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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.

Classification of heirs

The root of the differing Sunni and Shia interpretations of inheritance law lies in heirs' fundamental classification. The Sunni classification includes the Fixed or Prescribed 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. Sunni divides the heirs in three classes as below.

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. The overview of Shiaa includes below.

Shiaa divides heirs into two categories, sharer and residuary, but Distant kindred does not exist in Shiaa. While under Sunni law, there are differences of opinion on whether Distant kindred can inherit or not, explained in further detail under Distant kindred shares. Shiaa divides the heirs into the following three classes.

  • Class 1 includes Father, Mother, Children, and Grandchildren, including lineal descendants.

  • Class 2 includes Grandfathers, Grandmothers, Brothers, Sisters, and lineal descendants.

  • Class 3 includes Paternal and Maternal uncles and Aunts, including their children.

Sunni and Shiaa law of inheritance

Radd and Awal

Sunni Hanafi and Hanbali allow Radd, but Shafii and Maliki do not. Sunni Madhab has no difference of opinion regarding the applicability of Awal. Shiaa allows Radd with the outcome of share may be different than Sunni calculations because of their different classification methodology. The concept of Awal or Aul is not practiced under Shiaa law.

Property distribution

In Islamic jurisprudence, property distribution can occur through two distinct approaches: per capita or per strip distribution.

The per capita distribution approach is predominantly applied within Sunni law. In adherence to this approach, the ancestral estate is divided equally among the inheritors. Consequently, the portion allocated to each individual is contingent upon the quantity of heirs involved. On the other hand, the per-strip distribution method is acknowledged under Shia law. Pursuant to this mode of property succession, assets are apportioned among inheritors based on the specific lineage or "strip" they are affiliated with. As such, the extent of their inheritance is influenced by their branch within the family tree and the number of individuals belonging to that branch.

Principle of Representations

Under Sunni jurisprudence, distributing inheritance based on representation is not in effect. Consequently, the grandchildren are unable to stand in place of their parents as representatives. On the contrary, inheritance allocation is determined per representation (as per stocks) in Shia jurisprudence. This entails that each deceased son's portion is akin to what he would have received if he were alive, and this portion is subsequently divided among his lawful successors upon his demise.

Consequently, the offspring of sons who passed away before inheritance distribution are not regarded as distinct eligible legal successors in their own right; rather, they act as proxies for their parents. Their entitlement is confined to what their parents would have inherited had they been living. This principle of proxy representation is also applicable to heirs belonging to other categories within Shia jurisprudence, including descendants of collateral relatives (such as siblings), as well as descendants of uncles and aunts. This is based on the same principles elucidated earlier, which pertain to the offspring of deceased children of the primary individual whose inheritance is being determined.

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 intentionally 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

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 the different versions and formats of books available online.

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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