An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Inheritance: Preliminary Rights on the Property of the Deceased

“Allah directs you concerning your children: for a male there is a share equal to that of two females. But, if they be (only) women, more than two, then they get two-third of what one left behind. And if she be one, she gets one-half. And for his parents, for each of them, there is one-sixth of what he left in case he was a child. But, if he has no child and his parents have inherited him, then, his mother gets one-third. And if he has some brothers (or sisters), his mother gets one-sixth, all after (settling) the will he might have made, or debt. Your fathers and yours sons – you do not know who, out of them is closer to you in being beneficial. All this is determined by Allah. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”

According to the principles of Islamic law, the expenses incurred on the shrouding and burial of a Muslim deceased should be the first thing to be paid out of the property left behind by him. This should be done in accordance with Shariah avoiding the extremes of extravagance or stringiness. After that, his debts should be paid. If the amount of his debts is just equal to the property left by him, or even more than that, then, there will be no distribution of inheritance and no application of any will. And in case there remains some property after paying debts, or if there are no debts, then, subject to any will made by him which should not be a will of sin, then, this will should be carried out to the extent of one-third of his remaining property. If someone makes a will for his entire property, it will not take effect. Such will shall be considered valid for only one-third of his property. The fact is that making a will for more than one-third of the property is not appropriate and if it is done with the intention of excluding inheritors, it becomes a sin.

Once the debts are paid and the will has been applied within one-third, the rest of the property should be distributed among the legal heirs, details of which are available in books of Faraid, the Muslim law of inheritance. Incidentally, if the deceased has made no will then, following the payment of debts, the whole of the remaining property shall be distributed as inheritance.

The Share of Children

As it has appeared previously, the distribution of inheritance shall be on the principle of al-aqrab fa’al-aqrab (the nearest, then, the nearest). Since the children of the deceased and his parents are the nearest, therefore, they inherit under all conditions. These relations are the nearest and most direct of all relationships that human beings have, others being indirect. So, the Qur’an takes up their shares first and beginning from the share of children, it says,

يُوصِيكُمُ اللَّهُ فِى أَوْلَـدِكُمْ لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الاٍّنْثَيَيْنِ

“Allah directs you concerning your children, for a male there is a share equal to that of two females.”

This is a universal rule which entitles boys and girls both as recipients of inheritance, determines the shares of each and at the same time, unfolds the operative rule in the event the deceased leaves behind both male and female children when their shares in the property will be distributed in a way that each boy gets twice that of a girl. For instance, if someone leaves behind one boy and two girls, the property will be split in four portions or shares out of which 2/4 will be given to the boy and 1/4 to each girl.

The Importance of Giving Shares to Girls

The Qur’an demonstrates visible concern to ensure that girls are given their share when it mentions the share of girls as a basis for determining the share of boys. In other words, instead of saying, ‘for two females there is a share equal to that of one male’ – it has elected to say, لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الاٍّنْثَيَيْنِ “for a male there is a share equal to that of two females”. Those who do not give shares to sisters on the pretext that they have foregone their rights are in error because their sisters usually do not forgo their rights willingly. Done reluctantly with the knowledge that they are not going to get anything anyway, they think, why create bad blood between brothers and sisters? Such an act of forgiving is not valid under Islamic view. Their claim remains due against brothers – and those who usurp inheritance are terrible sinners. In case minor girls hold shares in such inheritance, not giving them their shares is a sin committed twice by usurping the share of a legal heir and by devouring the property of an orphan.

As part of further explanation later, the share of girls has been described by saying,  فَإِن كُنَّ نِسَآءً فَوْقَ اثْنَتَيْنِ فَلَهُنَّ ثُلُثَا مَا تَرَكَ .It means that, if there is no male child and there are only girls and they are more than one, then, they shall get two-third of the inherited property in which all girls will be equal sharers. The remaining will go to other rightful heirs of the inheritance, such as the parents of the deceased, wife or husband. Two girls and more than two will all share in the two-third.

The share of more than two girls appears in the Qur’anic ayah quite clearly فَوْقَ اثْنَتَيْنِ more than two. However, if there are two girls only, they are governed by the same rule which governs more than two. The proof appears in Hadith:

Jabir ibn Abdullah has reported the following event, “Once we went out with the Messenger of Allah sallallahu aalyhi wa sallam until we passed by an Ansari woman in the neighborhood of Aswaf. The women came along with her two girls and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, these two girls are daughters of Thabit ibn Qays (my husband) who fell a martyr at the battle of Uhud while with you. The uncle of these girls has taken possession of whatever they had of their entire inheritance and has left nothing for them. What do you say about it, O Messenger of Allah? by Allah, these girls can never hope to be taken in marriage by anyone unless they have some assets.’ Then, the Prophet said, ‘Allah will decide in this matter’.

Jabir radhiAllahu anha says, يُوصِيكُمُ اللَّهُ فِى أَوْلَـدِكُمْ  When this ayah of Surah an-Nisa was revealed, the Prophet said, “Call that woman and the man she mentioned (the brother of her deceased husband who had taken possession of his entire property)”. He said to the uncle of the girls, “Give the girls two – thirds of the entire property, their mother, one-eighth and what remains is for you.” [Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Faraid & Tirmidhi, Abwab al-Faraid]

In the case mentioned in the hadith, the Prophet gave out two-third to two girls as well, following the very rule of more than two which appears in the verse of the Qur’an under reference.

After that it was said, وَإِن كَانَتْ وَحِدَةً فَلَهَا النِّصْفُ . It means, if the deceased left behind one girl only and no other children, then she will get one-half of what her father or mother have left behind. The rest will go to other inheritors.

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