What is the Islamic law of inheritance?
The Islamic law of inheritance is found in the Qur’an and in the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) said that the law of inheritance is half of all knowledge. The Islamic law of inheritance is a mandatory intestacy inheritance system. That means the estate of a decedent is distributed according to a prescribed-share formula in the Qur’an. As the Qur’an states: “This is an apportionment from God. In truth, God is All Knowing, All Wise.” (4:10).
Sharī‘a divides the Islamic heirs or Islamic beneficiaries of your estate into three categories:
1. Qur’anic heirs (ahl al-fara’id). Qur’anic heirs take a predetermined share—either one-half, one-quarter, one-eighth, two-thirds, one-third, or one-sixth. They are:
- Four males: Husband, maternal brother, father, and paternal grandfather
- Nine females: Wife, daughter, son’s daughter, mother, paternal grandmother, maternal grandmother, full sister, maternal sister, and paternal sister
2. Residuary heirs (taking by taʿsīb). If there is anything left in the estate after the Islamic heirs take their prescribed shares, the residuary heirs inherit the balance. They do not have a fixed share. The residuary heirs are ranked in order of priority. For example, a son and daughter take any balance remaining after the prescribed shares. If there are no children, then the siblings take the balance remaining, if there are no siblings, then the nephews take the balance remaining and so forth. Watch this video for more information about taʿsīb.
3. Dhawūʾl l-arḥām. If no Qur’anic or taʿsīb heirs survive (a rare occurrence), then the estate goes to dhawūʾl l-arḥām. The most common translations are “distant kindred,” “uterine heirs,” or “outer family.” While spouses are Qur’anic heirs, they are not eligible to receive any balance or residue left if the estate is not exhausted, so the remainder of the estate will pass to distant kindred if there are no other Qur’anic heirs or residuary heirs. Dhawūʾl l-arḥām-specific relatives include:
- Descendants from daughters
- Grandparents’ descendants through a female
- Descendants through parents
- Descendants through grandparents
In addition to these categories, there are specific inheritance rules, like blocking rules and reapportionment rules, that also come into play.
This is the basic framework for the Islamic inheritance system. Check our other frequently asked questions below for more information about specific Sharī‘a inheritance rules and answers to numerous real-life Sharī‘a inheritance questions. You can also use our proprietary Islamic INHERITANCE CALCULATOR software to discover your Islamic heirs and their shares.
I am an American Muslim. Does the Sharī‘a require me to have a will?
Many Muslim scholars living in the United States suggest that American Muslims are obligated to have an Islamic will, because without one, the estate will be divided according to non-Islamic laws. If you leave a surviving spouse and you did not leave a will, your parents, for example, would not inherit, under many state intestacy laws. According to Sharī‘a, a will that leaves a bequest is either obligatory, recommended, disliked, or prohibited, depending on the circumstances. The obligatory bequest is one you must make. An example of this is when you owe someone a debt, but no one knows about this debt except you and the creditor. In this case, you must include the debt in your will. Another example is if you are wealthy and have poor relatives that are not eligible Sharī‘a heirs; you are obligated to leave them something. The recommended bequest is one you should strongly consider. For example, if your Islamic heirs and relatives are wealthy and not in need, leaving part of your estate for charity is recommended. The disliked bequest is not recommended. For example, if your estate is not large, your Islamic heirs and relatives are poor, and you leave part of your small estate to non-Islamic heirs, the scholars concluded such a bequest is disliked, because it will create hardship for your family. The prohibited bequest is not allowed under Sharī‘a. For example, it is prohibited to leave more than 1/3 of your estate to non-Islamic heirs or to give an Islamic heir more than his or her share as stated in the Qur’an. This is based on the famous Hadith of the Prophet that says “there shall be no bequest to an Islamic heir.” Unlike the Sunni opinion, the Ja‘fari (Shia) school permits a bequest to an Islamic heir as long as it does not exceed 1/3 of the estate. To summarize, if you want your estate to be distributed according to the Sharī‘a, you must have an Islamic will. Use our ISLAMIC WILL software to prepare your own customized Islamic estate plan that is legally valid for your state.Read More
What does the Qur’an say about wills? Does the Sunna mention wills?
Yes, the Qur’an and the Sunna both cover wills. In the Qur’an, Allah directed Muslims to make a will: “It has been ordained upon you, when death is near one of you, leaving wealth behind, to make a will in favor of parents and close relatives, impartially. This is incumbent upon the pious” (2:180). Allah also says: “When death draws near one of you... it is time to make a bequest” (5:106). God also explained that you must deduct any bequests and debts from your gross estate before distribution to Islamic heirs (Qur’an 4:11). The Sunna has many traditions about wills. The collections of Hadith, including Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri, report that the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said: “It is not permissible for any Muslim who has something to will to stay for two nights without having his Last Will and Testament written and kept ready with him.” Check our other frequently asked questions below for more information about specific Sharī‘a inheritance rules and answers to numerous real-life Sharī‘a inheritance questions. You can also use our software to check how your estate will be distributed to your heirs or customize your own Islamic estate plan that is legally valid for your state.Read More