Salman bin al-Akwa narrated: A dead person was brought to the Holy Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) so that he might lead the funeral prayer for him. He asked, “Is he in debt?” When the people replied in the negative, he led the funeral prayer. Another dead person was brought and he asked, “Is he in debt?” They said, “Yes.” He (refusing to lead the prayer) said, “Lead the prayer of your friend.” Abu Qatada said, “O Allah’s Messenger! I undertake to pay his debt.” Allah’s Messenger then led his funeral prayer.
Repayment of debt is one of the salient features of a believer’s faith. It assumes so much importance in the life of a believer that the Holy Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) once refused to lead the funeral prayer of a person who was in debt in his lifetime. Though it is not permissible for a believer to refuse to lead the funeral prayer of such a person as he has been enjoined to lead the prayer for such a person, this hadīth highlights the enormity of non-payment of one’s debt in one’s lifetime.
Why is non-payment of debt so great a sin? It is so because debt is amanah (trust) with a person; and, he cannot be the owner of the amanah. The Holy Qur’ān mentions observing trusts, like saying prayers and paying zakah, as one of the salient features of a believer. If a person dies in debt, it is obligatory upon his heirs to repay the debt.