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Getting Out – and Staying Out – of Debt in The West

01 September, 2021
Q It is very difficult to stay out of debt in our modern life of today in the West. To start with, monthly mortgage payments take away a big percentage of our family income, and credit cards and other monthly payments leave us as a family with very little spending money to complete the month, which often forces us to rely on credit cards to cover the deficit. As a family, we feel it is virtually impossible to get out of debt. What does Islam say about this problem? And how can we, as a family, get out of debt?


Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh (peace and blessings of Allah be upon you)

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

First of all, let me say that this is an issue that I and many Muslims all over the world can sympathize with. Debt is not a strictly Western phenomenon. It is a serious problem across the globe.

I, myself, accumulated debt in my years in college, so know that my advice does not come from a place of lecturing, but a place of sympathy and compassion for your struggle.

The Weight of Debt

In Muslim and Bukhari, it is narrated that the Prophet Mohammad (saw) used to recite in prayer,

Allahumma inni a’udhi bika min al-ma’tham wal-maghram (or “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from sin and heavy debt.”)

When a man remarked to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, how often he seeks refuge from heavy debt, the Prophet replied,

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When a man gets into debt, he speaks lies, and makes promises and breaks them.

In another hadith from Tirmidhi (classified as sahih), the Prophet said,

Whoever dies free from three things – arrogance, cheating, and debt – will enter Paradise.

The weight and seriousness of debt in Islam is well-demonstrated in these and many other hadith. Each narration varies in specific context and in detail, but the overriding message remains: debt is to be avoided by Muslims.

In the modern world, this is easier said than done, of course, and at times is even impossible. But once we find ourselves there, it is important to do whatever is possible to clear the debt.

Practical Advice for Today

Diagnose the Problem

The first piece of advice I will give is the same I would give to any person – Muslim or non-Muslim – who is in debt: go over your budget with a fine-toothed comb. For one month, save every receipt that you have and see where you are spending money. Record it all on an Excel spreadsheet.

Treat the Problem

Cut Spending. Do you have an unlimited data plan for your phones? Consider downgrading to a limited plan and using wifi whenever possible.

Do you have a high cable bill? Perhaps you can cancel your cable and pay a much lower fee for Netflix or Hulu. If you already have one of those streaming services, that is something that you might consider canceling until you are out of debt.

One strategy that has helped me save money on food (one area where many people find it difficult to make cutbacks) is to meal plan. That way, when you go to the grocery store you will know exactly what you need to buy for the week. It can save a lot of money, as opposed to meandering through the aisles and picking up what may jump out at you.

I don’t know your full situation, but from what you describe, it seems that you have some spending money each month, though it doesn’t appear to be enough to cover your typical spending needs.

Cut back on all frivolous spending. Put every cent of spare money to making payments on credit cards. Each month, your debt should go down – not increase.

Seek Wise Counsel

These are all theoretical pieces of advice based on the small amount of knowledge I have of your particular situation. I encourage you to avail yourself of the many “debt-free” forums on the internet.

By giving specific information about spending (while remaining anonymous), you can get very helpful advice from people who are in the process of paying off debt, or have already succeeded.

Although these forums are generally not specifically geared to Muslims, the advice is usually applicable Islamically. For Muslims, aside from the issue of avoiding debt in the first place, our greatest concern with debt is haram riba, or interest.

In paying off your debt, you would almost certainly not be getting involved in more riba than you may be already, so even advice from non-Muslims can be very helpful.

Seek The Help of Allah

In addition to the above, practical steps you must take, do not forget your Lord. Seek His forgiveness for the sin of heavy debt, or for being involved in riba, if you are. Make sincere dua to be rid of your debt, while taking the steps to do so.

Remember: you must tie your camel and then trust in Allah!

Recite the dua mentioned above that the Prophet made.

Another great supplication, also, from Tirmidhi:

Allaahummak-finee bihalaalika ‘an haraamika wa ‘aghninee bifadhlika ‘amman siwaaka,” or, “O Allah, suffice me with what You have allowed, instead of what You have forbidden, and make me independent of all others except You.”

Once you are free of debt, take care not to resume the habits that allowed you to succumb to debt in the first place. Prepare yourself for a change of lifestyle. Insha’Allah, what you will lose in material comforts, you will gain in increased iman that can only be achieved by obeying Allah.

May Allah relieve your burden, ease your debt, and make easy your struggle.

(From Ask About Islam archive)

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About Leah Mallery
Leah is a Muslim convert of almost a decade. She has two kids, an intercultural marriage, and half of a French degree in her back pocket, looking to switch gears to science and medicine. She has lived abroad for over a decade, having just recently become reacquainted with her roots in America. She currently lives in Michigan near her family and – masha’Allah – a sizeable Muslim community.