Is a debtor liable to repay a Prescribed Debt? 

Q. An heir owes a significant debt to the estate. The heir refuses to repay the debt to the estate claiming that the debt is Prescribed since five years have passed. Is the heir liable to repay the debt to the estate?

A. In South Africa, a Prescribed Debt refers to a debt that is legally written off and cannot be collected or recovered from a debtor after a period of typically three years have passed from the date when the payment of the debt was due.

In terms of Islamic Law, the debt of the debtor is not written off or waived unless the creditor himself waives the debt owed by the debtor. Thus, it remains the debtors responsibility to repay the debt to the creditor regardless of the period of time that has lapsed when the payment was due.

There are severe warnings mentioned in the Hadith for a debtor who does not repay his debt. Rasoolullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam said:…”By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if a man were to be killed in the cause of Allah (a noble death) then brought back to life, then killed and brought back to life, then killed but he owed a debt, he would not enter Paradise until his debt was paid off.” (Nasaai’ 4684)

If a debtor is unable to repay the debt to the creditor, the creditor must give respite and allow the debtor to repay the debt when he is able to do so.

ِAllah Ta’ala states in the Quran: “If it is difficult for someone to repay a debt, postpone it until a time of ease. And if you waive it as an act of charity, it will be better for you, if only you knew.” (Surah Baqarah, 280)

As such, in the enquired case, the heir (debtor) remains responsible in repaying the debt owed to the estate regardless of the number of years that have passed without the debt being repaid.

Allah Ta’ala Knows Best

Mufti Ismaeel Bassa