The Hindu and Muslim Laws of Succession, governing property inheritance among
Hindus and Muslims in India, exhibit notable differences. Hindu Succession Law,
applicable to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, emphasizes equitable property
distribution, with amendments in 2005 eliminating gender-based discrimination
and granting daughters equal rights to ancestral property. In cases of
intestacy, property is divided according to legal provisions.
Conversely, Muslim Succession Law follows Islamic Shariah principles,
categorizing heirs into sharers and residuaries. Sharers, including spouses,
children, parents, and grandparents, receive fixed portions, while residuaries
inherit the remainder according to Shariah rules.
These distinctions extend to the sources of law, inheritance concepts,
succession rules, distribution mechanisms, the concept of coparcenary, the order
of succession, inheritance rights for women, adoption, polygamy, recognition of
the right of an unborn child, and government succession.
Understanding these differences is vital for ensuring fair property distribution
among Hindus and Muslims. The potential introduction of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC)
in India could significantly impact these laws by establishing uniform civil
regulations, transcending religious boundaries, and promoting equality and
The Hindu and Muslim Laws of Succession are distinct and comprehensive legal
frameworks that chiefly oversee property inheritance among Hindus and Muslims.
Although both systems have developed over centuries and include regional and
cultural nuances, notable disparities exist between Hindu and Muslim succession
laws. This article offers a concise exploration of the fundamental distinctions
between Hindu and Muslim Laws of Succession.
Hindu Succession Law
In India, the Hindu Succession Law governs the inheritance and succession of
property among Hindus, encompassing Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. This law
mandates the equitable distribution of a Hindu man's property among his
immediate family, which includes his wife, children, and grandchildren. If there
are no children, the property is shared among the wife, mother, and siblings.
The history of the Hindu Succession Law has witnessed significant
Before 1956, Hindu women had limited property inheritance
rights. In 2005, substantial amendments were introduced to eliminate
gender-based discrimination. These changes granted daughters equal rights to
ancestral property, significantly broadening women's inheritance opportunities.
In cases where a Hindu passes away intestate, without a will, the property is
divided in accordance with the legal provisions.
Muslim Succession Law
Muslim Succession Law in India is governed by the principles of Islamic Shariah.
This legal framework dictates the division of a Muslim's property among their
legal heirs, categorized into sharers and residuaries. Sharers, including
spouses, children, parents, and grandparents, are entitled to fixed portions of
the estate, while residuaries receive the remaining share after the sharers.
Shariah specifies the rules and proportions that determine each heir's share,
aiming to ensure equitable distribution according to Islamic principles.
In India, property inheritance and succession among Hindus, which includes
Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, are governed by Hindu Succession Law. This law
distributes a Hindu man's property equally among immediate family members, such
as his wife, children, and grandchildren. In the absence of children, the
property is shared by the wife, mother, and siblings. Hindu Succession Law has a
complex history, with significant changes over time.
Before 1956, Hindu women
had limited property rights, but in 2005, substantial amendments removed
gender-based discrimination. These amendments granted daughters equal rights as
sons in ancestral property, expanding inheritance opportunities for women. When
a Hindu dies intestate (without a will), property is divided according to the
On the other hand, the principles of Islamic Shariah govern Muslim Succession
Law in India. According to this law, a Muslim's property is divided among legal
heirs, categorized into sharers and residuaries. Sharers, including spouses,
children, parents, and grandparents, are entitled to fixed portions of the
estate, while residuaries receive the remaining portion after the sharers. The
division is based on specific rules and proportions outlined in Shariah,
ensuring equitable distribution in line with Islamic principles.
Source of Law:
Hindu law is primarily governed by the Hindu Succession Act of 1956,
which serves as a codified law for Hindus, including Sikhs, Jains, and
Buddhists. It incorporates principles from ancient Hindu texts like the Vedas,
Manusmriti, and Dharmashastra, but it also considers customary practices,
legislative enactments, and judicial decisions as influential sources.
In contrast, Muslim Law is not codified and is based on several
primary sources. These sources include the Quran, which is the holy book of
Islam, the Hadith, which comprises the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad,
Ijma, which refers to the consensus of Islamic jurists, and Qiyas, which
involves analogical reasoning. Muslim Law falls under the umbrella of Muslim
Personal Law, covering various aspects of personal life, including inheritance.
Concept of Inheritance:
Hindu law revolves around the concept of lineal descendants and coparcenary. In coparcenary, ancestral property is passed down hierarchically
within the family. The Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools of Hindu law govern the
inheritance rights of different Hindu communities.
Muslim law is characterized by strict individual ownership.
Inheritance is divided among legal heirs based on prescribed shares outlined in
the Quran. The system of inheritance in Muslim law is known as "Wills" (Wasiyya)
and is based on the principles of specified shares and obligatory heirs.
Hindu law recognizes both testamentary succession (through a will)
and intestate succession (in the absence of a will). Amendments to the Hindu
Succession Act have ensured equal rights for male and female heirs. For
instance, the 2005 amendment granted daughters equal rights as sons in ancestral
Muslim law emphasizes testamentary succession, encouraging the
creation of a will. However, in the absence of a will, the property is
distributed based on the rules of intestate succession.
Hindu law follows the concept of survivorship, where property passes
by succession in case of death. It is divided among heirs according to their
share, often subject to certain restrictions and conditions.
Muslim law adheres to the principle of immediate succession, with
the property devolving upon heirs immediately upon death. Distribution is based
on prescribed shares, and there is greater flexibility regarding testamentary
Concept of Coparcenary:
Hindu law recognizes the concept of coparcenary, a form of joint
family ownership. It applies to ancestral property and includes male descendants
up to four generations from a common ancestor. Upon the death of a coparcener,
his share devolves upon surviving coparceners. Recent amendments have expanded
the rights of females in coparcenary property.
The concept of coparcenary is not applicable under Muslim law. In
Muslim law, the inheritance is based on the principle of individual ownership,
and each heir receives a specific share of the deceased's property.
Order of Succession:
In the Hindu law of succession, the first line of heirs consists of
Class I heirs, which include sons, daughters, and the widow. If there are no
Class I heirs, the property passes to Class II heirs, which include parents,
brothers, sisters, and their descendants. If there are no heirs in either Class
I or Class II, the property devolves upon agnates (relatives through males) and,
in their absence, upon cognates (relatives through females).
In the Muslim law of succession, heirs are divided into two
categories: Sharers (fixed shares) and residuaries. Sharers are specific
individuals entitled to fixed shares, such as children, parents, and spouses.
The remaining property, after the fixed shares are distributed, goes to the
residuaries, who are more distant relatives.
Inheritance Rights for Women:
Recent amendments in Hindu law provide equal rights to daughters in
ancestral property, irrespective of their marital status or when the property
was acquired. Daughters are now considered legal heirs and are placed under
Class I heirs.
In Muslim law, the inheritance rights of women are governed by the
principles of fixed shares, which often result in a lesser share compared to
male heirs. For instance, a daughter typically inherits half the share of a son.
Hindu law recognizes adoption with specific rules and conditions. Adopted
children have the same rights as biological children, including the right to
Muslim Law: Adoption under Indian Law by Muslim parents is not recognized.
Instead, the practice of kafala allows for the legal guardianship of a child but
does not grant inheritance rights.
Polygamy and Multiple Marriages:
Hindu law prohibits polygamy and recognizes monogamous marriages, meaning a
Hindu can have only one spouse at a time.
Muslim law allows polygamy, permitting Muslim men to have up to four wives
simultaneously. Each wife is entitled to a specific share in the husband's
property, depending on the presence of other heirs.
Right of an Unborn Child:
Hindu law acknowledges the 'right to property by birth'. A child in
the womb at the time of the death of an intestate has the right to inherit
property, with inheritance considered to vest from the date of the intestate's
Muslim law does not acknowledge the 'right to property by birth'.
According to Section 29 of the Hindu Succession Act, if an intestate
has left no qualified heirs, the property devolves to the government. The
government takes the property subject to all obligations and liabilities.
In Muslim law, if there are no legal heirs, the property of the
deceased escheats to the government through escheat.
Understanding these differences is crucial for ensuring fair property
distribution among Hindus and Muslims, and potential changes, such as the
implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India, may significantly impact
these laws by replacing personal laws with common civil laws for all citizens,
promoting equality and secularism.
Ramkali v. Mahila Shyamwati 
A widow is entitled to an inheritance equal to that of her son. If there are
multiple widows, they will combine their shares to receive a portion equivalent
to that of the son and then distribute it among themselves. This right applies
to marriages that were legally recognized. In this case, it was established that
a woman whose marriage was declared null and void upon her husband's death would
not be considered his widow, and she would not have any claim to his property.
In situations involving divorce or remarriage, the widow (the deceased's wife)
does not have the right to claim any portion of the property. However, in cases
of judicial separation, the widow is entitled to a share of the property because
judicial separation does not terminate the marriage; it merely signifies a legal
separation while the marriage remains intact.
Kalyan Kumar Bhattacharjee v. Pratibha Chakraborty 
If none of the Class I heirs make a claim on the inheritance, it will then be
transferred to the Class II heirs. An instance of this scenario occurred in the
case of "Kalyan Kumar Bhattacharjee v. Pratibha Chakraborty
," where the
defendant's brother, Ranjit, who was unmarried at the time, inherited his
sibling's share of the property. However, Ranjit disappeared without a trace,
and his two surviving brothers subsequently divided the estate equally between
them. Later on, the plaintiff's brother, Jagadish, created a will in which he
bequeathed everything to the plaintiff and then passed away.
The defendants, at a later point, contested this arrangement, claiming, among
other things, that the property originally belonged to three brothers: Kalyan,
Defendant No. 1, Jagadish, and Ranjit. In the event of the demise of a single
Hindu male, the property would be distributed to his Class II heirs.
Similarly, if there are no Class II heirs available, and Class III or IV heirs
exist, the property will then be transferred to the Class III or IV heirs.
Syed Mohammed Abbas Ali Meerza vs. State of West Bengal 
In this legal case, the High Court examined the term "Primogeniture" in the
context of succession law, concluding that it excludes females and favors the
senior-most male member. The claim made by the legal heirs of Sajid Ali Meerza
aligned with this interpretation and the Law of Primogeniture, as opposed to
Shia Muslim Law.
Regarding Syed Mohammed Abbas Ali Meerza's claim, the High Court initially
considered it based on his relationship through a female heir. However, it was
later recognized that he also had a legitimate claim as the son of another male
heir, as evidenced by a genealogical table. Consequently, Syed Mohammed Abbas
Ali Meerza was allowed to pursue the case, and the High Court was instructed to
consider the matter on its merits.
The Hindu and Muslim Laws of Succession in India are intricate legal frameworks
governing property inheritance within their respective communities. These
distinct systems have evolved over time, each characterized by unique principles
Hindu Law, codified under the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, emphasizes equitable
distribution among family members and has seen significant amendments to promote
gender equality. It recognizes coparcenary, allows testamentary and intestate
succession, and ensures inheritance rights for daughters.
Conversely, Muslim Law is rooted in Islamic principles and lacks codification.
It follows a strict individual ownership model with fixed shares for legal
heirs. While testamentary succession is encouraged, intestate distribution is
These differences extend to the concept of coparcenary, the order of succession,
inheritance rights for women, adoption, polygamy, recognition of the right of an
unborn child, and government succession.
Understanding these distinctions is crucial for ensuring fair property
distribution among Hindus and Muslims in India. It's worth noting that potential
changes, such as the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), could
introduce uniform civil laws, transcending religious boundaries and promoting
equality and secularism. India, with its diverse legal systems, respects the
cultural and religious diversity of its citizens while upholding principles of
justice and fairness.
- D. Haldar and K. Jaishankar, 'Property Rights Of Hindu Women: A Feminist Review Of Succession Laws Of Ancient, Medieval, And Modern India'  665, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/25654333?seq=3, last accessed on 4/08/2014
- Eliza Abraham, S., 2018. Short Note on Hindu Joint Family- Under Mitakshara and Dayabhaga. [online] Ijlmh.com. Available at: https://www.ijlmh.com/wpcontent/uploads/2019/04/Short-Note on-Hindu-Joint-Family-Under-Mitakshara-andDayabhaga.pdf [Accessed 26 September 2022].
- Reyaz, S., 2022. Muslim Law Of Inheritance. [online] Districts.ecourts.gov.in. Available at: https://districts.ecourts.gov.in/sites/default/files/jcjponduru.pdf [Accessed 26 September 2022].
- Faizul Haque, M., Mohammad Solihin, S., Ahmad, N. and Shah Jani, M., 2020. Women Rights to Inheritance in Muslim Family Law: An Analytical Study. [online] RESEARCH GATE. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340687212_Women_Rights_to_Inheritance_in_Muslim_Family_Law_An_Analytical_Study [Accessed 26 September 2022].
- Mulla, Hindu Law (2), (Butterworths, New Delhi, 2001), 277.
- Bryan A. Garner (ed.), Black Law Dictionary, (West Group. St. Minn, 7th edition), 787.
- The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Act No. 30, Acts of Parliament, India
- Ramkali v. Mahila Shyamwati, AIR 2000 MP 288
- Kalyan Kumar Bhattacharjee v. Pratibha Chakraborty, RSA No. 53 of 1998
- Syed Mohammed Abbas Ali Meerza vs. State of West Bengal, MANU/SC/0780/2014