Inheritance and Islam

As parents, we decided that we needed to write a will to decide who we wanted to be guardians for our child and how we wanted our estate distributed. The Islamic laws were not what we wanted.

As parents, we decided that we needed a will. Therefore, some net surfing and searching was warranted in the name of research.

Looking at Georgia law spouse and children share equally if there is no will. In case of no spouse or children, parents are considered 2nd degree relatives, siblings 3rd degree and grandparents 4th degree.

Upon the death of an individual who is survived by a spouse but not by any child or other descendant, the spouse is the sole heir. If the decedent is also survived by any child or other descendant, the spouse shall share equally with the children, with the descendants of any deceased child taking that child’s share, per stirpes; provided, however, that the spouse’s portion shall not be less than a one-third share;

The problem for us here was that with a minor child, too much of the estate might be tied up until she’s older.

Of course, I had to search for what Islamic wills were out there and I found one from a major Atlanta mosque. When I first looked at the document, it just said that the distribution of the estate should be according to Shariah, which didn’t make any sense since who was supposed to figure that out. Now the document goes in some detail. However, I was surprised by this section:

I direct and ordain that any heir, declared as non-Muslim at the time of my death, be disregarded and disqualified in the application of Section B of Article V.

So anyone “declared as non-Muslim” can’t inherit from a Muslim. I decided to check some online Islamic sites. According to Sunnipath, a Muslim can’t inherit from a non-Muslim and a non-Muslim can’t inherit from a Muslim. However, a bequest can be made either way. The Salafi site Islam Q&A also has some information where they restrict even the bequest somewhat.

According to the Twelver Shia website, a Muslim can inherit from a non-Muslim but a non-Muslim cannot inherit from a Muslim.

This whole approach to inheritance is communitarian instead of individualistic. It looks like the community has major rights on the estate since these rulings make it difficult for the estate to leave a particular religious community regardless of how closely related some members of different communities might be.

There is another problem with this approach. Who decides who’s a Muslim or not? Islam Q&A provides a hint:

If you believe that the person who does not pray is a kaafir and apostate – which is the correct view, and Allaah knows best – it is not permissible for a kaafir to inherit anything from a Muslim’s wealth, or for a Muslim to inherit anything from a kaafir’s wealth.

This same principle might be applied by the same group to any sects/groups they consider heretic or non-Muslim. In that direction lies madness in my view.

SunniPath has guidelines on preparing one’s will according to Islamic principles, which contains this odd tidbit:

It is worth remembering here that along with one’s written Will, one should have a separate document stipulating the number of unperformed prayers, missed fasts, unpaid Zakat, unperformed Hajj, any other religious obligations and debts payable to the servants of Allah.

One must strive in accomplishing these obligations in one’s life, and make the necessary amendments to the document whenever an obligation is fulfilled. For example: One had 500 unperformed prayers. In such a case one should stipulate this in the document. Thereafter, whenever, a prayer is made up, it should be deducted from the total of 500. This “important” document should be attached with the Will in order to let the relatives know of one’s obligations and liabilities after one’s death.

While searching on inheritance information, I found this software that can calculate inheritance shares according to Islamic laws. That’s cool.

I would recommend that you read Quran’s verses about inheritance law too.

From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large,-a determinate share. But if at the time of division other relatives, or orphans or poor, are present, feed them out of the (property), and speak to them words of kindness and justice. Let those (disposing of an estate) have the same fear in their minds as they would have for their own if they had left a helpless family behind: Let them fear Allah, and speak words of appropriate (comfort). Those who unjustly eat up the property of orphans, eat up a Fire into their own bodies: They will soon be enduring a Blazing Fire! Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children’s (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half. For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased Left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases (’s) after the payment of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, Al-wise. In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, ye get a fourth; after payment of legacies and debts. In what ye leave, their share is a fourth, if ye leave no child; but if ye leave a child, they get an eighth; after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; after payment of legacies and debts; so that no loss is caused (to any one). Thus is it ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, Most Forbearing.

My thoughts about this system of dividing up the estate is that it requires very specific social conditions, with a communitarian ethos where women are generally taken care of by men they are related to. In an individualistic society, this distribution leaves women in a bad situation. As parents of a girl, we are particularly sensitive to these issues.

Finally, the most important thing in our will (and the real reason we wrote one) is the issue of guardianship of our daughter in case both of us die. As immigrants living far away from parents and siblings, this was a difficult problem. We won’t want to remove her from familiar surroundings of the US but at the same time we couldn’t leave her with someone who’s not closely related. In the end, we decided that only her grandparents, uncles and aunts could be trusted.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

11 thoughts on “Inheritance and Islam”

  1. My thoughts about this system of dividing up the estate is that it requires very specific social conditions, with a communitarian ethos where women are generally taken care of by men they are related to. In an individualistic society, this distribution leaves women in a bad situation. As parents of a girl, we are particularly sensitive to these issues.

    You mean the Quranic verses pertaining to inheritance of property by men and women or those relating to the relationship between women and men in a family don’t apply at all in today’s case?

    If they do, how many of these are still valid and to be followed? If not, then which other Quranic verses are to be simply explained away as not being relevant in today’s setting?

  2. I mean the Quranic verses that assign specific inheritance shares presuppose a specific social milieu. Outside of that milieu, these shares don’t work. This is actually among the assumptions of most Islamic scholars since the reason they give for man’s share being double that of woman in most cases is that men are supposed to the providers.

    As for what else needs to be changed or dropped, there’s slavery and concubinage. There might be others too.

  3. Interesting.

    Isn’t there a Quranic verse which translated approximately means that we can’t make halal what has been declared haram and vice versa?

    Now how do you reconcile that with being able to pick and choose at our convenience which of the laws set down in the Quran we want to follow?

    You talk of slavery. My understanding is that it is encouraged in Islam to free slaves, but slavery is not completely banned.

    So now what should be today’s position? Can we declare it haram even though that’s not what the Quran says?

    Using your argument, we may say that slavery is completely unjustified in today’s circumstances and hence must be banned. But then when was slavery ever justified? Is it not the case that slavery and slave trade should never ever have taken place?

    Another example is polygamy: The general understanding is that it is legal under Islam if within the limits in the Quran. But many people in the West criticize this aspect of Islam (among most other things they find reprehensible in Islam). So now should we say those verses too are no more relevant?

    What about the death penalty? In my understanding Islam mandates the death penalty for crimes like murder and rape. But this is not compatible with EU laws and hence according to many Europeans Islam is barbaric.

    So now just to please them, we change that too? Can we make such changes at our will?

    (Maybe I’m just loud thinking out here, but you know the point I’m trying to make).

  4. Zack! A minor correction: It’s “aunt”, not “aunts”. She’s got only ONE aunt 😀

  5. Faraz: The question is not of picking and choosing based on whims or for pleasing Europeans, but instead of realizing that Islam (or rather religion and society in general) is progressive and not rigid and developing a system of which rules etc. were time-and-place-dependent and which are eternal. It is very difficult to separate culture and religion and this is true not only for our era but also for the early times of Islam. I won’t say that there won’t be mistakes since Shariah is human but this is what we have to attempt.

    As for slavery, I do think that it needs to be declared haram-equivalent, by which I mean that it needs to be declared out-of-bounds for the future Islamically unlike current Salafi thinking on the subject.

    Since you mentioned polygamy and slavery, you should read the book Islam by Dr. Fazlur Rahman. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Quran is primarily a book of religious and moral principles and exhortations, and is not a legal document. But it does embody some important legal enunciations issued during the community-state building process at Medina.

    […]

    The most important legal enactments and general reform pronouncements of the Quran have been on the subjects of women and slavery. The Quran immensely improved the status of the woman in several directions but the most basic is the fact that the woman was given a fully-pledged personality. The spouses are declared to be each other’s ‘garments’: the woman has been granted the same rights over man as man has over his wife, except that man, being the earning partner, is a degree higher. Unlimited polygamy was strictly regulated and the number of wives was strictly limited to four, with the rider that if a husband feared that he could not do justice among several wives, he must marry only one wife. To all this was added a general principle that ‘you shall never be able to do justice among wives no matter how desirous you are (to do so)’ (IV, 3, 128). The overall logical consequence of these pronouncements is a banning of polygamy under normal circumstances. Yet as an already existing institution polygamy was accepted on a legal plane, with the obvious guiding lines that when gradually social circumstances became more favorable, mongamy might be introduced. This is because no reformer who means to be effective can neglect the real situation and simply issue visionary statements. But the later Muslims did not watch the guiding lines of the Quran and, in fact, thwarted its intentions.

    The case of the Quranic treatment of the institution of slavery runs parallel to that of the family. As an immediate solution, the Quran accepts the institution of slavery on the legal plane. No alternative was possible since slavery was ingrained in the structure of society, and its overnight wholesale liquidation would have created problems which it would have been absolutely impossible to solve, and only a dreamer could have issued such a visionary statement. But at the same time every legal and moral effort was made to free the slaves and to create a milieu where slavery ought to disappear. ‘Liberating the neck’ (fakk raqaba) is not only praised as a virtue but is declared, along with feeding the poor and orphans, to be that ‘uphill path’ which is absolutely essential for man to tread (XC, 10-16). Indeed, the Quran has categorically told the Muslims that if a slave wants to purchas his or her freedom by paying off in instalments a sum that may be decided upon according to the situation of the slave, then the owner of the slave must allow such a contract for freedom and may not reject it: ‘And those of your slaves who wish to enter into freedom-purchasing contracts, accept their proposals if you think they are any good and give to them of the wealth that God has given you.’ […] Here again we are confronted by a situation where the clear logic of the Quranic attitude was not worked out in actual history by Muslims. The words of the Quran ‘if you think they are any good’ when properly understood, only mean that if a slave cannot show any earning capacity, then he cannot be expected to stand on his own feet even if freed and therefore it may be better for him to enjoy at least the protection of his master.

    These examples, there, make it abundantly clear that whereas the spirit of the Quranic legislation exhibits an obvious direction towards the progressive embodiment of the fundamental human values of freedom and responsibility in fresh legislation, nevertheless the actual legislation of the Quran had partly to accept the then existing society as a term of reference. This clearly means that the actual legislation of the Quran cannot have been meant to be literally eternal by the Quran itself. [..] Very soon, however, the Muslim lawyers and dogmaticians began to confuse the issue and the strictly legal injunctions of the Quran were thought to apply to any society, no matter what its conditions, what its structure and what its inner dynamics.

  6. Zack: Thanks for all those links and your comment. I just read all of them (and some other relevant links from there), but I need to read in some detail before I comment further.

  7. Question for you Zack. Was this just curiosity when it came to the Islamic Inheritance rules (I hesitate to say rules but alas for lack of a better term) or would those rules have some bearing on your decision?

  8. Lost Bedouin: We already knew the basics of Islamic inheritance and were sure we were not going to follow it. So you could say it was mostly intellectual curiosity.

  9. My dear son!
    All this may be good for the sake of blogging but the way Muslim Inherritance Law has been described shows a slip some-where. In stead of spending lot of time in trials to find a solution, first preference for getting information should have been given to those whom you think can be suitable guardians for our dear Michelle. Among them is your mother who has been teaching translation and tafseer of Quraan for the last about 10 years and then your only sister and Michelle’s only aunt who had tought translation of Quraan for several years in the past and had done some research work on Muslim Inherritance Law. Even maternal grandmother and uncles possess sufficient knowledge of Islamic Shariya.

  10. Dear sir,

    May I write about any question that I want to know to follow the path of Islam?
    Reply me please.

  11. i want to know details about “Inheritance law and its applications according to Holy Quran” ….please if will u give me details information about this topic??please help me if u can,its urgent…
    thank you.

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