An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Fear Allah in Distributing Inheritance

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

Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 9 – 10

In the previous two ayaat, we learned who has the right to inheritance and some gracious manners to be observed at the time of distribution of inheritance. In the following ayaat, we learn some more rights pertaining to the orphans.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,  

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reminds us that the inheritance of the deceased must reach his children in full and with fairness. The executors of the will and the guardians of the orphans must refrain from any action that may adversely affect the share of the children. 

‘Ali ibn Abi Talhah reported that Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that this part of the ayah refers to a man who is near death and he dictates a will and testament that harms some of the rightful inheritors.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commands whoever hears such will to fear Him and direct the dying man to do what is right and to be fear. One should be as eager to protect the inheritors of the dying man as he would be with his own.

The Two Saheehs records that when the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam visited Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas radhiAllahu ‘anhu during an illness he suffered from, Sa’ad said to the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “O Messenger of Allah! I am wealthy and have no inheritors except a daughter. Should I give two-thirds of my property in charity?” The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam replied, “No.” Sa’ad asked, “Half?” He said, “No.” Sa’ad said, “One-third?” Rasoolullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

الثُّلُثُ، وَالثُّلُثُ كَثِير

“One-third, and even one-third is too much.” The Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam then said,

إِنَّكَ أَنْ تَذَرَ وَرَثَتَكَ أَغْنِيَاءَ خَيْرٌ مِنْ أَنْ تَذَرَهُمْ عَالَةً يَتَكَفَّفُونَ النَّاس

“You’d better leave your inheritors wealthy rather than leaving them poor, begging from others.”

The guardians of the orphaned children should protect their property and hand it over to them in full when the orphans become mature. The guardians should keep the best interest of the orphans in their mind and treat their property as a trust. They should look after the orphans and their property as they would like their own children to be looked after if they were deceased. Keeping this important principle in mind, “treat others as you wish to be treated,” protects one from committing injustice or causing harm to others.

[Love for Your Brother What You Love for Yourself]

Ayah 10 – A Stern Warning Against Those Who Use Up the Orphan’s Wealth

The ayah carries a severe warning for those who pilfer or dispose off the property of orphans unlawfully. It declares, “Indeed, those who devour the property of orphans unjustly are only consuming into their bellies fire. And they will be burned in a Blaze.”  

It means that those who unjustly consume the wealth of orphans are only filling their bellies with fire which will kindle in their stomach on the Day of Resurrection.

Notice the word, ya kuloona [يَأْكُلُونَ] and the warning to those who “eat up” the property of the orphans. It means that using the property of the orphans in whatever manner it may be – eating, drinking, consuming, utilizing – is unlawful and a sure cause of Divine wrath. The punishment of eating up what belongs to somebody else unjustly and without any right covers all sorts of uses.  

Here it is important to remember that the donations made to welfare institutes and orphanages must be spent on the orphans not spending them on the needs of the orphans comes under “eating up their property unjustly.”

It is recorded in the Two Saheehs that Abu Huraira radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

اجْتَنِبُوا السَّبْعَ الْمُوبِقَات

“Avoid the seven great destructive sins.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Messenger! What are they?” He said,

الشِّرْكُ بِاللهِ، وَالسِّحْرُ، وَقَتْلُ النَّفْسِ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ، وَأَكْلُ الرِّبَا، وَأَكْلُ مَالِ الْيَتِيمِ، وَالتَّوَلِّي يَوْمَ الزَّحْفِ، وَقَذْفُ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ الْغَافِلَات

“To join others in worship along with Allah, magic, to kill the life which Allah has forbidden except for a just cause, to consume interest, to consume an orphan’s property, to turn your back to the enemy and flee from the battlefield at the time of fighting, and to accuse chaste women who never even think of anything harmful to their chastity being good believers.”

A review of the ayaat studied so far shows that the first section of Surah an-Nisa contains commands relating to orphans. They bid protection of the property of the orphans, avoidance of encroaching on their property as one’s own and the giving of their due share from the property they have received an inheritance; and they forbid the hasty consumption of the property of the orphans for fear of their growing mature and assuming its control, or taking of orphaned girls in marriage and lowering their dower, or to usurp their property.

Some Rulings on the Issue of Inheritance

1.Inheritance includes everything owned by the deceased, even the clothes on the dead body. People tend to give these out in charity without realizing that they belong to what has been left by the deceased. There are places where copper utensils are given out to the poor before the entire property has been formally distributed, although minors and absentees from among the inheritors have rights in all such things.

The proper method is to first distribute the property in accordance with whatever shares are to be received by children, wife, parents, sisters and anyone else as stipulated by the Islamic law of inheritance.

Once the ownership passes to inheritors, it is up to them who can, if they so desire willingly, give away part of it in charity on behalf of the deceased. If the inheritors wish to do that jointly it should be ensured that they are all adults, for the permission of a minor is invalid. As far as absentee inheritors are concerned, nothing can be taken from their shares without their permission.

2. The sheet spread over the Janazah while carrying the deceased to the graveyard is not part of the required shroud. Therefore, it is not permissible to buy it from proceeds of the property left by the deceased. However, if someone was to cover the cost on his own that would be permissible.

3. In some areas, new utensils are procured for bathing the deceased, which are broken after use. First of all, there is no need to buy new ones for a bath can be given using utensils already in the house; and if, for any reason, they have to be purchased then, breaking them is not permissible.

It not only amounts to wasting of property but also means causing loss to orphans and absent inheritors whose due rights are attached to the total property.

4. Any expenses before the distribution of inheritance such as entertainment of guests or charity and alms, are totally impermissible.

Giving charity and alms in this merit brings no merit or reward for the deceased. In fact, such giving under the notion that it will bring good returns for the departed soul is a far greater sin. The reason is simple. After the death of a person, all his property belongs to the inheritors in proportion to their respective rights in it. There can be orphans among them as well. Giving away things in charity from the combined property which includes the share of the orphan is like stealing from somebody’s property and giving it in charity on behalf of the deceased. This is not correct.

First distribute the property, then let the inheritors give in charity from their shares for the good of the deceased, if they so desire.

It is better not to go for charity and alms from the combined inheritance even before the actual distribution, even though it be with the permission of inheritors. This is because the permission of whoever is an orphan among the inheritors is not valid. As for the adults, it is not necessary that their permission comes out of their willing heart. It is quite possible that they are left with no option but to give their permission lest they are disgraced before others. In other words, they may say yes with a heavy heart just to ward off the sense of shame.

Preliminary Rights on the Property of the Deceased

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 Shari’ah avoiding the extremes of extravagance or stinginess. Then his debts should be paid.

If the amount of his debts equals 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 off debts or if there are no debts, then subject to any will made by him, which should not be a will of sin (such as depriving inheritors or a particular inheritor of his/her due share), 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. 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 Fara’id, the Muslim law of inheritance. If the deceased has made no will, then following the payment of debts, the whole of the remaining property shall be distributed as an inheritance.

DOWNLOAD PDF: Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 9 – 10

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]

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