Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

March 2007
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Our Dialogue By Adil Salahi

Making a Will

Q. My maternal grandfather died over 20 years ago. He made a will, by which he gave my mother a house while another house was willed to my brother, who was a minor at the time. The house given to my mother was let out, while we lived in the other house: My grandmother, parents, brother, my two sisters and myself. Several years ago, the rented house was sold to finance the marriages of the three sisters. Now the other house is being sold and we are told that the proceeds will go to my brother. I wonder whether this is correct. My grandmother is too old and weak. She has no income. Please advise.

A. The Islamic system of inheritance is different from all other systems. It is fair to all. Its basis is that man does not own what he has; the owner is God, and we all are simply placed in charge of what we have. Our mandate over it is abrogated at the moment of death. Thus, no one has a say in how his estate is distributed. It is all determined by God who gives fair shares to those who qualify as heirs. These are different from one case to another, depending on which of one’s nearest relatives survive him or her.

Within this context, God has granted us a concession which the Prophet (peace be upon him) describes as an act of charity. It allows us to bequeath by will a portion of our property not exceeding one-third, with the proviso that nothing can be given to anyone who receives a share by the system of inheritance. Thus, no will can be made in favour of one’s parents, children, husband or wife, because these are first degree heirs whose shares are given by God. If they were to receive something by will, this will lead to unfairness, which God does not approve of. What is bequeathed by will should go either to relatives who are not heirs and may be poor and deserving, or to charitable purposes that could earn reward for the person making the will after he or she has died.

Now if we look at this case, we find the man giving one house to his daughter and one to his grandson, leaving other heirs or relatives in the same degree with nothing. This case might have taken place in a country where Islamic law is not implemented, thus allowing the will to stand. Had it been in a Muslim country where the Islamic law of inheritance remains in operation, it would have been pronounced invalid.

The Islamic law of inheritance defines heirs of the first degree who inherit in every case. These are parents and children, as well as the deceased’s spouse, i.e. husband or wife.

This line moves upward to grandparents and their parents, and downward to grandchildren and their children. However, it does not move in either direction unless there are no heirs in the nearer step. Thus, grandchildren do not inherit if their parent, who is the deceased’s son or daughter, is alive. Similarly, a grandfather does not inherit if the deceased’s father is alive. Moreover, a spouse always has a nominated share of inheritance.

In this case, the reader’s maternal grandfather wrote a will that gave his property to some of his heirs, leaving others without anything. How can this be valid? His wife, who is the reader’s grandmother, was left with nothing. Perhaps the man felt that his children would be looking after their mother well. It seems that they did so far, but now that the woman is very old and the house where she is living will be sold, she may be left hard and dry. His daughter, who was given a house, might have received less or more than her share, depending on several factors: was she the only child? Did the man’s property include other substantial assets? His grandson, given the other house, might have been entitled to a share of the property, but I cannot determine that without more information.

What I need from the reader is to write again, stating exactly who of the man’s relations were alive at the time of his death. She should mention whether he had other sons and daughters, or may be another wife, and whether he had either or both of his parents alive, and also what brothers and sisters of his were alive at the point of his death. She should also mention when any of these died. Without such information, I cannot answer her question.

Division of Property

Q. When my father died, leaving behind our mother, two sons and two daughters, we had one house, which belonged to my mother and her two sisters. We all contributed to buy my aunts’ shares and made my mother the sole owner. We have recently learned that my mother registered the house in my two brothers’ names. My sister and I feel that this is unfair. Can she undo what she has already done?

A. Your mother’s action is unacceptable from the Islamic point of view. One of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Al-Numan ibn Basheer, reports that his father gave him a slave as a gift and went to the Prophet asking him to be a witness to the gift. The Prophet asked him whether he gave all his children similar gifts. When the man answered in the negative, the Prophet said to him: “Then seek for yourself another witness because I do not witness injustice.” This is a highly authentic Hadith which signifies that giving one child a significant gift to the exclusion of other children is ‘injustice’, which means that it is forbidden in Islam. The Prophet refused even to count himself as a witness.

It should be explained here that when a parent gives gifts to his children, he should maintain equality, giving a daughter exactly the same as a son. Gifts are not treated like inheritance. The two are totally different. During a parent’s lifetime, all his children have equal claims. In the same way as a father cannot give his daughter clothes at half the amount he pays for his son’s clothes, other gifts should be the same.

In order for your mother not to commit the sin of favouring her sons above her daughters, she should undo what she did. She either gives the house to all four of her children equally, or retains it herself until she dies when they will inherit it according to the Islamic rules of inheritance.

It is not right for a parent to say, ‘since my children will inherit this property when I die, I may just as well divide it between them now in the same proportion.’ For one thing he does not know who of his children will be alive and entitled to inherit from him. For another, he does not know whether he will have other heirs at the point of his death. Therefore, he must not precipitate the application of a law that comes into effect only at the point of his death.

Burial Place of Maryam

Q. I have been told that Maryam, Jesus’ mother, was buried at Al-Hateem, near the Kaaba, and that many prophets are buried in the area between the Kaaba and Maqam Ibraheem. As a result many people celebrate ‘urs’ or death anniversaries there. Please confirm whether this is true.

A. I do not know whether these reports are true or not. We do not have any authentic tradition, or statement by the Prophet (peace be upon him), to suggest that this is true. Therefore, those who make such a claim should produce the authority on which they rely. Otherwise, their claims should be dismissed.

The maximum that we are allowed when we visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah is to pass by his grave, say our greeting to him and pray to God to reward him for having delivered God’s message intact. We are not allowed to organize any function, such as the one called ‘urs’ in Urdu, which means death anniversary. Such functions have no place in our faith.The best that you can do when you hear such claims is to say that it might be so, and forget the matter totally. It has no significance whatsoever in Islam to mark the grave or burial place of anyone, including God’s messengers. Based on its concept that God gives life and takes it away, Islam does not allow organising any function to commemorate the death of anyone, including prophets.

Reminding the Imam

Q. Should the imam make a mistake as he leads the prayer, how should he be reminded?

A. The mistake can be corrected, as when the imam rises up to add a fifth rak’ah in a four-rak’ah prayer, one or more from the congregation should remind him by saying Subhan Allah, which means, “limitless is God in His glory.” Women, however, do not raise their voices with such a reminder; they clap. If the imam realizes what mistake he made and he corrects it, he should also add two prostrations before he finishes the prayer.

Islamic Finance and Banking

Q. Although much of the Arab world has accepted Islamic finance and banking as perfectly acceptable under Islamic law, millions in the Indian subcontinent are still opposed to it, thinking it unlawful. This is due to some scholars and muftis who are still giving a ruling of forbidden on such transactions. Could you please shed some light on this subject? Is there any council or board which can issue rulings on different aspects in this area?

A. God has revealed the religion of Islam complete. In some areas, like worship, which do not change with time and social circumstances, he gave us detailed guidance that is not subject to change.

We pray in the same way as all Muslims prayed throughout the fourteen centuries of Islamic history. In other areas, which are subject to change with the development of human society, God gave us guidelines and a framework. He left us free to choose the details of our actions and practices as long as we observe the guidelines and remain within the framework. Economic matters, including finance and banking, are of this latter type. A main concept within Islamic teachings in this area is the prohibition of usury, because it involves exploiting the needs of the poor in order to make the rich richer. Another principle is that money is generated by work and action, not by lending it to one who needs it. Thus, a loan does not earn the lender anything other than reward from God.

In our modern world, banks offer services that are needed in society, particularly because international trade has flourished beyond anything known in the past. Banks, however, emerged in non-Muslim countries where usury is allowed, within certain limits. Muslim scholars have always looked carefully at transactions offered by such banks and pointed out which of them do not fit with Islamic law.

It was the need of Muslim societies that led to the emergence of Islamic banks, which always have Islamic scholars as advisers to consult on the types of services they offer so that they are certain that such services are acceptable from the Islamic point of view. To reject these without solid support from the Qur’an and the Sunnah is to adopt an arbitrary and rigid approach, which is contrary to proper scholarship. Indeed, these banks have proven to be sound, so that now a number of international banks are offering services that are compatible with Islamic law. They call these “Shariah-compliant services.”

The problem you mention about people not accepting these banks can only be solved by education, which should include the scholars who issue these rulings and the general public.

Conveying the Message and Convincing Others

Q: I recently sent a letter to a radio station, but it turned out to be a Christian preaching station. The person who answered my letter spoke about the enlightened vision of Jesus Christ and suggested that those who do not follow that vision are in total darkness. Could you let me know how to convince him of Islam.

A: The first thing to remember about this question is that we, as Muslims, are not forced to convince anyone of the truth of Islam. Allah will not ask anyone of us: How many people have you convinced or how many have become Muslims as a result of your efforts? Indeed, He has told His messenger: “You certainly cannot guide whomever you please; it is Allah who guides whom He wills. He best knows those who accept guidance.” (Al-Qasas: 28:56).

What Allah will question us about is whether we have fulfilled the task He has assigned to His messenger and to all Muslims; namely, conveying the message of Islam to mankind. That is our task: To explain Islam to people and to tell them that Allah requires them to believe in it. If they accept it, they reap the fruits of being rightly guided. If they reject it, we have fulfilled our task.

I hope that I have made the distinction clear between doing our part, which is within our power, and the results that our efforts produce. I appreciate your keenness to have this broadcaster see the light of Islam. To do so, you only have to supply him with the relevant information. You may send him a letter or reply, or send him some books relevant to the topic you raised with him, or relevant to his essential beliefs and the basic beliefs of Islam. If you do so, you have done a good service to your faith. Whether he will be convinced is a totally different matter.

You should not be hesitant to send him whatever information is available to you about Islam. Followers of other religions do the same. I continue to receive letters from Christian missionaries and followers of religions. Muslims should not hesitate to present their faith to other people. By doing so, they actually do them a great service, because they explain to them the faith which Allah accepts from human beings.

Cursing or Seeking God's Help

Q: I lead a very wretched life, as I am often the victim of injustice at the hands of people who are close to me. I frequently think of cursing those people who cause my agony, but then I refrain from doing so. Is it a sin to even think of cursing people for their injustice?

A: When we think of doing something forbidden, but do not carry out that intention, God does not hold us to account for such thoughts. This is part of God’s grace, which He bestows on us all. However, thinking about cursing people when they have caused us harm, or done us injustice, is a natural feeling. But a curse is not the proper thing to do in order to seek God’s help to remove the injustice inflicted on you.

When we are in a position of weakness, unable to remove injustice, we can put our complaint to God and appeal to Him to help us remove it and punish the perpetrator. This is the proper way. Another thing we may do is to try to get support from others who may have an influence on the offender. If this is not possible, then we may consult some people who may appreciate the problem and give us advice. But it is important to try hard to break away from such injustice as you have described. My advice to you is to seek God’s help in solving problem.

Women's Equality and Leading Prayers

Q. Since Islam gives equal rights to women, is it permissible for a woman to lead a congregational prayer? If so, then why so many condemned what was done in the US when a woman led the congregational prayer?

A. Social rights are different from acts of worship. When we speak of ordinary life and what it may involve of action, right or duty, we know that Islam gives equal rights to men and women in all these. However, certain adjustments and amendments are needed because of the different roles man and woman play in society.

Acts of worship are determined by what God, to whom worship is addressed, has laid down. We do not ask why prayers are made five times a day, not three or seven.

We simply offer them all, addressing our worship to God and following the practice of His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The same applies to all acts of worship. They are defined by God and we practice them as He has determined.

The overwhelming majority of scholars, in all generations since the Prophet’s time, agree that a congregational prayer must be led by a man, even though the congregation has a majority of women.

This is confirmed by the standard practice throughout the Muslim world. Therefore, when a woman broke such unanimity and decided to lead the congregational prayer, her action brought her wide criticism throughout the Muslim world. We practice our faith as it was taught to us by the Prophet.

I should perhaps add that if the congregation is composed of women only, a woman may lead the prayer, standing in the middle of the first row.