The Fiqh of Signatures, Logos and Seals

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by Mathabah.org

By: Shaykh Mufti Khalid Saifullah Al Rahmani

Formatted to English by Shaykh Yusuf Badat

Definition

The literal meaning of ‘signature’ is handwriting, however, technically, it means writing one’s name as a mark to represent oneself. One may write one’s name so simply that others can imitate it easily or the name can also be written in a complicated style so that imitation would be somewhat difficult. A signature is an act of symbolic writing, on behalf of a signatory, and verifies a document that bears it.

History – Stamp in Place of Signature

In earlier times, stamps were used to serve the purpose of signatures. They were engraved into a ring, with the intention of being preserved carefully. Since people always wear their rings, stealing them would not be easy. The Arabic word “khaatam” stood for finger ring, while the literal and actual meaning of khaatamis “seal” which is also mentioned in the Noble Quran.

The Prophet’s (peace and blessings upon him) Signature

It was at the occasion of the Treaty of Hudaiba, when Muslims and the people of Makkah agreed upon a cease fire. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings upon him) took this opportunity and decided to write letters to the Kings of Arabs and Non-Arabs, inviting them towards Islam. Some of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) told him (peace and blessings upon him) that these kings would not accept a letter without a seal. Thus he (peace and blessings upon him) got a ring prepared and had the words ‘Muhammad Rasulullah’ engraved into it. He (peace and blessings upon him) had the words ‘Allah, Rasul and Muhammad’ written in descending order – first Allah then Rasul and Muhammad respectively. (Bukhari)

Purpose & Method of the Signature

A signature’s entire purpose is to demonstrate reliability and authority of a document that bears it. It denotes reliability of the signatory too. Hence, one must write one’s signature rather complicatedly so that the miscreants may not deceive others by a forged signature. The signature must be clear enough, so the reader may recognize the name.

Forging Someone’s Signature

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings upon him) forbade his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) to make the same ring as the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) himself had. – (Bukhari) –  Thus it is prohibited to imitate the signature of a person or endorse one’s name as such others do. An act of phony signature harms one’s identity and opens the door to deception as well. Occasionally, untrue events and falsely fabricated stories are connected to others through a forged signature or stamp. Deception amounts to sin. Thus, the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) stated,

‘An act of deception leads one to hell.’ (Bukhari)

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) transmits from the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him),

‘The one who deceive is not from amongst us.’ (Abu Dawud).

Forged signatures in actuality, is imposturing, treachery and fraud. Also, a person in numerous cases, may be deprived of his rights through a fraudulent activity by a forged signature. A phony signature is used by some to accuse a person with false allegations. Thus, forging signatures is considered unlawful in Islam.

Islam and the Status of the Signature

To what extent does the Shariah (islamic law) value the signature?

It is obvious that a signature gains reliability. The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) himself had placed a seal on letters, in place of a signature. If it had been of no value, he (peace and blessings upon him) would not have had a seal stamped on letters.

Execution of Matters Through a Signature

Can a signature or endorsed name be presented as strong evidence in terms of law suits and contentious issues?

The writer is of the opinion that ‘cmes’ for which the Islamic law has clearly prescribed penal ordinances, if the required witnesses are not produced or in a case where the criminal did not make a confession, the judge may not execute any form of a punishment upon the criminal, relying only on the grounds of a mere signature.

For financial matters or other similar transactions, the signature can be considered to bear as evidence, just as circumstantial evidence is considered for administering justice. Islamic jurists (fuqahaa) have recognized title deeds and written contracts as evidence. Similar rules may be applied to the signature. If the qadhi (judge) finds such facts that show reliability of the signature, then, the written bond will be deemed reliable. The Qur’an also instructs believers to make written agreements while conducting business transactions, as follows:

“O you who believe, when you transact a debt payable at a specified time, put it in writing, and let a scribe write it between you with fairness”. (Holy Qur’an 2:282)

The verse quoted above indicates the authenticity of the signature. Qadhi Farhun Maliki, a famous scholar of Islamic law opines that judgment may be delivered on the basis of a written deed witness. (Tabsirah-Al-Hukkaam) – Thus, the Islamic law regards deeds and contracts with signatures on them to be reliable and authentic unless there be a strong doubt of fraud or sham apparent in them.

Etiquettes of Signing

Regarding etiquettes of the signature, one must sign precisely on the space below the last line of the document. The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) placed his seal at the bottom of the last line. Signatures or seals fundamentally indicate the end of the document. Hence, the writer would not certify to what is added beyond it. The word ‘seal’ mentioned in the Qur’an indicates the ‘ending’ of the chain of prophet-hood.

Thumb Impression, Fingerprint, Stamp, Logo & Letterhead

The above specified rules also apply to thumb impressions, fingerprints, stamps, logos and letterheads.

This fact is certain that a stamp or letterhead runs a greater risk of forgery and fraud. Their imitation may be easier, whereas forging signatures may be more difficult. As for fingerprints and thumb impressions, Allah Almighty has created each person’s fingerprints on the skin different to another. Imitation of thumb impressions or fingerprints is seemingly impossible. Thus thumb impressions can be placed on very important valuable deeds or written contracts along with one’s signature, for added security.

Judging People’s Nature Through Their Signatures

It is generally said, ‘action reflect one’s covert temperament or nature’. Some believe if a person usually walks hurriedly, it is understood that he may be a person of quick temper.

Some claim the style of handwriting may denote one’s inner nature. Psychologists believe signatures reflect one’s inner nature as well. Signatures vary person to person. We see people writing signatures like flower drawings while others resemble swords or weapons. The reality of the matter is that we must realize that this perception is mere conjecture not a true standard to judge the correct nature or character of a person. This will otherwise open a door to misconception, as there are many who style their own signatures similar to that of their favourite personalities or icons.

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