The concept of debt is primarily expressed in the Qurʾān through the infinitive noun dayn (pl. duyūn), from the triliteral root d-y-n, literally meaning “anything not present” and in the tafāʿala (VI stem) verb form denoting the act of engaging a deal involving deferred payment, either as a creditor or debtor (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Manẓūr, Maqāyīs; Ibn Fāris, Lisān). Dayn occurs five times in the Qurʾān (Q 2:282; 4:11; 4:12x3). In Q 2:282, the context is to secure proof of a debt through documentation, testimony, or collateral, while in Q 4:11-12, the context is the obligation to pay off debts and fulfill bequests (waṣiyya) from the estate of one deceased before distributing any inheritance.
- Definitions and Usage
- Legal Definition and Rulings
- Categories of Debt
- The Verse of Debt and Its Context
- Debt Security and Documentation
- Securing Debt through Witnesses
- Securing Debt Through Collateral
- Securing Debt Through Unilateral Guarantee
- Precedence of Debt Payment over Bequests
- Qualification for Charity
- Warnings About Debt
Definitions and Usage
The infinitive dayn shares its triliteral root with the infinitive (maṣdar) dīn (denoting obedience, compliance, reckoning, and recompense; see Judgment), the passive participle madīn (lit. the recompensed), and madīna (a city, so called because obedience to its authority is therein respected; see City; Madina), all sharing the meaning of restriction under a rule or law or, by extension, the ignominy of such restriction, as in the expression, “Dayn (debt) is [but] ignominy during the day and anxiety during the night” (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs).
A verbal cognate of dayn (tadāyantum) is used in Q 2:282 to mean engaging a deal upon credit, whether giving or taking (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr; Jalālayn, Tafsīr; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ), or by method of prepayment (salam) or lending (Zajjāj, Maʿānī; Jalālayn; Fayyūmī).
Debt is also mentioned through cognates of the trilateral root gh-r-m, which is lexically related to dayn, literally that which adheres, stays on, or becomes necessary (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Azharī, Tahdhīb; Ibn Manẓūr, Maqāyīs; Zabīdī, Tāj) as in Q 25:65: And those who say, ‘Our Lord, avert from us the punishment of Hell. Indeed, its punishment is ever-adhering (gharām),’ or the fulfillment of something that has become necessary by means of a guarantee or other financial liability (Farāhīdī; Azharī). These cognates occur six times in the Qurʾān in four forms: the noun gharām (Q 25:65); the noun maghram (Q 9:98; 52:40; 68:46), denoting loss or debt; the plural active participle ghārimīn (Q 9:60), denoting those burdened by debt (although ghārim may also denote a creditor, as he has the right to require repayment); and the form IV plural passive participle [la-] mughramūna (Q 56:66), also denoting the debt-ridden (Jaṣṣās, Aḥkām).
Legal Definition and Rulings
In legal usage, dayn refers simply to the attachment of liability to a right (luzūm ḥaqqin fī-l-dhimma), both monetary, e.g. loans (qarḍ), rental payments (ijāra), prepayments (salam), deferred payments in sale (bayʿ muʾajjal), or financial penalties (jināya), as well as non-monetary, e.g. missed prayers, charity, or fasts (Ibn Nujaym, Fatḥ al-Ghaffār 3:20; al-Qarāfī, al-Furūq 2:134).
The four Sunni juristic schools agree on the validity of debt liability in the case of fungible assets, e.g. cash loans (iqrāḍ) and prepayment (salam), though they differ on the validity of specific forms of debt dealing with non-fungible assets, the exhaustive details of which are found in legal manuals.
Categories of Debt
Islamic legal texts differentiate between (i) debts owed to Allah and (ii) debts owed to others, the former denoting liabilities in which no compensation is expected for anyone other than Allah, and include rights involving ritual acts of worship, such as the non-monetary liability of missed prayers and fasts, or the monetary liability involved in charity, the penalty of missed fasts, the expiations for missed or incorrectly performed rites of Ḥajj (kaffārāt of ḥajj), or the one-fifth duty on the spoils of war (see Booty). (al-Kāsānī, Badāʾīʿ al-ṣanāʾiʿ 2:7-8,76; Ibn Daqīq al-ʿĪd, Iḥkām al-aḥkām 2:25) The Qurʾānic references to debt in Q 2:282, Q 4:11-12, and Q 9:60, however, are specific to debts owed to other human beings and are inclusive of a wide variety of financial liabilities, including those incurred through rental agreements, cash loans, damage compensation, blood money payment, and deferred payment purchases.
Other legal classifications of debts discussed by jurists include (i) the deferrable (muʾajjal) vs. non-deferrable (ḥāl), (ii) debts initiated during the debtor’s health vs. illness, (iii) strong (qawiyy) vs. weak (ḍaʿīf), and (iv) shared (mushtarak) vs. unshared debts (ghayr mushtarak). (al-Kāsānī, Badāʾīʿ al-ṣanāʾiʿ 7:225; al-Fatāwā al-hindiyya 2:336; al-Tahānawī, Kashshāf iṣtilāḥāt al-funūn 1:814) A possible categorization of Qurʾānic derivation is the secured (muwaththaq) versus unsecured (muṭlaq) debt found in Q 2:282, also known as “The Verse of Debt” (āyat al-dayn).
The Verse of Debt and Its Context
"The Verse of Debt" is the longest verse in the Qurʾān (Q 2:282) and considered by most exegetes to be of the last revelation (al-Samʿānī, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). Along with the previous verse (Q 2:281), it is said to have been revealed only nine nights before the demise of the Prophet Muḥammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, as per Ibn Jurayj (d. ca.150/767), while Saʿīd b. Jubayr (d. 95/714) and Muqātil (d. 150/767) say these were revealed only seven nights prior, and some even say three nights or three hours before his demise (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr).
The Verse of Debt is preceded by a stern admonition against the consumption of usury (ribā) (see Usury) beginning with Q 2:275 and culminating in a recommendation of deferment in Q 2:280 for the debtor who is in hardship and incapable of returning a loan on interest even if the interest is forgiven and only the principal demanded, as well as a reminder to fear a Day in which you shall be returned to Allah (Q 2:281). According to Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273), these verses, which provide important context for the Verse of Debt, establish a number of legal rulings, including the command to provide respite to a debtor in hardship until a time of ease, the right of a creditor to demand repayment from a debtor who is capable of repayment, and the right to seize the principal in such a case without permission from the debtor, evidenced by Q 2:278: but if you repent, for you is the capital of your wealth. Al-Qurṭubī notes that the verse proves that a debtor who refuses repayment despite a capability to do so is committing grave iniquity (ẓulm) (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr).
The Divine injunction in Q 2:280 to give respite to one in hardship until there is ease and that it is better to give it up as charity abrogates the pre-Islamic and early-Islamic practice of selling free men in debt when they were unable to repay a loan unaided, according to Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 321/933). (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr) Abū Hurayra (d. 57/681), al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21-110/642-728), ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ (27-114/653-732), al-Rabīʿ b. Khuthaym (d. 65/685), and the majority of jurists believe that the command for granting respite, though given in the context of usurious loans, is universally applicable to both usurious and non-usurious debts. Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688), Qāḍī Shurayḥ b. al-Ḥārith al-Kindī (d. 78/698), and Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī (47-96/666-714), on the other hand, argue that the verse is specific to usury and that rather than deferment in debts and other financial agreements, the defaulter is to be forced to pay or face imprisonment (ḥabs, which can refer to various forms of confinement) until payment is made. ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq Ibn ʿAṭiyya al-Andalusī (481-541/1088-1147) suggests that the latter ruling was not intended to be applied to the severely impoverished or bankrupt, for whom the unanimous ruling should be to oblige the creditor to grant respite (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr).
The Verse reads:
O you who believe! When you contract a debt between each other for a stated term, write it down. Let a scribe write it down between you justly, and let no scribe refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so let him write. And let the one who shall incur the debt dictate. And let him fear Allah, his Lord, and defraud no part of it. But if the one who shall incur the debt is mentally incompetent or weak (minor) or he himself is unable to dictate, then let his guardian dictate justly. And call upon two witnesses from your men to witness. But if there are not two men, then a man and two women from those who you approve of as witnesses, so that if one of the two (women) should err the other may remind her. Let the witness not refuse when they are summoned. And be not loath to write down - be it small or large - with its due term. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah, and more suitable for testimony, and likelier to you will not be in doubt. Excepted this is an immediate transaction transferred between yourselves. Then, there shall be no blame on you for not writing it down; but do take witnesses when you sell to one another, and let neither scribe nor witness be harmed. For if ever you do so, it shall be transgression on your part. Act in due reverence for Allah and seek to attain piety. It is Allah who teaches you. And Allah has full knowledge of all things.
Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (543-606/1148/1209) and ʿImād al-Dīn Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373) both say the verse was revealed in the context of financial liabilities incurred through specified-term prepayment agreements (salam or salaf), as unspecified prepayments were commonplace in Madina when the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, first arrived there and often lasted two or even three years. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, eventually restricted the institution of prepayment by demanding that “the one who prepays should prepay on specific measures of volume, specific measures of weight, and to a specified term” (Bukhārī, Al-Salam, al-salam fī kaylin maʿlūm; Muslim, Al-Musāqāt, al-salam). Ibn ʿAbbās believed that the verse was revealed only regarding specified-term prepayments (salam) and not conventional loans (qarḍ), stating, “I bear witness that the guaranteed prepayment to a specified term has been made lawful and permitted by Allah,” and then reciting the verse as evidence. (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr) Al-Rāzī notes that the financial liability in the verse cannot be in reference to loans (qarḍ) as its stipulation of a stated term for the debt contradicts the conditions to a conventional loan agreement in which stated terms are impermissible. Therefore the verse applies specifically to forms of dayn in which a fixed term is permissible, such as in a credit sale or deferred dowry (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām; Rāzī, Tafsīr). The majority of exegetes, according to al-Rāzī, favor a third interpretation of the verse which allows its application to both credit sales (bayʿ al-ʿayn bi-l-dayn) and prepayments (bayʿ al-ʿayn bi al-dayn or salam) (Rāzī, Tafsīr).
Debt Security and Documentation
The Verse of Debt directs believers who intend to engage in a debt contract to secure their debt (tawthīq al-dayn) through documentation (kitāba), testimony (shahāda), or collateral (rahn). A fourth instrument of debt security, the security guarantee (kafāla), which is a unilateral undertaking of a third party with the consent of both the creditor and debtor, is legally established through the prophetic traditions and practice (sunna) (al-Shāfiʿī, al-Umm, 3:229; al-Shīrāzī, al-Muhadhdhab 1:348; al-Kharshī, Sharḥ Khalīl, 6:21; ʿAlīsh, Minaḥ al-Jalīl 3:243,258; Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Raḍḍ al-muḥtār 4:249).
The Verse of Debt begins with the instruction: O you who believe! When you contract a debt between each other for a stated term, write it down. The majority of Muslim jurists understand this command to commit debt contracts to writing to be a recommendation (mustaḥabb), with only a minority of early scholars like Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923) arguing that the verse denotes obligation (wujūb) (al-Shāfiʿī, Aḥkām al-Qurʾān 1:137; al-Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām al-Qurʾān 1:482; al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr sub Q 2:282, al-Qurṭubī, Tafsīr sub Q 2:282). As evidence, al-Ṭabarī invokes the legal principle of assuming an obligation in instances of a Qurʾānic unrestricted imperative (amr) and points out that the verse’s careful discussion of the right of transcription, the necessary attributes for the notary, the encouragement for a scribe to answer a request, and the encouragement to write down both large and small debt contracts, all demonstrate a blameworthiness for the one who avoids documentation that is normally only associated with an obligation (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Abū Bakr al-Jaṣṣāṣ (d. 370/981), however, examines and refutes the claim of obligation in his Aḥkām al-Qurʾān as well as the suggestion that written documentation was initially established as an obligation by Q 2:282 due to the scarcity of scribes at the time and then later abrogated by the following verse (Q 2:283), citing the absence of clear-cut proof that there was any pause between the revelation of the two verses (Jaṣṣās, Aḥkām) (see Abrogation and Alliance and Treaty).
The majority of scholars of the four Sunni schools of Islamic law, likewise, consider the verse’s later instruction to let no scribe refuse to write, to be a recommendation rather than an obligation, despite the verse’s reminder to scribes who are requested to document a debt contract that their literacy is a result of Allah’s favor and that Allah has taught him, so let him write. Al-Jaṣṣās, however, notes that if a scribe does accept the request, he becomes legally obliged to write it down between (the two parties) justly (Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām al-Qurʾān).
The verse also recommends that the debtor dictate, and let him fear Allah, his Lord, and defraud no part of it. However, if the debtor is unable to dictate himself due to legal incapacities his legal guardian should write on his behalf: if the one who shall incur the debt is mentally incompetent or weak (minor) or he himself is unable to dictate, then let his guardian dictate justly. The latter portion of the verse emphasizes the importance of documentation for both small and large financial liabilities: be not loath to write down - be it small or large - along with its due term (of payment). It mentions three benefits of such documentation: that is more equitable in the sight of Allah, and more sure for testimony, and likelier to safeguard you from being doubtful. Elucidating on the verse, Ibn al-Jawzī (510-597/ca.1116-1200) notes that proof of debt protects both persons and wealth from transgression (ẓulm), since the existence of evidence (bayyina) diminishes the temptation to disregard the rights of others (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Regarding spot transactions, however, the verse makes an exception to the aforementioned recommendation: excepted this is an immediate transaction transferred between yourselves. Then, there shall be no blame on you for not writing it down.
Securing Debt through Witnesses
The verse also recommends securing debt by means of witnesses: And call upon two witnesses from your men to witness. But if there are not two men, then a man and two women from those who you approve of as witnesses, so that if one of the two (women) should err the other may remind her, which the jurists of the four Sunni schools of Islamic law believed to be preferable (mandūb) and not obligatory based on the clarification in Q 2:283: if you trust one another, then let him who is entrusted fulfill his trust - and let him be ever God-fearing and conscious of Allah, his Lord. However, if a person accepts a request to be a witness, they are obligated to testify if summoned: Let the witness not refuse when they are summoned (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām; al-Jaṣṣās, Aḥkām) (See Witness and Witnessing).
The verse concludes with a reminder of the inviolability of both scribe and witness: and let neither scribe nor witness be harmed. For if ever you do so, it shall be transgression on your part. Act in due reverence for Allah and seek to attain piety. It is Allah who teaches you. And Allah has full knowledge of all things.
Securing Debt Through Collateral
The following verse (Q 2:283) suggests collateral (rahn), or wealth pledged as security for repayment of a loan and forfeited in the event of a default, as another valid means of securing debts: And if you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, then have a collateral on hand. Like in the case of written documentation (kitāba) and witnessing (shahāda), the majority of jurists do not consider the use of rahn securities as an obligation in debt contracts. Ibn Qudāma al-Maqdisī (d. 620/1223) notes the total absence of any divergent view on the matter (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī 4:361-362; Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-muḥtār 5:307).
According to al-Jaṣṣāṣ, although the recommendation to use collateral was revealed in the context of travel, where debt contracts are not as easily securable through writing or witnessing due to the normal scarcity of writing instruments, documents, and witnesses, there is a consensus of the juristic schools and a near consensus of the early scholars (salaf) on the permissibility of collateral for both travelers and residents, only Mujāhid (d. ca.104/722) expressing dislike (karāha) for the use of collateral by non-traveling residents (Aḥkām; Baghawī, Tafsīr).
The verse continues to explain that when the creditor is confident that the debtor is trustworthy and feels no need for collateral due to his good opinion of him, he may loan his wealth without security, be it collateral, documentation, or witnesses: If you trust one another, then let him who is entrusted fulfill his trust - and let him be ever God-fearing and conscious of Allah, his Lord. (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād) Ibn ʿĀshūr (1296-1393/1879-1972) comments, “The term ‘trust’ is being applied to debt liabilities and collateral to magnify the importance of that right, due to the gravity of the term ‘trust’ in the minds” (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Taḥrīr).
Securing Debt Through Unilateral Guarantee
A fourth means of securing a debt contract is a unilateral guarantee of financial liability (kafāla, lit. guarantee, security, pledge) by a third party. In such a guarantee, the third party agrees to pay the creditor what is owed of the debt in the event of a debtor’s failure to fulfill it himself. According to some, the validity of such a guarantee is established, amongst other proofs, through the story of Yūsuf, upon him be peace, in which a guarantee is given to reward whoever locates the lost chalice of the king: He who brings it shall have a camel-load of provisions, I guarantee that (Q 12:72) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Al-Bayḍāwī (d. 685/1286) and al-Jaṣṣāṣ, however, only claim that the verse establishes the permissibility of payment for services (jaʿāla) with a guarantee of payment before completion of the service (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr; Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām). Instead, Muslim jurists use the prophetic traditions as evidence of the permissibility of kafāla, amongst which is the narration of Salama b. al-Akwaʿ (d. 74/693) in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī in which the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) was brought three deceased men and asked regarding each: “Did he leave behind a debt?” About the third person, the Companions replied, “Yes.” The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) then enquired, “Did he leave anything behind?” They responded, “No,” whereupon the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) remarked, “Pray (yourselves) upon your companion.” A man from the al-Anṣār, however, exclaimed, “O Messenger of Allah, I take responsibility for his debt.” Subsequently the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, himself led the debtor’s funeral prayer (Bukhārī, Al-Kafāla, man takaffala ʿan mayyitin daynan fa laysa lahu an yarjiʿ).
Precedence of Debt Payment over Bequests
Two other verses bearing on the subject of debt are Q 4:11-12 in which the distribution of inheritance amongst children is discussed: Allah enjoins you concerning your children: to the male a portion like that of two females. If there are more than two females then to them two-thirds of what he leaves behind, but if only one, then to her one-half. And to his parents, to each one of them, one-sixth of what he leaves behind, if he has children. But if does not have children, and his only heirs are his parents, then to his mother one-third. Yet if he has brothers (and sisters), then to his mother one-sixth, after (deduction of) any testament he bequeaths or any debt. Your parents and your children, you do not know which of them is closer as a benefactor to you. This is an obligation from Allah. Indeed, ever is Allah all-knowing, all-wise.
And to you, there one-half of what your wives leave behind if they do not have children, but if they have children, then to you one-fourth of what they leave behind, after any testament they bequeath or any debt. And to them one-fourth of what you leave behind, if you do not have children; but if you have children, then to them one-eighth of what you leave, after any testament you bequeath or any debt. And if a man or a woman is to be inherited by a non-lineal heir while having a brother or sister, then to each of them one-sixth; but if they number more than two, then they share in one-third, after any testament one bequeaths or any debt - without causing harm. This is an enjoinment from Allah. And Allah is all-knowing, most forbearing.
In both verses, the principle of giving precedence to the repayment of debts and fulfillment of bequests (see Wills) over the distribution of inheritance is established. After expenditure on normal funeral costs from the deceased’s estate, including the ritual bath, shroud, and burial, jurists agree that the verses necessitate that the deceased’s family first pay off debts (from the entirety of the estate if needed) and fulfill bequests (from at most one-third of the estate) before distributing inheritance amongst the rightful heirs (Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Further, by juristic consensus, the repayment of debts is given precedence over the fulfillment of bequests despite the antecedence of the latter in the aforementioned verses: after any testament you bequeath or any debt. Al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1075) and al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058) explain that the precedence of bequests over debts is only in wording and not in ruling, as the particle aw does not denote order of sequence. (al-Wāḥidī, al-Tafsīr al-basīṭ; Māwardī, Nukat) Al-Qurṭubī explains the wisdom in this Qurʾānic arrangement of words in five ways:
- The intent of the verse is merely to provide clarity on the order of debts and bequests altogether over inheritance and not to explain the relative order between debts and bequests.
- Since bequests are not equal in strength of obligation to debts, heirs require a reminder of the necessity to also fulfill bequests before the distribution of inheritance.
- The antecedence of bequests is due to their frequency and abundance and the relative infrequency of outstanding debts at the time of death.
- Bequests are mentioned first due to them being the share of the weak and impoverished, whereas debts are often owed to those who can take recourse to force or governmental pressure. Al-Qurṭubī considers this understanding debatable.
- Bequests are initiated by the deceased himself and are therefore mentioned first, whereas debts are established and fulfilled regardless of whether they are mentioned or not by the deceased (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr).
Qualification for Charity
Debt is also discussed in the context of charity and the enumeration of those who qualify to be its recipients in Q 9:60: the prescribed charitable offerings (zakāt) are only for the poor and the indigent, and those who work on (collecting and administering) it, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for those in bondage and the debt-ridden, and in Allah’s cause, and for the wayfarer. Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥusayn b. Masʿūd al-Farrāʾ al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122) states that the debt-ridden are of two types: (i) debtors who incur a debt but not for the purpose of Allah’s disobedience, and (ii) debtors who incur a debt for the purpose of engaging in a good act or to rectify relationships (such as between warring tribes). In the case of the former, charity may only be given to them if they do not possess sufficient funds for debt repayment. In the case of the latter, however, charity may be used to pay off their debts even if the debtor is otherwise wealthy. This is the view of Al-Shāfīʿī (150-204/767-820) and Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (164-241/780-855) (Baghawī, Tafsīr; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr; Abū-l-Suʿūd, Irshād). Al-Qurṭubī states that there is no difference of opinion on the permissibility of using charity to pay off the debt of the debt-ridden who have no means of repayment. However, if someone incurs debt due to impudence or insolence (safāha), they are not to be given from charity or otherwise until the person repents (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr).
Al-Jaṣṣāṣ states that the verse proves that anyone who owns less than two hundred dirhams after deducting what they owe in debt is considered poor (faqīr) and therefore a valid recipient of charitable offerings (zakāt). The verse, he therefore asserts, is specific to certain types of debtors. Someone who possesses, for example, a thousand dirhams and owes only one hundred dirhams in debt will not be a valid recipient of zakāt though he may be technically “debt-ridden” (ghārim). Al-Jaṣṣāṣ additionally argues that the generality of the term al-ghārimīn (the debt-ridden) indicates that even if a debtor is strong and capable of earning he is still worthy of zakāt as the verse does not differentiate between those who are capable of earning and those who are not (Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām).
Warnings About Debt
Despite the unquestionable permissibility of taking a loan in Islamic law, on many occasions, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, spoke about the dangers of debt and warned against its unnecessary acquisition. Abū Hurayra, may Allah be well-pleased with him, narrates that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “The soul of a believer is suspended due to his debt until it is paid on his behalf (fulfilled for him).” (Aḥmad, Musnad Abī Hurayra; Tirmidhī, Al-Janāʾiz, mā jāʾa ʿan al-nabiyy ṣallā-Llāh ʿalayh wa-sallam annahu qāla nafs al-muʿmin muʿallaqatun bi-daynih ḥattā yuqḍā ʿanh, who declared it fair (ḥasan); Ibn Mājah, Al-Ṣadaqāt, al-tashdīd fī-l-dayn) Muslim similarly narrates the ḥadīth: “Every sin of the martyr will be forgiven except debt.” (Muslim, Al-Imāra, man qutila fī sabīl Allāh kuffirat khaṭāyāhu illā-l-dayn)
ʿĀʾisha (d. 58/678), may Allah be well-pleased with her, said that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, would supplicate in ṣalāt, “O Allah! I seek refuge in you from the punishment of the grave, from the trials (fitna) of the Anti-Christ (al-Masīḥ al-Dajjāl), and I seek refuge in you from the trials of life and the trials of death, and I seek refuge in you from wickedness, sin (maʾtham), and debt (maghram).” Someone exclaimed, “How abundantly do you seek refuge from debt!” He replied, “When a man becomes indebted, then when he speaks he lies, and when he makes a promise he reneges.” (Bukhārī, Al-Daʿawāt, al-taʿawwudh min al-maʾtham wa al-maghram)
About a person who takes a debt but sincerely intends to repay it, however, the prophetic tradition clarifies that not only is such a person not blameworthy but that Allah becomes his guarantor in this world and the next. Abū Hurayra, may Allah be well-pleased with him, narrated that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Whomsoever takes the people’s wealth with the intention of fulfilling (the debt), Allah fulfills it for him, and whomsoever intends to destroy it (not repay it), Allah will destroy them.” (Bukhārī, Fī-l-istiqrāḍ wa adāʾ al-duyūn wa-l-ḥajr wa-taflīs)
If someone is already in debt or compelled to incur one, the prophetic traditions demand that debts be paid on time and not delayed without excuse, its unexcused delay considered a form of oppression (ẓulm). Abū Hurayra narrates from the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace: “The delayed payment of a person possessing wealth (ghanī) is oppression” (Bukhārī, Al-Ḥawālāt, idhā aḥāla ʿalā maliyyin fa-laysa lahu radd; Muslim, Al-Musāqāt, taḥrīm maṭl al-ghaniyy wa ṣiḥḥat al-ḥawāla wa iṣtiḥbāb qabūlihā idhā uḥīla ʿalā maliyyin).
In the case the indebted is in financial difficulty (iʿsār), however, Q 2:280 recommends that the creditor grant them respite until their difficulty is lifted, or to forgive the debt and consider it a charitable gift: If the debtor is in hardship, then let there be respite until there is ease (for him). And, should you give it (up) as charity, that would be better for you, if only you knew.
It is recommended for the creditor to forgive a portion or all of the debt of the impoverished debtor. Burayda b. al-Khaṣīb al-Aslamī, may Allah be well-pleased with him, narrates one of the many rewards for granting respite from the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) who states, “Whosoever grants respite to someone in hardship, he attains (the reward of) charity for every day (of respite).” Burayda asked, “Will he receive its equivalent in charity every day?” The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, replied, “For every day he will receive (the reward of) charity until the debt becomes due. If he grants respite after the debt has become due, he receives its equivalent (in reward) every day. (Aḥmad, Musnad, Tatimmah musnad al-Anṣār, ḥadīth Burayda al-Aslamī; Ibn Mājah, Sunan, al-Ṣadaqāt, inẓār al-muʿsir)
Muslim similarly narrates a tradition of Ibn Masʿūd (d. 32/ca.652) in which he quotes the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) saying: “A man of the times before you was being taken to account and nothing good could be found in his support except that he used to interact with the people - and he was a prosperous man - and he used to command his servants to forgo (the debts of) those in hardship.” He said that Allah Almighty and Exalted exclaimed, “We have more right to that than him. Forgo (his sins)”. (Muslim, Al-Musāqāt, faḍl inẓār al-muʿsir)
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