Loans Entailing More Reward than Charity and the Validity of an Estate’s Executor Being a Beneficiary in the Will

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan

Question: I have questions about 2 statements made by an imam, which I suspect to be incorrect.

First, he said there is an authentic hadith wherein the prophet said that to give a loan is 17 times more rewardable than to give charity of the same amount.

Secondly, on the matter of inheritance, he said it is acceptable for the property to be divided up by one of the beneficiaries. i.e., the executor of the will can be someone who stands to receive goods from the deceased. I feel this is unethical because it leaves the tempting opportunity to interpret the will favorably to oneself. I feel the correct way is for the executor to be a state-appointed official with no personal interest.

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.

(1) There is a hadith that states, “On the night I was taken in journey [to Jerusalem], I saw inscribed on the door of Paradise, ‘Charity is multiplied ten-fold, while giving a loan eighteen-fold.’ I said, ‘O Jibril, how come a loan is more meritorious than charity?’ He replied, ‘Because the beggar asks [for charity] despite having wealth, while the one seeking a loan does not do so unless out of real need.'” [Ibn Maja; Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman; Tabarani, Mu`jam Awsat]

However, the chain of transmission (isnad) of this hadith is weak, due to a weak narrator (although Ibn Hibban and others considered that narrator reliable). [Haythami, Majma` al-Zawa’id]

With respect to its meaning, the hadith itself gives the basis of a loan being better than charity, namely, that one seeking a loan is in real need. However, many scholars deemed charity as better since nothing is given back to the donor. There is also a hadith that supports this opinion, namely, “If one loans two dirhams, it is akin to donating sadaqa of one dirham.” [Ibn Hibban]

Imam Munawi reconciles these different hadiths by saying, “In reality, it depends on the individuals, their circumstances and the times.” That is, every situation is unique, so the merit of each case would have to be examined individually: sometimes charity is better, other times giving out a loan is more meritorious. [Fayd al-Qadir]

(2) The executor of a will may be one of its beneficiaries. There is nothing wrong with that according to Sharia. Usually, the entire family is involved in the process, so it is not that easy to favor oneself in the process of estate division. One could actually make the opposite argument — that appointing a family member as executor is probably more likely to lead to fair division as compared to appointing someone outside the family.

In any case, what the jurists mention is that the executor should be upright, trustworthy, and able to carry out the will. [Haskafi, Durr al-Mukhtar; Zada, Majma` al-Anhur; Maydani, Lubab]

Lastly, in the United States (in some states at least), it is not uncommon for a good portion of the estate to be used up in exorbitant fees and the like when estate division is left to attorneys, even if state-appointed. So it is important for one to specify the executor in one’s will.

And Allah knows best.