Thursday, October 3, 2013

Insights Into Inheritance

The law of inheritance in Islam is perhaps the most comprehensive in any religion. It is detailed in the Quran and explained further in the Sunnah. It is a branch of Islamic Jurisprudence that is considered most difficult to master. It is in part due to this science that the Muslims developed Algebra.

In Islam, all wealth belongs to Allah (SWT). It is distributed to different people in various portions to fulfill their needs, to test them and to use it to gain Allah’s pleasure. The wise person is one who uses it to his best advantage and applies it in ways such that it continues to benefit him even when he passes away from this Earth. The question arises as to what is the best use of wealth?

The Messenger of Allah (SWAS) said: “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: sadaqah jariyah (perpetual charity); knowledge which is beneficial; or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (the deceased).” [Sahih Muslim]

The best strategy, in my opinion, would be to dedicate a portion of one’s wealth for Islamic education institutes / masajid and scholarships. In doing so you can combine the benefits of all three sources: the charity would be perpetual until the institutes/scholarships last; they would be disseminating Islamic beneficial knowledge and the students which your wealth would support would be like your progeny who pray for you after your death. You will get a share of their good works written to your account.

Unlike other cultures, Islam does not allow you to put all your wealth in one specific project. You are only allowed to spend up to one-third in charities of your choice. The rest must be distributed according to Islamic inheritance laws.

Narrated Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas: I was stricken by an ailment that led me to the verge of death. The Prophet came to pay me a visit. I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have much property and no heir except my single daughter. Shall I give two-thirds of my property in charity?" He said, "No." I said, "Half of it?" He said, "No." I said, "One-third of it?" He said, "You may do so, though one-third is also too much, for it is better for you to leave your off-spring wealthy than to leave them poor, asking others for help. And whatever you spend (for Allah's sake) you will be rewarded for it, even for a morsel of food which you may put in the mouth of your wife." I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Will I remain behind and fail to complete my emigration?" The Prophet said, "If you are left behind after me, whatever good deeds you will do for Allah's sake, that will upgrade you and raise you high. May be you will have long life so that some people may benefit by you and others (the enemies) be harmed by you." But Allah's Apostle felt sorry for Sa'd bin Khaula as he died in Mecca. [Sahih Bukhari]

The Quran says that man does not know what relative may bring him maximum benefit. Allah (SWT) alone knows and He (SWT) has appointed just shared for all the heirs.

Allah commands you as regards your children's (inheritance); to the male, a portion equal to that of two females; if (there are) only daughters, two or more, their share is two thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is half. For parents, a sixth share of inheritance to each if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased left brothers or (sisters), the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases is) after the payment of legacies he may have bequeathed or debts. You know not which of them, whether your parents or your children, are nearest to you in benefit, (these fixed shares) are ordained by Allah. And Allah is Ever All-Knower, All-Wise. (An-Nisa 4:11)

It is important to note that these shares are fixed. Even if you know that your heirs are billionaires and the amount you are leaving may be better used somewhere else, the distribution of your estate has to be done according to the shares outlined in Islamic inheritance law.

Another set of common mistakes take place with respect to the shares of women in the family. Either they are deprived of the Islamic shares or they are given shares equal to men in the family. Both practices are against Islam. Women have their share of inheritance which in general is half that of the male relatives. Considering the fact that in Islamic societies, women do not have to spend on themselves or their families, there is wisdom in ordaining this portion. On the other hand, it does not mean that women do not inherit at all. Thus their portions must be legally given to them.

A lot of well-intentioned Muslims, in an attempt not to offend the heirs, avoid writing a Will in their lifetime. This is a grave mistake. Every Muslim should be ready for death and should take all steps necessary to ensure that his heirs carry out his instructions according to his wish while adhering to Islamic laws. Doing so also removes misunderstandings or potential causes of conflict among the heirs.

PS: If you need a draft of an Islamic Will or if you need to know which lawyers in UAE prepare Islamic Wills based on your needs, do not hesitate to get in touch with me.