WRITING AND WITNESSING THE DEAL

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To avoid such problems due to forgetfulness or other reasons, and to reduce any chance of misunderstanding and bad faith, the Qur’an orders that all financial deals be committed to paper and witnessed, as we read in the following passage:

O you who believe, when you contract a debt between you for a fixed term, record it in writing. Let a scribe write it down between you justly, and let no scribe refuse to write it down as God has taught him (via the Qur’an and His Messenger). So let him write. Let the debtor dictate, and let him avoid disobeying God, his Lord, (Who has created him and brought him up with mercy and grace,) and curtail no part of it. If the debtor be weak of mind or body, or incapable of dictating, let his guardian dictate justly. And call upon two (Muslim) men among you as witnesses. If two men cannot be found, let one man and two women from among those of whom you approve as witnesses, so that if either woman errs (through forgetfulness), the other may remind her. Let the witnesses not refuse when they are summoned (to give evidence). (And you, O scribes,) be not loath to write down (the contract), whether it be small or great, with the date of its payment. Your doing so, (O you who believe,) is more equitable in God’s sight, more upright for testimony, and more likely that you will not be in doubt. If it be a matter of buying and selling concluded on the spot, there shall be blame upon you if you do not write it down. But take witnesses when you settle commercial transactions with one another, and let no harm be done to either scribe or witness, (nor let either of them act in a way to injure the sides). If you act (in a way to harm either side or the scribe and witnesses,) indeed it will be transgression in you. (Always) act in reverence for God and try to attain piety. God teaches you (whatever you need in life and the way you must follow in every matter); God has full knowledge of everything. If you are (in circumstances like being) on a journey and cannot find a scribe, a pledge in hand shall suffice. But if you trust one another, let him (the debtor) who is trusted fulfill his trust, and let him act in piety and keep from disobedience to God, his Lord (by not fulfilling the contract’s conditions). Do not conceal the testimony, (for) he who conceals it, surely his heart (which is the center of faith) is wholly contaminated with sin. God has full knowledge of what you do. (2:282-83)

In these verses, the Qur’an distinguishes between financial transactions that involve credit for a definite period and those that are carried out on the spot. Examples of the first type include loans for a definite period and the purchase or sale of goods with either the payment or delivery promised for some fixed future date. An example of the second type include buying something in a shop on a cash-and-carry basis.

Some people might be surprised that the holy Qur’an recommends that even on-the-spot transactions (e.g., sale of goods on cash-and-carry basis) should have some proof in writing or through witnesses. Perhaps because at first sight it looks unnecessary, this recommendation has been almost completely ignored in the Muslim world. However, as business became more organized, the wisdom behind this recommendation has been independently discovered in modern times. These days, whenever we make any purchase, no matter how small, we receive a receipt. This receipt serves many purposes, such as enabling the customer to return defective items with little or no argument, prosecuting merchants who overcharge or cheat the customer in some way, catching and prosecuting shoplifters, and making it easier for buyers and sellers to keep ac-counts.

After briefly discussing the usefulness and relevance of the Qur’anic orders to write and/or witness financial deals, we now consider just how obligatory they are.

 

Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.