The Islamic law of inheritance is mentioned in the eleventh and twelfth verses of Sūrah Nisā’. In these verses, the Almighty has promised eternal punishment for those who have the audacity to change this law or intentionally disobey it. Though this promise relates to violating all the bounds and limits which the Almighty has clearly stated in His Book, yet its mention right after the law of inheritance shows how people who would in particular disobey it would face grave consequences. The Qur’ān says:
تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللّهِ وَمَن يُطِعِ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ يُدْخِلْهُ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَذَلِكَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ وَمَن يَعْصِ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَهُ يُدْخِلْهُ نَارًا خَالِدًا فِيهَا وَلَهُ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ (٤: ١٣-١٤)
These are the bounds set by God; [do not exceed them] and [remember that] those who obey God and His Messenger, God shall admit them in gardens watered by running streams. They shall abide in them forever and this is the supreme success. And those who defy God and His Messenger and transgress His bounds shall be cast into a Fire wherein they will abide for ever. And for them is a shameful punishment. (4:13-14)
So stern is this promise that a person who has faith in the Hereafter shudders on reading it; however, with great sorrow one has to say that following the footsteps of the Jews, Muslims are reckless enough not only to change this law but also to violate it practically. It is a fact that the breaches which take place in this regard are tantamount to rebelling against God: they deprive women from inheritance; if in some place this law has been implemented at the state level, they sign documents to illegally evade courts of law by putting unlawful pressure on them; in cases where the shares of men and women are not equal, they are bold enough to make them equal; they only regard the eldest son to be worthy of their legacy; in villages, in particular, they insist on common ancestral property; they try to adopt ways and means to usurp the share of the orphans. In short, they try to do everything which can be called open rebellion against this divine law.
This situation entails that Muslims be warned from mosques and from the pulpits, their attention be directed again and again through radio, television and newspapers, and institutions of education and instruction teach them that the life of this world and its wealth and riches are mere deception and illusion. Instead of a share in the eternal kingdom of God on the Day of Judgement, what is it that these people are choosing for themselves? In the words of the Qur’ān, it is as if they are filling their bellies with fire. Muslims should, moreover, be told that eternal Hell is no ordinary torment. They should shield themselves from it and distribute all their inheritance with full honesty in the very manner prescribed by God in this regard. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said that if a person illegally takes possession of a piece of land even the size of a hand, then on the Day of Judgement that piece of land will be made his neck-brace.1
What exactly is this law of inheritance. I have presented it in detail in my book Mīzān.2Here, just as a reminder, I am providing a short summary thereof:
1. If the deceased has outstanding debts to his name, then first of all they should be paid off from the wealth he has left behind. After this, any will he may have bequeathed should be carried out. The distribution of his inheritance should then follow.
2. No will can be made in favour of an heir ordained by the Almighty except if his circumstances, or the services rendered by him or his needs in certain situations call for it.
3. After giving the parents and the spouses their shares, the children are the heirs of the remaining inheritance. If the deceased does not have any male offspring and there are only two or more girls among the children, then they shall receive two-thirds of the inheritance left over, and if there is only one girl, then her share is one-half. If the deceased has only male children, then all his wealth shall be distributed among them. If he leaves behind both boys and girls, then the share of each boy shall be equal to the share of two girls and, in this case also, all his wealth shall be distributed among them.
4. In the absence of children, the deceased’s brothers and sisters shall take their place. After giving the parents and spouses their shares, the brothers and sisters shall be his heirs. The proportion of their shares and the mode of distribution shall be the same as that of the children stated above.
5. If the deceased has children or if he does not have children and has brothers and sisters, then the parents shall receive a sixth each. If he does not even have brothers and sisters and the parents are the sole heirs, then one-third of his wealth shall be given to the mother and two-thirds to the father.
6. If the deceased is a man and he has children, then his wife shall receive one-eighth of what he leaves, and if he does not have any children, then his wife’s share shall be one-fourth. If the deceased is a woman and does not have any children, then her husband shall receive one-half of what she leaves and if she has children, then the husband’s share is one-fourth.
7. In the absence of these heirs, the deceased can make someone an heir. If the person who is made an heir is a relative and has one brother or one sister, then they shall be given a sixth of his share and he himself shall receive the remaining five-sixth. However, if he has more than one brother or sister, then they shall be given a third of his share and he himself shall receive the remaining two-thirds.
(Translated by Shehzad Saleem)
1. Abū ‘Abdullāh Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-Bukhārī, Al-Jāmi‘ al-sahīh, 2nd ed. (Riyād: Dār al-salām, 1999), (no. 3198); Abū al-Husayn ibn Hajjāj al-Nīsabūrī, Al-Jāmi‘ al-sahīh, 2nd ed. (Riyād: Dār al-salām, 2000), (no. 4133).
2.Javed Ahmad Ghāmidī, Mizān, 5th ed. (Lahore: Shirkat Printing Press, 2010), 499-500