When someone dies in your family, what do you do? Worry about the funeral arrangements? Inform friends and family? And then of course there is the usual soyem and chehlum.  This about covers it, right?

In fact, no it doesn’t! There is something very important missing here.

The majority of the Muslims are completely oblivious to the importance of making a written will (wasiyah).  Those who are knowledgeable of its importance and try to bring up this topic with grief stricken family members are ostracized.  It’s even worse if a family member dares touch upon this sensitive subject; they are considered greedy and insensitive for talking about such a thing at a time like that.

How unfortunate! We don’t know and don’t care about one of the few things that are mandatory and extremely important after the death of a Muslim.

What do the Qur’an and Ahadith say about Preparing a Wasiyah (Will)?

The Islamic law of inheritance is one of the laws that are mentioned in the Qur’an and it is very specific.  There are about 35 ayahs in Qur’an, which refer to the law of inheritance.  Allah (SWT) has clearly told us about what each person in the family of the deceased will receive from his/her wealth.

It is prescribed for you, when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind wealth, that he bequeaths unto parents and near relatives in goodness; (that is) a duty on those who safeguard themselves with full awareness of divine laws” (Al-Baqara: 2:180).

Similarly, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also stressed the importance of this fard (mandatory responsibility). Abdullah bin ‘Umar (RAA) narrates, “It is not permissible for any Muslim who has something to Will to stay for two nights without having his Will and Testament written and kept ready with him” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).

According to Abdullah bin Abbas (RAA), Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, “Give the Faraid (the shares of the inheritance that are prescribed in the Quran) to those who are entitled to receive it. Then whatever remains, should be given to the closest male relative of the deceased” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).

A Common Misconception

A common misconception about the preparation of a will prevails among the Muslims who are aware of the importance of wasiyah.  They believe that since Qur’an gives clear instructions about the distribution of the wealth of a deceased Muslim, why prepare a written will.  There reason for this as described by Muslim scholars is that since there is no truly Islamic state in the world, which follows the Shariah, there is a strong possibility of non-compliance on this extremely important matter. This is particularly important for Muslims living in non-Muslim countries or for people who have accepted Islam later in life.  Therefore, we should prepare a written wasiyah to ensure that we follow the command of Allah (SWT).

What are the Rules of succession?

After the death of a Muslim, 4 rules must be followed regarding his/her estate:

  1. Burial Expenses – The first thing to be done is to use the money to pay for funeral and burial expenses.
  2. Paying of Debts – Pay all of his/her debts (in addition to the debts known to the immediate family members). The successor should ask the people gathered at the funeral if anybody is owed any money by the deceased.  Payment of debt is extremely important; The Prophet (pbuh) said, “A believer’s soul remains in suspense until all his debts are paid off” (Sunan Ahmed, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah). However, funeral expenses take precedence over debt.  This means that if there isn’t enough money left, the funeral bill should be paid first.
  3. Pay bequests up to 1/3 of the remaining estate.
  4. The rest of the estate should be distributed according to shares described in shariyah.

The Distribution of the Estate of a Deceased Muslim According to the Qur’an

The specific details of how the wealth of the deceased should be distributed are given in Surah An-Nisaa, ayah (4:7-12 and 4:176).

 For men is a share of what parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share(7). And when [other] relatives and orphans and the needy are present at the [time of] division, then provide for them [something] out of it [i.e., the estate] and speak to them words of appropriate kindness (8). And let those [executors and guardians] fear [injustice] as if they [themselves] had left weak offspring behind and feared for them. So let them fear Allah and speak words of appropriate kindness (9). Indeed, those who devour the property of orphans unjustly are only consuming into their bellies fire. And they will be burned in a Blaze [i.e. Hellfire] (10). Allah instructs you concerning your children [i.e. their portions of inheritance]: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one’s estate. (Literally, “that which is left.”). And if there is only one, for her is half. And for one’s parents, to each one of them is a sixth of his estate if he left children. But if he had no children, and the parents [alone] inherit for him, then for his mother is one third. And if he had brothers [and/or sisters], for his mother is a sixth, (Although the siblings themselves do not inherit in this case.) after any bequest he [may have] made or debt. Your parents or your children – you know not which of them, are nearest to you in benefit. [These shares are] an obligation [imposed] by Allah. Indeed, Allah is ever knowing and wise (11). And for you is half of what your wives leave if they have no child. But if they have a child, for you is one fourth of what they leave, after any bequest you [may have] made or debt. And if a man or woman leaves neither ascendants nor descendants but has a brother or a sister, then for each one is a sixth. But if they are more than two, they share a third, (these shares are divided equally between males and females), after any bequest which was made or debt, as long as there is no detriment [caused]. (This is a condition for any bequest. If it has been violated by the deceased, his bequest is not to be honored, or it may be adjusted by the executor). [This is] an ordinance from Allah, and Allah is knowing and fore bearing (12). These are the limits of Allah, and whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger will be admitted by Him to gardens [in Paradise] under which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein; and that is the great attainment (13). And whosoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, and transgresses His limits – He will put him into the Fire to abide eternally therein, and he will have a humiliating punishment (14)

Final Words

Keeping the above verses in mind and the precise commandments laid out by Allah (SWT), one realizes what a pathetic state of disobedience and ingratitude we as a Muslim ummah are in. This is especially the case when it comes to the inheritance of our sisters and daughters. Even ‘religious‘ people take advantage of these weak ones in their families and deny them their God-given right.

May Allah (SWT) guide us and help us fulfill His commandments (Ameen).

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