The Islamic Laws of Inheritance

One of the most controversial topics in Islam or any other religion is Inheritance. Both Islamic and conventional laws are heavily debated and questioned. However, the Islamic laws of inheritance are specifically defined by Allah (SWT) in Quran. The Islamic Laws of inheritance are also based on the traditions and practices of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Before entering into the details of this controversial and complicated topic, one must realize that women’s rights of inheritance were revolutionized by Islam. Before the Islamic laws of inheritance were introduced, women were not eligible to inherit from their relatives. In-fact in case of Arab, the women, themselves, were treated as an asset/ a property which was supposed to be distributed after the death of their father, husband or brother. Islam changed the status of women and provided them with proper rights of inheritance.

It is mentioned in the Quran that:

“Men shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind.” (Quran 4:7).

Therefore, the question if women can inherit at all or not is redundant. This verse makes it clear that women have the right to inherit from their relatives.

The same chapter of Quran (Surah Al Nissa) discusses in detail the division of property, based on the number of relatives and the nature of relationship with the inheritor:
“Allah enjoins you about [the share of inheritance of] your children: A male’s share shall equal that of two females — in case there are only daughters, more than two shall have two-thirds of what has been left behind. And if there be only one daughter, her share shall be half — and if the deceased has children, the parents shall inherit a sixth each, and if he has no children and the parents are his heirs then his mother shall receive a third, and if he has brothers and sisters then the mother’s share is the same one-sixth. [These shares shall be distributed] after carrying out any will made by the deceased or payment of any debt owed by him (the deceased). You know not who among your children and your parents are nearest to you in benefit. This is the law of Allah. Indeed Allah is wise, all knowing.” (Quran 4:11)

Only in the case of the inheritance of children by their parents, the ruling that a male relative receives a share that equals to that of two females applies. If a child of parents passes away, each parent inherits one-sixth of the property, if the late child is survived by a kid of his/ her own. In such a case, the property is equally divided between the father and mother of the deceased child, etc.

Keeping in mind the fact that these Quranic verses were revealed 1400 years back, where women were given no financial security, barring whatever was provided to them by men, these verses surely demonstrate respect and care given to the family members and made sure that the interest of women remain protected. Therefore, brothers were given larger portions with a legal obligation to spend a certain portion of it on their sisters.

Scholars from different Islamic schools of thought still debate over the topic of inheritance. Many of the scholars argue that the rules are applicable only if no ‘Will’ was left by the decease and that the division can be changed by a ‘Will’. However, other schools of thought think that the Islamic laws of inheritance mentioned in the Quran are applicable by default.  Moreover, one of the Ahadith of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) mentions that a person can will upto one third of his property as per his preference and likings. This neutralizes/ eliminates the issue of (assumed) gender biasness.  Additionally, transfer of property can take place during the life of the testator.

Most of the schools of thought argue over the application of Islamic laws of inheritance. Moreover, there are a few scholars who are of an opinion that these laws are only applicable in an Islam based legal framework and government. However, Muslims should focus on the spirit of the Islamic laws of inheritance, which is based on justice, and they should find ways to accomplish this goal. This stands true, especially in a country where Muslims are in minority, for instance, in USA. The Muslim scholars, law makers, and researchers should bravely address this issue to focus on the challenges faced.