Rafed English

The One-Third Option

Adapted from: "Making an Islamic Will" by: "Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi"

After a person dies, what is the relationship between him and his estate? There are three possibilities:

• He has full control over it through a will.

• He has partial control over it through a will.

• He has absolutely no control over it.

Islam has taken the middle position. It says that when a person dies, he still retains the right to decide about up to one-third of his entire estate. But as far as the two-third is concerned, the deceased person loses the right to dispose according to his wish.
The two-third must be divided according to the shares specified by the shari'ah. (Most of these shares have been specified in the Quran itself.) This law is part of the over-all system which Islam has introduced for the distribution of wealth in society.

This right of disposing the one-third according to your own wish can be exercised only by making a will. You can do whatever you like with the one-third: give to a family-member, a relative, a friend, a charitable cause or organization, etc.

For example, you can use the 1/3 or a part of it to make -if you like- the shares of your wife or your daughter equal to those of your other children.

When the Qur'an talks about wasiyyat which is normally translated as “will”, it refers to the will covering the one-third only. For example, it says,

O you who believe! It is prescribed upon you that when death approaches one you – if he leaves behind plenty – then he should make a will (wasiyyah) for his parents and near relatives in the one-third. This is a duty upon the pious people. (2:177)

Writing more than one-third to a person or a cause means depriving the potential heirs of their rightful share in the estate; and, therefore, it is considered unjust and wrong. The Qurân says,

If a person fears that the testator is [wrongfully] inclined [to one party] or is sinning [by depriving the rightful heir in the will, and so that person intervenes between the testator and the potential heirs] and makes peace between them – then there is no sin on him. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (2:182)

What has been described in this verse as wrongfully “inclining to one party” and “sinning by depriving the rightful heir” is related to the two-third of the estate.


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