Trust quarterly review
30 June 2016 Issue 2 Richard Frimston

Book review: The Islamic Law of Wills and Inheritance

By Dr Abid Hussain

Reviewed By Richard Frimston

This is a weighty book, and one for which I have been waiting for years; it is formed of 508 pages and 53 chapters densely packed with extremely useful material.

Dr Abid Hussain is not a lawyer but a UK health worker and a Muslim with a great interest in this topic. I have been very lucky to have been able in the past to participate in some seminars with him in the UAE and now to count him as a friend. Readers may feel that this review is, therefore, perhaps coloured by that friendship.

The author’s background inevitably means that this is not a book written by lawyers for lawyers, but a book written by a believer with a fascination for the subject, in an attempt to help anyone struggling to understand this branch of Shari’a law. Although his previous book, The Islamic Law of Succession was very valuable, this new work is invaluable.

In his introduction, Dr Hussain acknowledges that ‘The public has been conditioned to hear alarm bells at the mere mention of the word Shari’a’. In chapter 48, he directly addresses the criticisms of the rule that a male is given twice as much as a female. Whatever the views of non-Muslims, an explanation of the Islamic laws of inheritance by a Muslim helps us, as professionals, to understand the Islamic perspective.

Chapters one to nine give a helpful introduction to Islam; the Qur’an and the relevant verses; the Sunna, or path of the Prophet Muhammad; and the Ijma, or consensus of the Muslim jurists. Many other concepts used in the book are also dealt with, including, in chapter seven, issues relating to marriage and divorce.

Dr Hussain’s detailed explanation of the Islamic laws of inheritance, in chapters 10 to 37, is very similar to his earlier work. The tables and examples are exhaustive, not for browsing but for practical use. He also sets out, in chapter 49, some scholars’ differing views from the 1980s onwards, and discusses their merits and demerits.

There are detailed descriptions of many interesting issues. Chapter 28, for example, deals with missing persons (Mafqud), while chapters 34 to 36 deal with illegitimate, adopted, foster and unborn children, and chapter 37 considers hermaphrodites (Khuntha).

In chapter 53, the author refers to and approves of the Irth (‘The Islamic Inheritance Program’), a downloadable computer program (www.islamicsoftware.org/irth), but stresses the need always to use the most up-to-date version. He also explains its limitations and defects.

His summary in chapter 44 of the reforms to Islamic law in various states, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia the UAE and many others – the variations to the four main Sunni schools – is excellent. However, references to Shia are limited, and Iran is not featured. That is perhaps for the next edition.

Chapters 46 and 47 deal with the related subjects of gifts (Hibat) and endowments (Waqf and their plural, Awqaf).

This book, in chapters 50 to 52, also deals very clearly with estate-planning issues and the forms of wills in non-Islamic countries, such as the UK, that might be Shari’a-compliant. Dr Hussain discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different arrangements and provides some clear precedents and options for forms of wills that could be regarded as Shari’a-compliant. He also discusses the problems caused for Muslims by the US community-property and spousal-election rights, and the New Zealand and Canadian family-law rules.

Many parts of this book need to be read as a whole, while others provide necessary reference material. The eight-page glossary at the end is brilliant, although the index could perhaps be improved.

For any practitioner who might need to advise Muslim clients, this book is a must. For anyone interested, it is also fascinating.

ISBN: 978-0-9931701-0-2

Price: GBP60

Publisher: Wrentham Consultancy UK 

Authors

Richard Frimston