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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.


What does ‘awl mean?

While taʿsīb and radd apply when distributing the balance left over in the estate after the prescribed shares, ‘awl applies to decrease the shares proportionately when the total prescribed shares is more than 100% of the estate.

For example, if the survivors are a husband and two sisters, the husband’s prescribed share is 1/2 and the sisters’ combined prescribed share is 2/3. The total of the prescribed share exceeds 100% of the estate:

1/2 + 2/3 = 3/6 + 4/6

3/6 + 4/6 = 7/6

7/6 = 1 1/6

Their shares will be reduced proportionately by using the doctrine of ‘awl: the husband will receive 3/7 and the sisters will receive 4/7.

Does ‘awl apply to your estate? Use our INHERITANCE CALCULATOR to discover your Islamic heirs and their shares.

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