Alleged Mathematical Error in the Quranic Law of Inheritance
I have two further questions about the solution you provided:
1) Consider a case in which there are 2 daughters instead of 3. If we apply your solution, the 2 daughters get all the inheritance after the share(s) of the spouse(s) have been given. The reason is: Quran does not fix shares in case there are 2 daughters. On the other hand, if there are 3 daughters, they get only 2/3rd of whatever is left after the share(s) of spouse(s) have been given as the verse says, “If they are more than two they get two thirds”. This is counter-intuitive and perhaps counter-logical. Coming from the case with 2 daughters to the case with 3 daughters, shares of 3 daughters would naturally be lower even if the same formula is applied in both the cases; there are more shareholders in the latter case. Why are we diminishing it even further by not giving all that is left but only two thirds in the case of 3 daughters?
2) What is the linguistic ground for saying that two-third share of 3 daughters is given after other shares have been distributed? In other words, what is the linguistic reason for why the phrase “2/3 of the inheritance” means “2/3 of the inheritance after other shares have been given”?
These are my answers to your two questions:
1) The expression “In case there are more than two daughters, each one of them is going to share in two-third of what he has left” (Quran 4:11) implies that it also includes two daughters. There is an omission of an expression because of it being obvious (mahzuf) here. The correct translation of this part of the verse would require the omitted part to be there in parentheses thus: “In case there are (two daughters or) more than two daughters, each one of them is going to share in two-third of what he has left”. The same style is adopted in the verse (4:11) later, when Quran says “and for his parents, each one of them is going to get one-sixth of what he left if he has children; however, if he doesn’t have children, and his parents become his heirs, then his mother should get one-third (and the father two-third)”.
This style of expression wherein some parts of it are omitted because of being obvious was quite common amongst the great poets of the classical period. Quran has several examples wherein such style has been adopted. However, because most modern languages don’t have similar styles in their literary presentations anymore, many people find it difficult to pick meanings of Quran in some of its verses. The immediate addressees of Quran had no such difficulty.
2) The reason why 2/3rd of the share of daughters has to go to daughters only after the rest of the heirs are given their due is that these daughters are the principal heirs and the rest are subordinate ones. This is borne out by the fact that verse 4:11 mentions that in case if the deceased had no children and “wa warithahu abawahu” (and his parents become his heirs). This expression implies that in each case of distribution of inheritance, there has to be a principal category of heirs while the rest are all subordinate to them. In case if there are children, they are the principal heirs; in case are neither children nor siblings, it is the parents who are principal heirs, while case there are no children but there are siblings, then the latter become principal heirs.
Once it is established as to who is the principal heir in a certain case of distribution, the rest of the subordinate heirs are to be given their due shares first and from what is left the principal heirs are going to get their due.