People burdened by debts and unable to pay them are of several kinds: those who took upon themselves responsibility to discharge a debt; those who guaranteed debts of others and therefore, upon default, the debts have become their obligation; those who mismanaged their finances, those who borrowed money because they had to; or those who were involved in sinful acts and then repented, and who had to pay a fine for repentance. All of them may take sadaqah to meet their debts.
Anas reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: “Asking for sadaqah is permissible only for the following three classes [of people]:
1. those who are in abject poverty,
2. those who have severe debts, or
3. those who incurred it in the payment of blood money [on behalf of a relative or friend].” This is related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and at-Tirmizhi. The latter grades it hasn.
Muslim relates from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri that a man made a bad deal on fruit and then ran into heavy debt. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, recommended: “Give him sadaqah.” Then the people gave him sadaqah. However, he still had some debt left over. Thereupon, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said to creditors: “Take what you get…”
As to the previously stated hadith of Qabisah ibn Mukhariq, in which he says: “I had a debt. I went to the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, and asked him for help. He answered: ‘Wait until we have received funds for sadaqah, then we will give some to you.'” The expression hamalah in this hadith, as defined by the scholars, is to assume someone’s responsibility as one’s own in order to restitute a discord. In pre-Islamic times, whenever strife took place among the Arab tribes and blood was spilled, compensation was called for. In such a case, one of them would volunteer to meet the obligation until the strife had ended. Undoubtedly, this was a noble act for these people. When the Arabs would come to know that one of them had taken upon himself the responsibility (hamalah) of someone’s debt, they would hasten to his help in the discharge of his responsibility. If such a person asked for help, it was considered an honourable act and not derogatory to his character. No conditions were stipulated. As for being qualified to obtain zakah in the discharge of such debts, it is not a pre-condition that the person who has assumed the debt on another’s behalf should be unable to pay it. In fact, he can still ask for zakah even though he is a man of means.