An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Gaining Knowledge of the Law of Inheritance is Encouraged

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

Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayah 11

People entitled to inheritance were briefly mentioned in ayah 7, we will be reading more details of that towards the end of this Surah.

Remaining shares have been identified in a hadeeth. Muslim jurists have collected and codified all details of the rules of inheritance from the Qur’an and hadeeth, giving it the status of a permanent science which, in Islamic terminology is known as Illum-ul-Fara’id or the Science of the Laws of Inheritance. Ibn ‘Uyaynah said, “Knowledge of Al-Fara’id was called half of the knowledge because it affects all people.”

The ayah under study describes shares for children and parents along with some related aspects of inheritance.


Background of Revelation

Explaining this ayah, Imam Bukhari recorded that Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah radhiAllahu ‘anhu said, “Allah’s Messenger came visiting me on foot with Abu Bakr at Banu Salamah’s (dwellings), and the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam found me unconscious. He asked for some water, performed ablution with it, then poured it on me, and I regained consciousness. I said, ‘What do you command me to do with my money, O Allah’s Messenger?’ this ayah was later revealed,

يُوصِيكُمُ اللَّهُ فِي أَوْلَادِكُمْ ۖ لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الْأُنثَيَيْنِ ۚ

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the make, what is equal to the share of two females.”

Imam Ahmad records from Jabir radhiAllahu ‘anhu, “The wife of Sa’ad bin Ar-Rabi’ came to Allah’s Messenger and said to him, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! These are the two daughters of Sa’ad bin Ar-Rabi’, who was killed as a martyr at Uhud. Their uncle took their money and did not leave anything for them. They will not be married unless they have money.’ The Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, ‘Allah will decide on this matter.’ The ayah about the inheritance was later revealed and the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sent word to their uncle commanding him,

أَعْطِ ابْنَتَيْ سَعْدٍ الثُّلُثَيْنِ، وَأُمَّهُمَا الثُّمُنَ، وَمَا بقِيَ فَهُوَ لَك

‘Give two-thirds (of Sa’ad’s money) to Sa’ad’s two daughters and one eighth for their mother, and whatever is left is yours.’”

Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah also collected this hadeeth.

Ibn Katheer writes that the first hadeeth from Jabir was about the case of the last ayah in the Surah (4:176), rather than ayah 11, for at the time this incident occurred, Jabir had sisters and did not have daughters, parents or offspring to inherit from him. Yet, we mentioned the hadeeth here just as Imam Bukhari did.

The Share of Children

As we studied in the previous ayaat, the distribution of inheritance shall on the principle of 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. Therefore, the Qur’an talks about their shares first, beginning with the children.

Male Gets Two Times the Share of Females for Inheritance

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

يُوصِيكُمُ اللَّهُ فِي أَوْلَادِكُمْ ۖ لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الْأُنثَيَيْنِ ۚ

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.”

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commands the parents to observe justice among their children. In the days of ignorance [Jahiliyah], people used to give the males, but deprive the females of their due share in the inheritance. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commands us that both males and females take a share in the inheritance, although the portion of the males is twice as much as that of the females.

There is no distinction because men need money to spend on their dependents, commercial transactions, work and fulfilling their obligations. Consequently, men get twice the portion of the inheritance that females get. Allah’s statement, “Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females,” testifies to the fact that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is more merciful to children than their own parents are with them, since He commands the parents to be just and fair with their own children.

Imam Bukhari recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas said, “The custom (in old days) was that the property of the deceased would be inherited by his offspring; as for the parents (of the deceased), they would inherit by the will of the deceased. Then Allah canceled whatever He willed from that custom and ordained that the male get twice the amount inherited by the female and for each parent a sixth (of the whole legacy), for the wife an eighth or a fourth, and for the husband a half or a fourth.”

The Importance of Giving Shares to Girls

The Qur’an demonstrates visible concern that the girls be given a share when it mentions the share of girls as a basis for determining the share of boys. It was not said that “the share of the girl is half of what the male receives,” rather Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said, “for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.” Hence, the female’s share was made the basis for determining the share for a male. SubhanAllah! This is the beauty of the Qur’an and an example of saying good words.

Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani writes in his Tafseer, Ma’arif-ul-Qur’an, those who do not give shares to sisters on the pretext that they have forgone their right 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 law.

Their claim remains due against brother 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.

The Share of the Females When They Are the Only Eligible Heirs

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

فَإِن كُنَّ نِسَاءً فَوْقَ اثْنَتَيْنِ فَلَهُنَّ ثُلُثَا مَا تَرَكَ ۖ

“But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one’s estate.”

Ibn Katheer writes that some people said the ayah only means two daughters, and that “more” is redundant, which is not true. Nothing in the Qur’an is useless or redundant. Had the ayah been talking about only two women, it would have said, “The share of both of them is two-thirds.” As for the daughters, two or more, the ruling that they get two-thirds was derived from this ayah stating that the two sisters get two-thirds. We also mentioned the Hadith in which the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam commanded that two-thirds be the share of the two daughters of Sa’ad bin Ar-Rabi’. So this is proven in the Book and the Sunnah.

وَإِن كَانَتْ وَاحِدَةً فَلَهَا النِّصْفُ ۚ

“And if there is only one, for her is half.”

If there are two daughters, then there are texts to prove they share a half. Therefore, two-thirds is the share of the two daughters or sisters, and Allah knows best.

Share of the Parents in the Inheritance

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,

وَلِأَبَوَيْهِ لِكُلِّ وَاحِدٍ مِّنْهُمَا السُّدُسُ مِمَّا تَرَكَ إِن كَانَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ ۚ فَإِن لَّمْ يَكُن لَّهُ وَلَدٌ وَوَرِثَهُ أَبَوَاهُ فَلِأُمِّهِ الثُّلُثُ ۚ فَإِن كَانَ لَهُ إِخْوَةٌ فَلِأُمِّهِ السُّدُسُ ۚ

“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…”

There are several forms of the share that the parents get in the inheritance.

  1. If the deceased left behind children, the parents get a sixth each. When the deceased had only one daughter, she gets half of the inheritance and the parents each one-sixth, and another sixth is given to the father.

  2. When the parents are the only inheritors, the mother gets one-third while the father gets the remaining two-thirds. In this case, the father’s share will be twice the mother’s share. If the deceased had a surviving spouse, the spouse gets half, in the case of a husband, or a fourth in the case of a surviving wife. In both cases, the mother of the deceased gets one-third of the remaining inheritance. This is because the remaining portion of the inheritance is treated just as the entire legacy in regard to the parents’ share.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given the mother one-half of what the father gets. Therefore, the mother gets a third of the remaining inheritance while the father gets two-thirds.

  1. If the deceased left behind surviving brothers and sisters, whether half-brothers, half-sisters or from the same father and mother, their presence does not cause a reduction in the father’s share. Yet, their presence reduces the share of the mother to one-sixth instead of one-third, and the father gets the rest when there are no other heirs. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Qatadah commented on the ayah, “And if he had brothers [or sisters], for his mother is a sixth…” that their presence will reduce the share of the mother, but they will not inherit. If there is only one surviving brother, the mother’s share will remain one-third, but her share will be reduced if there is more than one surviving brother. The people of knowledge attribute this reduction in the mother’s share from one-third (to one-sixth) to the fact that the father is the one who helps the brothers (and sisters) of the deceased get married, spending from his own money for this purpose. The mother does not spend from her money for this purpose. This is a sound opinion.
Debts are to be Paid Off First, then the Will, then the Fixed Inheritance

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,

مِن بَعْدِ وَصِيَّةٍ يُوصِي بِهَا أَوْ دَيْنٍ ۗ

“…after any bequest he [may have] made or debt.”

The scholars agree that paying debts comes before fulfilling the will, and this is apparent to those who read the ayah carefully.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says next, “Your parents or your children – you know not which of them are nearest to you in benefit.” It means We have appointed a share to the parents and children, contrary to the practice of Jahiliyyah and the early Islamic era, when the inheritance would go to the children, and parents get a share only if they were named in the will, as Ibn ‘Abbas stated. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala abrogated this practice and appointed a fixed share for the children and for the parents. One may derive benefit in this life or for the Hereafter from his parents, the likes of which he could not get from his children. The opposite of this could also be true.

Since benefit could come from one or the other of these relatives, therefore, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala appointed a fixed share of inheritance for each.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala concludes the ayah by saying,

فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللَّهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

“[These shares are] an obligation [imposed] by Allah. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.”

These appointed shares of inheritance, which give some inheritors a bigger share than others is a commandment from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that He has decided and ordained. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is Al-Aleem, the Most Knowing, and Al-Hakeem, the Most Wise, He places everything in its rightful place and gives each his rightful share.

If the distribution of inheritance was left to us, we would have been unjust in our distribution. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala decided “nearness in kinship” to be the criterion in distribution and not who is our most beloved or who is going to provide us the most benefit.

The shares of inheritance determined by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala are settled commands from Him. Nobody has any right to enforce opinion or to increase or decrease its stipulations. These should be accepted wholeheartedly, as this command is from the Most Knowing and the Most Wise. He knows what’s best for us.  

 Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayah 11

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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