Inheritance Distribution according to Islamic Law or British Law?
I hope you can help me with an ongoing inheritance issue within our family. My father passed away 4 years ago. He left behind a wife (our mother), 2 sons and 3 daughters. His estate includes bank accounts, properties and cash.
My father did not leave an Islamic Will. My mother and my youngest sister who handles all the family affairs have chosen to have the estate distributed according to British law. We received letters from my mother’s solicitors stating that she will be receiving the majority of the estate. This decision my mother and sister have made only refers to my late father’s accounts, and does not include any mention of property that my father owned abroad or in the UK, plus rental money from a property that has accumulated over the years. They have taken full control of these assets through the solicitors, and are depriving me, my brother and my other two sisters of their full share of inheritance.
What Islamic rights do we have? I do not want my mother to do wrong as she is clearly influenced by my sister. I also do not want my late father to suffer in anyway. All I want is to let everyone have their right according to Shari’ah, and for all of this to be dealt with in an Islamic manner. Can you please give me the Islamic Shari’ah ruling regarding this issue, and what rights do we have?
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
Islamic law of estate-distribution is different from British law. As such, every Muslim is duty-bound to prepare and leave a Will that is in accordance with Islamic guidelines in order that the estate can be distributed according to Islamic law and also be recognized by British law.
The Qur’an mentions in great detail the fixed-shares of those who inherit the estate from the deceased. Failure to distribute the estate according to these guidelines set in the Qur’an constitutes a great sin and punishment from Allah Most High.
After mentioning these laws of estate-distribution/inheritance, Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:
“These are the limits set by Allah; and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, He will admit them into gardens beneath which rivers flow, remaining therein forever. And that is great success. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger [in distributing inheritance] and crosses the limits set by Him, He shall admit them into the fire, remaining therein forever. And for them there is a humiliating punishment.” (Surah al-Nisa’, V: 12-13)
As such, it is extremely important for a Muslim to leave a Will that is in accordance with Islamic guidelines, especially in a country where not leaving such a Will results in the estate being distributed in a non-Islamic manner. If someone dies without leaving an Islamic Will, as your father did in this case, then it becomes necessary upon all the heirs/inheritors (wuratha) of the deceased to ensure that the estate is distributed according to Islamic guidelines; otherwise it will amount to a grave sin in the sight of Allah Almighty. There are severe warnings of punishment mentioned in the sacred Islamic texts for not distributing the estate according to Islamic law.
Sayyiduna Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Whoever deprives an heir of his/her inheritance-share [as fixed by Qur’anic guidelines], Allah will deprive him/her of Paradise on the day of judgement.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, no: 2703)
Note that one will not be guilty of breaking the law of the land when distributing the estate according to Islamic guidelines, since the law does not force anyone to have the estate distributed in any particular manner. The heirs are free to distribute in any particular manner, as long as it is mutually agreed, and as such, British law allows Muslims to mutually agree on distribution based on Islamic guidelines.
However, if one or some family members do not wish to have the estate distributed in accordance with Islamic guidelines, such as your mother and sister in this case, then, unfortunately others can not do anything if no Islamic Will was left by the deceased (i.e. your father). The most you can do is encourage them to distribute the estate according to Islamic guidelines and remind them of the dire consequences and displeasure of Allah in the next life (akhira). They should be reminded that they will be accountable to Allah, and each and every penny that they receive in excess of their entitlement will have to be paid back in the next life. For a practising Muslim, this is an extremely serious matter which must not be taken lightly. Indeed, if one is not a proper/practising Muslim, he/she will go ahead and have the estate distributed in a non-Islamic manner.
In regards to your specific situation, the Islamic law of inheritance is as follows:
All the wealth left behind by your late father (may Allah have mercy on him) at the time of his death, which includes everything he owned, such as cash, gold, silver, properties, all chattels, all contents; hence every big and small item that belonged to him at the time of his death will be totalled and termed as the “estate (taraka)”.
From this, after taking out burial expenses, if there are any debts owed to fellow human beings, they must be paid off. Since your father did not make any bequest (wasiyya), the remaining amount will be distributed amongst the various heirs. Your mother (wife of the deceased) will be entitled to one eighth of the total and the remaining seven parts will be distributed between the sons and daughters of the deceased with the sons receiving twofold of the daughter’s share in accordance with the Qur’anic verse:
“As regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male a portion of that of two females.” (Surah al-Nisa, V: 11)
Hence, the breakdown of the distribution is as follows:
Son 1: 25%
Son 2: 25%
Daughter 1: 12.5%
Daughter 2: 12.5%
Daughter 3: 12.5%
If all the heirs wish to distribute the estate in a different manner, then, Islamically, they are at liberty to do so. However, this must be mutually agreed, and without any force or pressure applied on any one individual.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK