Rights of Inheritance of Muslim Woman – Muslim Personal Laws in India

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The Muslim Law of Succession is a combination of four sources i.e. the Holy Quran, Sunna (practice of prophet), Ijma, (Consensus of the learned men of the community over the decision over a particular subject matter), Qiya (deductions based on analogy on what is right and just in accordance with good principles). Muslim law recognises two types of heirs, firstly, sharers, the ones who are entitled to certain share in the deceased’s property and secondly, Residuaries, the ones who would take up the share in the property that is left over after the sharers have taken their part.

It is noteworthy that the Muslim law does not make any strict distinction between any two or more type of properties such as movable and immovable, corporeal and incorporeal etc. Since there is no such distinction between different kinds of properties, therefore, on the event of death of a person, every such property which was within the ambit of ownership of the deceased person shall become a subject matter of inheritance. The amount of property that shall become the subject matter of inheritance and is made available to the legal heirs to inherit shall be determined after making certain appropriations. Such appropriations may include expenses paid in lieu of funeral, debts, legacies, wills etc. After making all these payments, the left over property shall be termed as the inheritable property.

Every religion practiced in India is governed by its respective personal laws – which includes property rights as well. However, Muslims in the country do not have codified property rights and are broadly governed by either of the two schools of the Muslim personal law – the Hanafi and the Shia. While the Hanafi school recognises only those relatives as heirs whose relation to the deceased is through a male. This includes son’sdaughter, son’s son and father’s mother. The Shia school, on the other hand, favours no such discrimination. This means that heirs, who are related to the deceased through a female are also accepted.

Under the Indian legislative scheme, the rules that govern inheritance under the Muslim law depend on the kind of property involved. In cases of Non testamentary succcession, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 gets applied. On the other hand, in case of a person who dies testate i.e. one who has created his will before death, the inheritance is governed under the relevant Muslim Shariat Law as applicable to the Shias and the Sunnis. In cases where the subject matter of property is an immovable property which is situated in the state of West Bengal or comes within the jurisdiction of Madras or Bombay High Court, the Muslims shall be bound by the Indian Succession Act, 1925. This exception is only for the purposes of testamentary succession.

 

The wasiyat (will) under Islamic law

  • A Muslim cannot give away more than one third of his/her total property through a will. In circumstances where there are no heirs in the estate as prescribed by the law, the wife may inherit a greater amount by will. 

Therefore, Succession of 2/3rd part of the assets will be governed under the Muslim Law of Inheritance

Rules of inheritance

  1. A son gets double the share of the daughter wherever they inherit together.
  2. The wife gets one-eighth of the share if there are children and one-fourth of the share if there are no children. In case the husband has more than one wife, the one-eighth share will be divided equally among all wives. The husband gets one fourth of the share of his dead wife’s property,If there are children and one-half if there are no children .
  3. If the parent has more than one daughter, only two-third of the property shall be divided equally among daughters. If the parent has only one daughter, half of the parent’s property is inherited by her.
  4. The mother gets one-sixth of her dead child’s property if there are grandchildren, and one-third of the property if there are no grandchildren.
  5. Parents, children, husband and wife must, in all cases, get shares, whatever may be the number or degree of the other heirs.
  6. Slavery, homicide, difference of religion and difference of allegiance, exclude from inheritance.

Property rights of a daughter in Islam

  • Thus, under the Muslim law, the rules of inheritance are rather strict. A son takes double the share of a daughter, on the other hand, the daughter is the absolute owner of whatever property she inherits. If there is no brother, she gets half a share. It is legally hers to manage, control, and to dispose it off as and when she wants.
  • She is also eligible to receive gifts from those she would inherit from. This is contradictory because she can inherit only one-third of the man’s share but can get gifts without any hassle. 
  • Till a daughter is not married, she enjoys the right to stay in her parents’ house and seek maintenance. In case of a divorce, charge for maintenance reverts to her parental family after the iddat period (approximately three months) is over. However, if her children are in a position to support her, the responsibility falls on them.

Principles governing rules of inheritance of joint or ancestral property

  • Unlike Hindu law, there is no provision of distinction between individual i.e. self acquired or ancestral property. Each and every property that remains within the ownership of an individual can be inherited by his successors. Whenever a Muslim dies, all his property whether acquired by him during his lifetime or inherited from his ancestors can be inherited by his legal heirs. Subsequently, on the death of every such legal heir, his inherited property plus the property acquired by him during his lifetime shall be transferred to his heirs.

Birth right

  • The principle of Hindu law of inheritance of Janmaswatvad does not find place in the Muslim law of inheritance. The question of inheritance of property in Muslim law comes only after the death of a person. Any child born into a Muslim family does not get his right to property on his birth. In fact no such person holds becomes a legal heir and therefore holds no right till the time of death of the ancestor. If an heir lives even after the death of the ancestor, he becomes a legal heir and is therefore entitled to a share in property. However, if the apparent heir does not survive his ancestor, then no such right of inheritance or share in the property shall exist.

Inheritance on the basis of Doctrine of Representation

  • Doctrine of representation states that if during the lifetime of an ancestor, any of his or her legal heirs die, but the latter’s heirs still survive, then such heirs shall become entitled to a share in the property as now they shall be representing their immediate generation. Doctrine of Representation finds its recognition in the Roman, English and Hindu laws of inheritance. However, this doctrine of representation does not find its place in the Muslim law of inheritance. For example, A has two sons B and C. B has 2 children i.e. D and E and C also has two children F and G. During the life time of A if B dies, then on the event of death of A only C shall be entitled to inherit A’s property. B’s children D and E shall not be entitled to any share in A’s property. Between C and B’s children D and E, C would totally exclude D and E from inheriting the property. Therefore, it is said that the nearer heir excludes the remote heir from inheritance.  The Muslim jurists justify the reason for denying the right of representation on the ground that a person has not even an inchoate right to the property of his ancestor until the death of that ancestor.[1] It is further argued that a right which was not vested in any possibility cannot give rise to claim through a deceased person.

Manner of Distribution

  • Under the Muslim law, distribution of property can be made in two ways, firstly per capita or per strip distribution. Per – Capita distribution method is majorly used in the Sunni law. According to this method, the estate left over by the ancestors gets equally distributed among the heirs. Therefore, the share of each person depends on the number of heirs. The heir does not represent the branch from which he inherits.
  • On the other hand, per strip distribution method is recognised in the Shia law. According to this method of property inheritance, the property gets distributed among the heirs according to the strip they belong to. Hence the quantum of their inheritance also depends upon the branch and the number of persons that belong to the branch. For example, if A has two sons i.e. B and C. B has two children i.e. D and E. C has three children F, G and H. Suppose on the death of A his property’s worth is estimated to be about 12000. B and C would be entitled to an equal share of 6000 each. . In case if B and C both die, then the extent of their children’s share shall be in following manner.  B’s children D and E can only inherit the property to the extent of B’s share. Their share shall be 3000 each. As far as the children of C are concerned the extent of property that they can inherit shall extend to 6000. Their respective shares shall be equal i.e. 2000 each. Hence, it can be said that the share of each person in this method of distribution varies.
  • It is noteworthy that the Shia law recognises the principle of representation for a limited purpose of calculating the extent of share of each person. Moreover, under the Shia law this rule is applicable for determining the quantum of share of the descendants of a pre-deceased daughter, pre-deceased brother, pre-deceased sister or that of a pre-deceased aunt.

Right of Females in inheritance of property

  • Muslim does not create any distinction between the rights of men and women. On the death of their ancestor, nothing can prevent both girl and boy child to become the legal heirs of inheritable property. Preferential rights do not exist. However, it is generally found that the quantum of share of female heir is half of that of the male heirs. The justification available to this distinction under Muslim law is that the female shall upon marriage receive mehr and maintenance from her husband whereas males will have only the property of the ancestors for inheritance. Also, males have the duty of maintaining their wife and children.

Rights of inheritance of a child in womb

  • Under Muslim Law, a child in the womb shall only be entitled to the share in property if he or she is born alive. In case if he is born dead then the share vested in him shall cease to exist and it shall be presumed that it never existed.

Rights of a childless widow and widow

  • Under the Shia law, a Muslim widow who does not have any children shall be entitled to inherit one – fourth share of the movable property belonging to her deceased husband. However, a widow with children or childless widow is entitled to one – eighth of the deceased husband’s property. In cases where a Muslim man gets married during a period when he is suffering from some mental illness and dies without consummating the marriage, the widow shall not be entitled to any right over her dead husband’s property.

Rights of the step children

  • The rights of the step children do not extend to inherit the property of their step – parents. However, the step brother can inherit property from their step sister or brother.

Escheat

  • In cases where a person dies without any heir then, the property of such a person shall go to the government. The state is considered as the ultimate heir of every deceased.

The need to re-examine to the Muslim personal law

  • In a recent development, a public interest litigation has been filed asking for an amendment in the Muslim personal law on inheritance, alleging that Muslim women are being discriminated on the issues relating to sharing of property in comparison to their male counterparts.
  • The petition claimed that a bare perusal of the law shows that a wife should receive 1/8th of the property of her husband on his death if they have children. In case there are no children borne out of marriage, she is entitled to 1/4th of the property. A daughter will receive half of the share of a son. In stark contrast, the men receive 1/4th of the property of his wife on her death if they have children. In case there are no children borne out of the marriage, he is entitled to half the property. A son receives double the share of the daughter, the plea alleged.
  • The petition further states that the discrimination based on customary law as well as the statutory law violated Muslim women’s fundamental right to equality enshrined under Articles 14, 19, 21 and other relevant provisions of the Constitution. The plea contended that Article 13 of the Constitution included personal laws, including Muslim personal laws.
  • The Delhi High Court has now sought the Centre’s response on the PIL filed by advocate Raghav Awasthi.
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