I find it quite amusing that the longest verse in the Qur’an is about debt rather than murder and crime or marriage and divorce, or worship or oppression and war or any other matter that we perceive to be huge in our lives. This is how heavy the matter of debt is, quite unexpected right? In our lives we consider debt as this small dismissible issue that doesn’t require our worry. We take loans, borrow money and disappear for years with someone’s wealth until they hopefully forget about it or forgive us. They don’t need it, we say. They have enough money, what I took is like a drop of the vast ocean, they won’t even feel the loss.
We let people follow us like eagles as we play hide and seek with what is rightfully theirs. We let them beg and pester us endlessly to pay them back. We rub their hearts like sandpaper on wood as they weep for their money, as they sleep hungry, as they pray for justice. We still assume that debt is something as small as the ant, compared to the elephant in the room i.e. bloodshed and crime and divorce. But this one verse commonly known as ayatul dayn, is clear proof that debt is one of the last things you should ignore and underestimate.
When we go for jobs, we ask for contracts because we always need something that can bring us justice when manipulation or injustice happens. One of the hardest lessons I ever learnt is that you must and should write a contract with whoever you have a deal with, whether small or big, whether a family, friend, neighbour or boss especially when it is family because we usually disregard them as being manipulators. Yet it happens; family manipulating family and friends betraying their closest friends. Sometimes you or the lender forget what the initial agreement was and eventually, doubt comes in between you because of the different statements each gives. Remember when Allah (S.W) said in surat Anfal verse 28, ‘And know that your properties and your children are but a trial and that Allah has with Him a great reward.’ Indeed, wealth has been known as one of the biggest matters to break marriages, friendships and even kinship all over time, all over the world. It happens, a lot.
In this longest ayah, surat Baqarah, verse 282, Allah (S.W) gives us a lengthy description on how to conduct financial transactions, about contracts, how to fulfil promises, being God-conscious and the importance of witnesses.
‘O you who have believed, when you contract a debt for a specified term, write it down. And let a scribe write [it] between you in justice. Let no scribe refuse to write as Allah has taught him. So let him write and let the one who has the obligation dictate. And let him fear Allah, his Lord, and not leave anything out of it. But if the one who has the obligation is of limited understanding or weak or unable to dictate himself, then let his guardian dictate in justice. And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her. And let not the witnesses refuse when they are called upon. And do not be [too] weary to write it, whether it is small or large, for its [specified] term. That is more just in the sight of Allah and stronger as evidence and more likely to prevent doubt between you, except when it is an immediate transaction which you conduct among yourselves. For [then] there is no blame upon you if you do not write it. And take witnesses when you conclude a contract. Let no scribe be harmed or any witness. For if you do so, indeed, it is [grave] disobedience in you. And fear Allah . And Allah teaches you. And Allah is Knowing of all things.’
A few things we learn from this ayah is that:
- Financial transactions, debts and agreements are NOT a small matter as we usually perceive.
- It is very important to write down any transactions however small or big or even how much you trust another person.
- Every person should dictate what his terms are.
- The writer of the agreement must be a third party; an honest person with integrity.
- The writer must write with all fairness and justice and use clear, precise words.
- When one can’t dictate his terms due to young age or feeble-minded or is unable to do so for any reason, his guardian or trustee may do it on his behalf.
- Witnesses are required when making a deal just in case one of you forgets or tries to manipulate another.
- Witnesses are required to be two trusted men and if not available then one man and two women so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.
- Witnesses should not refuse to give evidence when required to.
- All those involved in the transaction must be God conscious and not manipulate the other.
- No harm must come either to the document writer or to the witnesses and their rights must be observed.
- If a transaction is occurring in the present moment then it isn’t wrong if they don’t write it down.
In the verse that follows, Allah (S.W) says: ‘And if you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, then a security deposit [should be] taken. And if one of you entrusts another, then let him who is entrusted discharge his trust [faithfully] and let him fear Allah, his Lord. And do not conceal testimony, for whoever conceals it – his heart is indeed sinful, and Allah is Knowing of what you do.’
In this ayah we learn the validity of mortgage (pledge) commonly known as ‘Rehani’ with the proper Islamic rules. In a narration by Aisha peace be upon her: The prophet peace be upon him bought some food stuff on credit for a limited period and mortgaged his armour’ (Sahih Bukhari: Vol. 3, hadith No. 686)
To further show the emphasis given to debt, here are a few hadiths on the subject:
The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa Sallam) said: “The soul of the believer is held hostage by his debt in his grave until it is paid off.” Tirmidhi,
Explaining this hadeeth al-Suyooti said: “It (soul) is detained and kept from reaching its noble destination. Al-‘Iraaqi said: “No judgment is passed as to whether it will be saved or doomed until it is determined whether his debt will be paid off or not.”
Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 2929 Narrated by Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Jahsh, The Messenger of Allah (saws) said: By Him in whose hand Muhammad’s soul is, if a man were to be killed in Allah’s path then come to life, be killed again in Allah’s path then come to life, and be killed once more in Allah’s path then come to life owing a debt, he would not enter Paradise till his debt was paid.” This is how serious the matter of debt is.
Another beautiful story on paying a debt is related in Sahih Al-Bukhari from Abu Hurairah (May Allah be satisfied with him) from Allah’s Messenger (May Allah exalt his mention and protect him from imperfection): A man from the Children of Israel asked another man from the Children of Israel to lend him 1000 dinars, and he answered, “Bring witnesses who will bear witness (to this transaction).” The first man said, “Allah is enough as a Witness.” He said, “Then bring me a guarantor.” He said, “Allah is enough as a Guarantor.” The man said, “You have spoken the truth.”
He gave him the money for a fixed term. The debtor travelled by sea and when he fulfilled the purpose of his journey, he was looking for a ship that he could board and return on to pay the debt at the appointed time. However, he was not able to find a ship, so he took a piece of wood, pierced it, and thrust into it 1000 dinars along with a letter to the creditor. Then he took it to the ocean.
He said, “O Allah, You know that I borrowed 1000 dinars from such and such person, and he asked me for a guarantor. I said: Allah is enough as a Guarantor. He was pleased with You, and he also asked for a witness. I said: Allah is enough as a Witness, and he was pleased with You (as a Witness). And I have not been able to find a ship on which I could send him that which is due to him, so indeed I trust it to you.”
He threw the piece of wood into the ocean until it was swallowed by it, and then he went away. He then continued to search for a boat on which he could return to his country. The creditor went out looking – perhaps a boat would come with his wealth. He found a piece of wood – in which was the money – and he took it to his family as firewood. When he broke the wood open, he found the money and the letter.
Then the debtor returned, bringing with him 1000 dinars. He said, “By Allah, I continued to search for a boat in order to return your wealth to you, but I did not find one until I found the one that I came on now.” The other man asked, “And did you send anything to me?”… “For indeed, Allah paid for you through the wood that you sent.”
Is that what we do today with other people’s wealth and possessions? Can we go this far to ensure we have kept our promises and paid back as per the time frame originally given?
As we go on with our busy lives, make sure to take a pause at some point and pay back our dues even if it means missing out on something else. You never know how much the lender desperately needs what he gave you. Be empathetic and just. Fear Allah in all your dealings and transactions because for sure, all these things we will be questioned about on the day of judgement. Start paying back now!
P.S Writing down your agreements doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t trust the other party. Both of you are human beings, either of you could forget or get confused about what was initially agreed or die in which his family might need proof to pay back the debts. There is so much wisdom in this ruling. Let’s put it to work.
P.S 2: Don’t you find this to be so beautiful and amazing? That our religion has covered every single aspect of our lives, we just need to read, understand and follow? Indeed, Islam is not just a religion but a way of life too.
May Allah protect us from the burden of debt. Ameen.