Believers – A Commentary Part 2
Jameel Kermalli – Sanford, USA
Al-Ma’idah (The Table Spread 5:106)
O you who believe!
- When death approaches any of you.
- (Take) witnesses among yourselves when making bequests – two just men of your own (brotherhood) or others from outside if you are journeying through the earth, and the chance of death befalls you (thus).
- If you doubt (their truth), detain them both after prayer, and let them both swear by Allah. “We wish not in this for any worldly gain, even though the (beneficiary) be our near relation.
- We shall hide not the evidence before Allah.
- If we do, then behold! The sin be upon us!”
Allamah Taba Tabai (AR)
The message of first two ayaat is that if any one of you is on a journey and death approaches him, then he should appoint two believers as witnesses. But if two Muslim witnesses are not available then appoint two from among the people of the book. If the heirs of the deceased have any suspicions about the witness of the “will” then they should detain both the witnesses and they should swear by god that they have spoken the truth. The issue will be closed once they have done so. But if it is later found that the first two witnesses had lied then two new witnesses will be appointed.
This ayah is connected with the previous ones because if the person had died at a place close to Muslim settlements then there would be no need for non-Muslim witnesses. If the death has occurred during the journey then the witness of the two non-Muslims will be regarded as acceptable and authentic. Non-Muslim here means the people of the book and not the polytheists. God has not given any status and respect to the polytheist. God then asks to detain the two witnesses after the prayers.
And then make them swear in the name of god when you doubt their witness about not delivering the full amount of goods that the deceased had entrusted to them according to his “will” or that they may have made change in it. Those who give witness will say, we will not sell our evidence (or witness) for a low price when we give witness though he (the deceased) may be a relative.
A discussion under the light of hadith
Ali bin Ibrahim narrates a tradition in Kafi:
A companion of the prophet, Tamim Darimi went on a trade journey with ibn Bandi and ibn Abi Maria. Included among the goods that he carried were some engraved gold utensils and necklaces. He fell ill and died while on his journey. He entrusted these two Christian companions with all his goods including the gold utensil and necklaces. On returning to Madinah these two returned his goods to his successors after taking away the gold utensils and necklaces. His inheritors asked them, “was he sick for a long time that a considerable expense was made for it?” they replied,” No he was sick for a short time.”
The successors asked them, “were his goods stolen during the journey?” they said “no” they further asked, “was there a loss in the business?” Again they said, “No”. They then asked, “what happened then to the costly goods like the gold utensils and the necklaces?’ they answered, “We have handed over the goods that he entrusted to us.”
The matter was brought before the messenger of Allah who asked them to swear on God, which they did. The messenger of God let them go free after they had taken the oath. Sometime later, however, the goods were recovered from these two people and the successors of Tamim Darimi came to the messenger to tell him about it. He waited for the order of God in this context. God then revealed the verse.
God has, therefore, accepted the witness of two persons from the people of the book in such cases when there is no Muslim present or available.
In my view, the salat referred to is the Asr prayers. The word “the earlier” means those that had given witness earlier and Tafsir Durre Manthur states that there are many explanations for the word “O you who believe!” and Tirmizi has mentioned one such tradition while considering it to be weak. Ibn Abi Haitum has also mentioned it; Nahas has mentioned it in his book Nasiq.
Abu Shaykh ibn Marduya, Hakim, and Abu Nayim, Abi Nazar has quoted Kuleni, who has quoted Kalbi, who in turn has quoted the slave of umm Hani Bazan who quoted ibn Abbas who quoted Tamim Darimi about the background of the words “O you who believe! When death approaches any of you.” Tamim Darimi explained:
This ayah exonerates everyone excepting me and A’di ibn Huda. Both Tamim and A’di were Christians before they accepted Islam and often used to go on business trips to Syria. Once the slave of Bani Seham Badeel bin Abi Mariyam joined them for a business purpose. He had a glass made of silver, which his master had given him to sell at a good price. When he fell fatally ill on the way he made a will and asked to return the goods after his death to his successors.