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Unpacking Islamic Inheritance: Part II

Divine wisdom

In our previous blog on Understanding Ownership, we determined that we are here as caretakers of the earth – inheriting this world from the previous generation, before we hand it on to the next. Ultimately, this life is a journey back to our Creator. We reminded ourselves that the Quran is the word of God, and a book of guidance. That Prophet Muhammad (s) is our example, and that we follow his Sunnah. Allah’s guidance in the Quran steers us away from over consumption of worldly things, and reassures us that we will be rewarded for our perseverance:

{O children of Adam, take your adornment [i.e. wear your clothing] at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.}

{Indeed with every hardship is ease.}

{And declare (O Muhammad) that [the Quran] is a guidance and healing for the believers.}

With this divine guidance in mind, we can now appreciate the importance of imaan and the acceptance of God’s word, whilst we discuss Islamic inheritance as a whole. In doing so, the subject matter will become clearer, just as we are promised by Allah: {And we have removed your veil so your vision is sharp.} 

Islamic rules of inheritance  

Inheritance in Islam has been prescribed for us. The rules on inheritance can largely be found in Surah Al-Nisa, which prescribes that the strongest bond for inheritance is children, with parents thereafter. From this we can derive that Islamic inheritance is grounded on both kinship and succession. In Islam, men and women have equivalent rights in terms of work, acquiring wealth, possession of property, and the concept of inheritance itself.

{From what is left by parents and those nearest related, there is a share for men and a share for women whether small or large—a fixed share.}

This verse makes it clear that women, like men, inherit and have a definite share in our faith. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the fact that these verses (regarding women’s rights to inheritance) were revealed to the Prophet (s) at a time and place where women’s rights were profoundly challenged. With this in mind, we move on to the specifics of inheritance for both men and women, as prescribed by the Quran.

{Allah charges you in regard with your children: a son’s share is equal to the share of two daughters; if the [children] are [only] daughters and two or more, their share is two thirds of the legacy, and if there is only one daughter, her share is half [of the legacy]… [all this is] after executing the will and settling the debts of the deceased. 

You do not know which of your parents and children benefit you the most. This is Allah’s injunction; surely Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.}

Here we can see that Islam has clearly differentiated between the portions of inheritance for men and women. This is due to the normative obligations that men bear. For instance, unlike some other cultures, in Islam men must bestow a mahr (dowry) upon their wives. All the livelihood expenses of having a wife and children should be paid for by men, even if the wife is wealthier than them (within one’s means, of course). If a woman has wealth – whether gained through her own work, her mahr, inheritance, or any other legitimate means – this wealth is hers alone, and she can do with it as she wishes. 

In view of the Quranic stipulations, let’s consider a straightforward example to illustrate distribution. Imagine a father leaving a sum of money worth £75,000, for both his son and his daughter. The distribution of this wealth according to Islamic inheritance would be £50,000 for the son and £25,000 for the daughter. At first glance, this might not appear fair. Let’s look at the obligations involved here more closely.

Rights and responsibilities

If called upon, the son has a duty of care to his mother, his wife, his children, and even his sister who would have already received the £25,000 inheritance herself. If she were to call upon her brother for help (for instance to pay her rent, or to assist with food supplies), he must oblige. Conversely, her own £25,000 is ring fenced, and she may do as she wishes with that money. The daughter will also inherit from her husband her parents and her brothers.

Of course this example is for illustration purposes only, and hopefully both siblings would be fair and just with one another. Because of course, (as recorded in Sahih Bukhari), Whoever does not show mercy to the people, Allah will not show mercy to him.” The key point here though, is that the son is required to meet several obligations. It is for that reason that his portion differs; so that he can equitably care for those under his stewardship.

UK rules of inheritance 

In the UK, if you have not written a will, your inheritance defaults to the laws of intestacy. The government has set rules on how wealth will be distributed in those circumstances. The rules on inheritance for the immediate family of a person who has died ‘intestate’ (without a will), can be found online at the Citizens Advice Bureau

Essentially, distribution of property often depends on the way that the property is owned. For instance, for tenants in common where both spouses own the house, and one of the spouses passes away, the other will inherit the entire share. [related FAQs] Joint tenancy on the other hand is where both parties own 50% of the property. In the event of one spouse passing there, the other does not get the deceased’s share automatically. And, if a will is not in place, the government is entitled to take an enormous 40 % chunk of the estate under inheritance tax laws. 

If you need to efficiently plan your estate to ensure that the right people inherit from you, do contact one of our team members at Waseeya at [email protected] and we will get you on a free consultation with a legal expert.

So, who should have the last call?

As we have seen, for both Islamic inheritance and UK intestacy laws there are a set of rules that apply. Some would argue that one or the other is unfair. It ultimately comes down to what you believe in, and who you think should have the last call.

As Muslims, we believe that Allah is our Creator and best Guide, so He alone has the final say in our wordly dealings. Our laws revolve around His own stipulations and pleasing Him, for a higher reward. A non-Muslim, or even a secularist, might however prefer the UK government’s guidance. Our opinions are shaped by our influences and the environment that we are brought up in, so of course they will differ.

What is interesting though, is that both ideologies have an element of free will. In the UK, the government stipulates you can write a will and distribute your wealth as you wish. They give you the freedom to choose how to distribute your wealth, by allowing you to write that will. But, – and this is an expensive but – they will take 20 to 40% of your hard-earned wealth in the process. 

On the other hand, the Islamic perspective states that whilst you are alive, Allah has given you free will. We are encouraged to use that free will in acts of hiba (gifting), selling our possessions, giving to charity, and spending on family and friends. So, surely financial planning that happens in your lifetime is preferable? As is the Sunnah, give equally to those you love whilst you are here to see them enjoy it. Let us not forget that the best parting gift is loving memories, These you can leave behind and, more importantly, take the benefit of that with you. 

“When a man dies his actions come to an end except for three: an ongoing charity; knowledge that benefits others or pious offspring who pray for him”

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According to the Islamic perspective, at the time of one’s passing, the stewardship and the opportunity to manage your own succession expires with you. What is interesting is that (similar to UK inheritance laws), if you have not created a will, laws of intestacy also apply. Now we’ve thoroughly unpacked inheritance, we must remember that the best reminder of all in this is:

{All that is in the heavens and the earth belongs to Allah.}

<<Try Waseeya’s Islamic inheritance calculator, each section is referenced with supporting ayats and hadiths. <<And, our Vault helps you to organise your important documents and share cherished memories. Download the App to organise, plan and secure your family affairs. >>

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