Recently in Dubai, which follows Islamic inheritance, denied a 14-year-old daughter from the UK with her share, on account of her being a Non-Muslim (specifically a Christian). The daughter herself and her mother claim to be Muslim.
So what happened? An apparent injustice that does not appear to have much of anything to do with Islam. This discussion is not meant to air out someone else’s family drama. It is relevant to you and your family — the underlying problem here and how this specific injustice is prevalent. Note though, this is from public reporting and may not be completely accurate, but it’s still useful.
Here is an outline of the story as I understand it: a man was married to women, had a child, and then left his first wife and married another wife. So far, a common scenario. His daughter lived in the United Kingdom, he lived in Dubai, then died there. Now the ex-wife and the widow did not like each other very much. No big surprise. The ex-wife wondered out loud why her husband would leave her for a woman she thought looked like a horse. In Dubai, it seems, likening the appearance of a woman you don’t like to a member of the animal kingdom can land you in jail.
Another consequence to this is that somehow the potty-mouthed women’s daughter (and the dead man’s) is declared a Christian. So may this makes no sense to you. Legal systems can be wacky, and injustices can take place in them.
Declaring someone a Non-Muslim can be a pretext for something else
Here is the thing though that makes this case relevant for Muslims who live in places like the United States: Claiming an heir is a “non-Muslim” is often a convenient solution to challenges in family politics, personal grudges, perceived past slights and virtually anything that makes being in a family painful for some.
So in some significant ways, the actions taken by the court in Dubai is not that different from the kind of things Muslim families will request that I do for them: exclude a family member. Of course, non-Muslim family members cannot inherit under the Islamic Rules of Inheritance. So telling me someone is a non-Muslim is a way to disinherit them. It’s also not a court ruling like in Dubai. We don’t even need to pretend to have an objective hearing about the issue.
The Trap of not knowing
A non-Muslim cannot inherit from a Muslim. This phrase comes from a hadith and also a principle in Islamic inheritance law. It also does not mean that a non-Muslim child cannot get anything from a Muslim parent after death since a wasiyyah is available. In this particular case, it would be impossible for a parent to know that a 14-year-old child, who is an heir in Islam and thus ineligible for a wasiyyah, would be declared a non-Muslim by the court.
But what happens if a father in the dark?
Hamza, a Muslim and Stacy, a Christian, got a nikah as juniors in high school. They had a child together, Brianna. Hamza started to become more religious and divorced Stacy, who never converted to Islam. Hamza and Stacy had a bad breakup. Hamza moved thousands of miles away, marrying a different wife and had several additional children. He never saw Brianna after the age of 2. Brianna is now 13 years old. The question is, does Hamza regard his daughter as Muslim or not?
If Hamza does nothing, Brianna is likely to be forgotten. Yes, there is an intestacy statute in every state, which theoretically protects Brianna. However, Hamza’s marriage to a woman who is not Brianna’s mother may trump legal protections under state intestacy law. Under most circumstances in the United States, everything goes to the surviving spouse, even if that result is unjust. If he is going to follow Islamic Inheritance, he needs to do an Islamic Estate Plan.
If Hamza plans, he needs to know if he is going to name Brianna as an heir in Islam, a beneficiary in the wasiyyah, or if he is going to exclude her completely.
Dangerous to Assume
I know of a situation where a single non-Muslim mother was raising her child as a Muslim, even paid to have him attend an expensive Islamic School. Her son’s father left her many years ago and had no relationship with the child or mother. That did not matter to the mother. She thought it was important to raise her child as a Muslim even though she was not a Muslim herself. Just because there was a divorce and the non-Muslim ex-wife hates her Muslim ex-husband does not necessarily mean she hates his religion. It may, but it’s ridiculously dangerous and potentially grossly unjust to assume this is the case.
I wonder about that situation: does the father know the son is Muslim? Does he care? If he dies, does his Muslim son get any inheritance at all?
What are Islamic Values Here?
The one thing that we need to understand is at the core of this is family obligations. You cannot cut off family ties.
People like to be the heroes in their own stories. Sometimes, people may come to someone like me to figure out how to get an “Islamic” stamp of approval when they commit an injustice. Sometimes, they go to a Judge in Dubai.
The Quran mandates inheritance to heirs. Yes, this is not absolute, and people can and even must exclude people from shares when they are non-Muslim. However, you better be sure.
To set up an appointment with our office and schedule an Islamic Estate Plan, click here.