A woman’s inheritance in Islam can be a sensitive topic for some. The general understanding that Muslim women receive half the share of inheritance available to Muslim men causes some Muslim Americans to opt out of creating a will in accordance to the canonical laws of their faith, or Sharia.
But according to Abed Awad, a New Jersey based attorney and international expert in Islamic law, there exists many misunderstandings about religious requirements around distribution between genders.
Awad, who has been practicing law for the past 20 years, said that it’s important to understand the context in which this guidance was revealed. It’s also important to understand that different life scenarios can bring forth different solutions for estate planning.
This is, in part, why he recently launched Shariawiz.com, an innovative faith-based estate planning website designed to make estate planning easy, understandable, and customizable for Muslim Americans.
Through a comprehensive, easy-to-use format, Shariawiz.com guides its users through a series of questions customized for their specific needs, offering religious insights, and practical solutions along the way.
Below is a Q and A that we conducted about the specific questions that Awad often gets about a woman’s inheritance in Islam.
Q: What is Shariawiz?
“Shariawiz is an estate planning platform for Muslim Americans where they can make their Sharia-compliant estate plans online, which includes an Islamic will, health care directive, and general power of attorney.”
Q: Why did you choose to include Sharia in the name? Doesn’t that have a negative connotation for many?
“I chose the name specifically to de-stigmatize the concept of Sharī‘a, which the media has portrayed as some sort of medieval penal code.
Sharī‘a is not static. Flexible at its core, it is alive and thrives on a demanding, dynamic diversity to keep searching for the truth — God’s plan for ethical and moral existence here and in the hereafter — and is based on the principles of the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
It guides us to be righteous humans, good neighbors, compassionate mothers, providing fathers, loyal spouses, protective parents, elderly caregivers, honest and fair participants in commercial transactions, and lifelong charitable donors.”
Q: In Islamic inheritance, why does a son receive double the share of a daughter?
“In pre-Islamic Arabia, only males inherited. This was changed by the divine message carried by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
When the companion Aws Ibn Thabit passed away, he was survived by a wife, three daughters, and two nephews. Consistent with pre-Islamic custom, the surviving males — the nephews — proceeded to take the entire estate.
Aws Ibn Thabi’s wife complained to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that the daughters and her not receiving a share of the estate was not just. The Prophet (PBUH) said to give him some time to consider the issue.
Shortly thereafter, Surat al-Nisa was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which required as a matter of divine directive that females inherit. With this revelation, the Qur’an changed the rules of inheritance to become anchored in gender equity.
While it is true that a daughter receives half the share of her brother, the economic structures of the pre-modern period, and the Sharī‘a financial obligations of males toward females in Arabian society warranted this distribution. But females do not always inherit less than their male counterparts.
Let me provide a historical contest. A husband does not have a legal or equitable claim to his wife’s assets. However, females have a legal and equitable claim against the property of their male relatives. A wife, for example, has a claim for support from a husband’s property. Similarly, female relatives have a right to support from male relatives (nafaqat al aqareb). Sisters, aunts, and grandmothers all have a claim for support from their brothers, uncles, and other male relatives. In other words, male relatives were legally obligated to support their female relatives, whether she be a daughter, wife, mother, aunt, sister, or grandmother. Males, on the other hand, did not have any claim for support from female relatives.
There are a few scenarios where a female inherits equally to that of a male. There are scenarios where a female inherits more than the male beneficiaries. There are scenarios where a female inherits while the male beneficiaries do not.
Today, many American Muslims argue that in the United States, Muslim females are working and earning income, sometimes more than their male counterparts. Living under American law, Muslim males do not have the same legal obligations to support their female relatives as they did under the Sharī‘a. Additionally, the extended family is being replaced with the nuclear family, further eroding the extended male financial obligation to females in society.
Based on these tangible social and economic changes in Muslim American communities, many scholars have suggested that if you feel your female relatives will not be protected by their male relatives, it may be a good idea to gift property to the female relatives during your lifetime. It is also possible to discuss these financial obligations with your male children and recommend that they reduce their inheritance shares in favor of their sisters.
By taking these simple steps, Muslim Americans preserve the moral spirit of the Qur’an and comply with their faith while living under different family structures in modernity.”
Q: How does the Shariawiz estate plan specifically address the limited inheritance a surviving wife receives from her husband’s estate?
“Sharī‘a is anchored in divine justice and equity. There are several Sharī‘a solutions.
First, a husband is free to gift his wife property and/or money during his lifetime. This is valid and sound under the Sharī‘a.
Second, a husband is free to increase his wife’s mahr to better protect her financial security as long as he is increasing it voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence. This is valid and sound under Sharī‘a without violating the prescribed-share system. Because the mahr is a debt upon the husband, a wife will receive her mahr from the estate, plus her Qur’anic prescribed share.
Third, strong Sharī‘a authority holds that a wife should be compensated for the domestic chores for the family and her husband. This is a debt against the husband’s estate.
Fourth, if a wife facilitated or contributed to the acquisition of the marital estate either by working or by sacrificing her career to stay home (to either manage the marital finances or raise the children), then she has an equitable interest in the property acquired during the marriage.
The scholars created this theory based on a fascinating story involving ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭtāb. A husband passed away with no children. Strictly speaking, the wife’s inheritance would be 1/4. The widow asked ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭtāb: ‘Ameer Al Mu’mieen, you know that my husband and I worked together in the business. I would stay up all night sewing and making the clothing that my husband would sell in the market.’ Al-Khaṭtāb gave her 1/2 of the estate for all her work, plus 1/4 for her prescribed share.
So a husband may leave his wife a moral/religious debt and/or increase her mahr on top of her prescribed share. We do not believe this violates the Sharī‘a. Allah knows best.
Q: What Makes Shariawiz Different Than Other Online Platforms?
First, our documents were attorney-created legal forms and are Sharī‘a compliant.
Shariawiz was born after three years of research and development by a team of lawyers, Sharī‘a experts, software engineers, and staff, which included thousands of hours of testing and legal and Islamic law research.
When a person purchases a Shariawiz document, they are purchasing a document that has been built by an experienced legal and Sharī‘a expert team. Every document purchase is based on the laws of a person’s state and custom tailored by them. The transparency of Shariawiz is simple: purchaser gets to review each document they complete before purchase — no surprises!
Second, our Islamic Inheritance Calculator is the only scholar-approved Islamic Inheritance Calculator in the English language available online for free.
Third, we provide bank level security. Shariawiz protects users’ information with bank-level security encryption and is hosted on the AWS Amazon server with the highest SSL certificate.
Fourth, our mission is to reinvigorate the Islamic charitable giving tradition, the Sadaqah Jariyaa tradition (ongoing charitable giving), as an active component of our planned charitable giving legacy. By giving back to our Muslim institutions and projects, we are elevating our entire society, and we will all reap the reward.
Finally, Shariawiz is not a finished project. It will continue to be ongoing and developing. We are actively engaged with American Muslim scholars and seek their guidance and contributions to develop an American Muslim Fiqh that is anchored in the divine justice of the Quran and Sunna that takes into account contemporary American life.”
Q: Why Do I Need A Last Will And Testament?
“Every person needs a will so that you — not a court — decide who gets your assets and the same way we follow our religious practices in everyday life, we should ensure that the blessings Allah has given us are divided according to Islam.
We also offer a power of attorney and a healthcare directive so that collectively, all three ensure that in the event you become incapacitated, you dictate who you would want to make medical and financial decisions – including who will be guardians for your children and whether or not you want to donate your organs — and under what guidelines do you want them to apply.”