On the Islamic Nature of Will (Wasiyat)
Will (Wasiyat) forms part of monetary affairs. Through it, a man who owns some property declares that such a part of it shall be spent on such a religious or charitable purpose or go to such a person after his death. A will of this kind commands a legal position in the Shariat, and precise rules and regulations have been laid down for it, some of which are indicated in the Traditions we are going to discuss below. If a will is made in the way of God and with the intention of gaining the reward of the Hereafter, it is a kind of charity, and the Shariat has commended it. Moreover, in case anything is placed in trust with a person or he is in debt or there is anyone’s claim on him of any sort, it is necessary for him to make a will regarding its return, restoration or settlement. A will should, further, be written down and kept safe.
A religious obligation
(1) It is related by Abdullah bin Omar that the Apostle of God said: “It is not proper for a Muslim who has anything (like land, goods, money, trust or debt) about which a Will ought to be made that he allows two nights to pass in the condition that its deed has not been prepared and is not with him.”
– Bukhari and Muslim
What it stresses is that one should not put off the preparation of a regular Will thinking what was there to hurry about and he would have it done before dying. A Muslim should always imagine that death was near and have his Will ready. Even two days should not be allowed to pass without it. The purport of the above Tradition is that no one should delay or procrastinate in this matter. Who can be sure when death will strike? Abdullah bin Omar’s servant, Nafi’, who is the narrator of this Tradition, on the authority of his master, says that, after relating it, Hazrat Abdullah bin Omar added that from the time he had heard it from the Apostle of God, he did not let a day pass without the Will being with him.
(2) It is related by Jabir that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever died in the state of Wasiyat, i.e., in the state that he had made the Will concerning his property and other affairs as he ought to have, and in accordance with the Shariat he died on the right path, observing the commandments of the Shariat and his death will be the death of piety and martyrdom, and he will be forgiven (his sins).”
– Ibn Majah
Claim of the heirs should not be disregarded
(3) Sa’ad bin Waqqas related to us, saying that “(once) I (fell seriously ill) in Mecca and the Apostle of God came to visit me. I thought it was very bad for me to die on the soil of Mecca from which I had migrated (and which I had .left for good for the sake of God). The Apostle of God, then, said, (by way of prayer and consolation): ‘May Allah have mercy upon Afra’a’s son’. (Afra’a was the name or title of Sa’ad bin Waqqas’ mother). I asked him: ‘Sir, what do you say: May I bequeath all my prophet; (for the sake of God (and) (to religious and charitable uses?’ ‘No’, the Apostle of God replied. ‘(Don’t do it).’ ‘Then, the half of it?’ I asked. ‘No’ the Apostle of God replied. ‘(Not even that)’. ‘Then, one third?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, the Apostle of God replied. ‘You may leave one-third of it, by Will, for such purposes, and even one-third is much.’ (After it), the Apostle of God observed: ‘It is better for you to leave behind your heirs in good (financial) condition than in poverty so that they have to stretch their hands before others. (Moreover), whatever you spend (for the sake of God and with the intention of earning the Divine reward) will be charity on your part (even if it is spent on relatives and heirs), so much so that the morsel of food you put. with your hand, in your wife’s mouth (will be charity in the judgement of God.’ (In the end), the Apostle of God observed: ‘It is hoped that the Lord wilt grant you recovery, and raise you to a high position in future, and, then, many people will be benefited by you, and many will be harmed.’” The narrator, (Aamir bin Sa’ad) who related it. on the authority of his father, Sa’ad bin Waqqas, added that “at the time of this incident. Hazrat Sa’ad had only one daughter, (and no other child).”
– Bukhari and Muslim
Sa’ad bin Waqqas had accompanied the holy Prophet on the Farewell Hajj, and, during it, he fell ill in Mecca and his condition became so grave that, according to some reports, he felt he had reached the edge of the grave. Since he was a Muhajir, he did not like the idea of dying, and being buried on the soil of Mecca which he had abandoned forever in the way of Allah. As the holy Prophet came to visit him and learnt of his anxiety, he comforted him and prayed for him, saying, “May Allah have mercy on Arfa’a’s son.” Hazrat Sa’ad bin Waqqas who was among the well-to-do Companions, thereupon, enquired from the Apostle of God about making his Will. (In some other accounts of the above Tradition it is stated that Sa’ad bin Waqqas said to the Apostle of God; “The Lord has bestowed much wealth upon me and I have only one daughter. I think that for the betterment of my prospects in After-life I bequeathed all of my property to sacred and charitable uses).” But the holy Prophet did not allow it. He did not allow him even to leave half of his possessions to such purposes. It was only one-third that the holy Prophet said he could declare for them, and added that even that was much.
The Prophet further explained to him that to spend on one’s relatives and leave behind one’s wealth to one’s heirs, too, was charily in the sight of God provided that it was with the intention of earning His countenance and the reward of the Hereafter, as is distinctly stated in some versions of the above narrative. To bring home the point, the Prophet remarked that even to put a morsel of food in the mouth of one’s wife with one’s hand, with that intention, was a virtuous act, meriting reward in the life to come.
The Prophet’s observation that “it is hoped God will raise you to a high position in future, and then, many people will be benefited by you, and many will be harmed” contained a prediction about Sa’ad bin Waqqas which no one could visualise at that time, What the Prophet meant was that the Lord had yet to take much work from Hazrat Sa’ad, He would, Insha Allah, get well and come to such power and eminence that the destinies of innumerable men would be made and unmade through him, The Prophet had said it at a time when Sa’ad was hovering on the brink of death, and so marvelously was the prophecy fulfilled that the latter lived for about half a century after it, and attained to such heights that most of the territories of Persia were conquered and brought under the sway of Islam under his generalship, and millions of men came to be blessed with the wealth of Faith. He, then, also served as the Governor of Iraq, and died in 55 A.H., and according to a report, in 58 A.H.
From this Tradition we, again, learn that it is not proper and lawful for anyone leaving behind heirs and successors to bequeath more than one-third of his property in the way of God and for pious uses. A consensus is found among the legists of the Ummat on this point. But in one’s own lifetime one can spend as much on such aims and purposes as one likes. The condition of one-third applies only to the Will a person makes about the division of his assets after his death.
A Will cannot be made in respect of an heir
(4) Relates Abu Umamah that “I heard the Apostle of God delivering a sermon during the year of the Farewell Hajj. In the course of it, he said: ‘The Lord has, (in His holy Book), determined the share of everyone having a lawful claim (among the heirs). So, it is not allowable, now, to make a Will in respect of an heir.’ ”
– Abu Dawood and Ibn-i-Maja
When, after the Migration, commandments relating to social and collective spheres of life began to be revealed, it was prescribed, in the first place, through the following verse of Sura-i-Baqara that whoever owned some property should bequeath it, before his death, to his parents and other relatives: It is prescribed for you, when one of you approacheth death, that he bequeath into parents and near relatives in kindness. (II: 180). Sometime latter, complete law of inheritance was revealed in Sura-i-Nissa, which repealed the earlier command of Wasiyat (Will), at least in respect of legal heirs. Moreover, while the Apostle of God announced many other essential rules and principles, in the sermon of the Farewell Hajj, he, also declared that since by sending down the law of inheritance, the Lord had determined the share of all those who were legally entitled to inherit, no Will should, after it, be made in respect of an heir. It is this commandment that Hazrat Umamah has spoken of, and, in Mishkaatul Misabih, after quoting the above Tradition from Sunan-i-Abi Dawood and Ibn-i-Maja, it is added that “in Dar Qutni it is related that the Apostle of God said: ‘Now, a Will is not (valid) and lawful in respect of an heir except that the other heirs wish it and are agreeable to it.’ ” Or, in other words, if the heirs of a person were agreed that he left his possessions by Will to an heir, in excess of his lawful share, and they had no objection to it, the Will would have the force of law provided that the other heirs were major and of a sound mind.
Punishment of Hell for those who are unjust to rightful heirs in their Will
(5) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “(Sometimes, it is so that) a person leads a life of obedience to God for sixty years, and, then, as the time of his death approaches, he acts unjustly towards his rightful heirs) in his Will, (and), (in consequence of it), Hell becomes inevitable for him.’ ”
– Musnad-i-Ahmad, Tirmizi, Abu Dawood and Ibn-i-Maja
Occasionally, a person has legal heirs who are entitled, by the Shariat, to inherit the property left by him after his death, but owing to one reason or another, he makes his Will in favour of an outsider or for a particular use, with the object of depriving the heirs of their justful claim or takes some other steps of a like nature. According to this Tradition, it is such a grave sin that life-long devotion and obedience comes to nothing as a result of it, and he becomes deserving of Divine Chastisement. As we have seen earlier, in Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas’s narrative, a person is permitted to bequeath his possessions to the extent of one-third to pious and charitable uses, provided, of course, that his intention is pure and free from vindictiveness.