Sunni vs. Shiaa Inheritance law

Updated: Sep 13

The root of the differing Sunni and Shia interpretations of inheritance law lies in heirs' fundamental classification. The Sunni classification includes the Fixed sharer, agnates (i.e., Asabah or Residuary), and cognates (Zav-il-Arham or Distant Kindred). Nearest in degree will exclude those related to a deceased by more remote relations. Shiaa's interpretation of Islamic inheritance rule completely denies the doctrine of agnates and cognates, instead of the relations entities to succession either by Nasab (i.e., the virtue of consanguinity), the Sabab (i.e., Special cause or Affinity, for example, Husband and Wife inherit due to Sabab of matrimony) and the heirs by Wala (i.e., Emancipation, Patronage, and Imamat). In default of heirs by Sabab and Nasab, the estate is vested in the Imam.

sunni vs shiaa inheritance law

Sunni and Shiaa laws differ in their interpretations and applications of Non-Muslim inheritors, Radd (i.e., increase), Awal (i.e., decrease), Moveable and Immoveable property classifications, Temporary marriage, Inheritance of non-Muslim relatives, Causes of death intentionally or unintentionally, illegitimate children, etc. Some of these are described below, but there are many other differences apart from these in Sunni and Shiaa.

Radd and Awal

Sunni Hanafi and Hanbali allow Radd, but Shafii and Maliki do not allow it. There is no difference of opinion among Sunni Madhab regarding the applicability of Awal. Shia allows Radd but not Awal.

Temporary marriage

Under Sunni law, temporary marriage is not valid. Some sects of Shia recognize the validity of temporary contracts of marriage, persons so married have no reciprocal right of inheritance unless there is a condition to that effect expressly entered into at the time of marriage.

Inheritance for Non-Muslim relatives

In most cases, Muslims can not inherit from Non-Muslim and vice-versa under Sunni law. Shia law allows Muslims to inherit from Non-Muslim in some situations.

The distinction of Property type

Under Sunni law, there is no distinction between Moveable and Immoveable property or between ancestral or self-acquired property. Shia interprets the Moveable and Immoveable property differently.

Causes of death

Under Sunni law, Killers cannot inherit, whether intentional or by mistake, negligence, or accident, and are debarred from succeeding to the estate of that other. But homicide under the Shia law is not a bar to succession unless the death was intentional.

Relational degree

Under Sunni law, the nearest in degree will exclude those related to a deceased by more remote. Shiaa follows the same, but the outcome of this rule is quite different. For instance, Paternal Grandfather’s Father can not be excluded by any Grandmothers of nearer degree in Sunni. While the Grandmother excludes the Paternal Grandfather’s Father as per Shia law. The reason is, that the Shiaa law does not have distinctions between Males and Females in excluding remote relations.

Brothers and Daughters share

The Sunni rules allow the Full Brothers or Paternal Brothers to inherit in Daughters' presence, but Shia law completely excludes Full or Paternal Brothers and Paternal Sisters (i.e., Second Class) in the presence of Daughters (i.e., First Class).

Daughters and Grandsons share

The Sunni rules allow Grandsons to inherit in the Daughter's presence, but Shia law does not allow Grandsons to inherit in the presence of Daughters in a higher class.

Inheritance of illegitimate child

The Sunni allows an illegitimate child to inherit from the mother’s property. However, Shia does not allow it.


  1. Personal Law of Mahommedans by Sayed Ameer Ali

  2. The Muslim law of Inheritance, Page.60 to 84 by Al-Hajj Mahomed Ullah

  3. Temporary marriage: Jama-ush-Shattat

  4. Distinction of property type: Principle of Mahomedan Law by Mulla, Page-36

  5. Causes of death: Principle of Mahomedan Law by Mulla, Page-36

  6. Causes of death: Al-Sirajiyyah, Page.14

  7. Relational degree: Al-Sirajiyyah, Page.27

  8. Relational degree: Carroll, The Ithna Ashari law of Intestate Succession, Page.88

  9. Shia and Sunni Laws of Inheritance: A comparative Analysis published in Pakistan Journal of Islamic Research Vol 10, 2012 by Shahbaz Ahmad Cheema

Sunni vs Shiaa inheritance law

Disclaimer: We are referring to third-party links in this blog that we did not verify independently for their authenticity. Book references mentioned above may not match the page accurately due to different versions and formats of books available online.

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Islamic inheritance