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The real culprit behind Muslim inheritance woes?

A former top shariah judge says a lack of consensus and awareness among heirs of their responsibilities is mostly to blame for disputes.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Muslims wait to perform their Friday prayers at Masjid Wilayah in Kuala Lumpur.
Muslims wait to perform their Friday prayers at Masjid Wilayah in Kuala Lumpur.

Md Handara has lived on his grandfather's land since he was a child. 

Before his father passed away, two more lots of land were bought and placed under his grandfather's name. 

His father also changed his citizenship and became a Singaporean, while Handara himself spent time living in the island republic.

After his father's death, a dispute arose between his family and that of his father's younger brother over the ownership of the land.

Several decades later, the clash remains ongoing. 

"At first, we tried to handle it ourselves," Handara, who is now in his 40s, told MalaysiaNow.

"We went to the land office, thinking that it could be settled there, but it turned out that we needed to take our case to court." 

The court case itself began in 2016, with his aunt's family seeking a division of the property. 

All three plots of land are in a southern state and, taken together, are worth more than half a million ringgit.

Handara himself wants to buy the land on which he is currently living. Everyone else has agreed with the exception of one heir, which has caused the case to drag on. 

This is one of thousands of unresolved cases on the division of family inheritance. 

MalaysiaNow previously reported that some RM70 billion in assets had been frozen in the country as of two years ago due to what has been described as the inefficient management of faraid, or the Muslim inheritance system.

The challenges in the distribution of these assets include legal complexities as Malaysia employs both the civil and shariah systems. 

But for Ismail Yahya, a former Terengganu chief shariah judge, there are no insurmountable hurdles whether big or small in terms of the administration and distribution of Muslim inheritance. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said there was also no need to look for middle ground between the two systems, or to form a unit to monitor the implementation of faraid. 

"We can still handle inheritance issues through the existing legal system. 

"What is happening now is that the heirs are not aware of the necessary information," he said, adding that some are stuck in a comfort zone while others are are at odds with each other. 

Ismail, a former Terengganu mufti, said heirs need to be aware of their responsibility towards the estate of the deceased after the individual's death. 

This covers basic matters such as how to act on the estate, the institutions involved, the types of property, and the letters and documents needed for each estate. 

"They also need to know who among them is to be entrusted with managing the filing of a petition to administer and settle the estate of the deceased," he said. 

To speed up the process, he said, the heirs must agree so that the inheritance can be settled by consensus after they determine their respective portions. 

He said property that has too many names in the form of undivided shares is also at risk of losing its value.

"The need for an agreement to settle the estate is the main factor that determines the speedy or slow division and settlement of inheritance, whether at the small estate division office or even at the civil High Court," he added. 

"The issue is the attitude of the heirs and whether they will take positive action in settling the estate of the deceased."