Allah Ta`ala has granted man full freedom to act and operate in the bounties of wealth during his state of health. Whilst sound and healthy, he is permitted to dispose his estate within the confines of the shari`ah at will and wish. He enjoys the right to gift away his property to relatives, friends and foes according to his discretion. Once the beneficiary takes possession of the asset/item/property given to him during the state of health of the benefactor, the gift is complete and final, having left the ownership of the benefactor.
However, when man approaches the last stage in his earthly sojourn, hovering between life and death, the shari`ah curtails his former unfettered freedom of disposing his estate. At this stage the rights of the heirs in his estate are activated. The rights of the heirs become applicable to the estate from the day that maradhul maut commenced. Maradhul maut is the illness from which a man does not recover. His death occurs in the duration of this final sickness. Henceforth, the shari`ah does not recognize man’s unrestricted freedom of operation in what is commonly known as ‘his’ estate.
Some operations of a man in his final sickness are valid and will be given effect. Some of his operations are null and void while some operations are partly valid and partly void. This third category of partly valid operations is described as wasiyyat. These different types of operations in his estate by a man in his maradhul maut will be more fully explained later with specific examples, insha’Allah.
While a man still breathes life, it is not possible to know whether the particular illness in which he is will be his maradhul maut or not. He may well recover. Only death determines maradhul maut. All operations in his wealth during an illness from which he recovers will be valid regardless of the severity of his indisposition. The freedom of his operation is curtailed only in the illness in which he dies, the date of the curtailment being the first day of such last illness.
An illness which endures for a year or more will not be maradhul maut. The last illness of such a person will be from the time the illness deteriorated. Thus, deterioration leading to death, will be the determining factor of maradhul maut in cases of prolonged illnesses of a year or more. A year in the context is an Islamic year. All operations in his wealth prior to the date of deterioration will be fully valid.
Similarly, an illness which does not confine a person to bed is not maradhul maut. If during the illness he is able to perform salaat as usual and attend to other duties and activities, such a sickness will not be maradhul maut. His maradhul maut commences from the day he comes bedridden, ultimately dying in that illness.
When disaster strikes a ship or aircraft, the maradhul maut of the passengers will commence from the time when hope of life vanishes. All operations in their wealth in this state of hopelessness will be considered to be operations in maradhul maut, hence subject to the restrictions of the shari`ah. If, however, the ship or aircraft survives the disaster or the passengers emerge safely, then all operations effected during the state of hopelessness will be valid.
When a man is sentenced to death, his maradhul maut commences from the moment he is led to the gallows. This moment commences from the minute he is taken from his place of imprisonment to the place of execution. All operations effected by him in his wealth during this time will be operations in maradhul maut. However, if for some reason, at this eleventh hour the death sentence is commuted or the execution is stayed or the prisoner escapes, then maradhul maut will be negated and all operations made during this time will be fully valid.
The maradhul maut of a woman who dies giving birth will be from the time her pangs commence.
The maradhul maut of people dying in a plague will be from the time the disease strikes them. Unlike normal, everyday sickness, their participation in daily activities will not negate maradhul maut for persons caught in a plaque, e.g. smallpox, cholera, etc.