Inheritance in Islam
Dr. Ragaa Hathout and Abdelhameed Youness, March 23, 2008

In Islam, the inheritance in general is based on the relationship of the people who inherit to the person who died. Hence it is a common misconception that women are less than men because they inherit a lower share of legacy.

A woman will receive either lower, or equal or higher share of inheritance than a man depending on her relationship to the deceased. If a man is not a close relative to the deceased, he will inherit a lower share than a woman who is closely related to the deceased.

The Quran contains only three verses in the Chapter An-Nisa (Women) (4:11, 4:12 and 4:176), which gives specific details of inheritance shares. Using the information in these verses together with the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) and his companions, the Muslims jurists developed the laws of inheritance that includes a lot of other areas that are not mentioned in the Quran. It is worth mentioning here that when the laws of inheritance evolved, the jurists were more inclined towards thinking about men only. The thinking about woman was not the modus operandi at that time.


Background

During the time of the Prophet, a companion by the name Sa’ad ibn Al –Rabiah fought alongside Prophet in the battle of Uhud and attained martyrdom. According to the tradition that prevailed at that time, his brother took all the estate. Sa’ad had left behind two daughters and a wife. When the wife went to the Prophet and explained to him about the situation that her daughters will not get married due to the lack of money, the Prophet asked her to wait until the verses of inheritance were revealed.

Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children's (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half. For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased Left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases ('s) after the payment of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah. and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. (Quran 4:11) This verse mentions about the law of inheritance in regard to the family.

In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, ye get a fourth; after payment of legacies and debts. In what ye leave, their share is a fourth, if ye leave no child; but if ye leave a child, they get an eighth; after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; after payment of legacies and debts; so that no loss is caused (to any one). Thus is it ordained by Allah. and Allah is All-knowing, Most Forbearing. (Quran 4:12) This verse discusses about inheritance of husband and wife; and also mentions about the inheritance of the person who died leaving behind no parents and no children, “al kalala”. In one of the readings of Sa'ad Ibn Waqas, he cites that this verse explains the siblings related to the “mother” based on the word, “minhum” unlike the most common translation, “man or woman.”

They ask thee for a legal decision. Say: Allah directs (thus) about those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs. If it is a man that dies, leaving a sister but no child, she shall have half the inheritance: If (such a deceased was) a woman, who left no child, Her brother takes her inheritance: If there are two sisters, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance (between them): if there are brothers and sisters, (they share), the male having twice the share of the female. Thus doth Allah make clear to you (His law), lest ye err. And Allah hath knowledge of all things. (Quran 4:176) This verse talks about inheritance of the person who leaves no parents and no children, “al kalala,” and siblings are related to the father.

After the verses were revealed, the Prophet called the uncle and told him to give the two daughters the two-third of the share and the wife one-eighth and the uncle who originally took the whole legacy ended up having the remainder (5/24th) of share, which is definitely much less than the share that each daughter received.


Share of the Parents

Both the father and the mother take one-sixth equal share, when the person leaves behind two parents. There is no distinction here that father should receive double the share. Both receive one-sixth of inheritance.

If the person dies with no children, no brother and no sister; the mother receives one-third of the inheritance. The share of the father is not mentioned under these circumstances in the Quran.


Share of the Children

If a person leaves behind one daughter only, she will receive one-half of the inheritance. If there is no daughter, the grand daughter can fill-in.

If a person dies and has two or more daughters, then all the daughters will inherit two-third of the share.

In all other circumstances, the male will receive a portion equal to that of two females.


Share of the Spouses

The husband's share is one-half of the property of the deceased wife if she has no children, but in case of children it is one-fourth.

The wife is entitled to one-fourth if the husband dies childless; otherwise it is one-eighth.


Share of the Siblings

If a person dies and leaves behind no parents and children but one maternal brother or one maternal sister; each one receives one-sixth of the legacy equally.

If the person leaves behind no parents and children but two or more maternal brothers and maternal sisters (or combination); they all share one-third of the legacy equally.

If the person leaves behind no parents and children as heirs except one paternal sister, she receives one-half the inheritance.

If the person leaves behind no parents and children as heirs but one paternal brother; he receives the full inheritance.

If a person dies and leaves behind no parents & children but two or more paternal sisters; they all inherit two-third of the share equally.

If the person leaves behind no parents and children but two or more paternal brothers and paternal sisters (or combination); the male will receive a portion equal to that of two females.

The siblings are entitled to receive their share when spouse is present for the person who owns the inheritance.

Shares exceeding the bequest

If the ordained shares exceed the 100% of the bequest, a proportionate reduction would be necessary.


Remainder of the share

The remainder of the share goes to the closest male heir (aseb), son. If there is no son, the father receives all the remainder. If there is no father or son but brother; he receives all the remainder. Husband is not considered aseb.

In case there is a remainder in the bequest over the ordained shares and there is no closest male heir, then the remainder is to be distributed between heirs in proportion to their shares.


General rules of inheritance

The distribution in all cases should be made after the payment of the individual will (Wasiyya) and debts, if any.

Quran does not emphasize the maternal and paternal siblings but it is generally interpreted by the scholars.
Also, Quran makes no distinction between full brother, half-brother, full sister and half-sister in the matter of inheritance.

Those are limits set by Allah (or ordainments as regards to inheritance), those who obey Allah and His Messenger will be admitted to Gardens with rivers flowing beneath, to abide therein (for ever) and that will be the supreme achievement. (Quran 4:13)

But those who disobey Allah and His Messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a Fire, to abide therein: And they shall have a humiliating punishment. (Quran 4:14)