Is it permissible for a father to partition his inheritance as he wishes?

The Details of the Question

- Is it permissible for a person who is alive to give some property to some of his children and not to give any to other children?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

According to Hanafis, it is permissible in terms of law; the donation is valid but if there is injustice and groundless discrimination, it is an ethical fault. There are also some mujtahids who say, "A donation contrary to equality and justice is not permissible."

One of the issues that Hz. Prophet (pbuh) insistently gives importance to in child education is treating children equally. It is a principle that needs to be applied both regarding children in the same family and regarding children taught by the same teacher at school. That is, parents are not allowed to discriminate among their children depending on whether they are male or female, old or young, etc; similarly, teachers are not allowed to discriminate among their students depending on whether they are children of free people or slaves, children of relatives or others, etc.

Numan Ibn Bishr  narrates: “My father donated some of his property to me. My mother, Amra Bintu Rawaha said, “If you do not make the Messenger of Allah a witness of this donation, I will not accept it.” Thereupon, my father took me to the Messenger of Allah to inform him about the donation.

When the Prophet (pbuh) was informed about the situation, he asked,

“Do you have other children?” When my father said, “Yes!”, he said

“Did you donate to your other children similarly?” When my father said, “No!”, he said,

“Fear Allah and treat your children justly!”

My father left and annulled his donation.

In some other versions of the hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said the following:

“Treat your children equally”, “Return it”, “Do not make me a witness; I will not witness for oppression”, “It is not right; I will witness only for the truth”, “Find somebody else to be a witness”, “... one of your children's rights is your treating them equally.”

According to the explanation of Tirmidhi, acting upon this hadith, Islamic scholars regarded it necessary to treat children equally not only in "grants and donation" but in everything including "kissing". (1)

While making this decision, the scholars probably based it on the following hadith of the Messenger of Allah:

“Allah likes it when you treat your children justly including kissing.”(2)

The decree about teachers treating their students equally is understood from the following instruction of the Prophet (pbuh):

“If a teacher who undertakes to educate three children does not teach the rich and the poor ones equally, he will be resurrected within the group of traitors in the hereafter.” (3)

The motive for treating children equally gives us important clues in terms of our topic, that is, the measures to protect children from committing crime. When the Prophet (pbuh) prohibits Numan from treating his children unequally in terms of donation in the hadith mentioned above, he asks Numan the following question:

“Would it not make you pleased if your children treated you equally in terms of respect and grace?” Numan answered,

“Yes, O Messenger of Allah!” Thereupon, the Prophet said,

“Then, find somebody else to be a witness!”

In another narration, he said,

“It is your right to receive equal good deeds and favors from them; similarly, it is their right to receive equal treatment from them.”

Then, to maintain the child's respect toward his father, his love toward and solidarity with his brothers and sisters, and the bonds of relation are based on just and equal treatment. As a matter of fact, God Almighty associates the feelings of hatred and jealousy by Hz. Yusuf's (Joseph's) brothers against Joseph with Hz.Yaqub's (Jacob's) extra care for Joseph. Such a feeling caused his brothers to throw Joseph into a well; it also caused some grief and troubles that caused their father to become blind.

It is useful to remind the following hadith at this point:

“May Allah show a lot of mercy to the father who helps his child to treat him well.” (4)

Islamic scholars who regard treating children equally wajib (obligatory) make the following reasoning:

“Equal treatment is the first condition of wajib because breaking brotherhood and showing disrespect to parents are two issues that are rendered haram by Islam. Then, the means that lead to those two harams are also haram. To treat one child better than others will lead to those two harams.” (5)

Another scholar deals with the issue of injustice in a wider dimension and states the following:

“The order of the world and the hereafter depends on justice. Treating children differently causes hatred, grudge and enmity among brothers and sisters and it causes love of parents in some children and hatred of parents in others. In that case, injustice against parents and brothers and sisters takes place.” (6)

Then, treating children unjustly both at home and school becomes the beginning of a process that will lead children to different crimes. The chapter of Yusuf has nice messages regarding the issue.

Treating his children equally is always the best for a father. However, when a father does not treat his children equally, for instance, when he gives more property to one child than the other, we should not say to him, "You are committing a haram act." As a matter of fact, a person has the right to spend his property as he wishes. A person can give a house, car or something else to another person. Then, it is possible to think why he should not give it to one of his children.

However, such an act can cause jealousy and disagreement among children as it is stated in the hadiths above.

To sum up, there are two views regarding the issue:

1. It is obligatory for the father to treat his children equally; otherwise, he will be a sinner.

2. Treating children equally is something desired but one cannot force the father to do so. That is, we cannot say to a father he has committed a haram act when he does not treat his children equally. As a matter of fact,, the Prophet (pbuh) did not prohibit it but he said that he was not happy about it. It is not at the level of haram. It is makruh (abominable) but it is permissible.

On the other hand, it is fard for children to show respect to their parents and not to distress them. If our acts can distress them, we need to be very careful. We should not make things worse. We will be parents in the future, too.


1. For references and more detailed information, see Hz. Peygamberin Sünnetinde Terbiye, p.172-177
2. al-Jamius-Saghir, II/297.
3. Ibn Sahnun, ibid, p.353.
4. al-Jamius-Saghir, IV/29.
5. Ibn Hajar, Fathul-Bari, VI/141.
6. Munawi, Faydul-Qadir, V/557.

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