How to Make Inheritance Fair

QDear Brother, Assalam Alaikum Wa Rehmatullah Wa barakatuhu.

Thank you very much for replying to my mail and helping me solve my personal issues. … May Allah bless you in this world and the hereafter (Amen) for guiding me accurately.

Please do advice me on another important issue as well. It is about "will for the distribution of property". What is the Islamic point of view? Can a person distribute his wealth among his heirs according to his wishes or it has to be as defined in Quran. For example if one child does not have anything and the other one has in abundance, can that person give more to the less fortunate one. Similarly if a man has very little property and has 3 daughters and no son. And those daughters are neither married and nor settled in any way. Can that person divide the property among his daughters or it would be wrong. Since his nephews are supposed to have a share and his daughters will get very little share. If he does not do so in his will, his daughters will not even have a place to live in. What does Quran, Shariah or Fiqah say in this regard. Wouldn't it be unfair that that person's property is taken away by affluent relatives while his widow or daughters have nowhere to go to.

Jazak Allah Khair!!


AAfter the revelation of Allaah’s Commands about inheritance in Soorah An-Nisaa, at least 2/3rds of the inheritance of a believer must be distributed according to the rules that Allaah SWT has commanded. Up to 1/3rd can be willed according to the desire of the believer, but that testament cannot be in favour of any of those whose share has been specified in the Qur-aan. That can only be in favour of other people or charities for which there is no share specified in the Qur-aan. So, a believer cannot give to a spouse, child, parents etc. more or less than specified by the Qur-aan. That will be a violation of the command of Allaah, un-enforceable in an Islamic state and a sinful act. Changing the shares of those for whom Allaah has specified a share is tantamount to saying that Allaah did not do justice or Allaah did not know how to distribute the share properly. Hence it is a great sin. Even if one child is very poor compared to the other, parents cannot give more inheritance to one than the other.

In case of the example you mentioned, where the deceased person leaves behind only a wife and young daughters, 1/8th will go to wife, 2/3rd will be distributed equally among the girls regardless of their age, financial condition or marital status. The rest will go to the other heirs.

Sometimes when we look at a particular case, the law of Inheritance does not seem fair. That is for two main reasons:

Islamic law on inheritance is a small part of the whole system of society that Islam came to establish. If we have a proper Islamic state where every part of life is established and run according to Islamic systems, the fairness and beauty of the Islamic teaching will be evident. Just like a well-designed, efficient machine each part of which is complemented by its other parts for it to function properly, the Islamic system and its parts are the same way. Unfortunately, currently most of our life is structured on non-Islamic principles. In the absence of the beautifully integrated Islamic system, the remaining parts seem to be awkward just like an isolated part of a well-designed machine may look awkward when being observed in itself. As I wrote in my booklet on marriage and mahr:
Just as a plant grows, thrives, blossoms and bears maximum fruit in its native environments and ideal weather, social systems work best and produce best results in the cultural environment for which they have been created and designed. This is truest for Islamic systems. Islamic injunctions about any aspect of life are a part of a comprehensive system to be implemented in totality in an Islamic society. Each of its parts and teachings are very intricately related to and depend on other parts of the system. To realize and benefit from all the beautiful advantages of Islamic teachings, the total system in its proper Allaah-fearing environment of an Eeman-based society has to be in place. Unfortunately, that environment does not exist in Muslim countries hence people do not realize the benefits inherent in the Islamic system. Similarly, large populations of Muslims are living as minorities in non-Islamic environments where such laws, rules and customs are in place that are at odds with Islamic rules and practices.

The second reason is that our knowledge is finite and limited. We can never understand all aspects of an issue properly and fully. Allaah’s decisions are based on His perfect knowledge and absolute wisdom, which our limited knowledge and understanding may not comprehend all the time.

The real solution for our dilemma is that we must all work hard to establish Islam completely and fully in our lives and in our societies as a complete system of life in the form of an Islamic state like the state of Madeenah lead by our Prophet Sall-Allaahu 'Alayhi Wa Sallam. Once that kind of pure Islamic society is established, we should have trust and confidence in the wisdom of Allaah to follow His commands exactly as He prescribed and we will witness the beauty and justice of Islam benefiting everyone.

Until that happens, and while continuing our work to make that happen, there are some other things people can do to compensate for blessings we are missing because of a lack of full Islamic system.

For example, a person can gift his or her wealth as he or she likes during his or her life, if it is done before it seems like that the person is going to die soon and it is done formally transferring the ownership and control of the wealth or property to the person or institution to whom it is gifted. For example, a person may deposit money in wife’s bank account or buy property or investments in her name allowing her full control over those assets so that she can use them as she likes in the life of the husband as well as after his death. If she is not given anything during her life, she will inherit only 1/8th of the inheritance of the husband. Similarly for daughters, a person can keep property, investments and money in the daughters’ own accounts to fund their education, marriages and other needs. However, these steps should be taken as normal planning steps of life, not with the intent of defeating the laws of inheritance after one’s death. If they are undertaken at an age and in a state of health when the person is getting ready to say goodbye, Allaah SWT might look at them as steps to circumvent His law of inheritance.

Another point I would like to mention for those of us living in non-Muslims majority countries is that each one of us must have a duly completed will in writing to ensure that our inheritance is distributed according to the laws of Allaah SWT, not according to the law of the land in which we reside.

January 11, 2004

I have received two follow up questions on my response about inheritance:

QAsslaam o alaikum, Thank you for your explanation on the subject of inheritance. However, in some cultures, there is a concept of giving dowry to the daughters. Some people feel that they don't owe anything to the daughters from their property/wealth once their daughters have taken dowry as their share of the wealth. What are your thoughts in this regard?

Thank you, Imran

AIf parents feel that they have not treated all children equally in terms of giving gifts, dowry or money to them, they should resolve that issue of inequity in their life and ensuring that every son and daughter has been treated fairly. They cannot use that kind of reason to alter the shares of the children in inheritance. Regardless of what parents give to their children in terms of gift, dowry or any other form during their life, whatever they leave behind in the form of inheritance, whether it is a little or a lot, must be distributed to all heirs according to the Islamic teachings. Allaah’s command is very clear in this respect:
Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether there is little or much of it; an obligated portion. An-Nisaa 4:7

Hence, this is a matter on which we cannot have our personal thoughts, because the matter has been clearly decided by Allaah SWT. Any Allaah-fearing people will never deprive the daughters of their share of inheritance under any pretext.

QSana Hameed Baba wrote: Dear Hamid,

Its no where said in Quran that you cannot distribute your property according to your will. You can distribute as you wish. However, if you do not prepare a will before your death, according to "shariah" (which is a mixture of Quran and Hadith and hence can be questioned), your property will be distributed according to the so called "Islamic laws".

ASister, before making a claim “Its no where said in Quran that you cannot distribute your property according to your will”, did you open the Qur-aan to find out what Qur-aan has to say?

For a starter, please refer to the verse I have quoted above. It clearly says that there is obligated portion for males and females? My understanding is that if something is obligated, there is no option but to follow the obligation; otherwise it is called disobedience. Yousuf Ali translates it as “determinate” which means “conclusively determined”, or “definitely settled”. Pickthal translates it as “legal portion”, suggesting that anything else will be illegal.

However, the matter goes further than that. The verse that prescribes children’s shares starts with the words, “Allaah enjoins you concerning your children” and ends with “Obligation from Allaah, and verily Allaah is All-knowing, All-Wise.”

Then, after giving all the commands about shares of inheritance, the Qur-aan concludes,
These are Allaah’s limits, and whoever obeys Allaah and His Messenger, He will cause him to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them; and this is the great achievement. And whoever disobeys Allaah and His Messenger and violates His limits, He will cause him to enter fire to abide in it, and he shall have a humiliating punishment. 4:13-14

Does it sound like an option that is available to you if you “have not prepared your will”? Or, does it sound like a strict obligation violation of which causes punishment in the Fire? The verses quoted above should also tell you clearly that a command of messenger cannot be questioned, contrary to what you implied by saying “which is a mixture of Quran and Hadith and hence can be questioned”. Obedience of Allaah as well as His Messenger brings success and rewards; and disobedience of Allaah as well as His Messenger brings humiliating punishment.


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