Five things to know about Will-writing, Sharia-compliance, and Islamic law
With recent data showing an increase in the UK Muslim population of almost 2%, it is even more important than ever that professional advisors are equipped to offer their clients guidance that is informed and sensitive to their faith.
Remember A Charity Campaign Supporter Yasmin Hoque explores some of the most important considerations to be aware of when advising Muslim clients about their Wills.
1) The Muslim population is on the rise
The 2021 census recorded an increase in the UK Muslim population from 4.9% in 2011 to 6.5%. Whether you are focused on serving clients in your local area, nationally, or international clients, understanding and preparing for Sharia-compliant Wills and/or Islamic Wills is important, and a useful part of continuous professional development.
It may not be evident if your client is Muslim or has Muslim family members, and so it is useful to ask in your client questionnaire or instruction meeting whether the intended testator or any intended beneficiary follows a particular faith. This creates the opportunity to record specific religious or cultural wishes or needs, and enables you to offer relevant legal advice, or to expand directions, providing clear instructions for loved ones and leave less room for dispute.
2) There is a difference between Sharia and Islamic law
This is an important and helpful distinction to consider when embarking on Will-writing advice for Muslim clients.
With nearly fifty Muslim-majority countries worldwide, there is great diversity in how the governments of each country have interpreted and applied Sharia to the legal system. This means there are likely to be cultural variations for prospective clients who may have spent time abroad, and consideration of English culture is important when advising British Muslims.
“Sharia” refers to what is known as the perfect and divine guidance from God found in the Quran, and this also encompasses the secondary source known as Hadiths - which are collections of the sayings from the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). On the other hand, “Islamic law” is the interpretation of Sharia based on cases and legal opinions gathered through the centuries and accepted by certain communities over time. Islamic law is therefore influenced by local customs and evolves, but is also a valid source of content.
In practice, what this means is that Will-writing services for Muslim clients are likely to see a wide range of variation: from fully Sharia-compliant Wills, to Islamic Wills factoring in current living arrangements and specific applicable financial circumstances.
3) There are 5 pillars which form the foundation of Muslim life
Each of the 5 pillars can be relevant to Will-writing services.
The first pillar is that of faith, and important to note for Muslim clients is that directions regarding inheritance have been revealed in the primary source, the Quran. This helps highlight both the significance and relevance for Muslim clients to take action on Will-writing; as the default rules of intestacy for England and Wales will not adhere to faith-based wishes.
The second, third and fourth pillar of prayers, almsgiving, and fasting are compulsory activities conducted at set intervals during a person’s lifetime. Examples include the 5 daily prayers, the fixed rate of 2.5% on all annual wealth to be distributed to those in greatest need, and the annual month of fasting. However, Islam provides flexibility by recognising that there may occasionally be valid reasons for not being able to complete some compulsory activities. Within these conditions, some Muslims may seek to set aside a monetary sum in their Will as charitable compensation for being unable to perform such activities.
The fifth pillar is the compulsory performance of pilgrimage to the holy sites in the Arabian Peninsula (modern-day Saudi Arabia), at least once in the individual’s lifetime. Due to the costs associated with travelling and completing this pilgrimage, a large portion of the population may be unable to fulfil this pillar. Under Islamic law, certain conditions permit the performance of pilgrimage on behalf of the deceased and so including such an instruction within a Will can assist loved ones to complete this, or in appointing a suitable proxy.
4) An Islamic calendar can help navigate key dates in the year
The Islamic year is a lunar calendar with no leap year, comprised of either 29 or 30 days each month, depending on the sighting of the moon. There are still 12 months in total, some of which contain special occasions.
An example of one such special occasion is the ninth month, ‘Ramadan’. This is a time when the rewards of charitable giving are increased, and often when Muslims will be seeking to fulfil the annual almsgiving pillar.
Also of note is the twelfth month, ‘Dhul Hijjah’. During this month the pillar of pilgrimage (referred to as ‘Hajj’) takes place - between the 8th and 13th of the month. In preparation for pilgrimage, Muslims will often seek to get their affairs in order before departing, including writing a Will.
Having awareness of key dates and events when preparing Will-writing advice for Muslim clients can ensure discussions capture all the wishes that may be at the forefront of their mind. Having access to an Islamic calendar in advance of any client meeting helps for planning ahead, and it is possible to find a suitable resource online to confirm the current date and any upcoming events to be mindful of.
5) More awareness needs to be raised in relation to intestacy rules
This applies across the board, however, there is a general misconception amongst faith-based communities that writing a Will may in some way go against the commands of God and divine control. As such, some may view that, by not creating a Will, they are leaving all their affairs to divine intervention.
When the facts relating to the default laws in place in the absence of the legally valid Will are highlighted, the relevance and urgency of Will-writing can be demonstrated more clearly. This in particular applies to the greater authority provided to social services, banking institutions, and other relevant government bodies.
Preparing resources to specifically support faith-based communities with relevant cases studies and outcomes will help increase uptake of Will-writing and reduce post-death disputes.
Yasmin Hoque is the founding partner of Campaign Supporters AL-HQ Law & More, a faith-inspired legal practice, specialising in Islamic Wills.
Yasmin commenced a Master’s level ‘Alimiyyah’ course in Islamic Law and has been Vice Chair of the Legal Committee for the Muslim Council of Britain since 2021, and a legal mentor with the Association of Muslim Lawyers and Muslim Women Connect.