It is mandated for you that at the time of approaching death, if you are going to leave behind (significant) wealth for parents and relatives, you should then make a bequest in a righteous manner—it is obligatory to the person who is consciously mindful and responsible. If anyone changes it after hearing it (or changes a written document), then the sin is to the person who makes such a change, and God is full of Hearing and Knowing. But if one sense san incorrect or sinful action on the part of the testator and tries to facilitate an agreement between the parties, then there is no blame on the person (rather it is commendable), and God is always Forgiving and Merciful.
The issue of bequests and allocation of wealth to heirs is detailed in various other verses in addition to this one (4:11, 5:106). A bequest and an inheritance are two separate matters. The first matter is made obligatory for those who possess significant amounts of wealth, and it is generally understood that no more than one-third of the wealth should be designated as bequeathable. This allows the people to take care of personal and societal needs beyond taking care of their heirs. Also, any bequeathed amount should be set aside before calculating the shares of the various heirs. There seems to be much confusion in this regard, and in the matter of inheritance, despite the fact that the Qur’an is the only Book of revelation to take a bold step in clearly articulating the need for entitlement for the inheritance of both males and females, and it is imperative that our Muslim scholars, lawyers, and leaders study these issues and come to a globally acceptable framework that is equitable to both males and females and is workable and enforceable in all societies where Muslims reside. In my personal view, the actual allocation of an inheritance as provided in the Qur’an is suggestive of and relevant to the time and existing societal condition at the time of the Prophet and not a permanent injunction. It was perhaps the first recorded statement in human history to set definitive legal parameters to include women in the inheritance as well as to include other relatives who play pivotal roles in our individual lives. We should review those allocations periodically and adjust them as appropriate based on overall societal consensus, proper analysis based on fairness and justice, existing laws, and societal norms. The spirit and the expansiveness of the statement is fundamentally more important and instructional than the specific percentages which should be subject to reviews and adjustments.
The provision of honesty, integrity, and respect in dealing with bequests is the right of those bequeathing and the collective responsibility of those involved in the process. There has to be an institutional and legal framework to safeguard the institution of inheritance and bequests. Individual and collective intentions and institutional or legal frameworks at the community, national, and global levels are critically missing, and efforts should be made to achieve these critical societal needs, whether one lives as part of a majority or minority. If we are a party to an agreement, we need to work vigorously to keep that agreement intact, and if we are not a party to an agreement but come to know that there may be misuse on the part of the testator, then we need to intervene in a constructive manner and within an institutional framework to ensure that the agreement is carried out in a proper and just manner.
The Qur’an delves into all issues of human concern since Islam is positioned as a way of life and not as a mere religious doctrine. Proper execution of this way of life requires individual, collective, and institutional frameworks, all of which have greatly deteriorated over the last several centuries of colonial exploitation, self-negligence, and societal indifference.
It is important to create broad-based institutions to educate Muslims in all spheres of knowledge, a proper blending of religious and life skills so that we can be able to create rules and regulations that are workable and that comply with basic values and principles articulated in the Qur’an and in the examples of the prophets. Islam considers wealth to be a trust given by God and enabled by the society one lives in. Islam also recognizes that one’s immediate family, parents, siblings, and near relatives play a critical role in one’s growth and acquisition of wealth during their lifetime and that when one nears death it is imperative that such wealth be distributed in an equitable manner to surviving individuals who are entitled to such wealth, such as their heirs as well as the communities (the ecosystem) in which they accumulated such wealth. There are differences between the approach that Islam takes and those of other religions and nations in this matter, and Muslims needs to articulate the wisdom behind these positions. It is equally critical that there be general awareness and debate of the true intent of the various Qur’anic recommendations and that every society find appropriate ways to implement such recommendations that conform to the principles and assumptions under which these recommendations had been made and how best to implement them in their societies based on collective understanding and agreement.
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