Difference of Religion: A Bar to Inheritance




Assalamu alaikum WRWB,

HADITH-7 CLASS-Fiqh/Civil Law

Usamata Ibn Zayd RA reported,the prophet SAW said 'An unbeliever can not
inherit (from) a Muslim and neither would a Muslim inherit (from) an
unbeliever'...Bukh & Mus.

Wealth and property of a dead person are usually shared among his or her heirs or inheritors according to Islamic injunctions. Familial and marital relationships are the usual basis for inheriting a dead person. Certain circumstances could pose a bar to potential heirs, and prevent them from inheriting their dead "relations". These include among other things-relationships, including children born, out of wedlock or as products of adultery; homicide among or between mutual heirs; ignorance of precedence in death between mutual heirs; difference of religion; etc.

Islam being the most rapidly growing religion in the world has made the latter, i.e. difference of religion, no longer uncommon as between spouses, parents and children and vice-versa. Allah (SWT) has, in the Qur'an, allowed Muslim men to marry women from Ahl-kitaab. Certain Sahaaba like Hudhaifa Ibn Al-Yamani (RA) had a Christian, or in another
narration, a jewish wife. Furthermore, the revertion of Ahl-kitab couples to Islam, i.e. at least the husband even if not the wife, still leaves their matrimonial relationship intact. Now among muslim spouses, the Quran has specified that wife/wives should, on demise of her/their husband, be given either one-eighth or one-quarter of his property depending on whether or not he has children, respectively. The husband also should, on demise of his wife, be given a half or one-quarter of her property depending on whether or not she has children, respectively. Would there be inheritance between a couple in who the husband is a Muslim while the wife is of Ahl-kitaab?

The above textual hadith and another reported by Abdullah Ibn Umar (RA) where he said the prophet (SAW) said:

"Two persons from (two differing) religions do not inherit each other"

addressed this question. Most Ulama present their opinion in accordance with the explicit rulings of the above two ahaadith i.e. a Christian or Jewish wife/wives can not inherit
her/their muslim husband. Other scholars like Mu'adh and Mu'awiyya (RA) on the other hand have reported that a Muslim can inherit from an unbeliever citing the prophetic saying "Islam only prospers never declining" as their basis. Once a family of brothers, Jews and Muslims (reverts), whose father a Jew earlier died, and the Jewish brothers took
possesion of the inheritance, but the Muslims disagreed and took their case to Mu'adh Ibn Jabal (RA) who also gave the Muslims their shares.

Muawiyah (RA) has also been reported to have judged similarly saying that "We inherit the people of the book but they do not inherit us" just like the prophet had said "It is allowed for us to marry their women but not for their men to marry from us". Scholars like Awza'i (RA) had opined that, based on the second hadith above, even a Jew can not inherit a Christian and vice-versa. Allah (SWT) has said:

"Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year's maintenance without expulsion" (2:240)

One would initially assume this verse is all encompassing i.e. widows including Ahl-kitaab would inherit, or be cared for at the expense of their dead husband, at least, for a year. However, many scholars believe this verse has been abrogated by other verses more specifically those specifying four months ten days as seclusion (Iddah) period and those on
inheritance (Mirath). Ibn Zubair (RA), as if doubtful of the abrogation, asked Usman Ibn Affan (RA) "Why is the verse still left whilst its judgement is nullified, and why does it succeed (not preceed) the verse on Idda that nullified it, does it mean its judgement is still valid?". Usman replied "It is certainly as I found it (i.e. the verse)". Allamah Yusuf Ali also feels the verse is not abrogated. Certainly, however the verse alone does not allow an Ahl-kitaab woman to inherit her husband even if it may allow a bequest and a temporary accommodation for her. Normally, there are rules and shares for parents, children, brothers, etc. out of the deceased's property. But similarly, an Ahl kitaab father can not inherit his Muslim children and vice-versa, and also relatives of different religion may not mutually inherit each other.

These relations - wife, parents, children, relatives, etc. are not however to be left uncared for, and they should be helped if there is genuine need. For Allah (SWT) has said:

"It is prescribed when death approaches any of you, if he leaves any goods that he makes a will to parents and relations..." (2:180)

This verse also has been abrogated by the verses specifying the inheritance (mirath) rules for near relatives. But from the foregoing, these relatives by virtue of difference in religion are not termed as heirs. And since in Islam, inheritance is not the sole method of wealth acquisition and disposition, other means of wealth disposition could be extended to these relatives if there is genuine need. Other modes of wealth disposal like wills, gifts, bequest, etc. could be employed to transfer ownership of wealth or property to a non-inheritor.
That a Christian wife can not inherit her deceased Muslim spouse does not mean or suggest "feminization of poverty" for her husband has the option of leaving behind for her a maximum of one-third of his wealth (by a will), higher than the highest share of one-quarter, she could possibly receive even if she were a Muslim, as an heir.

Allah knows best.