Usurping the Rights of Others is a Great Sin
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
Non-fulfillment of another’s right, without a valid excuse is a greater sin. If a person who has some right upon someone and demands his right but the one on whom the obligation rests does not fulfill the right, even though he is capable of it, then this person has committed a greater sin. Non-fulfillment of rights as a greater sin is according to Nass (Holy Qur’an and hadith). The frequently quoted tradition of Amash from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) and the hadith of Imam Riďa (a.s.) as narrated by Fazl ibn Shazān also include it in he list of greater sins.
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “One who does not fulfill the rights of a believer (and does not repay what he owes to him), on the Day of Judgement, Allah will make him stand for five hundred years and blood or sweat will ooze through his body. An announcer from Allah will announce, ‘This is the oppressor who had not fulfilled the right of Allah.’ Then after being admonished for another forty days it will be ordered for him to be thrown into the fire (those who admonish him will be either believers or prophets).
An explanation of this hadith by Allamah Majlisi states that if the sinner’s oppression is not of a very serious nature, sweat will flow from his body and if his oppression is of a serious nature, blood will seep out of him. (Miratul Uqūl page 361)
Allamah Majlisi further says, “This tradition proves that the right of a believer is the right of Allah (S.w.T.). Allah (S.w.T.) has ordered to restore a believer’s right. Disobeying this command is just like usurping the right of Allah (S.w.T.). The tradition further states:
“On the Day of Qiyāma a caller will announce, ‘Where are those who oppressed and tortured the friends of Allah?’ Some people will stand up. They will not be having any flesh on their faces. It will be said, ‘These are the ones who tortured the believers, bore enmity towards them, dealt harshly with them due to their belief.’”
It will be ordered that they may be thrown into Hell. Further, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) swears by Allah (S.w.T.) the Almighty and says that these people had the same belief as the believers, but they did not respect their rights and also exposed the secrets of the believers. (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
And Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has remarked: “A believer who has something and another believer is in need of it; if the former does not fulfill the need of the needy Mu’min he will not ever taste the food of Paradise nor drink the Rahīq-al-Makhtūm (A drink of Paradise).” (Bihār al-Anwār)
Demand for fulfilment of rights on the Day of Qiyāma
Hazrat Sajjad (a.s.) says: “On the Day of Qiyāma a person will be caught by his hand and the people of Mahshar (Gathering) will be told that anyone who has any claim upon him may secure his right.” (Layali Al Akhbār)
On the Day of Qiyāma, this would be the most difficult ordeal to face. Every person will avoid meeting his relatives and friends and will be in constant dread of the demands they may make of him. Perhaps this is the predicament alluded to in the following Qur’anic ayat:
“The day on which a man shall fly from his brother, And his mother and his father, And his spouse and his son...” (Surah Abasa 80:34-36)
The Holy Prophet (S) asked his followers, “Do you know who is the actual destitute?”
“One who has no money, property or treasure,” they replied. The Holy Prophet (S) said, “There is no destitute in my Umma except the one who has performed the prayers, kept fasts, paid the Zakat, performed Hajj but on the Day of Judgement a person will come whose property he has usurped, and a person whose blood he had shed and another one whom he had beaten. Then the good deeds of this man will be transferred to those who have rights upon him. If his good deeds are exhausted before all the rights are fulfilled then the sins of those who have rights upon him will be added to his sins. Then he shall be thrown into Hell.”
Non-payments of debts and transgressing of rights
Anything owed by a person is a debt incurred by him which should be repaid. The full amount of the money loaned has to be paid as per the agreed payment schedule. The same applies to an item that is sold but not delivered. The seller is obliged to deliver the goods to the buyer on time. Similarly the one who has taken something on hire is responsible for it. A husband is indebted to his wife till he pays the dower amount. The husband is also responsible for the maintenance of his permanent wife. The laws of guarantee are numerous and available in the books of jurisprudence. We shall only discuss the topics that are relevant for our purpose.
Loan for a fixed period and loan without time limit
Loans are of two types. One that is not bound by a time limit or when the date of payment has already expired. The other type of loan has a fixed time for repayment. The creditor cannot demand the loaned property before the due date. If the loanee dies all debts owed by him become due immediately. For example if a person has borrowed something for a year, but dies before the end of the year, his heirs must pay his loan immediately. It is no excuse that the time of payment has not come. But if the creditor dies his heirs do not have the right of demanding the loan before time.
It is Compulsory to repay a Debt
If the time of payment is due or if the creditor demands back his loan the debtor is obliged to repay immediately. The loan must be repaid even if the debtor has to sell his excess belongings or even if he has to sell his things at less than the market value. However if he is compelled to sell at a throwaway price then it is not obligatory for the debtor to sell those things. If the debtor does not have anything like a carpet, clothes, household items, shop etc. that he can sell and repay the loan, then he must take up a job that is suitable for his position. In any case he is under an obligation to clear his due.
Carelessness and sloth with regard to the repayment of loan are absolutely Harām; and a greater sin. If the debtor possesses only those things that are necessary for his life; like a modest house, carpets and clothes etc, then it is not necessary for him to sell them to repay his loan. The creditor cannot compel the debtor to sell off these things. However, if the debtor wishes to sell them of his own accord, he can do so, and the creditor is allowed to accept the loan. But it is desirable that the creditor respites the debtor till the time Allah (S.w.T.) makes him capable of repaying his debts.
It is related by Uthman bin Ziyad: “I informed Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) that a person owed money to me and wished to dispose off his residence to repay me. Upon hearing this Imam (a.s.) said thrice:
“I seek Allah’s refuge for you.” (That you cause this poor man to sacrifice his dwelling place to pay).
Many similar traditions have been recorded in books of hadith. It is narrated that a famous companion of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s.) and Imam Riďa (a.s.), by the name of Muhammad bin Abi Umair traded in cloth. It so happened that mounting losses pushed him to the brink of poverty. One of his debtors owed him 10,000 dirhams. When he learnt of the companion’s misfortune, he sold his house and brought the money to repay the amount that he owed. Muhammad bin Umair inquired if he had received the amount of 10,000 dirhams as inheritance. When he replied in the negative, he asked if he had received it as a gift from someone. Again he replied, “No, but I have sold the house where I lived, so that I can repay my debt to you.”
Muhammad bin Umair related a saying of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), prohibiting a creditor to force his debtor to sell his house and said, “By Allah, at present I am in need of each and every dirham but I cannot take a single dirham from this.”
Actually Muhammad bin Abi Umair was a rich man having assets worth over 500,000 dirhams. His present state of poverty was because of his closeness to Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s.). Due to this he was imprisoned for four years and lashed mercilessly. The tyrant Caliph confiscated whatever he had. May Allah have mercy upon such oppressed people. It is an established fact that if someone deprives a person of his rights then each day that passes makes him liable to a sin which is equal to collecting Ethesher (a 10% tax collected on orders of tyrant ruler).
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) says: “The martyr in Allah’s way is absolved of every sin except for the unpaid debt; which has no substitute. Repaying the debt is a must; or the creditor may forgo it. (otherwise even the martyr will be interrogated regarding his debts).” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Chap 4, vol.13, page 83)
Moreover, he (a.s.) has remarked: “As soon as the first drop of a martyr’s blood is spilled all his sins are forgiven. Except for the unpaid debt, which is not excused. Its forgiveness can be achieved only by repaying (the debt).” (Wasa’il ul-Shia chap.4, Vol.13, page 85)
The gravity of all this can be ascertained from the incident when a person from the Ansars departed from this world. He had left behind an unpaid debt of two dinars. The Holy Prophet (S) refused to pray the Salāt al-Janaza till some of the relatives undertook the responsibility to repay the deceased’s debt.
When Muawiya bin Wahab questioned Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) regarding this tradition, he (a.s.) replied: “This is an authentic tradition and the Prophet’s saying conveys the same meaning that people should derive lesson from it and understand the seriousness of debt. They should not regard it insignificant and must make it a point to repay their debts.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
The Holy Prophet (S), Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.), Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Husain (a.s.) were all having some debts when they departed from this world but they appointed their legatees who repaid their debts after their passing away. This hadith signifies that it is not prohibited to be in debt but to ignore or to delay the repayment of debt is Harām. It is not even advisable to travel (for pilgrimage) to Mecca and Madinah without first clearing one’s debts.
Abu Samaniya asked Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) regarding this, “I wish to go and settle down in Mecca or Madinah but I am in debt to some of the people here.” Imam (a.s.) replied: “Go home! First repay your debts. It must not be that you die in this condition and meet your Lord while you are in debt. For a believer never does Khayanat (misappropriation of trust).” (al-Kāfi vol.5 page 94)
Not repaying debts is Khayanat to all
The above hadith makes it amply clear that not fulfilling someone’s right or delaying the repayment of debt is equal to Khayanat. Consequently, all the traditions that are recorded in the chapter on Khayanat are equally applicable here and the Prophetic traditions have described Khayanat as a kind of oppression.
The Holy Prophet (S) has announced: “A Muslim who inspite of being capable delays the repayment of debt has committed oppression upon all the Muslims.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol.13 page 97)
Not repaying a debt is a kind of oppression upon the creditor. In fact such an act is an oppression upon the Muslims in general. This is so because, upon seeing, that this person inspite of being capable is not repaying the debt, others who are capable of lending money will be disinclined to do so, for fear of meeting with a similar fate. Lending is a meritorious act and anyone who is responsible for discouraging it, has indeed oppressed all Muslims.
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has said: “May Allah curse the one who closed the door of good actions. And it is the one who is not thankful to the one who has done some good towards him. Consequently the doer of good refrains from doing the same favour towards someone else in the future.” (Bihār al-Anwār, Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Certainly, lending is an act of goodness. Not repaying or causing undue delay in the repayment is disregarding this favour. Also it can result in the creditor avoiding lending his money to anyone else in future.