Comparing Inheritance Laws for Hindu and Muslim Women

  • This FAQ compares inheritance rights of Hindu and Muslim women. It seeks to provide answers to commonly thought of questions. Simply, a Hindu woman gets equal share of property, a Muslim gets less. Intent is to inform not provoke.

The response to What every Hindu girl marrying a Muslim man should know was overwhelming. Inheritance Laws is a much discussed topic but information comparing laws is not widely known hence this compilation. Made it simple and avoided getting into technicalities. For details see reference links.


I am neither a lawyer nor an expert on the subject but based on a reading of Inheritance Laws for Hindu Women and papers by Dr I. A. Sayied (P.h.D in Law, Advocate and Law Professor) and Judicial Magistrate Smt Sk. Shireen etc., have compiled this paper.


Errors if any are inadvertent and without malafide intent. Do post your feedback in the comments section or email me with details of what is incorrect and why, what is the correct legal position with references and shall do the needful. Note that we respect every person’s point of view even if it were different from ours. Law being law it can be interpreted differently. For simplicity presenting as FAQ. 


Q1 What Acts are Hindu and Muslim Women covered by in matters of inheritance?

A1. Hindus are governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1955. Muslims are governed by ‘The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937’. Simply put subject to the exceptions stated therein Muslims shall be governed by Muslim Personal Law. To read 1937 Act, click on PDF


It would be interesting to know inheritance laws before the 1937 act. Dr Sayied says, “Inheritance is the Scheme of Distribution of Property, after Death of the Owner.” 


Note the British passed three laws that had huge consequences for Indian society before and after independence.


One, The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. Two, The Sikh Gurudwaras Act 1925 which formalised the intertwining of religion and politics in Punjab and the Hindu-Sikh divide. Three, The Religious Endowments Act 1863, which handed over temple administration to the trustees from the British government. It was followed by the Madras Hindu Religious and Endowments Act 1927 and so on.


Also read How the British divided Punjab into Hindu and Sikh

How Hindu Temples came under government control


We cannot blame the British because successive governments, cutting across party lines, have not repealed or amended these laws except the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. The learned say that India is governed by the Constitution. If that were indeed true can we have personal laws that derive their authority from holy books?


Q2 Who is a Hindu and Muslim herein?

A2. Hindus include Buddhist, Jain and Sikh–basically those communities covered under the Hindu Marriages Act. A Muslim is one who satisfies the prescribed authority that he is a Muslim and includes Ashrafs, Afzals, Pasmandas etc. 


Q3. What is Shariyat?

A3. According to advocate Rajesh Gehani, “Shariyat or Shariah means Law governing Muslims. It is not codified. The provisions are often vague and undefined. Also, it lacks uniformity across numerous Islamic sects. Primarily the interpretation of Shariah is based upon the “hukums” and “fatwas” issued by the Maulvis of different sects from time to time.” 


Q4. Are inheritance laws for Hindu and Muslim communities further divided?

A4. The law is same for all Hindus. For Muslims the inheritance is different for Sunnis and Shias.


Q5. Is Muslim Personal Law codified?

A5. According to Smt Shireen, Muslim Personal Law is unique in the sense that it is not codified. “It once again reiterates the applicability of Muslim personal law to all the Muslims, with respect to marriage, dissolution of marriage, and succession etc. However the act does not codify the Principles of such personal law.” In order to understand Muslim personal law we must understand the sources from which it draws its authority. 1


Dr Sayied says, “There are separate inheritance laws for Sunnis and Shias.” 

Kalbelia dancer, Jaisalmer 2013. Hungarian Muslim. 

Q6. Now what does a law being codified mean?

A6. “The things are arranged in a particular or stated manner according to law is known as codification.” 5 The Hindu law has rules and procedures that need to be followed.

Q7. Are there any restrictions on percentage of property that can be executed in a Will?

A7. There are no restrictions for Hindus. 


According to Smt Shireen, “A Muslim can execute a will only to the extent of 1/3rd share of his/her property. Rest (2/3rd) has to be distributed as per the rules of succession to the heirs.” 1


Q8 What are the rights of Women in property?

A8. Property is distributed equally amongst Hindu men and women. Read more


According to Smt Shireen, “Muslim law does not create any distinction between the rights of men and women. However, the quantum of share of female heir is half of that of the male heirs. The justification available to this distinction under Muslim law is that the female shall upon marriage receive mehr and maintenance from her husband whereas men will have only the property of the ancestors for inheritance. Also, men have the duty of maintaining their wife and children.” 1


Anshika Katiyar wrote in, “They are one of the two schools of Muslim personal law – Hanafi and Shia. Whereas the Hanafi school only recognizes relatives as heirs who are related to the deceased through a male. This covers the son’s son and son’s daughter, and the father’s mother. Shia schools, on the other hand, favor such discrimination. This means that the heirs, who are related to the deceased through a woman, are also accepted.” 2 Can learned recofirm what is in red. 


Dr Sayied says, “The Shia Jurists have interpreted Qur’anic Injunctions and worked out altogether different way from the way from that adopted by Sunni Jurists. Shia Jurists do recognize the rights of Qur’anic Heirs and their fractional Shares fixed by Quran but do not treat the Qura’nic Heirs as a Separate Class of Heirs.”

Himachali Women, Manali. 2016

Q9. Is method of sharing under Muslim Personal Law a gross infringement, breach and violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India?

A9. Dr Sayied says, “Article 14 commands that State shall not deny to equality and shall not be discrimination on the ground, inter–alia, on the ground sex. Firstly, it is vital to note that these injunctions are addressed to State and not the Personal Law. It must also be remembered that in certain cases, Females exclude even Males. For example, a female who is close in degree to the Deceased will completely exclude a more remote male. Dower or Mahar is peculiar to Muslim Law.” 


Q10 What happens if a Muslim marries under the Special Marriages Act?

A10. The inheritance of the properties of such Muslims will be governed by the provisions of the Indian Succession Act, 1925. 1


I apologise in advance in case of any errors, happy to stand corrected.


According to this paper in, “An analysis of the inheritance rights of the Christian, Hindu and Muslim women brings forth the reality that only the Christian women alone are deprived of the right to inherit a share of the ancestral property.” 7 Analysis of inheritance rights for Christian women is beyond the scope of this article.


The author is a Chartered Accountant. Article pictures by author. 


1. Paper – Muslim Law of Inheritance by Smt Sk. Shireen. To read click on PDF

2. Blog – answers questions like What is Meher, What are the property rights of a Muslim wife, mother. 

3. – gives property rights of women belonging to different communities. 

4. Examining a Muslim women’s right to property

5. Comparison of Hindu and Muslim laws of succession – good read

6. Women in Hindu and Islam  

7. Women Property Rights in India – good read. 


Also read

1. Equality before uniformity – The Hindu 

2. Property Rights of Women in India

3. Unique complexities of Indian Succession Laws

4. Property Rights in India - Women are not getting their due – Financial Express 

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