Classes Of Heirs Under Sunni Law


Unlike Hindu Law, in Muslim Law inheritance is not a birthright.  An heir does not become the legal heir of the property of his ancestor until her/his ancestor dies, nor can he claim any share till the ancestor lives.  Also, if the heir dies earlier than the ancestor, no right to have a share in property exists. In absence of a will, succession in Muslim law is governed by Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.

There is no difference between movable and immovable property under Sunni Law. This is because of the flexible definition of property under Sunni Law. It can also be stretched to all the properties owned by the deceased but the property left for inheritance is the property left after paying debts and funeral expenses from that property. There is also no difference in a self-acquired or ancestral property under the Sunni Law of inheritance.

Classes of Heirs under Muslim Law (Sunni Law) of Inheritance

There are two classes of heirs that can exist in Sunni Law:-

1. The Primary Class

This class includes legal heirs which are directly related to the person through blood. The Husband and wife are an exception because they are related through marriage.

This class is further divided into 3 types-

(a) Sharers or Quranic Heirs

The Sharers are given preference over the others in process of inheritance and their respective shares are given in the Quran due to which no human intervention can deny them their share.

12 relations fall under the category of Sharers in Muslim law:

  1. Husband
  2. Wife
  3. Daughter
  4. Daughter of a son (or a son’s son or a son’s son’s son)
  5. Father
  6. Paternal grandfather
  7. Mother
  8. Grandmother on the side of the males
  9. Full sister
  10. Consanguine sister
  11. Uterine sister
  12. Uterine brother

The share of different sharers varies according to different scenarios or conditions. For Example, the wife of the deceased person is entitled to get 1/4th of the share in the property if there are no lineal descendants and 1/8th of the share in property otherwise.

Female legal heirs are given about half a share as compared to the inherited property by the male legal heir in their inherited property. The reasoning behind this is that males in Muslim Law are given more responsibility and financial obligation than females.  Also, there is no rule of Primogeniture under Muslim Law.

(b) Residuary Class or Agnatic Heirs

Residuary Heirs are also known as Agnatic Heirs because the nearest relation to the deceased is seen through male relations.  Agnatic heirs inherit the property only after Sharers have acquired their respective shares. They do not have a written rule for the share, and a share in the property is not guaranteed for them but a chance of luck only.

(c) Distant Kindred or Uterine Heirs

These heirs can only inherit the property if there are no sharers or Agnatic Heirs of the deceased i.e. the property cannot be inherited by these heirs if any sharer or agnatic heir of the deceased is present.

2. The Subsidiary Class

These heirs inherit the property in purely exceptional cases.

(a) The State (When there is no Legal Heir of the deceased, all the property is inherited by the state through the process of escheat)

(b) Universal Legatee

(c) Acknowledge kinsman

(d) Successor by contract


Inheritance of property is a very sensitive matter to which the principles of inheritance in Muslim law (Sunni law) provide a just and equitable answer. Although inheritance can be conducted only after death of the ancestor but it gives the deceased and her/his heirs a peace of mind that everyone is going to get a share in the property which can ease their problems. This also significantly reduces quarrels in family as the respective shares of direct legal heirs are written in the Quran.


  1. 3) By Sri B Lakshmi Narayana.pdf

This article is written by Anushk, 1st Year BALLB(H) student at Christ(Deemed To Be University)

Also Read – The Primary Sources of Muslim Law

Law Corner

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