Ruling of Recording and Presenting Witness in Debt
In the name of Allah, peace and prayer of Allah be upon His messenger, amma ba’du.
Islam urges that transaction of debt that takes place among people should be recorded. Allah decreed,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا تَدَايَنْتُمْ بِدَيْنٍ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى فَاكْتُبُوهُ وَلْيَكْتُبْ بَيْنَكُمْ كَاتِبٌ بِالْعَدْلِ وَلَا يَأْبَ كَاتِبٌ أَنْ يَكْتُبَ كَمَا عَلَّمَهُ اللَّهُ فَلْيَكْتُبْ وَلْيُمْلِلِ الَّذِي عَلَيْهِ الْحَقُّ وَلْيَتَّقِ اللَّهَ رَبَّهُ وَلَا يَبْخَسْ مِنْهُ شَيْئًا
Believers! Whenever you contract a debt from one another for a known term, commit it to writing. Let a scribe write it down between you justly, and the scribe may not refuse to write it down according to what Allah has taught him; so let him write, and let the debtor dictate; and let him fear Allah, his Lord, and curtail no part of it. (Chapter al Baqara/The Cow:282)
Contextually, this verse contains order to write down debts among men, however, the sholars held different opinion in comprehending this order, whether it is an obligatory or just a suggestion.
First of all, the school of Dzahiri, who believes that this verse is the indication that points out the obligation to record (write down) the transaction of debt with postponed payment. Ibn Hazm adz Dzahiri said,
فإن كان القرض إلى أجل، ففرض عليهما أن يكتباه وأن يشهدا عليه عدلين فصاعدا أو رجلا وامرأتين، عدولا فصاعدا. فإن كان ذلك في سفر ولم يجدا كاتبا فإن شاء الذي له الدين أن يرتهن به رهنا فله ذلك
If the payment of debt is postponed, it is compulsory for both parties to write it down, and to find two or more witnesses or a man and two fair women or more. If the person is in the state of traveling (in a journey), and he doesn’t find people to write it down, if he wishes, he (the debtor) may pawn something. (See: al-Muhalla, 6/351)
Second of all, majority of scholars from the school of hanafi, maliki, shafii, and hambali reckoned that recording the transaction of debt and presenting witness during transaction is not obligatory. And the order in this verse is translated as a guidance so that men will be more cautious and certain in engaging in economic interaction with others, particularly regarding debt. Thus, it is not a compulsory order.
Imam Ash Shafii excellently explained about the interpretation of this verse. He mentioned that there are two reasons why the order in this verse (The Cow: 282) is not obligatory.
In the next verse, 283, Allah commands that if a person doesn’t find a writer, he may pawn his stuffs. In the rest of the verse, Allah allows not to pawn the stuff, as long as each party is convinced to be able to be trustworthy to his partner.
Ash Shafii in Ahkam al Qur’an said,
فلما أمر إذا لم يجدوا كاتبا بالرهن، ثم أباح ترك الرهن وقال [فَإِنْ أَمِنَ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا فَلْيُؤَدِّ الَّذِي اؤْتُمِنَ أَمَانَتَهُ ] فدل على أن الأمر الأول دلالة على الحظ لا فرض فيه يعصي من تركه.
When Allah ordered to pawn stuffs, in case the debtor doesn’t find a writer, then Allah allows not to pawn it, in His verse,
فَإِنْ أَمِنَ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا فَلْيُؤَدِّ الَّذِي اؤْتُمِنَ أَمَانَتَهُ
And if you are on a journey and do not find a scribe to write the document then resort to taking pledges in hand. But if any of you trusts another, let him who is trusted, fulfil the trust and fear Allah, his Lord. And do not conceal what you have witnessed, for whoever conceals it, his heart is sinful. Allah has full knowledge of all that you do. (Al Baqara/The Cow:283)
It shows that the order in the previous verse hint a suggestion and not an obligation that bring the consequence of sinning if skipped. (See: Ahkam al-Quran, 2/127).
Whereas Imam Abu Bakr al Jasshas – a scholar of hanafi – (died year 370 H) explained that the scholars agreed that the ruling of recording and presence of witness in transaction of debt is not compulsory. It is proven with the vast numbers of transaction of debt in the past, until his time, but they didn’t record it nor that they presented witness.
In his work, Ahkam al Qur’an, he said, .,
ولا خلاف بين فقهاء الأمصار أن الأمر بالكتابة والإشهاد والرهن المذكور جميعه في هذه الآية ندب وإرشاد إلى ما لنا فيه الحظ والصلاح والاحتياط للدين والدنيا، وأن شيئاً من ذلك غير واجب.
There is no disagreement among scholars from various countries about how the status of the order to write down and to present witness, and pawn stuffs, as mentioned in the verse, is a suggestion and guidance, which in turns provide benefits and goodness for ur, as well as cautiousness in debt and worldly matters. And all of them are not compulsory.
وقد نقلت الأمة خلفا عن سلف عقود المداينات والأشربة والبياعات في أمصارهم من غير إشهاد، مع علم فقهائهم بذلك من غير نكير منهم عليهم، ولو كان الإشهاد واجبا لما تركوا النكير على تاركه مع علمهم به. وفي ذلك دليل على أنهم رأوه ندبا، وذلك منقول من عصر النبي صلى االله عليه وسلم إلى يومنا هذا
The present generation has followed the footsteps of their predecessors in contract of debt and trading in various regions without the presence of witness, while their scholars know about it, without issuing any refutation to them. Had presenting the witness been compulsory, they wouldn’t stay silent for certain from refuting people who skip it, while they knew about it.
It shows that they consider it as a suggestion. And this condition has been recorded since the time of the Prophet –peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- until our time today.
(See: Ahkam al-Quran, al-Jasshas, 1/482).
The explanation above shows us that the basic ruling of recording and witness in transaction of debt is as suggestion. However, if it is confirmed that the absence of recording will elicit clash and feud, recording debt transaction or presenting witness becomes compulsory. This detail is brought by Imam as Sa’di in his interpretation of the Qur’an,
الأمر بكتابة جميع عقود المداينات إما وجوبا وإما استحبابا لشدة الحاجة إلى كتابتها، لأنها بدون الكتابة يدخلها من الغلط والنسيان والمنازعة والمشاجرة شر عظيم
“The order to record every contract of debt might be obligatory, or as suggestion. Bearing in mind the great need to record it, because without recording, it is highly probable for a mistake, forgetfulness, clash, and feud to happen, and those are great evil. (See: Taisir al-Karim ar-Rahman, page. 118).
Allah knows best.
Written by Ustadz Ammi Nur Baits
Article of www.syaria.com