Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah
Question: Assalamu alaykum
1. How should one view the material rights of others that were taken by one during childhood?
2. As a student of history, I often find myself confused about how to apply the rules regarding backbiting and slander in historical sources, especially after reading Sheikh Gibril Haddad’s ruling in this matter(https://islamqa.org/hanafi/qibla-hanafi/34884). Could you please clarify what is permissible and impermissible to read/write in an academic context in light of the writings of great scholars such as Ibn Battuta and Ibn Khaldun?
Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam. Thank you for your questions.
May Allah reward you for seeking to make amends for past mistakes. Allah is the One who guided you to this point, so rejoice in the fact that He desires good for you and that you settle your misdeeds in this life, and not in the next life.
1. Taking others rights before and after puberty
If an item was wrongfully taken or destroyed by a pre-pubescent child, then if the child’s guardian is aware of it, then the responsibility falls on the guardian to return / repay the item, as well as teach the child correct behaviour. The cost of the item may be taken from the child’s own money if they have money.
If the item has been returned / repaid, or the owner waived the issue and forgave, then the incident is settled and no further action needs to take place.
If the item was not returned or repaid by the guardian, due to neglect or not knowing, then the onus falls on the child when they reach puberty.
We should also note that the original ruling of paying other’s rights is that of non-fulfilment. For example, if one doubts whether they paid back a debt or not, the default ruling is that they did not and the debt still stands.
In your situation then, in those situations which you are certain that the item was returned or repaid, or the owner forgave you, then you can consider them finalised.
As for those cases where you are unsure if the matter was resolved properly, or there is a chance that you have forgotten some incidents, then the obligation to return items or repay the value remains upon you.
If you can remember what you took and from who, you could either a) try to find out if you did return the item or not, or b) consider that you did not and find a way to either return the exact item or pay the value of it. You do not have to tell them the reason why you are paying them, or giving them the item.
In those case where it is impossible for you to remember what you took and from who, or if it is not possible to locate the persons, then the most you can do for now is give charity on their behalf for the value of the amount taken. If you are unsure of the exact value, then estimate and give extra. You should not seek reward from giving the money in charity, and also know that if the person turned up one day to claim their right, then you must give them it, even if you have paid the amount in charity.
In all situations, you should pray two cycles of the prayer of repentance (tawba), asking Allah to forgive you for your past mistakes. It would also be advised to give some additional charity on your own behalf as a way of atonement.
[Tuhfa al Muhtaj, ‘Iyanat al Talibin]
2. Mentioning negative traits of historical figures
We asked this question to our teacher and mufti of Tarim, Habib Ali Mashur. His answer was that if there is some benefit for the listener / reader in knowing about these historical figures and their negative traits or bad actions, then it would not be considered ghiba (backbiting).
Benefit means that one is able to learn a moral lesson from the discussion and that it helps one more fully understand the context of the topic.
It would be very difficult for a person to read any history or biography without coming across some form of personal description or discussion on the motives of an event without referring to a leading figure’s character traits. At the same, when discussing any person, historical or not, the descriptions given should only be to the extent which it is necessary to make the point being made clear, and not unnecessary or exaggerated.
The intention of the author/speaker may or may not be totally pure, but as a reader we can make our intention pure for reading the text or listening, such as making the intention to learn about history so one can understand what had taken place among people and nations, and thereby strengthen our ability to assess current situations, to learn from the mistakes of others and thereby avoid similar pitfalls, as well as relate and compare worldly events to religious teachings, thereby clearly distinguishing good from evil.
I believe it is in this context that Shaykh Gibril gave his answer.
And Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.