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Usurping the Property of the Orphans

By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
The eighth among the Greater Sins is to usurp the property of an orphan who has not attained maturity.
This is categorized as a Greater sin by the Holy Prophet (S), Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), Imam Riďa (a.s.), Imam Kadhim (a.s.) and Imam Taqi (a.s.). It is a sin, the punishment of which is fixed by Allah (S.w.T.) to be the fire of Hell.
The Qur’an says,
 “(As for) those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, surely they only swallow fire into their bellies and they shall enter burning fire.”
(Surah an-Nisā’ 4:10)
 It is mentioned in Tafsir al-Kabir that one who cheats an orphan of his property will be raised on the Day of Judgement in such a condition that the flames of fire will be protruding from his mouth, nose and ears. By looking at him people will recognize that he is the one who in his lifetime had usurped the property of the orphans. The last phrase, “They shall enter burning fire” indicates that one who deprives an orphan of his rightful property will be liable to be burnt in Hell-fire, even if he has not committed any other sin.
The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says,
“And give to the orphans their property, and do not substitute worthless (things) for (their) good (ones) and do not devour their property (as an addition) to your own property; this is surely a great sin.”
(Surah an-Nisā’ 4:2)

* * *

The above verse gives clearcut instructions to those who are guardians and caretakers of the orphans, on how to fulfill their responsibility. They should spend the property in their trust in a correct manner for the benefit of the orphan and without stinginess. A caretaker should be very careful not to spend any of the orphan’s money on himself. This is a very serious offence that will cause his entire Halāl wealth to become Harām. Under no circumstances should an orphan’s valuable possessions be substituted with anything inferior. Finally, when the child reaches maturity, all his property should be returned to him with complete honesty.
In the same chapter of Surah an-Nisā’, Allah (S.w.T.) says in verse number nine:
“And let them fear who, should they leave behind them weakly offsprings, would fear on their account, so let them be careful of (their duty to) Allah, and let them speak right words.”
(Surah an-Nisā’ 4:9)
It is mentioned in Tafsir-al-Mizan that whoever betrays the trust of orphans and oppresses them, their children will suffer a similar fate. This is an amazing reality that is revealed by the Holy Qur’an. Similarly in other numerous verses, the Qur’an informs us that the returns of our deeds are evident in this world itself. We will witness the results of our own actions. Every action has an effect on one who performs it, and we should be fully conscious of the fact that our sinful acts are not restricted to the sinner, but they come to bear on our children as well.

* * *

It is our confirmed duty to wish for others as we wish for ourselves. A good or bad action directed towards others therefore implies that we wish the same for ourselves. So, by carrying out these actions, we, in effect have prayed for it for ourselves. This prayer will not be rejected and we will be recompensed as we deserve.
The marvellous functioning of our body is the result of the co-ordination between the various composite parts and organs. We as individuals are also composite members of a large body, which is our community. Just as the malfunction of one organ in the body, causes distress in the other organs, so also whatever hurt or misery that we may inflict on another is bound to take us also in its grip. So it is, that the injustice we do to another’s child will cause our own children to suffer the repercussions of our actions. It is of course another matter that the Almighty in his Infinite Mercy allows some of our good deeds to compensate for the bad actions.
“And whatever affliction befalls you, it is on account of what your hands have wrought, and (yet) He pardons most (of your faults)”
(Surah ash-Shūrā 42:30)
 Undoubtedly, we must dread Allah (S.w.T.)’s punishment and refrain from oppressing the orphans. We have to have kind and tender feelings for them as we have for our own children. If we trample upon the rights of an orphan or do any injustice to him or her, we can rest assured that the same fate will befall our own children after our death. The verse of Surah an-Nisā’ unequivocally states that oppressing an orphan is a Greater Sin. The horrible consequences of this sin are also mentioned clearly.

Punishment for Usurping the Orphan’s Property is Meted Out in This World
It is recorded from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that Allah (S.w.T.) has ordained two penalties for appropriating the wealth or property of an orphan:
“The first punishment is in the Hereafter, and that is the fire of Hell. The second one is in this world itself. As indicated by the following verse of Qur’an:
“And let those fear who, should they leave behind them the weakly offspring, would fear on their account, so let them be careful of (their duty to) Allah, and let them speak right words.”
(Surah an-Nisā’ 4:9)
Whatever has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, the same has been emphasized by Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), Imam ‘Ali ar-Riďa (a.s.). Other Tafsirs of Qur’an also give the same explanation. Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) states: “Certainly one who usurps the orphan’s property, his own children shall be similarly dealt with in this world in the near future and he will suffer for it in the Hereafter.”(Bihār al-Anwār)
‘Ali (a.s.) has also mentioned:
“Do good to the children of others so that good may be done to yours (after you are dead).”
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has informed:
“If one oppresses someone, Allah will appoint an oppressor upon him or upon his children.”
(al-Kāfi)

This is not Against Divine Justice
We may wonder as to why the innocent children who are not at fault and in no way responsible for the misdeeds of their parents should be the target of oppression and injustice meant for their parents. Is this not against Divine Justice?
The answer to this objection is simple. Allah (S.w.T.) does not appoint any oppressor but when someone oppresses the children, Allah (S.w.T.) does not restrain him. Allah (S.w.T.) witholds His Mercy and favour.
Bad behaviour towards the children implies that the father wishes the same for his children and also that he has not wished Allah (S.w.T.)’s Mercy and favour upon his children.
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has stated:
“If the father is virtuous the Almighty Allah protects the children.”
As mentioned in the Qur’anic verses of Surah al-Kahf:
“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure belonging to them, and their father was a righteous man, so your Lord desired that they should attain their maturity and take out their treasures, a mercy from your Lord...”
(Surah al-Kahf 18:82)
Thus it is clear that the Mercy and favour of Allah (S.w.T.) upon the orphans is due to the righteousness of their father. On the other hand if their father had oppressed others than this would have caused them to be deprived of Divine Mercy and favour.

Tradition that Denounces the Usurpation of Orphan’s Property
Umar bin Zurarah says that he enquired from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) regarding the Greater Sins. He said:
“One of the Greater Sins is illegal appropriation of the orphan’s property.”
(Bihār al-Anwār)
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) narrates from the Holy Prophet (S) that he said:
“On the day of Qiyāma some people would arise from their graves in such a condition that flames of fire would be protruding from their mouths.”
The people asked, “O! Messenger of Allah who are these people?”
The Prophet replied:
“Those who have illegally appropriated the property of the orphans.”
(Bihār al-Anwār)
 Imam Riďa (a.s.) was asked, “What is the smallest quantity of the orphan’s property the appropriation of which causes one to enter the fire (of Hell)?”
He replied:
“When one consumes something belonging to the orphan without the intention of returning it to him. There is no question of less or more.”
The Holy Prophet (S) says:
“On the night of ascension (Miraj) when I was taken to the skies I decried a group of people whose bellies were being stuffed with fire. And the fire was spilling from their anal openings. I asked Jibrīl, who they are? Jibrīl replied, ‘They are those who used to usurp the property of the orphans unjustly’.”
(Wasa’il ul-Shia)

The Death of a Creditor and His Minor Children
A person who has minor children and had given loans to others, and dies without making any arrangement for their recovery, will be counted as one who has misappropriated the wealth of orphans. Because after the death of the father the children become the owners of his property. However, the dead father would only be accountable for that portion of the loan which is the share of the children.

Severe Pain in the Eyes of Amir ul-Mu’minīn (a.s.)
Once Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) had sore eyes. The pain was so severe that he was groaning loudly. The Holy Prophet (S) came to visit him and said:
“Is this sighing and groaning due to the restlessness or due to severe pain?”
‘Ali (a.s.) replied:
“I have never had such severe pain.”
The Holy Prophet (S) related to him a tradition which was so frightening that ‘Ali (a.s.) forgot his pain. The tradition is as follows.

A Frightening Tradition
The Holy Prophet (S) says:
“O! ‘Ali, When the Angel of Death (Israel) comes to a disbeliever he will come with a mace of fire. He will extract his life painfully. Seeing this, Hell will scream loudly (so that it may take this disbeliever to itself soon).”
Hearing this ‘Ali (a.s.) sat up abruptly and said:
“O Messenger of Allah (S), repeat to me this tradition. I have forgotten my pain after listening to it.” Then he enquired, “Will anyone’s soul from your Umma be also extracted in this way and will anyone be subjected to such a severe punishment?”
The Holy Prophet (S) said:
“Yes! There are Three types of people among the muslims whose souls shall be taken out this way. First group is of the unjust rulers. The second is of those who unjustly appropriate the wealth of orphans and the third is of those who give false witness.”

Kindness Towards Orphans
Injustice and oppression to the orphans brings severe punishment in this world as well as Hereafter. In the same way kind and gentle behaviour towards them earns countless rewards in this world, as well as the Hereafter. Especially blessed by Allah (S.w.T.) are those who protect the orphans and take the responsibility of being guardians to them. Numerous traditions have been recorded concerning this. A few of these are quoted below.
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says:
“One who maintains the orphans, Allah makes Paradise Wajib upon him, in the same way as he makes Hell Wajib upon those who usurp the property of the orphans.”
The Holy Prophet (S) says:
“I and one who maintains an orphan would be together in Paradise in the presence of Allah, in the same way as these two fingers are together.”
And he pointed out to his index and the middle finger joined together.
According to a tradition, The Holy Prophet (S) and one who maintains an orphan, will not be separated nor would there be any barrier between them in Paradise.
The Prophet (S) has also stated:
“If anyone from you becomes the guardian of an orphan and deals kindly with them, and he fulfills these actions satisfactorily, and he strokes the head of the orphan with sympathy, then Allah necessarily writes good deeds equivalent to the hair covered by his hand and forgives sins equal to the number of hair, and raises his position in grades equal to the hair of the orphan’s head.”
Elsewhere the Holy Prophet (S) has been reported to have said:
“When an orphan cries the Heaven shudders, then Almighty Allah says, ‘O Angels, Is this the same orphan whose father has been buried in the earth?’ The Angels reply, ‘(O Allah) you are the all-knowing.’
Then Allah would say, ‘O My Angel be a witness. Whoever consoles this orphan and makes him happy, I will make him happy on the day of Qiyāma.’”
The caressing of an orphan’s head removes callousness from the heart. There are many tradition which indicate this. However, only a few shall suffice for our discussion.

Guardian of Minor Children
The boy who has not reached the fifteenth year cannot spend from his wealth. In the same way the girl who is not yet nine years of age cannot spend from her property. A minor boy or a girl cannot spend from their wealth in any way. Only their guardian has the right to spend from their wealth for their upkeep. The foremost guardians, according to Shari’a are the father, grandfather, mother and grandmother. The next in order is the one who is appointed a guardian after the death of the father and grandfather. He has the right of maintaining the orphans.
If the father and the grandfather die without appointing a trustee for the children, the legal guardian is the ruling Mujtahid or someone appointed by the Mujtahid. In a situation where a ruling Mujtahid is also not present, the Mu’minīn shall maintain the orphans. (This is called Udūl al-Mu’minīn in religious terminology). It would be explained at an appropriate place.

The Affairs of the Orphans Should be Conducted With Care
The guardian of an orphan shoulders a very serious responsibility. He should judiciously spend for all the needs of the orphan, neither being miserly nor extravagant.
The guardian should strictly maintain the account of the orphan’s expenditure separately and club it with his own family expenses. Since it would be more convenient and economical to cook the orphan’s food along with the food for the rest of the family. But the expenses incurred for the orphan must be accurately calculated. It would be highly commendable if the guardian took a little less as the orphan’s share than the calculated amount. He would indeed gain Allah (S.w.T.)’s immense pleasure.
At times, however, due to the dietary requirements of the orphan, it may be necessary to cook his food separately. This would certainly pose some problems. But the main thing the guardian has to keep in mind is the wellbeing of the orphan and an honest assessment of his expenses.
This has been permitted because it is easier and much more economical then having food cooked separately for the orphan. However, if there is a great difference between the dietary requirement of the orphan child and other family members, it would be very difficult to adhere to this arrangement. For example, if a child does not eat meat and rice, then it would be difficult to have his food cooked together with the main dish. The thing to be taken care of, is that the well-being and property of the orphan is maintained.
A verse of Surah al-Baqarah says:
“And they ask you concerning the orphan’s; say: To set right for them (their affairs) is good, and if you become co-partners with them, they are your brethren; and Allah knows the mischief-maker and the peace-maker...”
(Surah al-Baqarah 2:220)
 The above verse was revealed at a time the people were confused as to how they should handle the money of their orphan wards. The verse revealing the severe punishment for those who misappropriate an orphan’s property had struck such fear into the hearts of guardians that they started cooking the orphan’s food separately. They would not even touch the leftovers and allowed them to rot. They then approached the Holy Prophet (S) in a confused state of mind and the above verse was revealed.
It is evident that we must live together with the believing brother. The Omniscient Allah (S.w.T.) knows what is in our heart, and is aware of our intentions. He knows who intends to misappropriate the property of the orphans and who wants to put right their affairs.

The Wealthy Guardian of the Orphans
It is recommended that a wealthy guardian should maintain an orphan. He will enjoy boundless blessings of the Hereafter fixed by Allah (S.w.T.) for this gracious act.
As the Holy Qur’an states:
“...And whoever (of the orphan’s guardian) is rich, let him abstain altogether (from spending of the orphan’s wealth)...”
(Surah an-Nisā’ 4:6)

The Impoverished Guardian of the the Orphans
If the caretaker of the orphan is poor, he can charge for his services. Concerning the remuneration of these services there are Three legal opinions. Some scholars are of the opinion that he can charge an amount generally believed to be appropriate. The second opinion is that he must take only as much as is necessary for his own upkeep, and no more. The third view point is that he must find out the generally accepted remuneration and the expenses of his own upkeep; and charge the amount which is less. This is a precautionary measure and the most recommended one.

The Property of the Orphan Must Be Guarded Till He Attains Maturity
It is not permissible to hand over an orphan’s money to him before he reaches maturity. The guardian will be held liable, if he is careless in this matter and the orphan suffers a loss as a result. On the other hand an orphan’s property should be restored to him immediately, once he reaches maturity.

Signs of Puberty
Maturity is recognized by any one of these Three signs:
1)      The completion of fifteen lunar years for the boy and nine lunar years for the girl.
2)      Growth of pubic hair.
3)      Discharge of semen in boys.

What is the Meaning of Rashīd?
The Qur’anic verse says,
“And test the orphans until they attain puberty; then if you find in them maturity of intellect (Rashīd), make over to them their property...”
(Surah an-Nisā’ 4:6)
The maturity of intellect (Rashīd) in this connection means maturity in the financial affairs. This maturity is reflected in the child’s capacity to handle his day to day needs without there being any risk of loss and wasteful expenditure. At this stage it is Wajib to hand over to the orphan his wealth and property.
In other words it is Wajib to restore the wealth and property of an orphan when he attains puberty and maturity of intellect.

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