What is an Islamic Will?
An Islamic will is a legal declaration that you, the testator, make. It tells the world who will get your assets and who will manage your estate and implement your wishes when you die. When you die without a Will—called dying “intestate”—the state decides who gets your assets with no regard to your wishes and the needs of your heirs.
An Islamic will covers everything that a secular will covers, including:
- Appointing an executor to distribute your estate and manage your affairs after death;
- Appointing a guardian to care for your children and manage their inheritance until adulthood;
- Leaving money and/or property from your estate to other relatives or to charitable organizations; and
- Specifying any debts to be paid at your death.
However, unlike a secular will, an Islamic will also includes Sharī‘a-complaint solutions to managing your estate after death, including:
- Dividing your assets according to Sharī‘a inheritance rules CLICK FOR LEARN MORE;
- Telling the world that you have selected your burial rites according to Islam;
- Outlining your autopsy wishes that are permissible under the Sharī‘a;
- Specifying moral and religious obligations to be paid at your death; and
- Providing permissible, recommended, and obligatory bequests up to one-third of the estate in aggregate
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The Islamic law of inheritance is found in the Qur’an and in the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) said that the law of inheritance is half of all knowledge.
The Islamic law of inheritance is a mandatory intestacy inheritance system. That means the estate of a decedent is distributed according to a prescribed-share formula in the Qur’an. As the Qur’an states: “This is an apportionment from God. In truth, God is All Knowing, All Wise” (4:10).
Sharī‘a divides the Islamic heirs or Islamic beneficiaries of your estate into three categories:
- Qur’anic heirs (ahl al-fara’id). Qur’anic heirs take a predetermined share—either one-half, one-quarter, one-eighth, two-thirds, one-third, or one-sixth. They are:
- Four males: Husband, maternal brother, father, and paternal grandfather
- Nine females: Wife, daughter, son’s daughter, mother, paternal grandmother, maternal grandmother, full sister, maternal sister, and paternal sister
- Residuary heirs (taking by taʿsīb). If there is anything left in the estate after the Islamic heirs take their prescribed shares, the residuary heirs inherit the balance. They do not have a fixed share. The residuary heirs are ranked in order of priority. For example, a son and daughter take any balance remaining after the prescribed shares. If there are no children, then the siblings take the balance remaining, if there are no siblings, then the nephews take the balance remaining and so forth. Watch this video for more information about taʿsīb.
- Dhawūʾl l-arḥām. If no Qur’anic or taʿsīb heirs survive (a rare occurrence), then the estate goes to dhawūʾl l-arḥām. The most common translations are “distant kindred,” “uterine heirs,” or “outer family.” While spouses are Qur’anic heirs, they are not eligible to receive any balance or residue left if the estate is not exhausted, so the remainder of the estate will pass to distant kindred if there are no other Qur’anic heirs or residuary heirs. Dhawūʾl l-arḥām-specific relatives include:
- Descendants from daughters
- Grandparents’ descendants through a female
- Descendants through parents
- Descendants through grandparents
In addition to these categories, there are specific inheritance rules, like blocking rules and reapportionment rules, that also come into play.
This is the basic framework for the Islamic inheritance system. Check our other Frequently Asked Questions below for more information about specific Sharī‘a inheritance rules and answers to numerous real-life Sharī‘a inheritance questions. You can also use our proprietary Islamic Inheritance Calculator to check how your estate will be distributed to your heirs.
What does the Quran say about Islamic Wills
In the Qu’ran, Allah directed Muslims to make a will:
It has been ordained upon you, when death is near one of you, leaving wealth behind, to make a will in favor of parents and close relatives, impartially. This is incumbent upon the pious.—Qu’ran 2:180
After deducting any bequests you may bequeath, or any debts.—Qur’an 4:11
When death draws near one of you and it is time to make a bequest.—Qur’an 5:106
What does the Sunnah say about Islamic Wills?
The Sunna has many traditions about wills. The collections of Hadith, including Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri, report that the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said: “It is not permissible for any Muslim who has something to will to stay for two nights without having his Last Will and Testament written and kept ready with him.”
What does Islamic Law say about Islamic Will in America
Let’s start with the Quran:
It has been ordained upon you, when death is near to one of you, leaving wealth behind, to make a will in favor of parents and close relatives, impartially. This is incumbent upon the pious .—Qur’an 2:180
The other Quranic verse that mentions a bequest is:
Those among you who die leaving wives behind are to leave a bequest to the their wives: maintenance for a year and no eviction. —Qur’an 2:240
The first verse is known as the “bequest verse”. The Arabic word “al-waṣiyya” in this verse has been translated to “bequeath”, “make a will”, or “make a bequest”.
Surat ʾal-Nisaʾ was revealed after the revelation of these bequest verses. For this reason, most Muslim scholars concluded that the new revelation of the inheritance rules contained in Surat ʾal-Nisaʾ qualified, and some said abrogated, the previously revealed bequest verses. Basically, Surat ʾal-Nisaʾ changed the discretionary inheritance system to a mandatory default Islamic Inheritance fixed share system.
For Muslim living in the United States, the default Islamic inheritance system is not the law of the land. For this reason, the Quranic verse directing Muslims to make an Islamic Will to relatives would be a requirement, if a Muslim American wishes the rules of inheritance in Surat ʾal-Nisaʾ to govern the distribution of his or her estate.
Islamic Wills and Islamic Waqf (trusts) are estate-planning tools. A major difference between an Islamic will and an Islamic Waqf (trust) is the effective date. An Islamic will goes into effect only after you die. An Islamic Waqf (trust) goes into effect the moment you create it.
Another difference is when property is distributed to a person’s beneficiaries. When a person dies the Islamic Will directs his or her legal representative to carry out his or her wishes of how to divide the estate. By contrast, an Islamic Waqf (trust) is used for the creator of the tryst to act as trustee to manage his or her assets during his or her life and to distribute the trust assets after death.