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Denying Inheritance to Unworthy Offspring

I am of ten deluged with various questions f rom people seeking legal pronouncements, and f rom amongst them, I was asked concerning the permissibility of denying ones of f spring inheritance due to their disobedience and disregard f or their parents at times of dire need and attention. Would it then be permissible to redistribute their share to those of f spring who actually took care of the parents? Disobedience to ones parents is a common problem f ound within our community although Islam is unique in that it strongly emphasises the rights of parents (over and above that of of f spring), and grants them a noble position. Allah says in the Quran,

And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour.[1]

It is a major sin f or a person to either harm or cause grief to one or both parents, however, excluding ones inheritor f rom his/her share in any assets lef t by the deceased is a grave sin, indeed, it is considered one of the kabir (major sins). Furthermore, to ref use an inheritor his/her God given right is seen as a dismissal of the ruling of Allah and His divine will. We f ind such a notion expressly stated in the Quran where Allah the Most High, af ter discussing the shares allotted to inheritors, says,

And whosoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger and transgresses His limits, He will cast him into the Fire, to abide therein; and he shall have a disgraceful torment.[2]

T he Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

Allah has given each person who has rights his rights, and there is no bequest for an heir.[3]

All jurists have unanimously agreed that it is absolutely prohibited to deny an heir f rom his/her share. Once a person dies, he/she has no right over worldly wealth and assets; in f act, none have a right over the wealth of the deceased except Allah who distributes it in accordance with His will as stated in the Quran. T he renowned exegete Ibn Kathr stated, T his is because he changed what Allah has ordained and disputed with His judgment. Indeed, this is the behaviour of those who disagree with what Allah has decided and divided, and this is why Allah punishes them with humiliation in the eternal and painf ul torment. Abu Hurairah relates that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said,

A man might perform the actions of righteous people for seventy years, but when it is time to compile his will, he commits injustice. So his final work will be his worst, and thus he enters the Fire. A man might perform the deeds of evil people for seventy years, yet he is fair in his will. So his final work will be his best, and he thus enters Paradise.[4]

Ab Hurairah then said, Read (if you will): And whosoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW), and transgresses His limits, He will cast him into the Fire, to abide therein; and he shall have a disgracef ul torment. T he very f amous traditionalist (muhaddith) Ab Dawd al-Sajistani narrates in his compilation that Ab Hurairah relates, in the chapter on Injustice in the will, that the Messenger of Allah said,

A man or a woman might perform actions in obedience to Allah for sixty years. Yet, when they are near death, they leave an unfair will and thus acquire the Fire.

Ab Hurairah then recited the verse,

after payment of legacies he (or she) may have bequeathed or debts, so that no loss is caused.[5]

In the proceeding moments af ter the death of an individual, his/her assets are already assigned to their legal heirs according to the Will of Allah. T heref ore, writing a will whereby a legal heir is unable to acquire that which Allah has bestowed upon him/her is equal to thef t, the sharii (legal) term being ghasb. In western non-Muslim countries the writing of the will is merely a measure taken in order to ensure that the distribution of assets is in accordance with Islamic law; apart f rom this minor point, such a will has neither value nor meaning in the shariah. Some people claim that several f amily members are undeserving of inheritance and so they f ormally deny them of their share. However, it is not f or any human being to decide as to who is most deserving of a share of the assets, f or indeed, Allah is the best of judges. In terms of disobedience to ones parents, the punishment f or such disobedience lies with Allah and none but He can decide the appropriate chastisement, but this does not include the denial of inheritance. Ab Ummah narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

Allah has appointed for everyone who has a right what is due to him and no bequest must be made to an heir.[6]

Being entitled to inheritance does not come about through servitude to the departed; rather, it is a right that is secured through the existence of a specif ic relationship with the deceased. A wisdom to af f ording a legal heir deemed contemptible may be that it might cause a sense of regret in the of f ender and alter his conduct and outlook. T he inheritor might start to supplicate or give charity on behalf of the deceased who will inevitably be in dire need of even a single hasanah (good deed). Depriving a legal heir f rom his/her share is to increase the share of others with the share of the one who was deprived. T his is undoubtedly consuming the wealth of others without justif ied cause. Allah staunchly f orbids this, saying,

And eat up not one anothers property unjustly (in any illegal way e.g. stealing, robbing, deceiving, etc), nor give bribery to the rulers (judges before presenting your cases) that you may knowingly eat up a part of the property of others sinfully.[7]

T he one who receives the wealth of another should ref use it, and if he has already received it he should endeavour to return it to its rightf ul owner. It is totally prohibited f or a person to make use of wealth that does not belong to him/her. In conclusion, there is much divine wisdom underlying the prohibition of denying someone his/her legal share, but the f oremost point is that it is impermissible to alter what Allah has ordained. Allah the Almighty says,

It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any opinion in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has indeed strayed into a plain error.[8]

[1] Qurn 17:23 [2] Qurn 4:14 [3] Reported by Ab Dawd, Tirmidh and al-Nas [4] Musnad Ahmad [5] Qurn 4:12 [6] Reported by al-Tirmidh. Similar ahdith are narrated by Amr ibn Khrijah and reported by Ahmad et al. [7] Qurn 2:188 [8] Qurn 33:36