Critical Analysis: Inheritance Laws

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Islam: A Critical Analysis
By: S.T.
Ch.1: Burden Of Proof
Ch.2: Judaism and Islam
Ch.3: Imperfect Text
Ch.4: Qur'anic Grammar
Ch.5: What Others Say
Ch.6: Hypocrisy in Islam
Ch.7: Hell
Ch.8: Violence in Islam
Ch.9: Logical Fallacies
Ch.10: Women in Islam
Ch.11: Muhammad’s Wives
Ch.12: Inheritance Laws
Ch.13: Qur'anic Ethics
Ch.14: Existence of Allah
Ch.15: What is Prophecy?
Ch.16: Unclear Qur'an
Ch.17: The Need for Hadith?
Ch.18: Miscellaneous
Ch.19: Numerical Patterns in the Qur'an
Ch.20: Summary
Ch.20: Quotations
Ch.22: Further Reading

The Quran claims to be a clear document.

After a family tragedy, family members will be deeply saddened and must then allocate the inheritance. Let's assume a case where the deceased left $100,000,000. As the Quran is unclear, there are many potential allocations. The Quran does not mention who determines the allocation, and in many cases no allocation is mentioned. There can be huge disagreements, and greedy people may try to find ways to get all this money. The laws of inheritance are described via 4:11, 4:12 and 4:176.[1]

To summarize my understanding of these verses, an inheritance is allocated among children, parents, siblings, and wives. Below is a small sample of cases that the Quran does not adequately address:

1. In some translations, 4:11 mentions 2 or more daughters, others mention more than 2 daughters.

2. In 4:11 the Quran ignored the case of a deceased who only had sons.

3. The case of daughters only but no parents was not mentioned.

4. These verses do not address adopted-children, concubines, right-hand-possessions and non-believers. Many cases are not explicitly mentioned, so different people interpret it differently.

5. It ignores the case of a single person that dies, with no living parents, siblings or children.

6. A man dies while having a pregnant wife. Is that (future) child entitled to a share? We must determine when life begins.

7. A husband dies and has an infant. When should this child be entitled to receive the inheritance? Is the mother allowed to spend this inheritance money by providing for the infant? Who takes custody of the money?

8. An unmarried couple lives together and has children. Is the surviving partner and children entitled to the inheritance?

9. The wife commits adultery and her husband raises the child. Is the child considered a child of the biological parents or the parents that brought her up?

10. If there is a joint bank account, and the husband dies, is the wife entitled to the entire account?

11. There is a married lesbian couple, and one of the partners gives birth. Who is considered the wife, the father and the mother?

12. A rich brother and poor sister die at approximately the same time. If he died first then his sister would get much of the money which would be distributed to her family. If she died 1.first then the brother’s family would get most of the money. Suppose we don't know who died first?

13. The Quranic law of inheritance allocates a particular percentage to particular family members. Imagine a multi-billionaire who has only one relative who happens to be extremely wealthy does it really make sense that he should get 100% of the inheritance?

14. If a father has a very wealthy and irresponsible son, and a very poor daughter, should the son still get a larger share than his sister?

15. Under what circumstances should a person with very limited mental ability receive an inheritance?

16. If a person dies in debt, it is unclear whether his relatives are responsible to pay off these debts.

17. The verses regarding inheritance tend to focus on the death of a man, if a woman dies, it is less clear how her wealth is distributed.

18. The Quran does not clearly address how to allocate non-monetary assets.

Maintenance for wives

[2.240] And those of you who die and leave wives behind, (make) a bequest in favor of their wives of maintenance for a year without turning (them) out, then if they themselves go away, there is no blame on you for what they do of lawful deeds by themselves, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

2:240 seems to indicate that a husband must leave provisions for one year for his wives. This adds further questions: Suppose one does not have a will, should this be imposed on the husband? Is this bequest in addition to any inheritance, the wives are otherwise entitled to? How much money does maintenance imply? Are the wives entitled to the entire inheritance when there are insufficient funds to provide for one year? Or perhaps we should just ignore 2:240, see below:

Volume 6, Book 60, Number 53: Sahih Bukhari

Narrated Ibn Az-Zubair:

I said to 'Uthman bin 'Affan (while he was collecting the Qur'an) regarding the Verse:-- "Those of you who die and leave wives ..." (2.240) "This Verse was abrogated by an other Verse. So why should you write it? (Or leave it in the Qur'an)?" 'Uthman said. "O son of my brother! I will not shift anything of it from its place."

Also, it is unclear whether a wife that financially supports her husband should provide him with one-year maintenance.


  1. [4.11] Allah enjoins you concerning your children: The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females; then if they are more than two females, they shall have two-thirds of what the deceased has left, and if there is one, she shall have the half; and as for his parents, each of them shall have the sixth of what he has left if he has a child, but if he has no child and (only) his two parents inherit him, then his mother shall have the third; but if he has brothers, then his mother shall have the sixth after (the payment of) a bequest he may have bequeathed or a debt; your parents and your children, you know not which of them is the nearer to you in usefulness; this is an ordinance from Allah: Surely Allah is Knowing, Wise.

    [4.12] And you shall have half of what your wives leave if they have no child, but if they have a child, then you shall have a fourth of what they leave after (payment of) any bequest they may have bequeathed or a debt; and they shall have the fourth of what you leave if you have no child, but if you have a child then they shall have the eighth of what you leave after (payment of) a bequest you may have bequeathed or a debt; and if a man or a woman leaves property to be inherited by neither parents nor offspring, and he (or she) has a brother or a sister, then each of them two shall have the sixth, but if they are more than that, they shall be sharers in the third after (payment of) any bequest that may have been bequeathed or a debt that does not harm (others); this is an ordinance from Allah: and Allah is Knowing, Forbearing.

    [4.176] They ask you for a decision of the law. Say: Allah gives you a decision concerning the person who has neither parents nor offspring; if a man dies (and) he has no son and he has a sister, she shall have half of what he leaves, and he shall be her heir she has no son; but if there be two (sisters), they shall have two-thirds of what he leaves; and if there are brethren, men and women, then the male shall have the like of the portion of two females; Allah makes clear to you, lest you err; and Allah knows all things.

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