Kalalah in the Quranic Law of Inheritance
Verse 4:12 of the Qur’an accords brothers and sisters, a share of one-sixth from the inheritance of the deceased. Verse 4:176, however, offers a brother twice as much as the sister is offered:
Quran 4:12 – In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, ye get a fourth; after payment of legacies and debts. In what ye leave, their share is a fourth, if ye leave no child; but if ye leave a child, they get an eighth; after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; after payment of legacies and debts; so that no loss is caused (to any one). Thus is it ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, Most Forbearing. (Yusuf Ali’s Translation)
Quran 4:176 – They ask thee for a legal decision. Say: Allah directs (thus) about those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs. If it is a man that dies, leaving a sister but no child, she shall have half the inheritance: If (such a deceased was) a woman, who left no child, Her brother takes her inheritance: If there are two sisters, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance (between them): if there are brothers and sisters, (they share), the male having twice the share of the female. Thus doth Allah make clear to you (His law), lest ye err. And Allah hath knowledge of all things. (Yusuf Ali’s Translation)
Is there a contradiction?
I would like to begin with a clarification on verse 4:12. Most of the translations are translating the word Kalalah thus: “a man or a woman who leaves behind neither ascendants or descendants” – i.e. the deceased is Kalalah. The translation that I prefer (by Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a contemporary scholar), translates Kalalah, thus: “A close relative who is neither an ascendant nor a descendant” – i.e. a relation of the deceased is Kalalah, excluding children, parents or spouse of a deceased person, whom he nominated before death to receive some part of his inheritance, like a brother, an uncle or aunt, etc. If you go by the conventional translation of Kalalah, you are bound to get into the trouble that you have pointed out. If you go by Ghamidi’s translation, there are no problems.
In such a case, the following passage (4:12) is requiring the other brothers and sisters (or other uncles and aunties) of the Kalalah who has been nominated by the deceased to get a share in the inheritance too.
Quran 4:12 – “If a man or a woman is given inheritance as a Kalalah and has a brother or a sister, they shall each inherit one sixth (of what has been assigned for the Kalalah whose siblings they are), but if they are more than two, they shall share one third of the estate (assigned to the Kalalah).”
Therefore, if brothers and sisters take the position of sons and daughters because the deceased has no issues, they will get inheritance according to the formula one-to-two for males and females, respectively. However, if the deceased has sons and daughters but wants to nominate a brother, a sister, an uncle, or an aunt as an heir (Kalalah) for a certain portion of his wealth, the rest of brothers/sisters, uncles/aunties would share in 1/6th or 1/3rd of what the Kalalah has been willed to be given. In that case, they will get their respective shares equally irrespective of gender.
In other words, the sharing of men and women in the ratio of one-to-two and equal sharing by them are proposed in two completely different situations and there is no contradiction in the law, alhamdulillah.
The other verse (4:176), on the contrary, has nothing to do with that issue. It is clarifying about a particular category of Kalalah i.e. siblings of the deceased, in a situation wherein a person dies without leaving any children, but has brothers and sisters (a particular category of Kalalah relatives). There could have been a confusion in that although verse 11 of the surah is suggesting that in case a person doesn’t have children, his siblings would take the position of children, could that position be changed in case if the deceased appoints other Kalalah relatives to take his inheritance instead of his siblings? The clarification in the following verse says that they will get exactly what his children would have received had they been there and the deceased can’t deprive them of their right, since in the Divine Wisdom, when one doesn’t have issues, generally speaking, a brother takes the role of a son and is required to support the family, just as a son would have, thus, allotting him twice as much as the sister:
Quran 4:176 – “They ask you for a legal decision. Say: Allah gives you His decision about Kalalah. If a man dies childless and leaves behind a sister, she shall inherit one-half of his estate. If a woman dies childless, her brother will inherit all of her estate. If the childless person leaves behind two sisters, they both shall inherit two-third of his estate; but if he leaves more than two brothers and sisters, the share of each male shall be equal to that of two females. Thus Allah makes His commandments clear to you lest you go astray. Allah has perfect knowledge of everything.”