Default Penalty - An Alternative

If nothing is charged from the defaulters, it may be a greater incentive for a dishonest person to default continuously. The question now arises as to how the banks and financial institutions may solve this problem. Here is the answer to this question:

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We have already mentioned that the real solution to this problem is to develop a system where the defaulters are duly punished by depriving them from enjoying a financial facility in future. However, as commented earlier, this may be only where the whole banking system is based on Islamic principles, or the Islamic banks are given due protection against defaulters. Therefore, up to a time when this goal is reached, we may need some other alternative.

For this purpose it was suggested that the client, when entering into a murabahah transaction, should undertake that in case he defaults in payment at the due date, he will pay a specified amount to a charitable fund maintained by the bank. It must be ensured that no part of this amount shall form part of the income of the bank. However, the bank may establish a charitable fund for this purpose and all amounts credited therein shall be exclusively used for purely charitable purpose approved by the Shariah. The bank may also advance interest-free loans to the needy persons from this charitable fund.

This proposal is based on a ruling given by some Maliki jurists who say that if a debtor is asked to pay an additional amount in case of default, it is not allowed by Shariah, because it amounts to charging interest. However, in order to assure the creditor of prompt payment, the debtor may undertake to give some amount in charity in case of default. This is, in fact, a sort of Yamin (vow) which is a self-imposed penalty to keep oneself away from default. Normally, such ‘vows’ create a moral or religious obligation and are not enforceable through courts. However, some Maliki jurists allow to make it justiciable, and there is nothing in the Holy Qur’an or in the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) which forbids making this ‘vow’ enforceable through the courts of law. Therefore, in cases of genuine need, this view can be acted upon. But, while implementing this proposal, the following points must be kept in mind.

1. The proposal is meant only to pressurize the debtors on paying their dues promptly and not to increase the income of the creditor / financier, nor to compensate him for his opportunity cost. Therefore, it must be ensured that no part of the penalty forms part of the income of the bank in any case, nor can it be used to pay taxes or to set-off any liability of the financier.

2. Since the amount of penalty is not deserved by the financier as his income, but it goes to charity, it may be any amount wilfully undertaken by the debtor. It can also be determined on per cent per annum basis. Therefore, it may serve as a real deterrent against deliberate default, unlike the former suggestion of compensation which, as explained earlier, may tend to encourage the defaults.

3. Since the penalty undertaken by the client is originally a self-undertaken vow, and not penalty charged by the financier, the agreement should reflect this concept. Therefore, the proper wording of the penalty clause would be on the following pattern,

The client hereby undertakes that if he defaults in payment of any of his dues under this agreement, he shall pay to the charitable account/fund maintained by the Bank/Financier a sum calculated on the basis of ...% per annum for each day of default unless he establishes through the evidence satisfactory to the Bank/financier that his non-payment at the due date was caused due to poverty or some other factors beyond his control.

4. Being a vow of charitable act, it was originally permissible for the client to give the stipulated amount to any charity of his own choice, but in order to ensure that he will pay, the charitable account or fund maintained by the financier/bank is specified in the proposed undertaking. This specific undertaking does not violate any principle of Shariah. However, it is necessary that the bank or the financial institution maintains a separate fund, or at least, a separate account for this purpose and the amounts credited to that account must be spent in well-defined charities known to the client/debtor.

This proposal has now been implemented successfully in a large number of Islamic financial institutions.


Source: Republished with the kind permission of Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani.