An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Lessons from Surah an-Nisa Ayah 7 [Part 2]

Lesson 2: The Rule of Inheritance

This ayah lays down the rule relating to the law of inheritance as a corollary to some of its injunctions which is “… in what the parents and the nearest of kin have left”. The two words, ‘al-walidan’ (the parents) and ‘al-aqrabun’ (the nearest of kin) spell out two basic principles of inheritance. The first one is the bond of birth which exists between children and their parents; described through al-walidan. The second one is the general kinship expressed by, ’al-aqrabun’.

According to the correct interpretation, the word, ‘al-aqrabun’ covers all kinds of family relationships. This may be the mutual bond of birth as in children and their parents; or it may be of the other kind as in general family relationships; or these may be relations established through marital connection. The word, ‘al-aqrabun’ covers all, but parents were set apart especially because of their importance. Then, this word has also established another principle of inheritance, that is, the mere fact of kinship is not enough for a claim on inheritance.  

Rather, it is necessary that the heir is nearest in kinship, for – if the degree of nearness or closeness were not made the standard condition – the inheritance of every deceased person would have to be, of necessity, distributed over the entire population of the world. The reason is simple to understand because everyone is the offspring of one father and mother (Adam and Hawwa).

Therefore, it was necessary that given the pivotal position of kinship in the matter of inheritance, the principle should be: If choice has to be made from a collection of different relatives, then, the nearest of kin should be preferred and in the presence of the nearest, the farthest should not be given a share.

The word, ‘al-aqrabun’ establishes that the way men are sharers in inheritance, so are women and children, who cannot be deprived of this right, for kinship of children , parents or any other person, is the same in a boy and girl.

Another point about the style of the Qur’an is worth noticing here. Instead of mentioning the entitlement of women in a separate sentence, the Qur’an could have easily merged it with the entitlement of men in a single sentence, by saying, “For men and women both there is a share…”. But the Qur’an mentioned the entitlement of both genders in two separate independent sentences emphasizing the fact that the right of women in inheritance is quite independent and is as important as the right of men.

Furthermore, this very word, ‘al-aqrabun’ also tells us that the distribution of property left behind is not based on the criterion of need; it is rather based on the criterion of nearness in kinship. Therefore, it is not necessary that the one more needy among the relatives should be the one more deserving of a share in inheritance. On the contrary, the one nearest in kinship to the deceased will be the one more deserving of a share in the inheritance as compared to the one farther, who may be poorer and more needy.

Lesson 3: The Right of Inheritance is Operative in Everything Owned by the Deceased

The phrase “be it small or large” in this ayah corrects another custom practiced by some ignorant people where some things or properties were assigned to special inheritors. For example, a horse or some weapon like a sword could only be inherited by young males as a matter of right. Others were deprived of these. The instruction given in the Qur’an makes it very clear that in everything under the ownership of the deceased, be it big or small, there is a standing right of all inheritors. It is not permissible for any inheritor to keep anything special for himself before the total inheritance has been formally distributed according to rules.

Lesson 4: Fixed Shares in Inheritance Have Been Determined By Allah

The last phrase “a determined share” is to stress that different shares fixed for different inheritors in the Qur’an have been determined by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Nobody has any right to add or delete or change or transpose any of these by personal opinion or analogical deduction.

Lesson 5: Inheritance is a Compulsory Transfer of Onwership

This particular word, “mafrudan” (determined) throws light on yet another principle – the ownership which passes on to inheritors through the law of inheritance is automatic and compulsory. It does not require the acceptance or consent of the inheritor nor is it necessary that he be satisfied with it. The fact is that, even if he were to make a clear declaration that he will not take his share, still then, he is the owner of his share in the sight of the Shariah. But, if he does not want to keep his share, he may, after having become the owner, gift it to somebody or sell it or distribute it, in accordance with the rules of Shariah.

(Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani)

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