Investigating Quranic Inheritance Laws

Category: Faith & Spirituality Topics: Inheritance, Quran Views: 7038

One of the common perceptions about Islam is that it dictates a traditional system of Islamic Law ("sharia") which discriminates against women by allowing them to inherit only half as much as men. In fact, the Qur'anic position on these traditional laws is quite debatable; examination of the Qur'anic verses in question will allow us to decide whether or not the inferior position of women's inheritance in traditional Islamic law is justified.

The traditional view of inheritance in Islamic law comes from the following verses:

"Allah enjoins you about [the share of inheritance of] your children:
A male's share shall equal that of two females..." (Qur'an 4:11)

"...If there are many brothers and sisters,
the share of each male should be that of two females..." (Qur'an 4:176)

While the above seem clear enough, and were taken as the basis for the inheritance laws laid down by the traditional schools of Islamic law, there is on the other hand the fact that the Qur'an also tells all Muslims to make a will specifying inheritance of their assets.

Prescribed for you, when any of you is visited by death, and he leaves behind some goods, is to make testament in favor of his parents and kinsmen honorably - an obligation on the God-fearing. Then if any man changes it after hearing it, the sin shall rest upon those who change it; surely God is all-hearing, all-knowing.

"But if any man fears injustice or sin from one making testament,
and so makes things right between them, then sin shall not rest upon him;
surely God is all-forgiving, all-compassionate." (Qur'an 2:180-182)

The first verse makes it obligatory for all Muslims to make a will determining the distribution of their assets after their death. The second verse emphasizes the importance of this will by saying that no one has a right to falsify it. The third verse again emphasizes the importance of the will by saying that any claimant who feels they have been unjustly dealt with should resolve the injustice by discussion with the maker of the will before their death. Altogether, the three verses make it clear that wills are integral to the Qur'anic view of inheritance; this acknowledges the general principle that every person is best suited to determine their obligations to their heirs and the fate of their assets.

The importance of making a will is also underlined by the Qur'anic specification that the will must be made in the presence of two witnesses:

O believers, the testimony between you when any of you is visited by death,
at the bequeathing, shall be two men of equity among you;
or two others of another folk, if you are journeying in the land
and the affliction of death befalls you.
Them you shall detain after the prayer, and they shall swear by God,
if you are doubtful: "We will not sell it for a price, even though it were a near kinsman,
nor will we hide the testimony of God, for then we would surely be among the sinful." (Qur'an 5:105)

The question now arises, what is the Qur'anic position on inheritance? Is inheritance to happen according to the specified formulae, in which case women will inherit half as much, or according to an individually decided will, in which case no formulae apply? There is an obvious contradiction between these two alternatives.

To resolve these differences it is important to look at the context in which the various Qur'anic inheritance verses were revealed. The verses supporting individual disposal of assets through a will were likely revealed in the early Medinan period, in which the Prophet was called upon to establish basic rules according to which the early Muslim community in Medina would run. However, the more involved inheritance formulae were revealed after the battle of Uhud, in which many Muslims were killed; quite likely many of them had made no will, thus resulting in a chaotic situation regarding the disposal of their assets among many claimants. The traditional schools of law generally held that the earlier Qur'anic requirement of making a will had been overruled by the later inheritance formulae (the term used by legal scholars to describe this was "naskh" or abrogation).

But the question arises as to why we today should continue to adhere to a set of inheritance formulae (coincidentally favoring males) which seemingly were revealed as an emergency measure following a major disaster (the unexpected death of many Muslims at Uhud). Common sense should make us realize that Qur'anic rulings based on general, universally applicable principles are likely to be the ones which are still applicable in modern times; as opposed to the verses which were obviously revealed in very specific situations of the early Muslim community, and likely were never intended to be applied beyond those situations.

In the case of inheritance, there are two visibly different guidelines given in the Qur'an. The first supports the general principle, which should be applicable at all times, of each individual's right and duty to determine the fate of their own assets after death. The other simply provides a quick formula to distribute assets after a disaster such as Uhud where many may have been killed without leaving wills. Perhaps the latter inheritance formulae could still be applicable today in situations such as war or natural disasters which kill many people unexpectedly before they have made a formal will, but there is no reason to support these formulae as a general case. Traditional Muslim scholars always made the assumption that inheritance formulae overrule the rights of individual wills; but this was a simplistic judgment on their part, because the inheritance formulae could simply be meant for the special case where there are no wills.

If the inheritance formulae are indeed meant to be a special legal provision reserved for war and natural disasters, then the general Islamic ruling on inheritance which remains is the Qur'anic insistence that everyone make wills and dispose of their assets fairly and as they see fit. If such an interpretation of the Qur'anic verses were accepted today, then there would be no further general use of the gender-biased inheritance laws which are now practiced in some Muslim countries.

Source: AltMuslim - Zeeshan Hasan.

  Category: Faith & Spirituality
  Topics: Inheritance, Quran
Views: 7038

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Older Comments:
I can see your point in this matter but check it shades some light on the matter with a different perspective.

Author doesn't seems to have enough knowledge on this subject or this article is catering to certain audience.
I have read that distribution of the inheritance wealth was considering the responsibilities also. When men are asked to be the supporters of women, women getting half the inheritance is more than fair.

The article on Qur'anic Laws of Inheritance is very informative and though provoking. Women must not be made to feel left out as second grade objects because in several respects Islam had categorically awarded due respect and dignity to womenkind. Qur'an is the natural law and we have precedents like the juddgment of Prophet David bettered by his son Prophet Sulaiman - Solomon in the case where farm animals destroyed a part of another farmers land. Prophet Solomon's compensatory judgement was superior and beneficial for all concerned. By the same principle, when the situation demands, a women must be made to benefit from inheritance laws. These days, a lot of women have responsibilities of a financial kind. Economic conditions of present day have changed and no one can say if the females may not be burdened with the financial responsibility of a male person.

Islam, in modern days is already heavily criticised by the enemies of Islam. We must not give them more amunition and arms to attack us and cause disillusionment in the Muslim community.

I am doing research work on Qur'an and would appreciate if the author/contributor would like to assist me on this particular topic. I will willingly include his contribution and duly mention his name. My work in progress is entitled 'Index Major of Qur'an'. |I have also done word for word English translation of Holy Qur'an which is in colour coding. I have used two colours; red and green. The green alphabet in Arabic corresponds with green in English and the red in red.

May the author/contributor is blessed and enlightend by Allah.

M. A. Hameed


The author characterizes the laws of inheritance as a default scheme that occurs in place of a will. The author fails to mention that the will can only devise 1/3 of the property. No Muslim can devise more than that, the rest goes by inheritance laws. This is famous hadith. Furthermore, the article says that inheriting less makes the woman's position inferior. That is not true. If that is true, then the man's position of having to give a dowry makes him inferior, because he does not receive one. Overall, there's so much that the article did not talk about, that it seems lazy or dishonest to have even written it. And by not learning the inheritance laws first, it's not fair to people to are trying to learn about Islam because it mischaracterizes the religion even if it had attempted to defend the inheritance laws instead. Step it up Islamicity!

There is only two occations that Allah tahala revealed to our prophet peace and blessing of Allah tahala be up on him. One of them is the Law of inheritance due to supplication of our beloved prphet because of one of the sahabi's wife was left with children and his brother claiming the inheretance. Look at the obligation of the men they need to provide for the family and if his sister gets divorce, he needs to support her too etc etc. If we live an islamic way there is no problem and we mix and match then we deviate from Islam. Of course one has 1/3 of his property as a well but he can not deviate from what is Allah's command.

What are the authors credentials for commenting on a subject such as this? Is she well versed in Sharia, finance and Islamic legal rulngs? Or is she trying tospread an idea that seems "compatable" with her version of modern teachings? This is a very dangerous and subtle way of introducing fitna to the Umma such as when the chief of Khuza'ah, Amr bin Luhai, introduced the first idol to the Arab monotheists upon returning from a trip to Syria because he thought it too was a good idea.
The author should ask herself what did the Sahaba and the Tabi'een do after the battle of Uhud to gain a better understanding of how the Quranic verses were interpreted and followed.
There are other mitigating circumstances that the author fails to mention, namely that the distribution of wealth relates to the males obligation to care for his family with his wealth while the female is free to do with her wealth that which she pleases.
I also concur with the comment that preceded mine.
May Allah (swt) guide us all to the straight path and keep us from following our whims and desires.

A FROM USA said:

First of all , muslims have to accept and understand that whatever
stated in Holy Quran is from God , who knows what truly is best even
if we may not understand the wisdom behind it.
If you want to look at it negatively, then you can say women are
being treated unfairly or unequally with their inheritance being
half compared to a male.
Looking at it on a positive view, the rules arent based fully on
gender but rather than the relation. If the mother is alive, the
rule would be different. Her inheritance would be different,
compared to a sister. Also, it makes sense for the male to have
double the inheritance since he is the financial support of his own
family. According to our religion, women are not the financial
support. The money the male inherits , he would of course share with
his family out of his own duty.
The money a woman earns or even inherits is hers solely. If she
wishes to spend on her family she can and that would be a out of
good character deed. If she doesnt, she is not denying any duty.
There is no sin upon her.
One last thing, Islam gives mother priority over to father. The
woman has the highest level, to such a level that there is hadith
that a man wanted to go to war but the Prophet PBUH asked if he has
a mother alive, and he said yes, and the Prophet PBUH told him to
take care of her rather than go to war.


Or it could also apply as a minimal requirement, females inherit no less than half of their male sibling

We do not want to return to a situation where personal choice by the giver cuts the daughter out of a inheritance, when the clear purpose of this article is to equalise the gift

and Allah knows best