Can a Muslim disinherit or disown someone who is not appropriately practicing Islam?
The short answer about disinheritance or disowning a Muslim child (or likely an adult child) because they did haram things is no, you cannot do that. But this is so much more interesting than that simple answer.
Many American Muslims pay attention to the history and the trajectory of the American Jewish community. The reasons for that are quite obvious. Leaving aside the politics of the moment, it is hard to ignore the many similarities as well as so much common history.
One of the other things that you may not know about Judaism, is that the Bible actually has its own system of inheritance and many people, to this day, hope to have their estate distributed based on Jewish law. Jewish law and the Jewish traditions have made their way into mainstream American culture as well as law for at least the past century.
In the Los Angeles area, non-Jewish business owners agree to have their business disputes resolved through arbitration based on Jewish law rather than local California law. One of the earliest law review articles I remember reading was by Judge Alex Kozinski & Eugene Volokh, which described how Yiddish was replacing Latin as the “spice language” of American law. How rapid change could occur in the law and how people think was so fascinating for so many reasons. This is why I am hopeful that the fard of Islamic Inheritance will eventually catch on with American Muslims.
In my own field, and I am an Islamic Estate Planning Attorney, one of the more interesting cases concerning the Jewish community involves the so-called “Jewish clause.” This would be a provision in an estate plan that mandates a beneficiary to be married to a Jewish spouse rather than marry outside of the faith. Marriage is, of course, the way to protect a society and a religion. The Testator (the person writing the will or trust) would disown or disinherit whoever did not comply.
In case you’re wondering unless it is against public policy (and in this type of situation, it is not) you can generally place all sorts of conditions on inheritance. In a place like California, there is really no right to inheritance anyway. You can disown or disinherit family under state law.
In Islam, there is a right to inheritance, but that is not recognized in the law unless an individual makes it so for his or her own wealth. What is also different about the Muslim community from some of the litigation that had previously taken place within the Jewish community on the issue of the “Jewish clause” is that Muslim men can marry Christians and Jews) the women may not. These types of marriages should have no negative consequences with regard to inheritance for anyone. No matter who they marry, even if it actually violates Islamic rules, Muslims would still be entitled to inheritance by right. Those are separate issues.
You see, it does not matter if someone is a “good” Muslim, or a “bad” Muslim, if they misbehave in public or are serving time in prison for murdering a total stranger; Muslim heirs have the right to inheritance.
Sometimes, I get clients who want to attach strings to their children’s inheritance. They want to make sure that their child marries a Muslim, they want to make sure that their child memorizes a certain amount of the Quran or other such beneficial things. I always tell them that they cannot do that. They do not need to earn an inheritance, as it is theirs by right, ordained by Allah.
So the issue of the Jewish clause is actually irrelevant to the Muslim community right?
Not exactly. Being Muslim or not is a consequential status for inheritance rights. For example, if an individual was once but is now is no longer a Muslim, there is to disinherit. If they were never Muslim to begin with, they do not have the right to inheritance, but they do have the potential ability to obtain a wasiyyah. In some ways, this is a much more complex issue than merely mandating marriage with the threat to disinherit. The strange thing about the Jewish clause is that it actually mandated that an individual should marry within the Jewish faith, it did not mandate that the beneficiary actually continue to be Jewish.
For Muslims, there is a requirement that the inheritance by right go to somebody who is a Muslim. It is not actually mandated that the Muslim be especially observant or marries within the faith tradition. Even if a beneficiary is a disappointment, A Muslim generally has no right to subject a rightful heir to disinherit or disown them. Of course, this is not the same as a legal right under state law, where you generally can do that.