Religious Figures and Financial Transparency 

Religious Figures and Financial Transparency 

By Shaykh Hamza Karamali
May 27,2020


In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

Towards the end of Surat al-Baqara is a famous verse called ayat al-dayn, or, “the verse about contracting debts.” It is the longest verse in the Quran and it mentions various morphological derivations of the Arabic root k.t.b (“to write”) no fewer than nine times. Everyone forgets, and when there is money involved, an innocent slip of the mind can lead to accusations of dishonesty and breaking bonds of brotherhood. So Allah Most High tells us, “Write it down.”

If the contracting parties are unable to write the debt down themselves, then they should find someone to write on their behalf. The one who writes it should be “upright” (‘adl) and the one who dictates what he should write should “fear Allah” (have taqwa). The verse mentions uprightness and fearing Allah Most High a total of four times. The role of third parties who help record the terms of the debt is to fear Allah and stand for the truth—wherever it may lie—and not to be legal experts who are hired by one of the parties to exclusively secure their interests.

The written terms should then be witnessed. The verse mentions various morphological derivations of the Arabic root sh.h.d (“to witness”) a total of seven times. These witnesses should unhesitatingly step forward to witness the written contract. Allah Most High warns them not to harm any of the contracting parties. They should, in other words, be non-partisan and stand for the truth. 

Now, I want you to imagine for a moment that a religious figure (a shaykh) buys your car and agrees to pay you in installments over a period of two years. Would his religious standing make you hesitate to ask him to write down the contract and have it witnessed? And to have every installment similarly written down and witnessed? Would you believe that it is somehow more religious and better adab (manners) for you to forego the advice of Allah Most High because the person with whom you are dealing has a religious standing? If you do, then you have an unhealthy relationship with the religious figure.

Let me explain why.

The purpose of religious figures (shaykhs/shaykhas) is to foster religious environments that place the commands of Allah Most High above everyone, even themselves. In a healthy religious environment, anyone should be able to ask a religious figure to be transparent and document a private sale that he contracts with him. Allah Most High doesn’t make exceptions for religious figures and neither should we. The religious figure should venerate the command of Allah and welcome this transparency, teaching his community that his purpose is to help them exalt the command of Allah, not to exalt his person. 

What is true about private sales between two individuals—as described in ayat al-dayn above—is even truer about financial trusts between members of a community or religious organization and the religious figures who lead them. If I should, according to Allah Most High, be able to unhesitatingly ask that money that gives me worldly gain be documented and witnessed, then I should a fortiori be able to unhesitatingly ask that money that I have given for a next-worldly-gain (for a charitable cause, in other words) be similarly documented and witnessed, so that I can have peace of mind that my charity reaches its intended recipients in the way that I thought it would.

The financial standards in charitable organizations that apply to a religious figure should be the same as those that apply to any other human being. A religious environment that exempts religious figures from the checks and balances that apply to other human beings is an unhealthy religious environment that places religious figures above the commands of Allah Most High, even if it hides behind religious terms such as “good adab” and respect for teachers.

And just as third parties who are involved in private sales are obliged to be non-partisan and stand for the truth wherever it may lie, third parties—accountants, bookkeepers, volunteers—who are involved in the running of religious organizations and communities are also obliged to be non-partisan and stand for the truth wherever it may lie. Religious organizations and communities exist to exalt the command of Allah Most High, not in order to exalt the religious figures who run them. Accountants, bookkeepers, and financial volunteers who are part of such organizations and communities have a religious obligation to be vigilant, investigate when there is suspicion of financial mismanagement, and expect full financial transparency from the leaders of charitable religious organizations, even if they are religious figures.

The role of a religious figure is to teach people to venerate the command of Allah Most High, not to venerate himself or herself. If he or she creates an environment that places him above Allah’s command, that is a telltale sign of religious corruption. And when there is money involved, that means financial corruption.

Shaykh Hamza Karamali is the founder of Basira Education

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