Rahmatullah Khan Shakir (1901-2000), Former Assistant Editor and Manager of Al Fazl
Leniency and favour towards debtors is a great moral value. Islam emphasises it particularly and the Companionsra would take great care in this regard.
Forgiving the debt of a destitute Muslim
Hazrat Abu Qatadahra was a young companion to whom a Muslim owed some money. Whenever he went to demand it from him, for some reason or another, they could not meet each other. The debtor probably himself avoided facing Abu Qatadahra as destitution can sometimes bring embarrassment.
Once, when Abu Qatadahra went to see him, the debtor’s son came out and said that his father was at home. Thus, he called him out and told him that he had learnt that he was home, so he should come out. The debtor had no choice but to come out and was asked the reason to hide from him. He replied that he was very poor and had to provide for his family with limited means of income. This was why he had failed to pay his debt. Due to embarrassment, he could not face him either.
Abu Qatadahra asked him to swear in the name of God if he went through such straitened circumstances. After he replied in the affirmative, tears appeared in his eyes and he wiped off all the debt. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 5, p. 308)
Hazrat Abul-Yasar Kaab bin Amrra was a young Companion. Somebody from Banu Haram owed him some money, but since he could not pay off the debt, he evaded facing him.
One day, they encountered each other and the debtor narrated his account of deprivation in such a tragic way that the latter became overcome with emotion. He gave him in writing the receipt of the money and told him to pay off if he could, otherwise he would write it off. (Usdul-Ghabah, Vol. 4, p. 184, Zikr Kaab bin Umar Al-Khazraji)
Readers have read the accounts of affording convenience to the debtor. The second part is related to paying off one’s debt. Where, on the one hand, the Companionsra afforded convenience to their debtors, they were, on the other, very cautious in regard to paying off their own debts. Some accounts in this regard are as follows.
A person who money is owed to goes missing
Hazrat Abdullahra bin Masud once bought a slave-girl from somebody. Before he paid for her, the seller went missing. Hazrat Abdullahra tried to find him for a whole year but he was not recovered. Once he lost all hope of his recovery, on behalf of the seller, he gave the money owed to him in charity, one or two dirhams at a time. He also vowed to himself that he would pay him the money if he was recovered and the charity would be counted on his own behalf. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Talaq, Bab Hukmul-Mafqud fi Ahlihi wa Malihi)
Will for paying of debts
It has been discussed about Hazrat Zubairra bin Awam that despite his affluence and riches, at the time of his death, he owed 2.2 million rupees to people. Before setting off for a battle, he said to his family that what worried him most was his debt. In case he was martyred, he said that first and foremost, all of his debts should be paid from his wealth. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad, Bab Barkat-ul-Ghazi wa Malahu)
According to the will of Hazrat Zubairra his son had it announced for four consecutive years on the occasion of Hajj that anybody to whom his father owed any money should receive from him. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad, Bab Barkat-ul-Ghazi wa Malahu)
Offering money that was promised to the poor
The following account has been discussed under generosity that Hazrat Saeedra bin Aas was so generous that if he found nothing with him to give to the needy, he would write them a bill to receive the money from him later.
Once, somebody followed him on his way back from the mosque. He asked him what he was up to. The latter replied that he saw him returning alone, therefore he accompanied him. Hazrat Saeedra called for a pen and ink and gave him a bill of exchange of 20,000.
By mere chance, he could not cash the bill and Hazrat Saeedra passed away. After his death, he presented the bill to his son, Hazrat Umarra, who accepted it immediately and without any hesitation, paid him the pledged amount.
The people of our age should reflect on this incident. Those who themselves borrow money in this age of ours dawdle in paying off their own debts and cause extreme anxiety to their creditors; very few today pay off debts on behalf of their parents. But this young man paid a large amount on behalf of his father. Moreover, it was not a debt; rather, it was a gift. He could have said he was not responsible for it, but he did not deem it appropriate to dismiss what his father had promised to give. (Al-Isti‘ab, Vol. 2, p. 624, Zikr Saeed bin Al-Aas)
Paying off the debt of deceased father
Prior to heading out for the Battle of Uhud, Hazrat Abdullahra bin Umar said to his son, Jabirra, “I am sure I will be martyred in battle. Pay off my debt after me, and be kind to your six sisters.”
Despite the fact that Hazrat Jabirra had the responsibility to look after a large family after his demise, he deemed it necessary to pay off his father’s debt as soon as possible.
When the produce of the date farm was ready, he paid off his father’s entire debt and also said, “Even though I may not have a single date left to take home for my sisters, I prefer to pay off this debt.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Sulh, Bab Sulh bainal-Gharma’ wa Ashabil-Mirath)
Selling household items to pay off debt
The Companions were so cautious about paying off their debts that they were ready to sell their household items to be discharged of this responsibility.
Hazrat Ibn Haddadra was a companion who owed a Jew four dirhams. The Jew complained about it to the Holy Prophetsa. The Holy Prophetsa asked Hazrat Ibn Haddadra thrice to pay off the Jew’s debt. He replied that he had no money to pay off his debt. At this, the Holy Prophetsa became quiet.
Hazrat Ibn Haddadra thought of something and set off for the market. He took off his head-cloth, applied it as a covering for below the waist and sold it for four dirhams to pay off the Jew. (Al-Isabah, Vol. 4, p. 50, Zikr Abdullah bin Abi Haddad)
The Prophet’ssa example in paying off a creditor
The Holy Prophetsa himself was very mindful of paying off debts and consoling the creditor. In fact, the Companionsra learned this trait from the Holy Prophetsa.
The Holy Prophetsa once owed some money to a Jew, Zaid bin Sa‘nah. Once, he visited the Holy Prophetsa and with the demand of the debt, passed some unpleasing remarks. He even said, “You Bani Abdil-Muttalib are very bad pay-masters” etc., whereas the due time for the payment of the debt was to end after three days and the Jew demanded the money before the agreed time.
The Companionsra were greatly affronted by his non-sensical talk. Hazrat Umarra exhibited some fierceness towards him, but the Holy Prophetsa forbade him from doing so and said, “He must be paid now and should be granted twenty sa‘ of barley in excess” (one sa‘ is equal to about two kilograms). The Jew was so satisfied with this treatment from the Holy Prophetsa that he embraced Islam. (Mustadrak Imam Hakim, Kitab al-Buyu‘, Bab Amma Hadith Isma‘il bin Ja‘far bin Abi Kathir)
(Translated by Shahid Mahmood Ahmad, Missionary in Ghana, from the original Urdu, Muslim Nau-jawanon kay Sunehri Karnamey)