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Sunni Law of Inheritance

Inheritance or Faraid is a concept related to property. The principle of Inheritance deals with the passing of or transfer of property from person to person based on a relationship.

The Muslims are divided into two main sects known as Sunnis and Shias.

The Sunnis are further divided into four sub-sects:

  • The Hanafis
  • The Maliks
  • The Shafeis
  • The Hanbalis

Of these four sects, Hanafis are followed by the majority of Sunnis In India. Shaikh Sirajuddin composed the Hanafi law and his works are well known as "Sirajiyyah".

What is heritable property

What is left, after deducting the following items from the property left by a Muslim on his death, is the heritable property & it is this property that devolves to the heirs. the following items are as follows:
  • Funeral expenses
  • Debts
  • Legacies- subject to the limits of the testamentary powers
  • Wages for personal service to the deceased within three months of his death
  • Expenses of obtaining probate and letters of administration from the court.

The general principle of inheritance under Muslim law

  • The husband or wife was made an heir
  • Females and cognates were made competent to an heir
  • Parents and ascendants were given the right to inherit even when were male Descendents
  • As a general rule, a female was given one half the share of a male

The Islamic principle of inheritance:

  1. The Couple that is the husband and wife are equal and they are entitled to inherit from each other
  2. Near females and cognates are also being recognized and enumerated as heirs.
  3. Parents and specific ascendants are made heirs even when there are descendants.
  4. The newly created heirs that were not entitled to inherit under customary law are given particular or specified shares.
  5. The newly created heirs inherit the specified shares with the customary heirs and not to their exclusion.
  6. After the allotment of particular shares to the sharers is done the residue goes to the customary heirs who are known as residuary.

Classes of heirs under Sunni law

The Hanafi jurists divided heirs into seven classes, the three principal and four subsidiary classes
The three principal classes are as follows:
  1. Quranic heirs or Sharers ( dhawul-furud)

    The Quran deals very exhaustively with the law relating to inheritance & the first class of heirs consists of certain close relations of the deceased to whom a specific share is allotted in the Quran they are known as Quranic heirs, the equivalent English term to Quranic heirs is shares comes from the days of Sir William Jones who punished a translation of the Sirajiyyah in 1972.

    The share is derived from fractional shares fixed by the holy Quran, these fractions are in the six numbers �, 1/4, 1/8, 2/3, 1/3, & 1/6 shares are the highest sense of obligatory that is Farida.

    12 Quranic heirs include four men & eight women:
    • Father
    • Grandfather
    • Husband
    • Uterine brother
    • Uterine sister
    • Wife
    • Daughter
    • Son�s daughter
    • Full sister
    • Consanguine sister
    • Mother
    • Paternal or maternal grandmother.

  2. Residuaries or Agnatic heirs (Asabat)

    Agnatic heirs are the second class of heirs after Shares and know as asabat rendered as near male agnates. the term residuary implies that a fractional share is taken out of the estate and the remaining portion is left to this class of heirs, the shares of the residuaries are not fixed

    Further, the residuariesar have been divided into four groups:
    • Ascendants
    • Descendants
    • Descendants of father
    • Descendants of father�s father how high soever.
    The rules of shares residuaries:
    • Rule 1: Each preceding residuary excludes all the succeeding residuaries.
    • Rule 2: when there is a female residuary taking with a male, the male takes double of females� shares.
    • Rule 3: the only female residuaries are daughter, son�s daughter, full sister, and consanguine sister.

  3. Uterine heirs or Distant kindred (zawul Arham)

    All persons related to the deceased by blood, whether male or female are uterine or distant kindred, except those who are in the Quranic heirs or residuaries .

    the distant kinsman would succeed only in the case where there are no shares or residuaries , as they are excluded by shares or residuaries.

    There is an exception to this rule is if an only heir is the husband or wife, they would not exclude distant kindred from inheriting

    The rule regarding shares of uterine heirs are as follows:
    • Rule 1: the first class of distant kindred excludes the second
    • Rule 2: the nearer in degree excludes the more remote.
    • Rule 3: as amongst the member of the same class and the same degree the children of shares and residuaries are preferred to those of distant kindred.
    • Rule 4: subject above rules, a male takes the double of a female.
    • Exclusion under Sunni law of inheritance
    Grounds for exclusion are as follows:
    • Homicide
    • Illegitimacy
    • Slavery
    • Difference of religion
    • Difference of allegiance
    • Estoppels in succession
    • Escheat

  1. Homicide
    Under Hanafis law a person who causes the death of a person is not entitled to inherit the property of that person, no matter whether the death was caused intentionally or by accident.
  2. Illegitimacy
    Under Sunni law an illegitimate child or person is not entitled to his father�s property and is disqualified from inheriting, but the illegitimate child is entitled to the mother�s property.
  3. Difference of religion
    Under Islamic law, a non-Muslim could not inherit from a Muslim but the caste disabilities removal act of 1850 does away in India with exclusion from inheritance from a deceased Muslim on the ground of mere difference of religion whether due to apostasy or otherwise.
  4. Difference of allegiance
    With the end of Muslim rule India this ground of exclusion lost its significance.
  5. Estoppels in succession
    A person who first denies his relationship with the propositus, cannot be allowed subsequently to turn his back and claim inheritance when succession opens.
  6. Escheat
    Where a Muslim who died and he has no legal heir under his law, his properties are inherited by Government through the process of escheat. The state is viewed as a definitive heir of deceased persons.
  1. Aqil Ahmad, Mohammedan Law, (Central law Agency, Allahabad, 22nd ed., 2006).
  2. Dr. M. A. Quereshi, Muslim Law, (Central Law Publications, Allahabad, 3rd ed., 2007).
  3. Dr. S. R. Myneni, Muslim Law & Other Personal Laws, (Asia Law House, Hyderabad, 2009).
  4. Gaurav Purohit, Sunni Law of Inheritance (visited on 24 May 2022 )

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