Moral Teachings of Islam- Prohibition to Safeguard Property

Summary of 6.19 “Beautification and Behavior”

We had several programs in the last few weeks which covered the main criteria for what is lawful and unlawful which we organized along the five basic purposes of Islamic law: safeguarding faith, life, mind, honor and property.’ We spent several programs discussing the various measures that are suggested in Islamic law to safeguard each of these.’ Today we start the last part of this particular segment of the criteria for lawful and unlawful which is safeguarding property.’ This is one aspect of moral law the other being the appeal to the spiritual quality of the individual.

6.20′ Prohibition to Safeguard Property

Host:’ Can you give us an outline of today’s program?

Jamal Badawi:

We are going to go over what measures are provided by Islamic Law to safeguard property.’ Mainly we are going to cover prohibitions of theft, usury, gambling, cheating, monopoly and waist.

Host:’ What approach is used by Islam to prevent theft?

Jamal Badawi:

There are at least four points we need to remember when dealing with an issue like this.’ The first and most important approach is the spiritual and moral appeal which is the appeal to the individual himself to be God conscious in his/her actions.’ This inculcates in an individual the quality of having a living consciousness which makes theft repulsive to the person’s moral and spiritual sense.

Second, Islam tries to inculcate in the individual the quality of work, the virtue of earning something only after one exerts effort.’ This is done not only done by suggestion to the person but by putting the responsibility on the community or society in general to train the individual so that he can earn an honorable living.

A third thing is that Islam does not work on one side of the equation while leaving the other.’ It works on the individual and on society.’ It makes it incumbent on society to provide an atmosphere where people can live a dignified life.’ In Islamic law the minimum requirement that the state or society is responsible for is to provide sufficient food, clothing, housing and even means of transportation for an individual.’ People are encouraged to work but if they are unable to find work or if the person becomes sick or incapacitated then society would be responsible to look after this person.

Finally, if the person decides (after all the steps above) to disrespect the property of others then the penal law would come into the picture.’ But even the penal law in Islam, whether it deals with theft or other offenses, is not intended as a punitive thing but rather as a last resort.’ Penal law is not applied if there is any doubt which is called in Islamic Law shubha.

Host:’ Can you explain shubha in more detail?

Jamal Badawi:

The English translation for shubha is doubt and does not convey the full meaning because it is a special legal term that is used in Islamic Law. ‘Shubha may partly mean doubt.’ In any crime before penalty can be applied one has to make sure that there is absolutely no doubt that the offense has taken place (dubious evidence can not be applied).’ Shubha can also mean that there was a circumstance that pushed the person to commit the offense and if the circumstance was not there the person would not have carried out the offense.’ If for example a person committed a pity theft, such as stealing a loaf of bread or some food, even if the crime is proven shubha is raised because he could have committed this crime because of hunger.’ I’ll give an example of this during the reign of Omar Ibnul Khatab (the second Kailef after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)) a number of boys were caught stealing a camel.’ They had been working for a man and they stole one of his camels.’ When Omar inquired as to why they did this he found that this man did not feed them or clothe them properly.’ Instead of applying the penalty on the boys he fined the man twice the cost of the camel.’ So even though they are the ones who stole the camel because of the shubha or doubt that he was unjust to them he fined him twice the price of the camel which was stolen.’ This gives a very clear indication that the purpose of penal law in Islam is not punitive but rather a way to provide a just social system where there would be no reason whatsoever to commit theft.’ The penalty is there as a deterrent in case a person disregards the sanctity of the property of other people.

Host:’ What if someone buys something that is stolen?

Jamal Badawi:

If the person knows that the item that is being sold to him is stolen then he shares that responsibility.’ A documentation of this is found in the collection of Bihaki where the Prophet said ‘Whoever bought something which was stolen while knowing that it was stolen then he is a participant in its sin and its shame.” Even if a person doesn’t know if an item is stolen but one has doubt that it might be stolen then it would be better to boy caught it.’ If everyone does this people would be discouraged to commit theft.

Host:’ Could you explain what usury is and how it relates to our topic of safeguarding property?

Jamal Badawi:

The topic of usury is very broad and we will get into it in more detail when we discuss the economic system of Islam.’ Usury is to get anything in access of one’s loan or capital without participating fully in the profit and loss.’ In other words usury is whenever one is guarantied a certain income without participating in the risk.’ This is another term used for interest which is when someone puts their money and is guarantied certain interest rates regardless of whether the enterprise profits or has losses which is forbidden in Islam.’ This is related to the moral teachings in Islam.’ To deal with interest where one doesn’t participate fairly in profit or loss is morally offensive in Islam.’ Islam is not the only faith that considers usury to be a moral offense.’ An example is found in the book of Deuteronomy (chapter 23) when Jesus entered the temple and dismissed those money changes.

On the other hand this relates to safeguarding property in Islam because interest is an unjust system that results in many problems and moral issues in society.’ The availability of borrowing without need encourages people who are not in dyer need to borrow and to buy more than they actually need.’ It induces people to buy more than they actually need and it may induce people to involve themselves in gambling or unreasonably risky enterprises because they can simply borrow the money without feeling the pinch of it being their own money.

However, this doesn’t mean that Islam doesn’t permit investment.’ Investment, which equally shares profits and losses are permissible.’ The only thing that Islam objects to is having fixed interest.’ Other problems such as mortgage rates, about twenty percent these days, and the kind of fluctuation that drives many people out of their homes are issues related to interest.’ There are lots of moral, economic and social problems that result form the interest business.

Host:’ What is the moral basis for prohibiting gambling?

Jamal Badawi:

There is a verse in the Quran that answers this question in (5:90-91) ‘O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.’ Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?’

There are three reasons given why gambling is not permitted.’ First of all, it is rijs or unclean.’ In the Islamic philosophy of earnings, the earnings are not moral when one gambles and wins because the chips where in their favor because one won this money without exerting any effort or participating in a legitimate business.

On the other hand the money that one is taking from the other person is unclean because he lost that money in return for nothing really which is regarded as unjust and unfair.’ When one reflects on the consequence of this illegitimate money exchange one can understand why the verse in the Quran says that it creates enmity and mutual hatred.’ If you lost $5000 to me you would not feel like you were my brother or feel compassion and mutual love that you should feel towards other believers.’ Even if someone says that they took that risk in ones heart there would still be a grudge against the other.

The third reason is that there is a kind of addiction to gambling.’ If one wins their appetite becomes greater and the want to keep wining, if one looses they keep going in an effort to recover their losses.’ One will always keep trying and one is never satisfied with winning or loosing which creates a sense of greed and addiction and that is why the verse mentions that this keeps people away from the remembrance of God and from their prayers.’ In Islam remembrance of God doesn’t just mean acts of worship but also other useful activities and pursuits in life.

Host:’ What does Islam say about government lottery and sweepstakes?

Jamal Badawi:

The question of lottery is clearer because it has all the elements of gambling because a person buys a ticket and they may or may not win.’ The fact that the government whether provincial or federal undertakes the lottery doesn’t make it moral or correct, in fact the government should be a good example by stopping this moral evil by not participating in it.

The question of sweepstakes is hazy because one of the elements of gambling is not present as one is not required to buy anything.’ On the other hand it may resemble free samples that some people present as a gift, and gift taking in Islam is not forbidden.’ The only doubt that I have about the issue of a sweepstake is that if it is a small gift or sample it might be ok but if it is something worth a lot of money it may raise some question about the legality of this money.’ I have no conclusive evidence that says that it is clearly not permissible but I would personally keep away from it as it is one of the hazy areas.

Host:’ How is cheating related to our topic from the standpoint of Islamic Law?

Jamal Badawi:

There are a number of ways which cheating is mentioned in the Quran as well as in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).’ One form of cheating that used to be common is to cheat the person when selling them items by giving them less than what they are paying for.’ This has been forbidden very strongly in the Quran in (6:52), (17:35), (26:181-183) and chapter 83.

Another aspect that relates to cheating during buying and selling is that Islam requires that whenever a person sells something is to make the buyer aware of any defects or deficiencies that might be in the product being sold.’ A quote by the Prophet (PBUH) found in Bukhari, Al Bihaqi and Al Hakim where he says ‘The buyer and seller should mutually follow what they have agreed to.’ If they are truthful and have disclosed all information about the thing they are buying or selling God will bless their transaction.’ If they conceal information then the blessing will be taken away.

Another form of cheating is to give the impression that something is good when it is not.’ In the collection of Muslim there is a saying of the Prophet when he passed by a person who was selling grains.’ So the Prophet (PBUH) stuck his hand in the grains and found that it was wet.’ He asked ‘What is this?” The sails person replied ‘It was raining and part of that grain got wet so I covered it with dry grains.” The Prophet said ‘No you should expose the wet grain so people know what they are buying.’ Be absolutely honest in terms of what you are selling.’

In another incident as narrated in Ahmad the Prophet (PBUH) that was selling food that was a mix of bad quality and good quality.’ The Prophet said ‘No, each one should be sold separately so that people don’t get the impression that it is all of the same quality.” There is also bai’ Il gharar which means selling something that is not clear.’ An example of this is if someone says that they are going to throw their net into the water and they will sell whatever they get or someone says they will sell birds then they go and try to hunt them.’ Even in agriculture one is not supposed to sell the produce of his/her farm till they harvest it or make sure that it did not get eaten by bugs.

Finally, there is also a similar way of cheating called alnajash which the Prophet (PBUH) forbade in Bukhari and Muslim.’ An example of this would be a person who goes to an auction and doesn’t wish to buy an item but bids on it to increase the price for the others which causes them to pay a higher price.

Another thing that is considered to be cheating is if someone is on his way to the market and one comes to him and gets him to sell his product at a lower price than what the items are going for at the market.’ The seller should be allowed to reach the market so that he may find out the going price before he sells his product at a lower rate.

Host:’ What does monopoly refer to in Islamic law?

Jamal Badawi:

Monopoly refers to a number of things including manipulation of prices, creating artificial shortages in order to benefit from it.’ An example of this if people remember in the early 70’s when the price of sugar reached over $5 or more for five pounds of sugar.’ In reality, many companies were implicated by court later on, there was no shortage but companies were simply hording the sugar in order to make it look like there was a shortage so they could make a fast buck.’ This is one aspect of monopoly especially when it deals with the main staples that people need in their day to day lives.’ To withhold basic staples and store them in order to creates shortages and then when the price is high to sell the product is forbidden.’ We are not saying that storing items is forbidden.’ If someone needs to store items in order to regulate consumption over the year it is ok.’ The idea of withdrawing items from the market that people need for the purpose of creating a shortage is regarded as a monopoly.’ The Prophet (PBUH) said that a person who does that is cursed.’ In one Hadith narrated in Ahmad and Hakim he said ‘Whoever monopolizes basic food items for forty days then God will disassociate Himself from him and will be very angry with him.’

Host:’ Could you throw some light on the question of waist?

Jamal Badawi:

As a basic rule in Islam, property is not absolute as we are only trustees and the ultimate and absolute ownership belongs to God.’ This means that we have no right, even if we own property, to squander it or burn it unduly and hurt ourselves and others.’ An example of this is found in the Quran in chapter 4 that allows an Islamic society to put under guardianship for people who lack the power of reasoning even though they own things or might be squandering wealth because they have a sickness in order to safeguard it for their benefit and for the benefit of society.

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