Inheritance Of The Prophet


When Hazrat Fatimah demanded her right to the Garden of Fidk her claim was denied by the authorities on the force of the following concoction: "We, the Prophets, neither inheret nor are we inherited."

In her response Hazrat Fatimah quoted the following five verses of the Holy Qur'an against the concocted ḥadīth:

Sūrah al-Namal, verse 16.

Sūrah Maryam, verse 6.

Sūrah al-Anfal, verse 75.

Sūrah al-Nisa, verse 11.

Sūrah al-Baqarah, verse 180.

The first two verses mention the fact that some of the Prophets inherited and were inherited. The last three verses mention the rules governing the inheritance issues. Hazrat Fatimah said: O son of Abū Qahafah (Abū Bakr), where does the Qur'an say that you inherit the property left over by your father and I am deprived of what my father left? Please comment to this issue sent to me by a Shi'i brother.


I would like to answer your question from three perspectives, from a broader view to a more technical view:

1. Structural Perspective:

I would like to bring to your attention that the issue of Fadak will only become a religious issue if we look at it as part of a wider religious debate where the subject of Fadak is only one of the many branches of the theory of divine Imamah.

If we look at this branch without looking at the root then we are merely looking at a historical incident that will have nothing to do what so ever with our understanding of Islam and with our life as Muslims.

If we however look at this branch as part of the root then suddenly everything starts to find its right place as a religious (and not a mere historical) issue. From this perspective the real subject of the debate is not over a peace of land, but is over the religious and political authority after the prophet (pbuh). If we accept the view that 'after the prophet (pbuh) there were supposed to be certain divinely appointed infallible Imams from the generation of the prophet (pbuh)' then we have no choice but to consider the companions who became Khalifa after the prophet (pbuh) as those who went against a divine law. Consequently, with this understanding, we do not need to even bother looking at the historical details of the issue of Fadak. We can easily and simply declare that Abubakr (ra) oppressed Fatima (ra-ha) by denying her the land of Fadak with the same motive that made him denying Ali (ra) his right to Khilafah.

If we appreciate this perspective, then what we need to do is to concentrate on the root not on the branch. We need to discuss the stance of the Qur'an on Imamah and whether there are any verses in the Qur'an that clearly instruct us or categorically inform us about certain divinely appointed infallible Imams after the prophet (pbuh). If we find such verses in the Qur'an then our stance on the issue of Fadak is predetermined. If not, then the issue of Fadak will be a mere historical issue with no bearings on our religion or on us as Muslims.

2. Methodological Perspective:

Following from the above, another point that needs to be appreciated is that if we hold absolutely no assumptions and prejudgments, then we are simply dealing with a disagreement between two personalities. When we read those reports that have at least a relative degree of reliability in both Shia and Sunni sources we do not find anything to suggest that either of the parties were insincere in their claims. We found both Fatima (ra -ha) and Abubakr (ra) to appear very genuine in expressing their points of views. As for Abubakr (ra) we read reports that indicate his genuine sadness about the fact that he cannot provide Fatima (ra-ha) with what she demands.

By default, in situation like the above, we should assume that perhaps one of the two parties made a genuine mistake in his/her judgement. However it seems like we simply dismiss this possibility and assume that one of the two parties has to be the oppressor! We assume that if we prove Fatima (ra-ha) right then that means Abubakr (ra) was an oppressor and vice versa. We then become defensive in accordance to the sect that we belong to!

The methodological flaw that I see in this approach is that we are approaching the story of Fadak based on an assumption that is not yet discussed and established, and that is, Fatima (ra-ha) was divinely protected from any sort of mistakes (a quality that even the prophet - pbuh - did not have), and that people, including Abubakr (ra), knew this.

Unless the above can be proved we have absolutely no reason to apply such a black and white approach to the story of Fadak.

3. Technical Perspective:

After explaining a broader perspective above, I would now like to make some technical comments about the issue of inheritance, the prophets and the verses of the Qur'an that are often referred to. I would like to make it clear that my intention is not at all to prove one side of the debate wrong. I am only trying to show that each side of the debate have some points, worthy of thinking.

3.1. It is true that the general instruction of the verses of the Qur'an on inheritance is that women should inherit from their fathers (4:11, 2:180, verse 8:75 is also referred to in the question but I do not see it relevant here). However we also know that it is an agreed upon principle among the Shia and the Sunni schools of thought that the Hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) can excempt or specify a directive of the Qur'an.[1] There are many examples of this, for instance the Qur'an directed the companions to give Zakah to poor, it was only the Hadith and the practice of the Prophet (pbuh) that made it clear that this Zakah was forbidden for his family. Therefore from both Shia or Sunni schools of thought it will not be unlikely to accept that based on a Hadith by the prophet (pbuh) he was exempted from the general rule of inheritance.

3.2. It is true that verses 27:16 and 19:6 are using the derivatives of the word 'Irth' (inheritance) for prophets, however a simple search on the use of the derivatives of the word 'Irth' in the Qur'an clearly shows that these words have not always been used in the meaning of inheriting money or property. They have also been used for other (yet similar) meanings like leaving a responsibility or receiving a great blessing. For instance we can look at the following verses:

"Then We gave the Book as inheritance unto those whom We elected of Our bondmen ..." 35:32

"And We verily gave Moses the guidance, and We made the Children of Israel to inherit the Book" 40:53

"It is they (the true believers) who will be the inheritors, who shall inherit paradise, and will remain in it forever." 23:10

Verses 27:15-17 are referring to the blessings that God gave to David and Suleman. It is in this context that verse 127:6 starts with this statement: "and Suleman inherited from David". Looking at the context, the inheritance here is the responsibility of being the next messenger of God and the requirements of this responsibility in terms of knowledge and wisdom. Otherwise, if this was about Suleman inheriting only money and property from David then the verse was totally irrelevant to the context and also of little importance in terms of the guidance of the Qur'an.

Same as the above and even more obvious is the verse 19:6. Which one makes more sense, Zakariya praying to God to give him a son so that he could inherit the moneys and properties of him and the family of Jacob (and we know according to the reports that Zakariya was not a wealthy man)? ... or Zakariya praying to God to give him a son to carry out the responsibility of prophethood that was running in the family of Zakariya? Look at the reference to 'Kitaab' (Book) in verse 19:12 where it says "Oh Yaheya take (and hold) the Book strongly ...". Compare this with the use of the same word (Book) in verses 35:42, 40:53 where it says the Book was inherited.

3.3. When we look at the sources of Ahadith of Shia Muslims, we find in the book Kafi a narration that is considered as authentic by a number of Shia scholars. The narration is as follows:

"... verily the people of knowledge are the inheritors of the prophets. The Prophets did not leave dinars and dirhams as inheritance, but they left knowledge." (al-Kafi, vol. 1 p. 34, section: The merits of people of knowledge and seekers of knowledge)

I do agree that the above Hadith may be interpreted in a symbolic way, as some Shia brothers argue, however the fact remains that what is narrated from Abubakr (ra) refers to a broad concept that is the same as the one that is given in the above Hadith.

3.4. We need to appreciate that if Fadak was to be inherited by Fatima (ra-ha) then by the rules of inheritance it had to be distributed, according to the rules of the Qur'an, between the inheritors of the prophet (pbuh) who at the time included not only Fatima (ra - ha) but also the wives of the prophet (pbuh) and his uncle Abbas (ra). Question remains that on what basis the whole Fadak could have been given to only one of the inheritors. In fact we have reports saying that some of the wives of the prophet (pbuh) demanded inheritance but Ayesha (ra-ha) reminded them that the prophet (pbuh) does not leave any inheritance.

3.5. If Fadak was really the right of Fatima (ra-ha) by the way of inheriting from the prophet of God (pbuh), then it was in fact the duty of the ruler to implement this right. We know that Ali (ra) became the ruler after Uthman (ra) and we also know that he did not transfer the land of Fadak to Hassan and Hussain (ra-huma) as the inheritors of Fatima (ra-ha). Why is that?

In fact we read in Sharhe Nahj al-Balagha (an explanatory book by a Mutzili scholar, ibn abil-Hadeed, on the Shia source of narrations from Ali - ra - we find this report:

"When Ali (ra) became ruler he was referring to the issue of returning the land of Fadak and said: "I feel ashamed of God to return a thing that Abubakr forbade and Umar confirmed (its forbiddance)." (Sharh al-Nahj al-Balagha, 16:252).

Whether the above report is authentic or not,the above question still applies.

Apart from the above, as further reading, you might like to read a rather long narration in Bukhari, vol. 8. Book 80, No. 720. You can find it here:

I repeat again that by the above technical points I had no intention to defend one side of the argument. Obviously our Shia brothers explain and justify their stance on the basis of what is narrated from Fatima (ra-ha). I only wanted to explain the other side of the story.

As I explained at the start of this post, there can only be two possibilities:

- The issue of Fadak being seen as a branch of the discussion on the theory of Imamah.

In the above case, the more rational approach is to spend time discussing the core issue (Imamah) rather than wasting time discussing one of the branches of the core issue.

- The issue of Fadak being seen as a stand alone issue, disregard of the discussion on the theory of Imamah.

In this case, this will be merely a historical issue that has no bearing on our understanding of Islam and on our life as Muslims.

I hope this helps and please do not hesitate to let us know if more clarification is needed.

[1]According to our understanding no Hadith can specify general directives of the Qur'an. The point however is whether all the instructions of the Qur'an are equally applied to the prophet (pbuh). We know from the established facts of the life of the prophet (pbuh) and his Sunnah that this was not the case for a number of issues like Zakah for his family, number of wives and obligation of the prayer of Tahajjud. Another way of looking at this is that prophet (pbuh) saying that what the prophets leave is not for inheritance but is for charity, is in fact his will (that according to the Hadith is applied to all prophets). The Qur'an does make it clear that any inheritance needs to be distributed only after implementing the will of the deceased (4:11).

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