Wednesday 23 February 2022

Usurping Property of Orphans is a Grievous Sin in Islam

Surah An Nisa (The Women) is a very important chapter of the Qur'an for it lays down many Divine commandments relating to relations between man and woman and laws relating to family and in heritance. The powerful opening to the sūrah, which mentions the rights of the orphans, is followed with an outline of the foundation upon which the Islamic social system is built: mutual co-operation within the family and the community, care for the weak and vulnerable, protection and honour for women, looking after the property of the community, and the distribution of inheritance among heirs according to a system which ensures justice to individuals and prosperity to the community.

The mere fact that the very second verse of the surah is about the rights of orphans and the protection of their property shows how much importance has been given to the protection of the rights of the orphans in Islam and how the guardians have been warned against usurping their properties and termed as a grievous sin:

وَاٰ تُوا الۡيَتٰمٰٓى اَمۡوَالَهُمۡ​ وَلَا تَتَبَدَّلُوا الۡخَبِيۡثَ بِالطَّيِّبِ وَلَا تَاۡكُلُوۡۤا اَمۡوَالَهُمۡ​ اِلٰٓى اَمۡوَالِكُمۡ​ؕ اِنَّهٗ كَانَ حُوۡبًا كَبِيۡرًا‏‏  
(4:2) Give orphans their property, and do not exchange the bad for the good, and do not eat up their property by mixing it with your own. This surely is a mighty sin.
That is, as long "As the orphans are under age, spend their property only in their interest; and when they come of age, return their rightful property to them."  This is a comprehensive sentence, which may mean, "Do not make your Income unclean in any unlawful way." It may also mean, "Do not exchange your worthless things for the valuable things of the orphans." 

Tafsir Ibn-Kathir:
Allah commands that the property of the orphans be surrendered to them in full when they reach the age of adolescence, and He forbids using or confiscating any part of it. 

So He said; (and do not exchange (your) bad things for (their) good ones;) Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib and Az-Zuhri commented, "Do not substitute a weak animal of yours for a fat animal (of the orphans).'' Ibrahim An-Nakha`i and Ad-Dahhak commented, "Do not give something of bad quality for something of good quality.'' As-Suddi said, "One of them (caretakers of orphans) would take a fat sheep from the orphan's property and put in its place, a weak sheep of his, saying, `A sheep for a sheep.' He would also take a good Dirham and exchange it for a fake Dirham, saying, `A Dirham for a Dirham.''' 

Allah's statement, (and devour not their substance to your substance.) means, do not mix them together so that you eat up both, as Mujahid, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Muqatil bin Hayyan, As-Suddi and Sufyan bin Hassin stated. 

Allah said, (Surely, this is a great sin. ), a major and substantial sin, according to Ibn `Abbas. This was also reported from Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Al-Hasan, Ibn Sirin, Qatadah, Muqatil bin Hayyan, Ad-Dahhak, Abu Malik, Zayd bin Aslam and Abu Sinan. The meaning above is: adding their property to your property is a grave sin and a major mistake, so avoid it.

Yusuf Ali  Explanation
Justice to orphans is enjoined, and three things are particularly mentioned as temptations in the way of a guardian: (I) He must not postpone restoring all his ward's property when the time comes; subject to iv. S below. (2) If there is a list of property, it is not enough that that list should be technically followed: the property restored must be of equal value to the property received: the same principle applies where there is no list. (3) If property is managed together, or where perishable goods must necessarily be consumed, the strictest probity is necessary when the separation takes place, and this is insisted on. See also ii. 220 Reproduced herein under:
"(Their bearings) on this life and the Hereafter. They ask thee concerning orphans. Say: "The best thing to do is what is for their good; if ye mix their affairs with yours they are your brethren; but Allah knows the man who means mischief from the man who means good. And if Allah had wished He could have put you into difficulties: He is indeed Exalted in Power Wise."
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
"[Fear God] and give the orphans the wealth which belongs to them. And do not exchange for them their good wealth" The actual words are: خَبِيۡث and طَيِّب. Just as these are used for what is evil and good in the moral sense, they are also used for what is defective and good in the material sense.

" with your bad wealth and do not devour their wealth by mixing it with yours " The actual words are: وَلَا تَاْكُلُوْ٘ا اَمْوَالَهُمْ اِلٰ٘ي اَمْوَالِكُمْ. The preposition اِلٰي is related to ضَمًّا or some similar word which has been suppressed as per linguistic principles.

" because this is a grievous sin " The whole verse means that guardians of the orphans should return their wealth to them and should not think of devouring it themselves. They should know that unjustly consuming the wealth of orphans is like filling one’s belly with fire. So no one should try to swap his poor merchandise and assets for their good ones. Neither should a person try to benefit from their wealth while mixing it with his own feigning administrative ease. If such intermingling needs to be done, then it should only be for the orphans’ welfare and well-being and not to usurp their wealth.

Qur'an Wiki:
Guardians of orphans are commanded here to hand over to them all their property when they have attained the age associated with sound judgement. Moreover, they are commanded not to marry under-age orphan girls who are in their charge in the hope of absorbing their wealth. As for the weak-minded who, it is feared, will squander their wealth once it is given to them, they should not be handed their property, because it, in fact, belongs to the community which has an interest in it. Hence, it should not he given up to anyone who may use it improperly. Men are also ordered to maintain justice and fairness in their treatment of women generally.

These emphatic orders give us an impression of what was common practice in the days of ignorance in pre-Islamic Arabia where the rights of the weak in general, and orphans and women in particular, were either usurped or denied them altogether. Some of these practices continued to exist in the Muslim community, which was originally carved out of the ignorant Arabian society, until the Qur’ān began to eradicate them altogether. At the same time, the Qur’ān gave the Muslim community new concepts, aspirations, traditions and a whole new face with distinctive features. “Give the orphans their property. Do not substitute bad things of your own for their good things, and do not absorb their wealth into your own wealth. That is surely a great crime.” 
The Muslims are ordered here to give to the orphans what belongs to them of property that is under their control. They must not exchange any good part of it for something inferior of their own, such as taking their good land, cattle, shares or cash — for even cash may differ a great deal in value — or any other property in which value differences occur. They must not absorb the wealth of the orphans, in whole or in part, by joining it to their own property. Any such action is a great sin which God here warns the Muslim community against.
All these practices were known in the first society to be addressed by this verse. Their mention suggests that at least some of the addressees practised some of these ways, inherited as they were from the days of ignorance. In every ignorant society such practices are committed. We even see examples of these in our present-day ignorance, in our cities, towns and villages. Orphans’ property is often absorbed or squandered by their guardians in spite of all the legal precautions and safeguards and in spite of the official institutions which are specifically set up to protect the interests and the property of minors. This is a problem wherein legislation and official control cannot seem to make any great headway. Success depends on one element, namely, fear of God. It is this fear that watches over our minds and consciences, and this, in turn, gives to legislation its value and proper effect. This is exactly what happened after this verse was revealed. Guardians began to act with much greater caution, so much so that they separated the property of any orphan in their charge from their own property. Moreover, they even separated the orphans’ food from their own; this to guard against any possibility of committing what God warned them of as a great crime.

God knows very well His servants, their nature and their psychology, since it is He who created them. For this reason, He has made the law and the code of living His own in order to impart to them of His own authority. Thus, they acquire respect that they cannot otherwise have. God is aware that no law is ever obeyed well unless it comes from the One who is genuinely feared, because people know that He is aware of all intentions and feelings. People may obey the law enacted by their fellow human beings when it is backed by force and authority and when there is some form of supervision to ensure the implementation of that law. That supervision, however, cannot monitor what is in people’s minds. People will inevitably try to break the law whenever they have a chance or whenever the supervising authority cannot detect their violation. They will always feel unduly checked, and they will always try to break loose whenever a chance to do so presents itself to them.

Please listen to explanation of the ayat by eminent Muslim scholar Nouman Ali Khan:
May Allah help us understand Qur'ān and help us to act upon the commandments of Allah contained therein. Aameen.

For more Selected Verses, please refer to our reference page: Selected Verses from the Qur'anYou may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
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Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Qur'ān from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that the exegesis of the chapters of the Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.  
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided, additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
  • Towards Understanding the Quran
  • Tafsir Ibn Khatir
  • Muhammad Asad Translation
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi / Al Mawrid
  • Al-Quran, Yusuf Ali Translation
  • Verse by Verse Qur'an Study Circle
In addition the references of other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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