In reality, Singapore's Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) is not complicated at all. There is even a spreadsheet on the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) website which calculates how a Muslim's assets are divided after death.
Unfortunately, most Singaporeans are not aware that religious inheritance laws are imposed upon Muslims. As non-Muslims, most Singaporeans are not concerned about the predicament either, despite the fact that civil law will increase the 'common space' among the diverse population.
It is in that context that the recent ruling by Singapore's Court of Appeals upholding the 'survivorship' principle was encouraging. The ruling also brought the AMLA situation into stark focus within the legal fraternity. It also highlights the potential for confusion at those points where Singapore's civil and religious law intersect.
Knowing full well that my comments are slightly aggressive within the Singapore context, I promptly despatched the following letter to the Straits Times.
The paper did not deem it worthy of publication but the Grand Moofti believes the text should be shared with a broader audience.
To the Editor:
The recent declaration by Singapore's Court of Appeals that "the general law will prevail against the Muslim law [Administration of Muslim Law Act] on this issue [inheritance law regarding assets jointly owned]" is encouraging. The precedent set by the court decision provides clarity over the distribution of a Muslim's jointly owned assets.
However, the Obeidillah Salim Talib case raises the important question regarding the validity of a Muslim's will if it relates to more than one third of his estate.
Prevailing practice suggests Singaporean Muslims have no choice but to abide by the provisions of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore's (MUIS) interpretations of the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) for disposing of assets following death; interpretations which the Court of Appeals declared to be no more than 'expert opinions.'
AMLA singles out Singaporean Muslims by not permitting them to bequeath assets, accrued over a lifetime of work, based on individual conscience and freewill. The situation is a denial of fundamental freedoms to a particular segment of Singaporeans purely on the basis of religion, freedoms readily available to all non-Muslim Singaporeans.
It will certainly be a step forward if Singapore's higher judiciary can confirm that a Muslim's duly registered will pertaining to his entire estate is recognised by Singapore's legal framework. The will, of course, may still voluntarily abide by the fatwa or religious guidance provided by MUIS for disposal of an estate.