Debt in Islamic Sources and History

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Dayn (debt) is mentioned in Islamic sources (Qur’an, Traditions, Supplications, and Jurisprudence) and history in various ways.


The Qur’an urges the faithful to fulfill their obligations and pledges[1] – including the repayment of debt. In Surat al-Tawbah, verse 60, it is mentioned that [obligatory] charities (zakāt) are meant, among others, “for [the freedom] of] the slaves and debtors”:

﴿ إِنَّمَا ٱلصَّدَقَٰتُ لِلْفُقَرَآءِ وَٱلْمَسَٰكِينِ وَٱلْعَٰمِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَٱلْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِى ٱلرِّقَابِ وَٱلْغَٰرِمِينَ وَفِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَٱبْنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌۭ

“Charities are only for the poor and the needy, and those employed to collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for [the freedom of] the slaves and the debtors, and in the way of Allah, and for the traveler. [This is] an ordinance from Allah, and Allah is all-knowing, all-wise.”[2]


There are traditions (ahadith) which indicate that debt sometimes stands in the way of spiritual progress. Prophet Muhammad (s) is reported to have said,

إِيَّاكُمْ وَالدَّيْنَ! فَإِنَّهُ هَمٌّ بِاللَّيلِ، وَذُلٌّ بِالنَّهَارِ.

“Beware of debt, for surely it causes grief during the night and humiliation during the day.”[3]

Some traditions such as the two below condemn indifference in repaying one’s debt: it is reported that Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq (‘a) said,

أَيُّمَا رَجُلٌ أَتَىَ رَجُلاً فَاسْتَقْرَضَ مِنْهُ مَالاً وَفِي نِيَّتِهِ أَنْ لاَّ يُؤَدِّيَهُ، فَذٌلِكَ اللّصُّ الْعَادِّي.

“Whosoever comes to a person and takes some money as a loan from him while he has the intention of not paying him back is a common thief.”[4]

The same Imam (‘a) also said,

مَنْ اسْتَدَانَ دَيْنًا فَلَمْ يَنْوِ قَضاءَهُ، كَانَ بِمِنْزِلَةِ السَّارِقِ.

“Whosoever takes a loan and has no intention to pay it back, is the same as a thief.”[5]

There are also traditions that give warning for the spiritual consequences of habitual incurring of debt. It is reported that Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a) said,

كَثْرَةُ الدَّيْنِ تُصَيِّرُ الصَّادِقَ كَاذِبَاً، وَالْمُنْجِزَ مُخْلِفاً.

“Excess of debt turns the truthful one into a liar and one who fulfills [his promises] to become unfaithful.”[6]

Similarly, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (‘a) is reported to have said,

كُلُّ ذَنْبٍ يُكَفِّرُهُ القَتْلُ فِي سَبِيلِ اللٌّهِ إلاَّ الدَّيْنَ، لاَ كَفَّارَةَ لَهُ إِلاَّ أَدَاؤهُ، أَوْ يَقْضِي صَاحِبُهُ، أَوْ يَعْفُو الَّذِي لَهُ الحَقُّ.

“Martyrdom in Allah’s way expiates every sin, save debt, for it has no compensation save its repayment, or payment by the inheritor (sahibuhu) or forgiveness from the creditor…”[7]

Also, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) said,

خَفِّفُوْا الدَّيْنَ، فَإِنَّ فِي خِفَّةِ الدَّيْنِ زِيَادَةَ العُمُرِ.

“Lessen your debts, for surely in the reduction of your debts is the increment of life.”[8]


In supplications (ad‘iyyah) transmitted from the Infallibles (ma‘sumin), there is an explicit prayer for the repayment of debt. A very good example is Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah’s Supplication 30 (Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s supplication for help in repaying debt) which is the main concern of this paper. Another example is the famous daily supplication during the month of Ramadan, which includes this line:  

أَللٌّهُمَّ اقْضِ دَيْنَ كُلِّ مَدِيْنٍ

“O Allah, facilitate the payment of every indebted one!”[9]

There are also supplications transmitted from the Infallibles one of whose benefits is the repayment of debt for one who recites them. Among these supplications are al-Mashlul,[10] Yastashir,[11]and al-Mujir.[12]

Islamic Jurisprudence

          In Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), Muslim schools of jurisprudence are unanimous in the ruling that the debtor who cannot pay his or her debts is one of the seven rightful recipients of zakat (alms-tax); therefore, he or she is given of the zakat to settle his or her debts: “Al-Gharimin: They are the debtors who have fallen in debt for some non-sinful cause. The [five] schools [of jurisprudence] concur that they may be given zakat to help them repay their debts.”[13]

          When a Muslim dies, one of the four duties which need to be performed by his or her heirs is the payment of his or her debts, the other three being payment of the funeral expenses, execution of his or her will (wasiyyah), and distribution of his or her remaining properties among the heirs according the Islamic law (shari‘ah).[14] It is thus written in The Five Schools of Islamic Law:

“After meeting the funeral expenses, the repayment of debts will start, irrespective of their being haqq Allah [‘right of Allah’] or haqq al-nas [‘right of people’], such as unpaid khums and zakat, pecuniary atonements (khafarat), the returning of the mazalim,[15] the unperformed obligatory hajj, and other similar religious and non-religious liabilities. All these debts are in a single category.”[16]


          It is mentioned in Islamic history that as Imam Husayn (‘a) made an encampment in the plains of Karbala’, he purchased the site for the would-be graves of him and the other martyrs so as not to be indebted to the owner after the tragedy: “The holy Imam gathered the people of the surrounding places, the owners of the plain of Karbala, and purchasing the land from them gifted the same to the people.”[17]

Earlier to that, we are told in history that when  Muslim ibn ‘Aqil was asked to disclose his wishes before getting executed, the last of his three wishes is the selling of his coat of arm so as to pay for the piece of land where he had to be buried: “Bury thou my body out of my own money raised by the sale of my belongings without any obligation from any one of the Kufess (Kufans).”[18]

These two instances show the holy personages’ avoidance of incurring debt as much as possible and their firm resolution to repay once it is incurred.

[1] Surat al-Ahzab 33:23.

[2] Sūrat al-Tawbah (or Barā’ah) 9:60.

[3] Mizan al-Hikmah, vol. 2, p. 958. Quoted in Zaynu’l ‘Abidin, Manifestations of the All-merciful: Reflections on the Daily Supplications Read in the Blessed Month of Ramadan, p. 64.

[4] Wasa’il al-Shi‘ah ila Tahsili Masa’il al-Shari‘ah, vol. 18, p. 329. Quoted in ibid.

[5] Ibid., vol. 18, p. 328. Quoted in ibid., p. 65.

[6] Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, p. 368. Quoted in ibid.

[7] Wasa’il al-Shi‘ah ila Tahsili Masa’il al-Shari‘ah, vol. 18, p. 324. Quoted in ibid.

[8] Mizan al-Hikmah, vol. 2, p. 958. Quoted in ibid., pp. 65-66.

[9] Manifestations of the All-merciful: Reflections on the Daily Supplications Read in the Blessed Month of Ramadan, p. 63.

[10] “Dua‘a Mashlool,” Supplications, available online at

[11] “Al-Sahifa e Alaviya Supplication 1 Praise of Allah Famous as ‘Dua-e-Yastasheer,” Supplications, available online at

[12] “Dua‘a-e Mujeer,” Supplications, available online at

[13] Muhammad Jawad Maghniyyah, The Five Schools of Islamic Law (Qum: Ansariyan Publications, 2008), p. 159.

[14] Ibid., pp. 462-465.

[15] The mazalim are those [properties] in which haram and halal wealth has been mixed and the owner is unable to discern due to his ignorance. Ibid., ft. 4, p. 535.

[16] The Five Schools of Islamic Law, p. 464.

[17] S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali, Husain the Savior of Islam (Kuwait: Acehabul Kisa Committee, n.d.), p. 164.

[18] Ibid., p. 157.

(An excerpt from Mansoor Limba, Muslim and Debt: 5 Practical Steps to Freedom from Debt, pp. 31-39)

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