Part one in a series (part two, part three, part four) of questions and answers on Islam, nationality and inheritance considerations in the UAE. The series should be read in its entirety.
Does Sharia apply to inheritance of UAE nationals?
Yes it does. Article 7 of the UAE Constitution provides that "Islam is the official religion of the federation and Islamic Sharia is a main source of legislation therein and the official language of the federation is Arabic". Therefore, Islamic Sharia is a fundamental and principal source of legislation in the UAE. Article 75 of Federal Law No. 10 of 1973 Regarding the Federal High Court stipulates that said court shall apply Islamic Sharia and other laws applied by the member emirates of the federation that are compliant with Islamic Sharia.
Pursuant to these fundamental laws, the "Personal Status Law" was issued through Federal Law No. 28 of 2009 (which regulates matters of inheritance in Chapter Two). This provides in Article 1 that its provisions apply to all UAE nationals. This means that the provisions of the said law, which are based on Islamic Sharia, apply to the inheritance or estate of persons who hold UAE nationality.
Is there a constitutional provision that requires all UAE nationals to be Muslim?
No there isn't. Article 25 of the UAE Constitution provides that all individuals are equal before the law and that nationals of the federation shall not be discriminated against on account of "origin, residence, religious faith, or social status". Article 1.2 of the Personal Status Law states that its provisions (i.e., the provisions of the Personal Status Law) will apply to all UAE nationals, unless "non Muslims from among UAE nationals" have special rules derived from their sect or religion.
It is worth pointing out that Article 75 of the UAE Civil Code states that a "national" shall mean any person who can prove that he has UAE nationality. Furthermore, the Citizenship Law (Federal Law No. 17 of 1972) does not make it a condition for UAE citizenship that an individual be a Muslim or specify that citizenship is granted to Muslims only.
In conclusion, there is nothing in the Constitution or any other law in the UAE that requires a UAE national to be a Muslim.
If a non-Muslim individual obtained UAE nationality, are there any laws that would require him/her to become a Muslim before granting him/her UAE nationality, and upon granting him/her UAE nationality, is there a requirement that he/she be recorded as a Muslim in his citizenship or ID file?
No. Articles 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 of Federal Law No. 17, as amended by Federal Law No. 10 of 1975 Regarding Citizenship and Passports, provides that nationality may be offered to the following categories of individuals: "Arabs who originate from Oman, Qatar, Bahrain … or any Arab of full legal capacity … or any person of full legal capacity … or any person who provided valuable services to the State …". In other words, the Citizenship Law permits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims. Furthermore, there is no provision in any UAE law that requires a non-Muslim to convert to Islam in order to be granted UAE nationality or to maintain that nationality. Additionally, there is no provision requiring the mention of "Muslim" in ID records or passports that are issued to naturalised UAE nationals.
If a UAE national holds more than one citizenship, which law would apply to his/her estate be it located inside and/or outside the UAE?
UAE law would apply. According to the provisions of Articles 17 and 24 of the UAE Civil Code, the law applicable to an estate in these circumstances would be UAE law, as would be the case where the testator is proven to have more than one nationality at the same time. UAE citizenship will override the other nationalities that an individual may have, which reflects the general principle in customary international law that regards the determination of citizenship to be a matter of state sovereignty and which may not be subject to any other law save its own. This position is clearly reflected in the above referred to Article 24 of the Civil Code which states that "where persons are proved to simultaneously hold UAE citizenship and the citizenship of another state, the law of the UAE shall apply".
To summarise, if the UAE national holds several citizenships, as far as the UAE law is concerned, the law of the UAE will apply to his estate and property located in the UAE.
As for property that is located outside the UAE, a distinction must be made between movable and immovable property. In respect of immovable property, Article 18 of the UAE Civil Code provides that the applicable law for immovable property is the law of the place where such property is located. As for movable property, again, Article 18 provides that the applicable law would be the law of the place where such property exists at the time of death.
It must be pointed out that these rules are applicable to, and are binding in respect of , the UAE only and do not therefore automatically apply to movable and immovable property located outside the UAE . In such instances, the law of the place where the property is located will be applied and the courts of such country will apply their own conflict of law provisions, which may differ from the rules mentioned above. Hence it is advisable to consult the laws of each country where the property is located.
Mohammed A. Q. Al Salti
Tarik El Bakri
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