Inheritance of Haram/Unlawful Earnings?

Q) A person inherited wealth from a relative knowing that he (the latter) earned it unlawfully such as from Riba (usury). 

Is it permissible for him to take it? 

Does this wealth become lawful for him?

Answer

The majority of the Hanafie, Maliki, Shafi’ie and also Shaikh Al-Islam ibn Taymiyah are of the opinion that the unlawful money will not become lawful by death.

It is obligatory to return it back to its owner if he is known, and if he is not known, then one should give this wealth (inheritance) as charity to the poor and needy people.

The Shafi’ie Scholars restricted the obligation of returning this wealth to its owner, in case it is confirmed (assured) for the heir that the dead person (testator) collected his wealth in an unlawful way.
If there is no indication that this wealth came from an unlawful source, then it is Halal (lawful) for the heirs.
But if he suspected that some of the inheritance is earned from an unlawful way, then he should try his utmost to determine the unlawful amount and return it back to its original owners or give it in charity on their behalf.

Imam Al-Ghazali in Al-Ihya said: “Whoever inherited wealth, and didn’t know how it was earned, whether from an unlawful or lawful source, and there was no indication for it, then it is Halal (lawful) by the consensus of the ‘Ul- ama’ (Scholars). If it is known that there is some unlawful amount mixed with it and he doubted its amount, then he should determine the unlawful amount (approximately) and give it away.” [Al-Ghazali -Ihya Uluum Ad-Deen]

Imam an-Nawawi mentioned in “Al-Majmu’ Sharh Al- Muhadh-dhab” that: “Whoever inherited wealth and didn’t know whether it was earned lawfully or unlawfully, then it is lawful by the consensus of the ‘Ulama’ (Scholars). But if it is known that it consists of unlawful money and there is doubt about its quantity, then he gives away that amount which he thinks is unlawful by Ijtihaad (i.e. diligence, as- siduity).”

Shaikh Al-Islam ibn Taymiyah was asked whether the in- heritance of a man whose father dealt with Riba (usury) was Halal (lawful) for him, when he (the son) knew about his father’s state.
Ibn Taymiyah answered: “The amount which he (the son) knows is Riba (usury), should be given away. He should either return it to its origi- nal owner (if possible), otherwise give it in charity, and the rest of the wealth is lawful for him. However, it is preferable for him to leave the amount that he is not sure of and not to spend it in fulfilling a debt or spending on the family.” [Majmu’ Al-Fatawa by Ibn Taymiayh]

In conclusion:

The preponderant opinion, which is more just, is that it is not lawful for the inheritor of unlawful wealth to take it, whether its original owner is known or unknown, because death is not a reason to make unlawful wealth lawful.

The statement which says that the dead person (testator) will be the one responsible for what he earned and the sin is for him and not the heir, will not change the fact that this wealth had come from an unlawful source, which the Islamic Law doesn’t approve of.

The inheritor is obliged (ordered) to correct a wrong committed by the dead, and doesn’t mean in any case to take this wealth and forget (or hide) behind the saying: “The sin is on the one who earned and the wealth is for the heir.” Basically, wealth is owned by Allaah (Subhaanahu wa Ta’aala).

He gave it to His slaves as a trust and they should earn and dispose of it in a legal way. If the heir ignored or didn’t know the real owner of this wealth, then it returns back to the original owner (i.e. Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta’aala).

Since Allaah (Subhaanahu wa Ta’aala) is the Rich, then this wealth goes to His poor slaves by charity.

The Committee of Research and Ifta in Saudi Arabia has tak- en this opinion and answered the following question: “Is it permissible for the son to inherit his father’s wealth, know- ing that this wealth is unlawful and was earned in an illegal way such as Riba, or commerce dealing with forbidden and unlawful things (such as wine, etc.)?
The answer is as follows: “If the son knows that all of his father’s wealth is unlawful, he should get rid of his share of inheritance by spending it in legal ways, and he should ad- vise his father’s other inheritors to give this unlawful wealth away as well.” [Fatawa no. 7631]

And Allaah (Subhaanahu wa Ta’aala) knows best.
Reference: The verdict of unlawful money by Dr Muhammad Suilaiman Al Ashgar

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