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Application of the Islamic Law of Succession: Was the Propositus a Sunnī or a Shīʿī?

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One point at which the difference between Shīʿī and Sunnī law may dramatically and immediately impact upon the affairs of a Muslim family is on the occasion of the death of one of its members. The operation of the rules of succession frequently leads to very diverse results, depending on the sectarian affiliation of the deceased. The sectarian allegiance of the deceased, however, is not always easily ascertained, and the point may be contested by competing groups of would-be heirs. This essay examines the manner in which the Courts of South Asia approach the question of determining the sectarian affiliation of the deceased when this is necessary in order to resolve conflicts over the devolution of his (or her) estate. After examining the provocative litigation concerning the estate of Miss Fatima Jinnah, who, in life, had refused to identify herself as either a Sunnī or a Shīʿī, I shall consider the question of whether South Asian Muslims could be given the option of electing whether Sunnī or Shīʿī law shall govern the devolution of their estates.

Affiliations: 1: Cambridge, England


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