25 September 2008
By Dr Syed Bashir Ahmad
A Muslim trader should not hide or cover up the defects and drawbacks of his merchandise and highlight its merits and advantages in an exaggeratory manner so that the deluded customers pay a price higher than what is really reasonable. This is known as swindling and the Prophet (PBUH) has said about this: ‘He who swindles is not from amongst us’ Islamic morals have their reach and impact on financial and economic affairs too, whether in production or in distribution or in delivery or in consumption.
In his famous book, Gateway to Knowledge about Islam, Shaikh Yusuf al Qaradhawi says, economy cannot grow, as some may want, without checks and balances, without being pegged to values or without adherence to ideals.
A Muslim is not supposed to produce whatever he may want without being concerned whether it is harmful, materially or morally, to his fellow human beings even though he was to gain heavily and profit profoundly from that production.
Cultivation of tobacco, hashish or other narcotic plants and production of harmful substances may lead to hefty material returns, but Islam prohibits its believers from trying to earn and gain from
loss and damage of others. Transformation of grape juice into wine may lead to high earnings and ensure high returns to vineyard owners and wine producers, but Islam demeans such gains against the immense wrongs caused and enormous harms inflicted by alcohol on minds, bodies and morals, manifested in the form of decadence and deterioration in the lives of individuals, families and groups.
The Quran says:
“They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit...”.( Al Quran: Al Baqarah: 219) Even in exchange of merchandise, a Muslim must not take buying and selling of wine, pork, dead meat or idols as his trade, nor should he sell something to someone whom he knows will use it in evil deeds, depravity or causing damage and harm to others. For instance, one cannot sell grape juice or even grapes to someone who is known to use these for preparing wine; one cannot sell arms to someone who is known to murder the innocent or to use them for brutality and aggression.
A Hadeeth of the Prophet (PBUH) puts it thus: “When Allah forbade something, He forbade its price too; whoever withholds grapes during harvesting season to sell it later on to a Jew or a Christian or to whoever transmutes grapes to wine — ie even if it was to a Muslim, surely he deliberately plunges himself into hellfire.” A Muslim cannot monopolistically hoard foodstuff or similar (basic) items needed by the people with the intention of selling it for twice or more of its price. Authentic Hadeeth states it thus: “No one other than a wrongdoer (ie sinner) hoards monopolistically.” Allah, the Exalted says:
A Muslim trader should not hide or cover up the defects and drawbacks of his merchandise and highlight its merits and advantages in an exaggeratory manner, as is normally done through present-day advertising, so that the deluded customers pay a price higher than what is really reasonable. This is known as swindling and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has said about this: “He who swindles is not from amongst us.” In distribution and possession of wealth also, it is not lawful for a Muslim to possess wealth through wicked means. He is not permitted to acquire through aggression nor by deceit what he otherwise does not deserve.
For this reason, Allah has prohibited usury, gambling, devouring of people’s possessions by false pretences, all forms of unfairness, harming and undue Impairment of all sorts. As far as consumption is concerned, Islam has not let the reigns free for a believer, so that he could spend according to his whims and fancies without being concerned about the interests of his own self and the interests of his family and his nation. It has rather restrained it by moderation and temperance. The Quran reads: “Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard’s) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute”. (Al Quran: Al Isra’ : 29)
“… eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters”. (Al Quran: Al A’raf : 31) It has deplored extravagance and indulgence in luxuries and vain pleasures. It has prohibited all of sybaritic manifestations, like using utensils of gold and silver, and barred their use for men as well as for women. Similarly, it has forbidden wearing of gold and silk for men. All these guiding principles characterise and distinguish the Islamic Economy with the great peculiarity of being “ethical economy”. Many of the fair-minded scholars and honest researchers confirm this reality.
French writer Jacques Austeroi, writes in his book, Islam and Economic Development (Translated to Arabic by Dr Nabil Taweel): “Islam is simultaneously a system of practical life and of idealistic moral values. As these two aspects are interlinked and inseparable, we can say that secular economy is unacceptable to Muslims. Economy that derives its strength from Quranic revelation must certainly be an ethical economy. “These moral values are capable of redefining the concept of ‘value’ and to fill the intellectual void that is on the verge of emergence as a result of the mechanism of industrialisation.
He has denounced the harmful consequences of development of the depraved industrial civilisation in the west. Economy today faces threat arising from domination of ‘values of appetite’ over the genuine values. The West has started comprehending harmful consequences of the economic trends leading towards an unstable world, wherein man finds himself suddenly terminated from his job; wherein machines have become the master; wherein there is extremism in gaining possession of luxuries, like cars; wherein the attention is focused on absurd things. “The West never bothered to decelerate the enmity of machines towards the humans, although they occupy an important place in today’s civilisation.
“This convergence of morality and economy has not been out of the blue in Islam, the faith that knows no schism between materiality and spirituality. (Those who may be interested in extensive details on this subject may refer to my book The Role of Values and Morals in Islamic Economy (Pages: 440/ Published by Maktabat Wahbah — Cairo). If we examine the functional reality, we shall find the effects of this conjugation of economy and ethics very lucid and deep rooted in history of the Muslims, especially when Islam was the foremost influencing factor in their lives and the master pilot of their activity and behaviour.