Some Reflections on Halal Rizq and Islamic Estate Planning
Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “O people, fear Allah and be graceful in seeking provision, for a soul will never die until it finishes its provision. If it is slow coming, fear Allah and be graceful in seeking provision. Take what is lawful and leave what is unlawful.” (source)
Early in my now decades old legal career I remember vividly a case I had of psychological injury. You see, I was a lawyer for a company that slaughtered pigs. They had an employee who did the actual slaughtering. After years of doing this work, this man was haunted, day and night, by all the pigs he killed. The long dead pigs would approach him at all hours, speak to him and confront him about the violence he perpetuated against them.
Now at this point, you may be wondering, what on earth does this have to do with Islamic Estate Planning, and why is a Muslim lawyer representing a pig slaughterer anyway? Well, it does. Lawyers must often think about ethics, and Muslim lawyers often must consider Islam in the work they do and how they earn their pay. But lawyers, as a general matter do not think of themselves as much different than a plumber or an electrician in several important ways. We usually don’t really care what clients do for a living unless it affects our work. A plumber does not usually concern himself with how a customer earns his money, unless he is helping a customer do something illegal.
Please note, as a disclaimer, this is about how I drew my lines. I think everyone else can draw their own lines on the way they earn a living and consult with knowledgeable and learned people they respect. It’s not my intent to lay out principles that would be applicable to everyone, but I think they should be helpful as the perspective of an Islamic Estate Planning Attorney.
Why I turn down clients
Over the course of many years, here are a few reasons I have had to turn down clients (not an exhaustive list by any means, and not all because it’s haram to help):
- Muslim parents want to disinherit their Muslim daughter because she married a black man (who is Muslim).
- Man wants to use asset protection to launder bags of cash to hide it from ex-wife and men he evidently cheated to obtain said bags of cash, who are soon getting out of prison and may come after him.
- The client turns out to be a very public white nationalist media figure.
It’s Haram to Help Someone Do Something Haram
ۘ وَتَعَاوَنُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلْبِرِّ وَٱلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلْإِثْمِ وَٱلْعُدْوَٰنِ ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَدِيدُ ٱلْعِقَابِ
“[…]cooperate with one another in goodness and righteousness, and do not cooperate in sin and transgression. And be mindful of Allah. Surely Allah is severe in punishment.”
I do a lot of asset protection work, both for Muslims and non-Muslims. Asset protection is one of those areas of law that can attract people who want to both protect their family and wealth from lawsuits that they don’t know about yet. Alternatively, shady characters may contemplate asset protection, and helping such people can implicate the lawyer in cheating and theft. While clients often rely on Attorney-Client Privilege, so attorneys keep their clients’ secrets even to the point that they cannot testify, there is a “crime-fraud” exception. Lawyers can and do get in trouble for helping their clients cheat and steal. They can go to jail.
For a lawyer, that’s an easy line to draw. Don’t help someone steal. Stealing is haram. Stealing is against the law. Great we are clear.
What about Inheritance?
Where I won’t get in any legal trouble, is when a client asks me to do an estate plan that gives everything to a son and excludes a daughter for an unjust reason or gives equally to a daughter and son (which is pretty banal). People have testamentary freedom and lawyers do these kinds of plans all day.
I will turn away Muslims who want to exclude or diminish the rights of heirs for the exact same reason I would turn down a client who wants my help laundering money: It’s haram to help someone so something haram.
Inheritance is ordained in Islam. It is literally a God-given right. In the context of the rules of Inheritance, the Quran is quite clear
وَمَن يَعْصِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۥ وَيَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَهُۥ يُدْخِلْهُ نَارًا خَـٰلِدًۭا فِيهَا وَلَهُۥ عَذَابٌۭ مُّهِينٌۭ
But whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger and exceeds their limits will be cast into Hell, to stay there forever. And they will suffer a humiliating punishment.
It’s not a right for non-Muslims who have their own values that I am happy to put into a plan. But if I help a Muslim deny a right Allah gave to a child, I am helping in that theft. I don’t think helping steal future inheritance from a future orphan is any better than helping a criminal launder money. Yes, one is perfectly legal and the other is not, but that is not my sole inquiry when it comes to my comfort about how I earn my rizq.
But Muslims Keep Asking Me to Do Haram things Anyway
I write and speak about Islamic Inheritance frequently. It’s important to me, Still I do get Muslims to call me because they don’t want to do Inheritance Islamically. Some Muslims, even those that you might consider conventionally religious, go to the Masjid, fast in Ramadan and so forth, are offended by what the Quran says about Inheritance.
. As the years have gone on and there is more education about Islamic Estate Planning, I have grown more offended by this over time. It’s like a Muslim demanding another Muslim serve him whiskey. If you want whiskey, have the decency to not demand it be served to you by another Muslim.
Other Muslims may have worked out difficult ethical issues about how they earn their rizq in ways that may not sit well with everyone. Yet to them, it’s still vital to make sure inheritance is distributed the way ordained by Allah. They don’t want their last act in this world, their parting shot, to be one of injustice against the orphans and others they leave behind.
To talk about Islamic Estate Planning in a 15-Minute mini-consultation with Ahmed Shaikh, click here.