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Laws of Religion

Laws of Islam Concerning Women and Men


21.  Inheritance by Men and Women

from the Qur’an,

major hadith collections

and Islamic jurisprudence



Inheritance by Men and Women

From the Qur’an


The Qur’an says that both men and women have a share of inheritance from parents and other close relatives.[1] The amounts are decreed by Allah.[2] Those who follow the instructions of Allah and Muhammad will be rewarded in triumph, enjoying a Garden in Paradise with water running through.[3] Those who disobey will have a shameful punishment in the fires of Hell.[4]


The Qur’an (4:11) says that the amount inherited by a woman is one-half that inherited by a man. Each son is to inherit twice the amount inherited by each daughter. Parents each inherit one sixth of the total, if the deceased had a child. If the deceased person had no children, then the mother inherits one third.[5] (Editor’s note: The implication is that the father inherits two thirds.)


The Qur’an (4:12) says that if a childless woman dies, her husband inherits half of her estate; if a childless man dies, his wife inherits one quarter of his estate. If a deceased wife has a child, her husband inherits one quarter; if a deceased husband has a child, his wife inherits one eighth. When a person with no offspring, parents or grandparents dies, his brothers and sisters share equally in the inheritance.[6] Another Quranic verse (4:176) also says that the heirs of a childless person are that person’s brothers and sisters, but this verse says that each brother inherits twice as much as each sister.[7]


When a married man dies, he is to make provision for his wives for one year in his home but the woman may choose to leave this home without any blame falling on her.[8]


As death approaches, bequests should be made to parents and other close relatives.[9] (Such bequests are to be given to chosen recipients at death before the remaining property is distributed according to the laws of Islam.)



Inheritance by Men and Women

From the hadith compilations of al-Bukhari and Muslim


Hadiths explain that before the time of Muhammad, property would be inherited by one’s children, with parents getting only what was specified in a will.[10] When Jabir, a close companion of Muhammad, was seriously ill, he asked Muhammad how to distribute his property and then the rules of inheritance were revealed.[11] These rules are stated in the verses of Qur’an (4:11-4:12) summarized above for inheritance by male and female children, parents and spouses of the deceased.[12]


Jabir told Muhammad that he had sisters.[13] Thus the verse of Qur’an (4:176, cited above) was revealed concerning inheritance when there are no children or parents to inherit.[14] This was the final verse of the entire Qur’an to be revealed.[15]


When a person dies leaving behind only a daughter, a son’s daughter and a sister, one-half of the inheritance goes to the daughter, one-sixth to the son’s daughter (which combined make two-thirds) and the remaining one-third to the sister.[16]



More details from the hadiths concerning inheritance



Inheritance by Men and Women

From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia§):  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller


(Editor’s note. Some examples of the laws of inheritance are included here. The details of this topic are too complex to summarize in any detail.)




Inheritance by men and women


Determining parentage for inheritance



Inheritance by men and women (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia). The scholars* agree that a daughter inherits from her parents half of what a son inherits. If there is only one son and no daughters, he inherits everything; if there is only one daughter and no sons, she gets half of the estate. If there are three or more daughters and no sons, the daughters divide two-thirds of the estate. The majority of scholars agree that two daughters also divide two-thirds of the estate.[17]


A husband inherits one-half of his wife’s estate if she had no children or grandchildren (children of her son) to inherit; he inherits one-quarter if she has such inheritors. If a man does not have children or children of a son to inherit, then his wife inherits one-quarter of his estate; she inherits one-eighth if he has such inheritors.[18]


If a person’s only heirs are his parents, the father gets two-thirds and the mother gets one-third. If a person dies and has one or more sons or children of sons, then each parent inherits one-sixth. If a man dies and only his wife and two parents survive, the wife gets one-quarter, the mother one-quarter and the father one-half. If a woman dies and only her husband and two parents survive, her husband gets one-half, her mother one-sixth and her father one-third.[19]



Determining parentage for inheritance (jurisprudence/fiqh/sharia).  Reliance of the Traveller (Shafiʽi school) specifies that when a married woman has a child, her husband is considered to be the father of the child as long as (1) they have been married more than six months, (2) they could have had sexual intercourse at any time less than four years prior to the birth, and (3) the husband is at least 9½ years old and has intact genitals.[20]


When a child is born six months after a marriage is contracted, Abu Hanifa says the child belongs to the husband and thus will inherit from him whether or not the husband had sexual intercourse with his wife. Malik and al-Shafiʽi say that the child is associated with the husband and thus will inherit from him only if the husband had sexual intercourse with his wife at least six months before the child was born.[21]


A man who has been continuously separated from his wife can be associated with her child if the birth occurs no more than four years following the separation – this being the maximum duration of pregnancy according to al-Shafiʽi[22] and the Shafiʽi school.[23] The maximum duration for this is five years according to Malik.[24]


Reliance of the Traveller (Shafiʽi school) says that a man who is certain that he did not have sexual intercourse with his wife between six months and four years prior to the time she gave birth may deny paternity of the child. He must do this immediately by accusing his wife of adultery (process of lian).[25] He may not deny paternity of the child and accuse his wife of adultery if he has any doubt as to whether he had sexual intercourse with her during the specified time interval prior to the birth.[26]


When a son was not acknowledged by a dead parent but is acknowledged by one of two inheriting sons, al-Shafiʽi says nothing is due to that person. Abu Hanifa says that the son who acknowledges the person as his brother is to give him half of the amount that he, the acknowledging son, gets. Malik says that the son who acknowledges that the other person is his brother is to give him the amount he would have gotten if both brothers had acknowledged him as their brother.[27]


When there is only one son acknowledged by the dead parent and that son acknowledges that there is another son, Malik and Abu Hanifa say that the person acknowledged by his brother has full inheritance rights as a son of the deceased. Al-Shafiʽi expressed conflicting views on this point.[28]


A majority of scholars agree that a child born as a result of unlawful sexual intercourse (zina) is not associated with, and thus does not inherit from, his biological parents.[29]



Additional summaries of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia) concerning inheritance




*Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam:  the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.


§The specific derived laws of fiqh summarized here are often referred to by the more general term sharia law.



Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.


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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

QR:   Qur’an, with surahs (chapters) and ayahs (verses) numbered as in most modern translations, including those found here, here and here.

BK:    Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC/CMJE website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources. Part or all of the hadith collections of al-Bukhari, with somewhat different numbering systems, can also be found here, here and here.

ML:    Hadith collection of Muslim as found here and here. Part or all of the hadith collection of Muslim, with somewhat different numbering systems, can also be found here and here.

DJP:  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Full text online and download for Volume 1 are here and here and for Volume 2 are here and here.

RT:    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.  Reliance of the Traveller can be found here and here.

SR:    al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.

[1] QR 4:7

[2] QR 4:13

[3] QR 4:13

[4] QR 4:14

[5] QR 4:11

[6] QR 4:12

[7] QR 4:176

[8] QR 2:240

[9] QR 2:180-182

[10] BK 4:51:10, BK 8:80:731

[11] BK 8:80:735, ML 11:3932, ML 11:3933, ML 11:3934, ML 11:3935-3936

[12] ML 11:3933

[13] BK 8:80:735

[14] ML 11:3932, ML 11:3935-3936

[15] BK 8:80:736, ML 11:3939, ML 11:3940, ML 11:3941-3942, ML 11:3943

[16] BK 8:80:728, BK 8:80:734

[17] DJP 51.1.1 (Vol 2, pages 413-415)

[18] DJP 51.1.2 (Vol 2, page 415)

[19] DJP 51.1.3 (Vol 2, pages 415-417)

[20] RT n10.2-10.3 (page 572)

[21] DJP 52.2 (Vol 2, pages 425-437)

[22] DJP 52.2 (Vol 2, pages 425-437)

[23] RT n9.5 (page 568)

[24] DJP 52.2 (Vol 2, pages 425-437)

[25] RT n10.4 (page 573)

[26] RT n10.5 (page 573)

[27] DJP 52.2 (Vol 2, pages 425-437)

[28] DJP 52.2 (Vol 2, pages 425-437)

[29] DJP 52.2 (Vol 2, pages 425-437)