Share of Inheritance? by Sumera

Under Islam, the wealth of a deceased person is divvied up in a number of ways and isnt just limited to his/her immediate family. The wife and children get a share, and so do the deceased brothers (sisters also?) and parents/grandparents, depending on who is alive when he/she passes away. The portions vary according to who is alive at the time of one’s death. Adopted or fostered children of the deceased do not have any right to the inheritance. More can be read about it here

There’s always been debate surrounding why there is a difference in the share of inheritance certain siblings receive – particularly females. And the answer usually given the brothers/males are given a larger share because they are in effect responsible for the females of the household and therefore their share of the inheritance would (i am assuming) go in that spending pot.

Even in the event of divorceor their husband’s death, women get their share of inheritance as stipulated by Islamic Law in the same way as men get their share. However, unlike men, women are not responsible for maintaining any relative, irrespective of their sound financial standing. The husband is not at liberty to help his relatives at the detriment of his own family.

But perhaps its just me, but haven’t family dynamics changed? Does an extended family unit exist? If it does, is it “close knit”? Because I very much doubt so. Do brothers still “provide” for their sisters if the father is deceased? Is that “responsibility” emphasised to them and understood as they understand the responsibility the father has towards the family? I’ve only seen this happening in the Indian Subcontinent (the women don’t work because they can’t, or there are no jobs, or become seamstresses to generate some income which is meagre) because thats the only place I am familar with. Is it similar in the Middle East and Arab countries?

Anywhere else (particularly in the West), the sisters are expected to work themselves. There is no-one to “look out for them” aside from the mother and perhaps the brothers if she is in some dire need. Aside from that, she is expected to pave her own way and make her own money.

Most women I know work themselves and generate their own income, and the brother’s are in employment and have their own money because they can’t afford to run the household, their own expenses AND spend on their (female) siblings. Some households have the women contributing towards the finances of the home and without their input they’d be in financial difficulty. They of course do so willingly because the family home is their home also and they believe helping out their father (and mother) is their responsibility.

So from the above POV, wouldnt the lesser inheritance share be inadequate for such a family arrangement? I understand that if the women receive a larger share they are in effect infringing and usurping the share of another but would that not be based on “need” and who would “need” a larger share? Would the deceased parents and grandparents “need” the amount of share they receive? Obviously it’d probably be better to give them their share and then ask for a percentage of it but those decisions would be better made depending on the character of the parents/grandparents and how willingly they’d understand and see your request for the share (insert myriad of family politics in here)

This response states that she may end up receiving “more” than her brothers

Another matter they arouse when they imagine that the woman s share in inheritance always equals to half the man s share of it, depending on what Allah, The All-High says: To the male, a portion equal to that of two females. [Al-Nisa 4:11] ! It is mere an illusion springing from deep inexcusable ignorance, for the Quran decides this verdict only in one case: when the testator dies leaving male and female children or brothers and sisters. It is well known that both of the son and the brother make their sisters their partners in possessing the rest of the inheritance after the owners of the other shares have had their shares. In such a case the brother- who has made his sister a partner-receives twice as much share as his sister who has been made partner. In all the other cases the man and the woman are equal in the limited inheritance portions, and the woman s potion may even exceed the man s in many cases.

I dont think thats necessarily true, and is entirely dependent on the dynamics of the family, the relationship between the siblings and of course whether they actually wish to make their brother or sister a “partner” in possession of the rest of the inheritance. Its too simplified an assumption to make.

The following snippet is in relation to bequests and gifts stated in a person’s will

However, the question arises as to whether it is necessary to distribute the estate equally between the children? The answer to this is that it is permissible to give the male children twofold of that given to the female children, as it would have been distributed as inheritance. It is also permissible to give all the children, male and female, equal shares. However, to give less than this to the daughters or to completely deprive them of any share, or to be unjust in the distribution of the wealth among the sons, without a valid Shar’i reason, is considered to be blameworthy and sinful. One will be sinful for favouring one child over the other, although the gift will stand as valid.

Yes, if there is an Islamically valid reason, such as one child being extremely disobedient or involved in open sinning, it would be permitted to give him/her less. (See: Radd al-Muhtar)

More can be read about the procedures of making a will in accordance to Shariah here

Im wondering if the above is applicable to actual shares of inheritance? The following is in relation to denying someone of their share in the inheritance

There is no way you can deny him the right to inheritance, since whatever you possess at your death will pass on to the inheritors immediately.

However, if you distributed your wealth to your other children before your death (and before any terminal illness), that would be permissible. In this way nothing will remain in your possession at your death to inherit by anyone. You will have to transfer complete ownership to them before your death for this to be a valid transfer.

Is the only reason for brothers inheriting a larger share of wealth due to maintenance and provision for the female siblings, or are there other reasons for it? Is divvying up the inheritance according to Sunni Law the ONLY way a Muslim can share out their wealth and any other way is seen as “unIslamic”?

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13 thoughts on “Share of Inheritance? by Sumera

  1. […] inheritance law in Islam that she has allowed me to use in the OCIF. The title of her post is “Share of Inheritance?” in which she asks the question “Is the only reason for brothers inheriting a larger share of […]

  2. susanne430 says:

    It seems like this was a great way back in Muhammad’s day. It may have been a step of progress for those whose families kept them down. But the spirit of Islam should be that its principles can be updated and applied for all people at all times. Which means you can adjust the inheritance laws to make it more applicable to today. If brothers take care of female family members, then yes keep it the same. But if women are left to make their own ways because cultural norms no longer demand Brother to upkeep Sister, then by all means make it a more fair distribution.

  3. almostclever says:

    Right Susanne, Ijtihad.

  4. Sumera says:

    Ijtihad is key but in this day and age its a no go area to consider flexibility within what are seen to be “set in stone” rules

  5. Sara says:

    While I do think the extended family still exists in many parts of the world (although the west would like to make it seem as though it is a relic of “traditional societies” that is fading), I still think we need to reinterpret these rules on inheritance to suit modern times. In Egypt it is quite normal for a brother to support his sisters, even if they work. However, since it is not the case for 100% of families, what about families where women are the breadwinners? Female headed households are increasing all over the world – why should these women not inherit the same as their brothers, or even MORE, since they are supporting their entire family?
    Ijtihad is clearly in need.

    Great article!

  6. Metis says:

    “Is the only reason for brothers inheriting a larger share of wealth due to maintenance and provision for the female siblings, or are there other reasons for it?”

    Maybe that was the point initially but what about now when in many cases it is the sisters who earn and support the family. I know someone whose eldest paternal aunt never married because she was the sole breadwinner at one time and was supporting the education of her eight siblings. When her father died the brothers got most of the inheritance. That is why ijtihad is necessary.

  7. Nahida says:

    The things is, even in the Prophet’s day, these were meant to be guidelines only. Somehow they’re viewed as obligatory now, even when family dynamics are hugely different.

  8. Lat says:

    The last qoute about distributing the wealth before one dies is interesting.I’ve a wealthy in-law relative in Malaysia who did just that.He has only one daughter and five sons.Just before when he took a 2nd wife after his first wife’s death,the children decided to draw up a will so that each will know how much one will get once the father dies,including the father 🙂 But their will clearly left out the 2nd wife as a sharer.When the father pointed this out, the children said that they are only liable to him not his 2nd wife.when the father is alive,he should provide for her,not them.And the money he’s getting now from his children is pathetic,considering his old-age medical issues and maintainence of a large house.The 2nd wife is piffed.But luckily she has her own house bought with her own money in other land.And all her contributions done to her sick husband is not recognized in their will.How fair is that.

    You know these people are not just highly educated in secular studies but also in Islam.The daughter even gets more than a bro who stays in the US and one son gets more than the other sons,according to the will they’ve drawn up.When people think they’ve contributed more,they simply want more than what the standard law says.

    Thanks for this wonderful article,Sumera!

  9. Becky says:

    Itjihad is definitely called for, thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking article!

  10. Zeina says:

    I might be mistaken… but:
    I believe that in the case of a deceased father, it is the son’s duty to take care of the family. So regardless of the times that we live in, this duty does not change.
    Meaning, the woman can very well go up and work and provide for the whole, but she is in no means obliged to do so. She might choose to work and not spend a penny on the household. Yet it is the man’s duty to provide, putting him in sin if he doesn’t do that (this is of course speaking in regular situations, there might be cases where it is agreed upon between the married couple that the woman would provide and the man would sit at home and take care of the children for whatever reason… upon mutual consent, the duty is relieved off of him and transmitted to the woman).

    So, considering that it is the man’s duty, I guess it would consequently make sense for him to get a bigger share of inheritance, at least in my opinion.

  11. Nahida says:

    If anyone is interested, I’ve written a post with my own two cents on inheritance since the conference is over.

    http://thefatalfeminist.blogspot.com/2011/05/men-inherit-twice-what-women-inherit.html

    =)

  12. Z. says:

    I agree with Zeina. I do remember reading verses where it was clearly stated that it was the man’s job to provide for the family, the sister could aid but wasn’t obliged to do so. I think the purpose of the concept was so as to maintain close family ties. But the family unit is breaking up in the modern world. But look at the problems that has started to cause!

    However, there is also a 33% that is left over at the parent’s disposal of giving to whomsoever they wish…

  13. Arslan says:

    The entire post was filled with ignorance., and im equally horrified to read the comments.

    There is no way the shari’ah can be changed just because “family dynamics” have changed. A male gets twice the female simply because Allah has said so. Any other reason given by scholars is not the actual reason for the ruling, but only a perceived wisdom.

    If you don’t have knowledge, refrain from speaking.

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