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Eligibility & Reasons for Islamic Inheritance distributions

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Sunni jurisprudence classifies heirs into three main classes: Quranic heirs, Agnatic heirs, and Uterine heirs. Some heirs are related to Nasab (i.e., blood or kinship through lineage or progeny) and Husband or Wife by Nikah (i.e., marriage through Islamic ceremony, Legal marriage is not considered). The last one is Byt Ul Maal (i.e., Islamic treasury) which is considered valid but has differences of opinion among the Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (i.e., Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki, Hanbali). However, there are other possible channels (Foster mother bond through breastfeeding, Master-slave relationship bond, Adopted child or children, Friendship bond as brotherhood, neighbor, etc.) for heirship used in the pre-Islamic time (between Ansar, Muhajiroon, and other tribal communities), which are not eligible to receive the inheritance under Islamic law (Holy Quran 8.75, 33:5-6). The fundamental components of the Islamic law of inheritance are the deceased (muwarrith), the estate (tarikah or tariqah), and the heir (warith) or heirs (warithun). The principle rules of Islamic Inheritance are derived from four sources; the Holy Qur’an, the Sunnah (the sayings of Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallama), Ijma (the consensus of companions), and Qiyas (the analogical deductions. The details of Islamic legal heirs, with each heir’s entitlement, are meticulously written. The other eligibility conditions must be met before divisions take place, such as death has to be proven, assets left to distribute, heirs must be living to receive the inheritance, debts obligations have to be met, and all legal procession (i.e., Legal documents verifications to establish proof of relationship of Birth, Marriage, Kinship, etc.,) must be aligned before Probate or Trust settlements. Any lack of legal documentation will delay or postpone the inheritance divisions because the court judge will not approve as the heir of the deceased without evidence.



Eligibility of Islamic Inheritance distribution

  1. Death has to be proven physically and legally. Any ambiguity or uncertainty around death can delay all proceedings. There are different rules and regulations in Islam, and from a legal perspective regarding the missing person, the body is not found after death, burnt person, or lost person. When such special situations arise, it becomes difficult to make any decisions, so consulting Islamic scholars in parallel with the government official is strongly recommended to avoid further delays. You cannot make decisions independently because serious Islamic and legal considerations are required.

  2. Assets or estates must be left by the deceased for Islamic inheritance distribution.

  3. Only living heirs shall receive the Islamic inheritance provided no impediments to inheritance. If one heir is dead right after another heir, Islamic scholars’ opinions impact establishing the share of inheritance based on the situation. There is no birthright of inheritance under Islamic law. After the death of the owner, only living heirs are eligible to receive an inheritance (i.e., the principle “nemo est haeres viventies” i.e., nobody can become an heir to a living person). In the simultaneous death like scenario, the estate division cannot be made until it is ascertain who dies first between two. The one who dies first become heir of the second.

  4. An unborn child in the fetus will inherit if he or she is born alive. There must be provisions made in the Wills and Trusts to cover this aspect. There will be legal implications those needs to be considered as well. The unborn baby will get an inheritance. However, there are three conditions; If it is from the deceased person, she should give birth within two years after the death of the "unborn baby's" father. And if it is from someone other than the deceased ( i.e., the Unborn baby is a brother of the deceased person), then he/she should be born within six months. Most parts of the unborn child should be alive when he comes out of the mother's womb. And there are separate chapters on the inheritance of pregnancy in the books of jurisprudence for all schools of thought. Al-Qurtubi said in “Jami’ Ahkam al-Qur’an”: If a man dies and leaves his pregnant wife, he stops the money until he knows she is giving birth. He said: The scholars unanimously agreed that if a man dies and his wife is pregnant, the child in her womb inherits and bequeaths if he comes out alive and begins, meaning he raised his voice by crying. And Sheikh Khalil bin Ishaq Al-Maliki said in his summary: (And the endowment of the oath for the pregnancy), i.e., the endowment of the inheritance division until the lamb is laid, and it is known whether it is alive or not? Is it united or multiple, male or female?

  5. All legal claims must be settled, and all debts, including legal and Islamic (i.e., Zakat, Kaffarat, etc.), personal and commercial, are to be paid before Islamic inheritance distribution. Please note the differences of opinion about "Zakat" among Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.

  6. Assets must have approval from the Probate court for estates under Last Will before distributing Islamic inheritance. The assets settlement requirements must have been met for the assets under Trust before Islamic inheritance is distributed.



Reasons for Islamic Inheritance distribution in Islamic & Legal perspective


Ties through marriage (i.e., "Nikah" in Arabic)

If a Husband and Wife married legally but did not go through the Islamic ceremony of "Nikah," they will not be eligible for Islamic inheritance.

Ties through Blood Relation (i.e., "Nasab" in Arabic)

In Sunni Islamic Law, it relates to paternal connections only. The Adopted child, Illegitimate Child, Killers, and Non-Muslims do not receive the inheritance.


Ties through association or friendship bond (i.e., "Wala" in Arabic)

Ties through association are further divided into two by Hanafi jurists: Master of the manumitted slave ("Wala Al-Itaq" in Arabic) and Inheritor or Successor by contract ("Wala Al-Mawala" in Arabic). The estate goes to the Successor by contract if there are no sharers, residuaries, or distant kindred. Hanafi fiqh observes this practice. The Shafii, Maliki, and Hanbali fiqh do not recognize the Successor by contract. However, this type of contract must be in writing, and there should not be a legal impediment to Inheritance distribution.


Ties through acknowledged Kinsman (i.e., "Al-Muqurr Lahu" in Arabic)

If none of the above exists, this category is eligible to receive a residuary share as per Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali but as per Shafii. The Acknowledged relative is a person of unknown descent whose kinship has been acknowledged by the deceased, not through himself but another. However, one acknowledges someone as his Child; this does not come under this category but comes under Parental acknowledgment, a different category. If the only heirs are the widow and acknowledged kinsman, the widow receives her share, and the acknowledged kinsman takes the residue. However, this type of contract must be in writing, and there should not be a legal impediment to Inheritance distribution.


Universal Legatee (i.e., "Al-Musa Lahu" in Arabic)

A universal legatee is the person to whom the deceased has bequeathed the whole of his property by Will when no heirs exist.


Public Treasury (i.e., "Bayt Ul-Mal" in Arabic)

If none of the above categories exist, then the estate goes to Bayt Ul-Mal.


Allah, the Most Glorified and the Most High, knows the best. As a human, We are limited to everything and can not perceive it in totality...
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