefore, essentially an advance of inheritance rights from her husband's estate which returns to his possession after the formalities over.

The the Qur'an also introduced additional heirs that were not entitled inheritance in pre-Islamic times, mentioning nine relatives specifically of which six were female and three were male. The laws of inheritance in the Qur'an also included other male relatives, such as the husband and half-brothers from the mother’s side, who were excluded from inheritance in old customs. The heirs mentioned in the Qur'an are the mother, father, husband, wife, daughter, brother who shares the same mother, full sister, sister who shares the same mother, and consanguine / consanguineous (relating to or denoting people descended from the same ancestor) sister. 

While the details of distribution have been explained in the Qur'an, one is free to write one's will as to one wants to share the wealth and property. To better understand the inheritance laws in Islam, please listen to Professor Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a Pakistani Muslim theologian, Quran scholar, Islamic modernist, exegete and educationist, on the subject. The video is in Urdu, but has English subtitles for those who cannot understand Urdu:
It may be added here that:
  • The laws mentioned above are only in raw form, those seeking details may open references given below, specially [1] to know details and find answers to many questions that may arise due to one's peculiar situation.
  • The rules of inheritance differ for the Shia branch of Islam. Those belonging to Shia sect may refer to their rules drawn by their scholars.
Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
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