Sadaqah/Charity Zakat

Giving Charity or Repaying Debt?

I have a debt which I owe a relative. I have clear intention to pay it off and the relative trusts in me to pay it back whenever. During Ramadan, I wanted to do good and I pledged a big amount to a charity. I paid half that amount and will shortly pay the other half. Did I do something wrong that is against the teaching of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)? Should I have instead paid my debt down? Should I use the second payment to pay my debt or should I fulfill my promise to the charity?

Question:
I have a debt which I owe a relative. I have clear intention to pay it off and the relative trusts in me to pay it back whenever. During Ramadan, I wanted to do good and I pledged a big amount to a charity. I paid half that amount and will shortly pay the other half. Did I do something wrong that is against the teaching of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)? Should I have instead paid my debt down? Should I use the second payment to pay my debt or should I fulfill my promise to the charity?

Answer:
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings are upon His Messenger.

It is impermissible for a solvent person to procrastinate in the payment of a debt if he is asked to pay it back, for this is an injustice to the creditor. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

“Delay (in the payment of debt) on the part of a rich man is injustice” [Narrated by Muslim].

However, if the creditor has allowed you leeway in paying it back and he is quite comfortable with your delay, then you can go ahead and fulfill the commitment you have made in regards to the charitable contribution you have pledged.

In his response to this question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

“We must not be slack in paying back the debts we owe people; for unless we pay our debts in full before death, we will be tormented for such neglects in our graves. Our souls will not ascend to Allah, as is reported in the traditions.”

Having said this, however, I should add this: If the debt you owe your relative is such that he has allowed you leeway in paying it back and he is quite comfortable with your delay, then you can go ahead and fulfill the commitment you have made in regards to the charitable contribution has pledged. For we are obligated to fulfill our pledges and commitments; but you need not to do this right away, if the relative is expecting repayment from you.

If you are in doubt, then you should have a frank discussion with him about it, in order to make sure of his intentions. If you find he is OK with your delay, then you should fulfill the pledge. Otherwise, you can do it after you have paid back your debt that is outstanding. In Islam, it should be pointed out, Allah will not take us to task for something which is beyond our means or ability.”

And Allah knows best!

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