The Islamic Succession

Author: Munazza Hollingsworth – partner at RHJ Devonshire solicitors.

Many of you will come across the words ‘Shari’a Law’, in other words Islamic Law. It is a religious law based on the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing with him).

The Shari’a law courts cover family matters, succession, property and criminal law.

It is often said and seen that Islamic law is complicated and non-uniform. The key elements of Islamic law are usually the same, however, the sources of jurisprudence can be different.

Islamic law sets out strict and rigid inheritance rules that determine how a Muslim’s estate is to be divided between his or her heirs on death.

Under this law testamentary freedom is restricted to just one third of the Deceased’s net estate, after deduction of all debts and funeral expenses. The remaining two thirds is divided in accordance with Shari’a.

How is the Estate divided?

As stated earlier, the two third share of the Deceased’s estate that is subject to Shari’a inheritance rules will differ depending on which Islamic sect the Deceased belonged to.

Most commonly, it will be distributed in accordance with a hierarchy of three classes of heirs:

  1. First class often referred to as the Quranic Heirs or Sharers; and
  2. The remaining two classes are the residuary Heirs.

There are six heirs who will always inherit if they survive the Deceased and these are, husband/wife, son, daughter, father and mother.

The first group are entitled to specific shares, but they cannot all inherit at the same time and some may exclude others:

  • A husband is entitled to half his deceased wife’s estate if she has no children. If she has children, he is entitled to a quarter share.
  • A wife is entitled to a quarter share of her deceased husband’s estate if she has no children. If she has children, she is entitled to one eighth.
  • Sons usually inherit twice as much as their sisters when one of their parents dies.


In the absence of children, the grandchildren or remoter issue would inherit although the daughter’s children are unlikely to inherit even if the daughter has died.

The second group includes grandparents and siblings. In the absence of siblings, nephews and nieces inherit.

The third group includes paternal and maternal aunts and uncles and their descendants.

Specific rules govern half brothers and sisters and step parents. Half-brothers and sisters only inherit if there are no full brothers or sisters alive at the date of death.

Lastly, adopted children are not considered as the couple’s own and therefore are not within the primary heirs but the deceased can leave them a bequest from the one third of his/her estate over which he has testamentary freedom. He can also give them lifetime gifts.

The remaining one third share provides some degree of testamentary freedom. Having said this, this distribution must also comply with Shari’a.

A further important factor to consider is, it is generally accepted that a non-Muslim, even if he is a Follower of the Book cannot inherit from a Muslim although non-Muslims who are Christians or Jews (i.e. those who believe in revealed scriptures) can generally inherit from the part of the estate over which the deceased has testamentary freedom.

If no testamentary requests are made, the remaining proportion of the estate will be distributed amongst the surviving relatives.

English Law and Shari’a compliant Wills

Whilst we understand the importance of complying with Shari’a law, it is also important to ensure that your Will adheres to the principles of Islam as well as being tax efficient and compliant with the laws of England and Wales.

Planning for the future is key to preserving your assets and mitigating tax.  Our team at RHJ Devonshire Solicitors can help by guiding you through the process and working out the best way forward for you and your family.

Dying without a Shari’a compliant Will, or any Will, may result in your estate being more complex and difficult to administer, as well as being costly.

It further means that assets will be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy in England and Wales. These do not include provisions for Shari’a compliance.

RHJ Devonshire Solicitors are highly experienced in all aspects of Shari’a Wills and can assist with specialist Shari’a compliant Wills.

Losing a loved one can be a difficult time and the laws surrounding Inheritance Tax can be complex. It is imperative you speak to the experts to make sure you make the right decisions and your affairs are in order.