Eleventh Call: Write down the Debt
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, when you contract (i.e. when you have or contract a debt) a debt one upon another for a stated term, then write it down. And let a writer write it down between you with justice, and let not any writer refuse to write it down, as Allah has taught him. So let him write and let the one upon whom is the truthful duty of payment (i.e. the debtor) dictate, and let him be pious to Allah his Lord and not depreciate anything therein. So, in case the one upon whom is the truthful duty is foolish, or weak, or unable to dictate himself, then let his patron dictate with justice. And call in to witness two witnesses of your men; yet, in case the two are not two men, then one man and two women from among the witnesses you are satisfied with, so that (in case) one of the two women should err, then either of the two should remind the other, and let the witnesses not refuse whenever they are called (upon). And be not too loath to write it down, (whether) it is small or great, with (Literally: to its term) its term. That is more equitable in the Providence of Allah, and more upright for testimony, and likelier that you will not be suspicious. Except (when) it is commerce present that you transact among yourselves, then it shall be no fault in you if you do not write it down. And take witnesses when you sell one to another, and let not either writer or witness be harmed, and in case you perform (that), then that is evident immorality in you. And be pious to Allah, and Allah teaches you; and Allah is Ever-Knowing of everything. And in case you are on a journey and you do not find a writer, then (take) a pledge in hand. (i.e. to be paid) Yet in case some of you feel more secure with some others, (Literally: if some of you “trust” some “others”) then let him who is given the deposit pay back his deposit and let him be pious to Allah his Lord. And do not keep back the testimony; and whoever keeps it back, then surely his heart is vicious; and Allah is Ever-Knowing of whatever you do.” (Al-Baqarah: 282-283)
Allah (SWT) guides believers to write down their postponed or delayed transactions such as debts for a stated term, because this preserves rights and timing. It is also more upright for testimony. A writer should write it down between the parties in justice and righteousness. The writer should not oppress any of the parties or write injustice, he should not also refuse to write it down as Allah has taught him. So, when people ask him to write for them he should not say no, as long as it does not cause him any harm. Since Allah taught him how to write, then he should help others who do not know how to.
The Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) said: “He who is asked about knowledge he knows and does not reveal it, he will be bridled on the Day of Judgment with a bridle of fire.” (Related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud and at-Tirmidhi)
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “So let him write and let the one upon whom is the truthful duty of payment (i.e. the debtor) dictate, and let him be pious to Allah his Lord and not depreciate anything therein. So, in case the one upon whom is the truthful duty is foolish, weak, or unable to dictate, then let his patron dictate with justice.” The verses continue to direct Muslims who need to write down a debt to let the writer be dictated by the debtor who should fear Allah and dictate his debt in justice and not to diminish anything of what he owes. If the debtor is of poor understanding, weak or is unable to dictate, then his guardian should dictate in justice.
Allah (SWT) tells believers to get two witnesses to be absolutely sure of the validity of writing the debt, if the two men are not available then one man and two women whom you would agree for as witnesses. If two men are not available as witnesses, then the parties of the contract can have two women as witnesses instead of one of the male witnesses. Two women are needed because if one of them errs, the other woman can remind her. Also, the witnesses should not refuse to testify when they are asked to. Allah urges believers to commit to writing the contracts and never become weary or bored of writing them down, whether they are small or big because this is more fair to Allah (AWJ) and more solid as evidence of the testimony; when the witness signs the contract then when he sees it later he would remember the situation in which he witnessed the documentation of the contact or debt. It also prevents doubts among believers, because in case they differ about something they can return back to what they wrote and witnessed. Except when it is a present trade which they carry out on the spot among themselves, then it is not wrong if they do not write it down because it is carried out immediately but they should take witnesses whenever they make a commercial contract. Also Allah directs believers not to harm any writer or witness and if they do harm any of them, then it would be wickedness and violation of Allah’s decree upon believers. So be afraid and obedient to Allah, and Allah teaches you your rights and duties and He guides you to the best for you as He is the All-Knower of each and everything.
Allah tells believers that if they were on a journey and cannot find a writer, then a pledge should be given (mortgaging) to the creditor. If one of them entrusts the other, then they don’t have to write down the debt or call two witnesses to attend provided that the entrusted person faithfully discharges his trust and be afraid of Allah, his Lord. Do not conceal testimony or evidence as who hides it then his heart is sinned and indeed Allah knows all what you do.
We stand in amazement and full admiration of the legislative articulation of the Qur’an where accuracy is embodied in the legal form; no term can be substituted by another term, and no paragraph can be moved forward or backward. Also this ultimate accuracy in depicting the legislative form does not overshadow the beautiful and graceful expressions. The legislation is connected with the religious affection in a nice way, yet with a strong and effective suggestion without causing any deficiency in the legislative denotation. All the possible influences that might affect the parties of the contract such as witnesses and writers are articulated; the Qur’anic text analyzes all these influences and deals with each probability. The context does not move from one point to another except after elaborating on the legislative point so that not to return to the same point again unless there is a connection between it and a new one which requires showing the relation between the two.
The inimitability in wording the legislative verses is the same inimitability in wording the suggestive and directive verses. The aim is accurately expressed in certain terms; no term can substitute another. The inimitability of the verses achieves the ultimate legislative accuracy and ultimate artistic beauty in a marvelous way.
With these principals revealed in the Qur’an, the Islamic legislation preceded the civil and commercial legislations with ten centuries as affirmed by modern jurists.
“O you who have believed, when you contract (i.e. when you have or contract a debt) a debt one upon another for a stated term, then write it down…”
This is the general principal that Allah confirms; writing down is a prescribed obligation that is not optional in case there is a delayed debt for a certain wisdom that will be referred to at the end of the text.
“And let a writer write it down between you with justice...”
This is a designation of the person who should write, he should be a writer not one of the parties of the contract. Having a third person, who is not one of the two parties, is for precaution and neutrality reasons. This writer is ordered to write with justice so he should not take either of the two sides, he should not also add or cut down from the contract.
“And let not any writer refuse to write it down, as Allah has taught him…”
The obligating is set by Allah (SWT) on the writer so that he does not delay or refuse to do this work. This is an obligation prescribed by Allah (AWJ) and the writer will be accounted for it. It is also a duty that should be done by the writer out of loyalty and acknowledgement of the Creator’s bounty on him, as He (SWT) taught him how to write.
Here, the Legislator has finished stating the order of writing the contract or debt for a stated term, hiring the writer and obligating him to write as he was taught. With the obligation comes the kind reminder of the blessing of Allah on him which suggests that he should commit to justice: “And let a writer write it down between you with justice...”
Then, the context moves to a following statement in which it is clarified how the writer should do his obligation: “So let him write and let the one upon whom is the truthful duty of payment (i.e. the debtor) dictate, and let him be pious to Allah his Lord and not depreciate anything therein. So, in case the one upon whom is the truthful duty is foolish, or weak, or unable to dictate himself, then let his patron dictate with justice…”
The debtor, the one upon whom the truthful duty of payment, is the one who should dictate the writer the confession of debt, its amount, conditions and term. The debtor should be the dictator for fear that the creditor might increase the debt if he dictates it, hasten the term of the debt or mention certain conditions for his interest, and the debtor at this moment might be in a weak position so he might not object to this wrongness by the creditor because he wishes to complete the agreement no matter what. On the other hand when the debtor dictates he will confirm in the contract only what he owes the creditor, also when he personally dictates and affirms the debt it is a stronger evidence of his responsibility to pay. At the same time, Allah addresses the conscience of the debtor when He orders him to Fear Him as He is his Lord, and not to depreciate anything of the debt or any of the condition included in the contract. If the debtor is foolish, weak because of being very young or retarded, or unable to dictate because of illness, ignorance or any different mental or psychological reason, then his patron should dictate with justice. Justice is mentioned to reaffirm accuracy, as the patron or guardian might be inattentive or negligent because the debt does not concern him personally. These directions are mentioned to guarantee the availability of all requirements for an accurate contract.
Then, the Legislator finishes the points of writing then He transfers to another point in the contract which is the testimony: “And call in to witness two witnesses of your men; yet, in case the two are not two men, then one man and two women from among the witnesses you are satisfied with, so that (in case) one of the two women should err, then either of the two should remind the other…”
Thus, two witnesses should be present while signing the contract and they should be “from among the witnesses you are satisfied with”. Satisfaction includes two meanings: the two witnesses have to be just and accepted in the society, and also they should be accepted by the two parties of the contract. Sometimes, two men are not available for testimony; at this time it is valid to call women to witness the contract. First, men are called to witness because usually they are the ones who practice business in the upright Muslim society, where women do not have to work or not obliged to work to survive so that to be able to fulfill her complete role as a mother and female. The duty of a mother is the noblest role to nurture the childhood of young generations. This is much more precious and exalted than getting some dimes or even big salaries from work as it has been the case in the modern twisted saddening society that we live in today.
When there are no men available, then witnesses can be one man and two women, yet why two women in particular? The Qur’anic text does not leave us confused, because in legislation the text has to be accurate and clear so Allah (SWT) says (what can be translated as): “so that (in case) one of the two women should err, then either of the two should remind the other.” Error here might be for many reasons.
It may happen because of a woman’s lack of experience about contracting, so she might not absorb all the details or conditions and thus might not deliver a complete testimony when she is asked to, so when she has another female witness she can help her remember all the details of the situation. It may also happen because of the emotional nature of women. The biological role of the woman as a mother requires an innate emotions to be so very responsive and receptive for her child’s needs, thus she is so lively and active to fulfill her role as a mother that does not require slow or deliberate thinking. This is some of the bounties of Allah on women to accomplish their roles as mothers. This nature in women is not varied or in certain women; it is just her nature, when she is a straight sound woman. While witnessing contracts of financial transactions need a great deal of neutrality and impartiality, not sensitivity and emotionality. It needs commitment to mere facts without any personal feelings. When two women are present as witnesses, it is more guaranteed that one of them will remind the other in case she is carried away with any sentiment or emotion, and thus she will remember the facts of what happened with the help of the other female in case she errs. So, it is not diminishing or belittling of women to have two female witnesses in case a male witness is not available, on the contrary, it reflects an understanding of her role as a female and her sensitive nature, hence comes the presence of another female so that they can both testify or witness signing the contract.
As the Legislator has ordered the writers not to refuse writing, He orders the witnesses not to refuse when they are called for testimony or witnessing: “And let the witnesses not refuse whenever they are called (upon).”
So, accepting to give testimony is obligatory and not optional. It is a mean to achieve justice and give rights. Allah (SWT) obligates witnesses to testify willingly without negligence and without being harmed. It should not be considered a service to any of the parties of the contract, if one or the two of them call witnesses to testify.
At this point, the context moves to another aim for legislation which is confirming to write the contract or debt, no matter how big or small it might be. It also sheds light on how the spirit might feel about writing as a heavy task so some people might skip writing because the debt is small or because they see no necessity in writing for some reasons such as shyness, laziness or carelessness! Then the Legislator gives spiritual and practical explanations for prescribing the duty of writing debts: “And be not too loath to write it down, (whether) it is small or great, with (Literally: to its term) its term. That is more equitable in the Providence of Allah, and more upright for testimony, and likelier that you will not be suspicious.”
The verses tell believers not to become weary or bored to write it. The Legislator realizes the human emotions when it feels that the burdens of the work are more than its value. “That is more equitable in the Providence of Allah...” It means that is better and fairer; it is also an emotional suggestion that Allah (SWT) loves and prefers it when they are accurate and it is also “more upright for testimony” as testimony on a written contract is stronger than oral testimony based only on the memory. Also, two men or one man and two women are more equitable and upright for testimony than the testimony of one man or one man and one woman. “And likelier that you will not be suspicious…” It means it is more solid as evidence and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves about the accuracy of data included in the contract or doubts about you or others if the matter is left based on the memory without documentation.
Thus, the wisdom of these procedures is fully clarified and the traders are convinced with the necessity of the prescribed procedures which guarantee legitimacy, accuracy, trustfulness and assurance. These are the foundations of the debt to a stated term.
As for the present trade that people finish on the spot it does not have to be written, it is enough to have witnesses to facilitate transactions that have to be executed quickly and on a regular basis. As when Islam legislates for life, it considers all possibilities. Each Islamic decree or rule is practical without putting complexities or obstacles in the road of life: “Except (when) it is commerce present that you transact among yourselves, then it shall be no fault in you if you do not write it down. And take witnesses when you sell one to another...” The text clarifies that writing is not obligatory in case of a present transaction, while witnessing is obligatory. There are some narrations that taking witnesses is for delegation reasons not an obligation, but the likely opinion is the first.
After setting the rules of the debt for a stated term and the present transaction, both of them need writing and taking witnesses, whether obligatory or optional, now the Legislator sets the rights of writers and witnesses as He has defined their duties before. He obligates them not to refuse to write or witness, and now He guarantees protection and care so that to balance the duty with the right in fulfilling the public obligations: “And let not either writer or witness be harmed, and in case you perform (that), then that is evident immorality in you. And be pious to Allah, and Allah teaches you; and Allah is Ever-Knowing of everything.”
No witness or writer should suffer or be harmed because of doing his duty which Allah obligates him to do. If you harm him, then it is wickedness in you and violation of the decrees of Allah (AWJ). This is a necessary precaution because sometimes writers and witnesses are liable to the anger or assault of any of the contracting parties in case they differ or quarrel. The writers and witnesses should have guarantees that would make them feel assured and ready to fulfill their duties with righteousness, accuracy, energy and fairness at all situations. Then the Qur’an shifts to reviving the Taqwah (piety) and conscience at the time of setting obligations so that the hearts take the strength to fulfill these duties from within, not just from the text. Allah calls believers to fear Allah and have Taqwah in their hearts. He reminds them that He is The Bestower of everything. He is The One who teaches and guides them. Having piety towards Allah enables the human to learn and encourage his soul for fulfilling duties willingly and peacefully: “And be pious to Allah, and Allah teaches you; and Allah is Ever-Knowing of everything.”
Then, the Legislator continues to set the rules. He (SWT) mentions them later because they apply to certain conditions, this is why they were not mentioned in the general text. When the debtor and the creditor are traveling and they cannot find a writer, He (SWT) permits them to agree orally without writing by taking a pledge in hand (mortgaging) for the creditor: “And in case you are on a journey and you do not find a writer, then (take) a pledge in hand. (i.e. to be paid)…”
At this point, the Legislator addresses the conscience of believers to hang to truthfulness, honesty and integrity based on the Taqwah and fear of Allah. This is the final guarantee to fulfill the legislation and return the money and trustees to their owners safely and completely: “Yet in case some of you feel more secure with some others, (Literally: if some of you “trust” some “others”) then let him who is given the deposit pay back his deposit and let him be pious to Allah his Lord.”
The debtor is a trustee of the debt and the creditor is a trustee of the pledge, both of them are called to fulfill their trusteeships because of Taqwah and fear of Allah (AWJ).
The Lord is the Patron, Instructor, Master, Governor and Judge. All these meanings are suggestive in situations of transactions, entrusting and payment of debts. Some opinions say that this verse abrogated the verse of writing in case they trust each other, but it does not seem to be so. Writing is obligatory in case of debt except while traveling, and security is only related to this situation. The debtor and creditor in this case are both trustees. In this call to turn to Taqwah, there is a mention of testimony, but this time it is in suing not contracting, because it is a duty and trustee that the witness has to fulfill: “And do not keep back the testimony; and whoever keeps it back, then surely his heart is vicious…”
The stress here is on the heart, because keeping back testimony is an inner sin in the heart. Then comes a concealed warning that there is nothing hidden from Allah (AWJ): “And Allah is Ever-Knowing of whatever you do.”Because He is the All-Knowing, He punishes the ones who have sinful hearts by concealing testimony or refusing to testify.
The context continues to confirm this direction and incitement to fear Allah, The Sovereign King of the universe, to Him belong the kingdom of the heavens, the earth and all that is between. He is the All-Knowing of what the heart conceals or shows. He controls and conducts the fates of people whether by granting mercy or applying punishment. He is The Omnipotent and everything depends on His Will without any comment! Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “To Allah (belongs) whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth; and in case you display whatever is in yourselves or conceal it, Allah makes reckoning with you for it. So He forgives whomever He decides, and torments whomever He decides, and Allah is Ever-Determiner over everything.”
In the verse, Allah (AWJ) comments on the civil legislation adding a spiritual direction. He links between the legislations for life and the Creator of life with this strong connection of fear, Taqwah and hope for the mercy of Allah, the Owner of heavens and the earth. By this He adds spiritual guarantees to the legislative guarantees which are the trustworthy special pledge that differentiates Islam in the hearts of Muslims in the society. The spiritual guarantees are in the heart based on Taqwah, they complete the legislation or rules. Allah is the Creator of hearts and He legislates for them, He is the Creator of societies and He regulates for them. It is a divine complete harmonic creation that depends on direction, legislation, Taqwah and authority. It is a method for humans set by the Creator of humans.
So how insufficient and inadequate the legislations, laws and methods of the earth are in comparison to the laws of Allah (AWJ) that He has set for humanity! How can we compare the view of a human who is limited in terms of age, knowledge and thinking to the Divine laws! A human may have fluctuating preferences, he does not always commit to one view. Also, sometimes we don’t have two people who have the same vision or realization, so how come a group of people, who are different in terms of opinions, decide for humanity about what is best for them in terms of legislations! Where will humans go or what they will attain when they go astray from the teachings of their Lord and Creator as He knows what He has created and what is best for His creations, at each time and in each situation that they may experience!
Humans harvest hardship and misery when they decide to separate from the Sharia of Allah that He (AWJ) has set for them. It started in the west when the people fled from the control of the oppressing churches that claimed to speak in the name of God. These churches were prohibiting people from thinking and contemplating. They were imposing exaggerated taxes and forced donations on people in return of false promises of entering Heaven. When the people wanted to get rid of this nightmare and overthrown the dominance of the church, they did not do that with prudence and wisdom. On their way to get rid of the oppression of the church, they also give up their faith in the Lord. They give up on any religion that would help them in living their lives on earth according to the method of Allah, hence comes the suffering and misery!!
As for us, the ones who claim to be Muslims, what happened to us??! Why are we going astray from the method and legislation of Allah for us on earth? Why we did so while our generous forgiving religion never imposed any oppression, it only prescribes laws that would lift any suffering or heavy burdens. Islam gives us mercy, guidance, ease and straightforwardness toward success in the present life and the Hereafter, so why are we drifting away?!