A ‘Discrepancy’ in the Qur’ānic Law of Inheritance
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

A Hindu friend of mine has pointed out the following ambiguity in the Qur’ānic verses which mention the law of inheritance. Please help me in removing his misconception. While alluding to these verses, he writes:

Let us suppose that a man dies and leaves behind three daughters, both parents and his wife. According to the verses stated below, the three daughters together will receive 2/3 of the share, both the parents will receive 1/3 of the share and the wife will receive 1/8 of the share. Let us add these:

2/3 + 1/3 + 1/8 = 9/8 = 1.125.

The distribution of the property adds up to more than the available property! How can this distribution be possible? Obviously, this is a great error.

I now quote the relevant verses:

Allah directs you as regards your children’s [inheritance]: to the male a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her, share is a half. For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no  children, and the parents are the heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased left brothers the mother has a sixth... (4:11)

In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, you get a fourth; after payment of legacies and debts. In what you leave, their share is a fourth, if you leave no child; but if you leave a child, they get an eighth… (4:12)


I am afraid that your friend has wrongly interpreted the law of inheritance from the Qur’ān. It is this erroneous interpretation which has caused the apparent anomaly. In this regard, the foremost thing which needs to be appreciated is that the children of a deceased are the real beneficiaries of his or her inheritance. This is evident from the fact that their shares are not mentioned as a fraction of the total inheritance left behind. Rather they are mentioned in a way which indicates the proportion between the male children and the female ones. This entails that they shall be handed their shares in this proportion only after the rest of the inheritance is distributed in the prescribed way. Consequently, if the deceased only has female offspring (as in this case), their two-third share will be given from what remains after the inheritance is distributed among the rest of the heirs; your friend has made the cardinal mistake of giving this two-third share from the total inheritance. This of course has resulted in the anomaly that the shares exceed the available inheritance.

Let me give you an example to illustrate what has been said above. If it is said: ‘This money is for the children. Let each boy receive twice as much as a girl, and let the father receive half the amount and the brother one-fourth the amount’, any person who has a little linguistic sense will clearly understand these sentences to mean that the money is actually meant for the children. If these sentences had ended without a mention of the father’s and brother’s share, all the money would have been distributed among the boys and girls in the proportion indicated. But since the father is also to be given half the amount and the bother one-fourth the amount, it is imperative that the father and the brother should first receive this amount and the what remains should then be distributed among the children.

Consequently if the shares of the children are given from the what remains after giving the shares of the parents and the wife, they never exceed the actual amount. In the given situation, the shares are:

Share of the parents: 1/3 of the total amount 

Share of the wife: 1/8 of the total amount

Share of the three daughters: 2/3 of what remains after giving the above shares.

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