Inheritance between spouses of different faiths

The term “inheritance” refers to any monetary worth that the departed leaves for his heirs, including any income or real properties. The majority of Arab laws contain provisions addressing the issue of religious differences between the bequeathed and the heir in all situations where the bequeathed and the heir’s religion are dissimilar, whether it relates to inheritance between Muslims and non-Muslims or between those who have no religion at all. This is because religious differences are a constant barrier to inheritance and are subject to debate in both the legal and public spheres.

According to the Arab personal status laws, is the difference in respective faiths a barrier to inheritance?

Based on what was mentioned in the honourable Prophetic hadith, it is widely accepted in Islamic jurisprudence that it is not permitted for members of different religions to inherit from one another. The hadith states, “A Muslim does not inherit a non-believer nor a Muslim from a non-believer” and the hadith “There is no inheritance between people of two religions”. However, all Arab nations collectively adopted  such legislation which takes religious diversity into account to prevent inheritance. As Article 318 of the UAE Personal Status Law stipulates, “There is no inheritance with difference of religion.”


A judge does not establish the law; rather,  his job is to carry out the rule of law. However, it is also acknowledged that the interpretation of legal texts forms the basis of judicial work. The interpretation of the texts, including how clear they are, is important since interpretation is how we determine if a text is clear or not. A judge or legal professional in general may find it challenging to define the concept of a text and govern its meaning, whether from a linguistic, idiomatic, or combined perspective. According to the honourable hadith, the issue of inheritance was adopted among all Arab legislation based on a solid and well-established jurisprudential foundation, allowing no place for extension in the interpretation of the legal text. 


For instance, if a non-Muslim wife is left behind after the death of a foreign Muslim legatee on the soil of an Arab Muslim state, all the laws agree that inheritance between them is prohibited because of their differing religious beliefs. The same holds true in the event that a non-Muslim wife passes away and her Muslim husband does not inherit from her, in accordance with the legal precedent and Arab legal system that forbids inheritance across different religions. If the bequeathed owns any assets or property in the United Arab Emirates, it will not be passed down via inheritance to the non-Muslim successor. The laws of dividing the inheritance in accordance with the Islamic approach to inheritance will not be applied to the inheritance of the deceased Muslim who holds citizenship in a foreign nation.


Since this issue has recently been the subject of numerous legal inquiries raised to us,  our view is that the jurisprudential rule did not prevent spouses of different religions from protecting their rights for one another as the basic principle for not inheriting each other is the difference of religion and all the religions including Islamic Shari’a allowed the Will and did not strict it to unity in religion between the testator and the bequeathed. . As per the Prophetic Sunnah which is the basis for all personal status legislation in Islamic and Arab countries, Islamic law has restricted the limitations of the will to no more than a third of the estate. Article 243 of the same law states that “the will is implemented within one third of the legacy of the testator after fulfilling the rights related to it, and it is valid for more than one third within the limits of the share of the adult heirs who allowed it,” just as Article 249 of the UAE Personal Status Law stipulates the validity of the will for those who can own it despite differences in religion. If the adult heirs agree, then one-third of the estate may be used. In the case that it is not approved, just a third of the will may be carried out. Attorney and legal consultant Mr. Mansour Al Mazmi, of the Dubai firm of Bin Mes’har & Co., confirmed that a will among both spouses of different faiths is the best legal choice to safeguard the future of the testator’s bequeathed and prevent the  such bequeathed from being deprived of his share in the legacy due to the difference in their respective religions, as well as the will of a non-Muslim residing in the United Arab Emirates is not constrained by the one-third estate cap as long as the estate has been officially registered in the State. 


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