An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Dividing Inheritance According to the Portions Ordained By Allah

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 7 – 8

Since the beginning of Surah an-Nisa, we notice the theme of universal human rights, particularly those relating to family life. We read about woman’s right to receive her dower directly and graciously, instead of handing it over to her guardian and pressuring her to forgive it completely. We also read how the property of the orphans is to be protected until they reach the age of maturity and are fiscally responsible. 

The following ayaat refute another custom of the pre-Islamic age of ignorance in which women were deprived of their right to inherit.

Ayah 7 declares their entitlement to their share as fixed by Islamic law and strictly forbids any attempt to decrease their due right. Ayah 8 addresses another important issue often witnessed at the passing of someone. It is not uncommon that when inheritance is being distributed among the legal heirs, some people from the poor or the orphans are also present who expect to receive something as a gift. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala teaches us the etiquette of dealing with this special scenario.  

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,  

Ayah 7 – The Necessity of Surrendering the Inheritance According to the Portions Ordained by Allah

Sa’eed ibn Jubayr and Qatadah said, “The idolaters used to give adult men a share of inheritance and deprive women and children of it. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed,

لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنْهُ أَوْ كَثُرَ ۚ نَصِيبًا مَّفْرُوضًا –

‘For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share.’

Therefore, everyone is equal in Allah’s decision to inherit, even though their shares vary according to the degree of their relationship to the deceased whether being a relative, spouse, etc.”

The Right to Inherit from Parents and Other Nearest of Kin

Before Islam, orphans and women, the vulnerable group of any society, were subjected to all kinds of injustices. None of their rights were recognized.

The pre-Islamic Arabs lived by the principle that the deserving of inheritance was the one who rides a horse, fights against enemies and collects battle spoils. By this principle, women and the orphans were left out of the inheritance. Only a young, adult boy could become the inheritor. The breakthrough came when Islam championed their cause, legalized their right and instituted safeguards to see that these stay secure against infringements.

There was an incident during the blessed time of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam when a companion, ‘Aws ibn Thabit radhiAllahu ‘anhu passed away. ‘Aws left behind two daughters, a minor boy and his wife as the inheritors. However, as was the custom of the Arabs at that time, two of ‘Aws’s cousins came and seized all of his property leaving nothing for the widow or the deceased’s children. According to the customary practice, women were to be left out of the inheritance. As for the boy, he had not reached the age of puberty, hence he could not inherit anything either.

In spite of the injustice committed by the paternal cousins, the widow of ‘Aws radhiAllahu ‘anhu expected them to marry the two orphaned daughters so that she may be relieved of their responsibility. But when they refused the proposal, the widow went to Rasoolullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and narrated to him her ordeal.

Since by that time, the ayaat of inheritance had not yet been revealed, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam withheld his response. His heart was at peace; he was confident that this unjust practice will be removed by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Thereupon, the following ayah was revealed,

لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنْهُ أَوْ كَثُرَ ۚ نَصِيبًا مَّفْرُوضًا –

‘For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share.’

Then came the second ayah of inheritance, which contains the details of shares. So the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam followed the commands of the Qur’an, gave the wife the one-eighth of the total inheritance and distributed the rest of the property between the son and the two daughters such that half of it went to the boy and the remaining half was shared equally by the sisters. The cousins, however, were excluded since they were not the nearest of the kin.

The Rule of Inheritance

This ayah lays down the rule relating to the law of inheritance, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ

“…the parents and close relatives…”

The two words, al-walidaan [الْوَالِدَانِ] meaning the parents and al-aqraboon [الْأَقْرَبُونَ] meaning 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 father and mother. This was described through al-walidaan.

The second one is the general kinship, which is the sense of the word, al-aqraboon which covers all kinds of family relationships.   

The word al-aqraboon covers all, but parents were set apart especially because of their importance. 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 human population of the world.

Moreover, the word al-aqraboon establishes that the way men are sharers in inheritance, so are women and children, who too cannot be deprived of this right, for kinship of children, parents or any others, is the same in a boy and girl as far as being related is concerned. When the right to inherit depends on being related, there is no sense in depriving a minor or a girl.

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

The phrase, “…be it little or much…” [مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنْهُ أَوْ كَثُرَ] 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 instructions given by the Qur’an makes it 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.

Fixed Shares in Inheritance have been Determined by Allah

The last phrase, “…an obligatory share…” [نَصِيبًا مَّفْرُوضًا] 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.

Inheritance is a Compulsory Transfer of Ownership

This particular word, “…obligatory…” [مَّفْرُوضًا]  throws light on another principle that is 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. Even if the inheritor declared that he would not take his share, still he is the lawful owner of the share in the sight of Islamic law. However, if he does not want to keep his share, he may, after becoming the owner, gift it to somebody, sell it or distribute it, in accordance with the rules of Shari’ah.  

Ayah 8 – A Sign of Goodwill to Other Relatives

It is likely that there are some relatives of the deceased who cannot receive a share from his inheritance according to the rules of Shari’ah. At the same time, it is obvious that everyone does not know the details of the system of share distribution.

Generally, every relative would like to have some share out of the inheritance. Therefore, relatives who have been excluded under the provisions of the Islamic law of inheritance may feel disappointed at the time of the distribution of inheritance, especially so when they are physically present at that time, and more so when there are some orphans and poor and needy among them. The Qur’an handles this delicate issue beautifully.

On the one hand, there is the just rule that the nearer in kinship shall exclude the farther. On the other hand, there is that wonderful concern for the disappointment of “the excluded farther.” Therefore, an entire ayah has been devoted to this issue and how it should be handled.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

وَإِذَا حَضَرَ الْقِسْمَةَ أُولُو الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينُ فَارْزُقُوهُم مِّنْهُ وَقُولُوا لَهُمْ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا –

“And when [other] relatives and orphans and the needy are present at the [time of] division, then provide for them [something] out of the estate and speak to them words of appropriate kindness.” 

It means that distant relatives, orphans and the needy who are ineligible for inheritance but show up at the time of its distribution, then it is the moral obligation of those who receive a share that they voluntarily give them some of it. This would become an act of sadaqah [voluntary charity] for them.

At a time like this, when wealth and property are coming to them, without their having made any effort is a mercy from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala – the Most Kind, Most Compassionate. Therefore, their own hearts should be motivated to give whatever they can, graciously, in the way of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.  

In another ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala teaches us this etiquette,

كُلُوا مِن ثَمَرِهِ إِذَا أَثْمَرَ وَآتُوا حَقَّهُ يَوْمَ حَصَادِهِ ۖ وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ

“Eat of [each of] its fruit when it yields and give its due [zakah] on the day of its harvest. And be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess.” [al-Anaam 6:141]

[Tafseer Surah al-Anaam 141]

Ayah 8 ends with the command, “…speak to them words of kindness…” [قُولُوا لَهُمْ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا] it is a reminder for us that if those not eligible for inheritance who show up at the time of distribution of inheritance or express their dissatisfaction over the sadaqah or gift that they receive then the giver or the legal heir should speak words of kindness. They should be explained the rules of Shari’ah that they don’t have a share in the inheritance as stipulated by the Islamic law and that which has been given to them is a gift.

[Speech Etiquette]

One should make sure that the gift given to them does not come out of the total property inherited. It is important that the donation should be made by adult inheritors from their respective shares. Such gifts from the shares of the minor and the absent are not allowed in Shari’ah.

Lessons:
  • We learn that the shares are determined by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. No one has the authority to decide who will get what or how much. If someone tries to divide the inheritance based on their opinion or will, then this will come under “changing the law of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala,” which is an act of transgression and a sin.

 

  • We learn that inheritance should be divided after a person has passed away and NOT during his lifetime. Here, it is also important to remember that once a person has passed away, the distribution of shares should not be delayed as this is a command from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

 

  • We learn that everything belonging to the person will be divided whether it is big or small. No one has the right to claim ownership over something belonging to the deceased no matter how much they like it or feel an attachment to it. For example, the daughters cannot claim their right over deceased mother’s clothes, jewelry or kitchen items depriving the brothers’ their share because they fear their mother’s belongings will go to the sisters-in-law. Likewise, the brothers cannot claim their exclusive right over deceased father’s business or belongings including his vehicles. The sisters too have a share in father’s business and other belongings. This is the rule of Islamic law.

 

  • We learn a beautiful etiquette of dealing with those who are ineligible for inheritance. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala teaches us to be gracious even at a sad time such as death. Usually, it has been witnessed that distribution of inheritance can turn into a tensed situation because every heir wants the best and the most share. However, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commands us to be generous and “gift” a part of our share to those who are not eligible for inheritance but are present at the time of distribution. This act of kindness will be written as voluntary charity or sadaqah for the person. SubhanAllah! This is Islam and the teachings of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. We are commanded to be kind and generous to those who are not the nearest to us, then what about the treatment with one’s blood or nearest kin? Some people feel no shame in depriving their own from the right. The deceased widow keeps waiting for her share while the siblings enjoy it. The sisters are deprived of their share because they are “women” while the brothers enjoy it. What kind of injustice is this? From where are we seeking our guidance? What laws are we practicing?

 

  • We learn that distant kindred, orphans and the needy assembled at the time of the distribution of inheritance should be no cause of irritation. One should be grateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that He bestowed him wealth without working for it. This act of kindness will also result in compensating the sense of deprivation faced by the poor and needy. It also includes and covers the grandson of the deceased who is excluded from the inheritance.

 

Our Deen teaches us decency and excellent character. However, because of our own lack of knowledge of the Deen and only performing rituals as a custom, we have lost our ways. We ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to guide us to the best of manners and open up our hearts for the correct understanding of His Deen and make it easy for us to conduct our matters according to its teachings, ameen.

DOWNLOAD PDF:  Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 7 – 8

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”
[Al-Baqarah 2: 127]

One thought on “Dividing Inheritance According to the Portions Ordained By Allah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.