Inheritance: Undutiful son and his inheritance

Q278 :1. A relative of mine has one son by his first wife and two more as well as four daughters by his second wife. Relations between the first son and his stepmother were not very good all the time. As he was managing his father's properties, he moved with his own family into one of his father's houses. There was a long dispute between father and son and the latter complained to the village administrative committee, headed by his own friends. They excommunicated the father making a manifestly one-sided verdict. Insulted and irritated, the father has transferred many of his own properties to his second wife and her children and made a will that his first wife's son should not inherit anything from him. The father has now died. May I ask what Islam says about his own and his son's action? How to divide the properties? 2. A close friend of mine, who has a son and a daughter by his previous marriage (since divorced), has gifted all his land and property to his second wife and his children by her. He has, however, taken due care to adequately provide for his daughter by his first marriage while denying the same to his son, due to his gross disobedience and misbehaviour towards him. He says that this is permissible under the provisions relating to an undutiful child. Could you please comment on this action in the light of Islamic law of inheritance?

A278 : The apparent similarity between these two letters and the problems they outline is highly significant. The problem is not peculiar to any particular community. In fact, this story is heard often, when friction between stepmother and her husband's children develops into a long-drawn dispute. It is more likely for such a problem to become irreconcilable when the father is rich and when he is too busy or too involved to take an objective attitude to protect the rights of every one concerned. While no one disputes the right of the father to have a second wife, if his first wife dies or if his marriage is not successful, or indeed for other reasons, he must be careful not to allow friction to develop between his second wife and his children by his earlier marriage. Such friction does not only spoil the happy family life but it can easily lead to problems which may earn the father himself Allah's displeasure, if he becomes unfair to any party among his closest relatives. In both these stories, we find the father resorting to the extreme measure of transferring his property to his second wife and her children. In the first case, the father denies his son by his first marriage the right to inherit him. In the second, the father tries to give his actions a legal aspect by saying that he is invoking certain provision in the Islamic law of inheritance. In the first one, he is making a will depriving his son of inheriting from him. Neither action can be sanctioned by Islam. It is quite possible that the father in such a case becomes very unhappy with his son who may resort to measures which are unacceptable and in conflict with his duty to be kind and respectful toward his father. Such actions by the son may appear to his father worse than they really are, especially if the son is consistently accused of disrespect and furthering his own interests without giving due regards to his father. However, the father must never forget his responsibilities and must be careful to give every one of his family what is due to them of care, love and fair treatment. I cannot help the feeling that the father in the first case has been heavily leaning toward one side in the dispute in his family. I imagine that the son would not have dared complain about his father to the village committee without having very good grounds for making such a complaint. In a village community, a son, especially an adult, is expected to be dutiful to his father and not to oppose him in any fashion. It seems, however, that the dispute was a fierce one, and probably continued for a very long time. The son has been able to persuade a committee to pronounce a verdict against his father, although the members of the committee must have been keenly aware of the difficulty of their task and that they must never violate the village rules of propriety and morality. My reader describes their verdict as one sided. It may have been so, but was the father's attitude throughout the dispute a fair one, or did he lean to one side more than the other? In both cases, the father must have never allowed the situation to worsen so badly. He should have stopped the fire before it burnt the peace in his family. Be that as it may, the fire could not be put off with the sort of measure to which both fathers had recourse, namely, denying the son his right of inheritance. I am amazed at the suggestion that this can be sanctioned by Islam under certain provisions. This is certainly not the case. The Islamic law of inheritance is very detailed and its details have been given to us by Allah Himself. It is not possible, therefore, to add to it or delete from it any provisions. What Allah has ordered must be obeyed, if it sometimes appears to us that a certain clause which has not been included in this law may be appropriate. One of the balanced rules of this law of inheritance is that no one can give any of his heirs an extra portion of his estate by will. It is, therefore, not open to any father to give any of his children a little extra on top of his or her apportioned share. On the other hand, no father may disinherit any of his children. Their shares have been determined by Allah and they are entitled to them, disregarding the parents' wishes and desires. It appears, however, that in both cases, the fathers have resorted to other measures, assigned their properties to those of their heirs whom they favoured, having little to be divided according to the law of inheritance. Such a transfer of property during the lifetime of its owner and when he is in possession of his senses is accepted as legal. However, that legality is merely formal. Allah will undoubtedly hold the father to account for his action. The father will have to justify it and such a justification may be beyond him. How can he answer Allah when he asks him : How can you prevent your son from receiving what I have assigned to him by way of inheritance? What I am trying to say here is that although a court of law may approve the measures taken by the father as legal, he still has to justify them to Allah who knows true intentions and motives as well as circumstances. If the other heirs of the father want to be kind to him, they will hold a meeting of reconciliation and divide the property left by the father according to the rules of the Islamic way of inheritance. In the first case, the reader asks how the property should be divided. In all, the father has left behind one wife, three sons and four daughters. His wife inherits one eighth of all the properties and the remainder is divided into ten equal shares. Each of the four daughters receives one share while every one of the three sons receives two shares. In other words, if the second wife of the man and her children want to lighten the burden of the father, they should give the son by his first marriage a share which amounts to less than one fifth of his father's property. By doing so, they would do the father a great act of kindness and they help bring about a reconciliation within the family. Who knows, but the sons and daughters of the second marriage may find themselves in need of their elder brother who will be ready to help, if he feels that they have nothing against him. They can demonstrate that by giving him that to which he is entitled by his father's property. [Added : If you gift some of your property during your lifetime to any of your children for a very cogent reason, you may do so. If, however, you are doing so because you feel that a particular child, e.g., the eldest son or a daughter, should inherit more because according to you the share fixed by rules of inheritence are not to your liking or that they are not fair, then you will be placing your wisdom above that of Allah and you will be answerable to Allah for He is all wise and knows best.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )