The Quran serves as the primary source of Islamic inheritance laws. The Quran outlines the guidelines necessary to ensure a just distribution of wealth amongst the family members.
The Quran offers just three verses of specific instructions. Yet these three verses establish the entire foundation of the Islamic inheritance laws. The various Sunni schools of thought (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali) are largely in agreement as to the interpretation of these verses. Many of the other estate planning rules derive from the Sunnah (i.e. the Prophet Muhammad’s, peace be upon him, sayings), the consensus of the scholars (ijma) and dedutive reasoning (qiyas).
In this Article, we will provide a summary if Islamic inheritance law, including: (1) the verses of the Quran that speak to this topic; (2) the hadith that stress the importance of drafting an Islamic Will; (3) a summary of the post-death administration of an estate under Islamic law; (4) a breakdown of the Quran heirs; (5) some compare/contrasts with secular law; and (6) a calculation of heirs for a typical example to help you apply the Islamic inheritance laws.
A Guide to Islamic Inheritance Laws
The Islamic inheritance laws can be challenging to navigate if you do not have access to scholars and Islamic law experts who understand the rules and can apply them to your circumstances. Below, we have set forth a concise summary of the Islamic inheritance laws.
We hope that you will be able to benefit from this information and create an Islamic estate plan that protects your wealth and family, and fulfills your Islamic obligation.
List of Terms for Islamic Inheritance
To understand the Islamic inheritance laws, it is helpful to understand some basic definitions:
- Mirath – refers to the 2/3rd of your estate that must pass through the Quranic prescribed heirs
- Wasiyyah – refers to a discretionary 1/3rd of your wealth that you may prescribe to any persons or organizations of your choosing. Most madhabs do not permit the wasiyyah to supplement an heir already receiving shares through the Mirath.
- Warith – an heir who may inherit the wealth of the deceased person
- Kalala – a person who does not have any ascendants or descendants at the time of death
- Dhil-Furoodh – the first tier of inheritance heirs
- Asbah – secondary tier of residual heirs who may receive a proportion of the wealth distribution
- Dhil-Irham – the third tier of inheritance heirs
Islamic Inheritance Laws in the Quran
The Islamic inheritance laws originate from three specific ayahs, or verses, in the Quran. These three specific inheritance laws in the Quran establish the fractional shares that form the crux of the inheritance laws.
The specific passages for Sharia distribution of wealth are in Surah Nisa’a (Surah No. 4), verses 11-12 and 176. Preceding and succeeding verses 11-12, however, is some additional information regarding the Islamic inheritance laws. Verse 10 highlights the importance of these rules, and verses 13-14 reinforce their role.
Ayah 4:10 in the Quran reads as follows:
And let those executors and guardians fear as if they themselves had left weak offspring behind and feared for them. So let them fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice.
Followed by verse 4:13-14, which say:
These are the limits by Allah, whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger will be admitted by Him to gardens in Paradise under which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein; and that is the great attainment.
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.
Verses 4:11-12 reads as follows:
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.
And for you is half of what your wives leave if they have no child. But if they have a child, for you is one-fourth of what they leave, after any bequest they [may have] made or debt. And for the wives is one fourth if you leave no child. But if you leave a child, then for them is an eighth of what you leave, after any bequest you [may have] made or debt. And if a man or woman leaves neither ascendants nor descendants but has a brother or a sister, then for each one of them is a sixth. But if they are more than two, they share a third, after any bequest which was made or debt, as long as there is no detriment [caused]. [This is] an ordinance from Allah, and Allah is Knowing and Forbearing.
Additionally, 4:176 says:
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.
Understanding and applying the mathematical equations can be challenging. However, before we delve deeper into the calculations, we must first cover some other information about the Islamic inheritance laws.
Hadith Pertaining to Islamic Inheritance Laws
There are several famous hadith pertaining to the Islamic Rules of Inheritance. For example:
It is the duty of a Muslim who has anything to bequest not to let two nights pass without writing a will about it.
Learn the Science of Inheritance because it is from your religion, it is half of knowledge, and it is the first knowledge that would be removed from my nation.
A man may do good deeds for seventy years but if he acts unjustly when he leaves his last testament, the wickedness of his deed will be sealed upon him, and he will enter the Fire.
If, on the other hand, a man acts wickedly for seventy years but is just in his last will and testament, the goodness of his deed will be sealed upon him, and he will enter the Garden.
(Ahmed and Ibn Majah)
These hadith therefore reinforce the point that having an Islamic will is mandatory and that we will be questioned for how we earned, spent and disposed of our wealth.
Steps of Wealth Distribution
When a Muslim person passes away, there is a strict process of Islamic wealth distribution that will occur. The steps are as follows:
- Covering the cost of a modest funeral
- Paying back any personal debts or loans
- Paying for unfinished Islamic obligations (e.g. fidyah or unpaid zakat)
- Distributing up to one-third of of the estate in one’s discretion (though it is not required) (wasiyyah)
- Distributing the remaining two-thirds among the Quranic heirs
First, a deceased’s estate must cover the funeral expenses. These funerals are not to be extravagant, but rather modest services. It is acceptable for the survivors to pay this out of pocket, but if no such concession is made, the funds must come from the estate.
Second, the estate must pay off any debts or loans still owed by the deceased. A portion must also go toward paying any Islamic commitments or promises.
After that, a person may designate up to one-third of their wealth. This discretionary giving is known as the wasiyyah. One of the primary limitations is that this wasiyyah cannot be given to someone who is already receiving a share under the Islamic inheritance laws. The wasiyyah is most commonly given to charity as a sadaqah jaariya or to care for more distant relatives who cannot manage themselves.
The remaining two-thirds is reserved for the Islamic heirs as ordained in the Quran. This is known as the mirath.
Primary beneficiaries (Islamic heirs) are those who will inherit some of your wealth no matter what, provided only that they are alive and Muslim. These are your spouse, children, and parents. They enjoy fixed shares of the wealth.
Secondary beneficiaries are those whose inheritance is contingent on whether other primary beneficiaries are still alive. They may be siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, etc. They will receive a variable share of the wealth, depending on which primary beneficiaries are alive.
The Islamic inheritance laws describe the portions of shares to be given to primary and secondary heirs. The primary heirs are discussed below.
Sons and Daughters
One of the most known Islamic inheritance laws governs the inheritance of the children. The shares in Islam for daughters is half the shares that a son receives.
Parents also receive an inheritance. Usually, both mother and father will receive one-sixth of the wealth, provided they are alive. This distribution can lead to disagreements among American Muslims, who would prefer their grandchildren to have more. A parent may choose to forgo their inheritance shares, but that is the parents’ right given by Allah–not ours.
Sharia law inheritance also includes spouses, but it does not leave everything to them, as is common in Western culture. A husband will typically receive one-fourth of an estate and a wife will receive one-eighth of an estate (where there are children). Keep in mind that half of all joint wealth also can rightfully belong to the wife so the wife is actually receiving 50 percent of all wealth plus an additional one-eighth. Joint property is discussed below in more detail.
A Streamlined Inheritance Process
Islamic inheritance laws organize your wealth ownership and assets to ensure fairness and justice after death. Rather than leave the tough decisions to your family members while they are grieving, you can have everything prepared and ready to go in a just manner.
It also creates a uniform process for the inheritance of all family members. They can use the predetermined formulas to calculate appropriate inheritances. You can also create an Islamic trust to ensure the assets are properly managed and seamlessly distributed.
Families in the United States often fight over inheritance. However, the family unit is a fundamental aspect of Islam, and Islamic inheritance laws avoid these fights by predetermining the shares. We do not have the discretion to subjectively pick and choose. Islam thus creates clear guidelines on how to distribute wealth to avoid that kind of animosity.
Are the Islamic Inheritance Laws Outdated?
The Islamic inheritance laws are often neglected by Muslims, sometimes unintentionally, but also intentionally because they believe the inheritance laws to be outdated. To believe such an assertion is, however, an assault on Allah, his Prophet (peace be upon him) and Islam. In contrast, it is our way of thinking that is limited and cannot always understand the hikmah (wisdom) behind His decrees.
Muslims believe all things in heaven and earth, including our wealth, belong to Allah. No righteous Muslim would question this assertion. In addition, the vast majority of Muslims will agree, for example, that gambling as a means of acquiring or disposing of one’s wealth is unlawful. Yet, when it comes to the question of how to make the final disposition of this wealth–that Allah has provided to us–we reject Allah’s decree. As discussed above, also, any differences between the shares of males and females cannot be viewed in a vacuum. This law compliments the Sharia law requirement that males are required to spend on the entire family unit, whereas a female has no such restriction.
Our failure to follow these rules is a weakness in our faith and not a flaw in Allah’s decree.
An Example of Islamic Inheritance Distribution
It can be challenging to see how the Sharia inheritance laws play out in a real-life situation merely by reading the direct passages from the Surah Al Nisa. For that reason, let us look at an example of proper Sharia law inheritance.
In this example, the deceased is Akila, who married Hamza. Together, they had two sons named Irfan and Muhammad, as well as a daughter named Fabeha. She has two surviving parents, Bisma and Sarim. Additionally, her two brothers, Laith and Yusuf, and sister, Sadia.
Akila’s inheritance in Islam would break down into the following distribution:
Remainder in 2:1 portion for sons and daughters
Secondary heirs (Laith, Yusuf and Sadia) receive nothing.
There are many permutations for distribution under the law of inheritance in Islam. For this reason, your most secure solution is to contact an Islamic estate and will specialist.
Islamic inheritance derives from laws set in place by the Quran and the wisdom of Allah, not the personal or biased choices of those who have passed. These laws prevent discord in the family and strengthen the ties of family.
If you seek assistance for an Islamic will or trust, contact Islamic Wills USA. Our team can help you create an Islamic estate plan that complies with Sharia inheritance laws.