Swearing produces ready sale but …
March 25, 2011
The relationship between Islam and trade is not appreciated by the West as well as the Muslims. The Western perception holds that Islam spread through the sword though it spread mostly through trade and business. It were merchants, not soldiers, who were mainly responsible for the spread of Islam throughout the world. The rise of Islamic civilization contributed to the progress of economic development and economic theory. The early Muslims were not only engaged in trade, but they also went to distant lands in connection with business. Islam in fact reached East and West Africa and East Asia through the businessmen. From the seventh to the ninth centuries C.E. the Arabs maintained flourishing trade centers. They gained control over the spice trade around 960 B.C.E. and continued domination until 1100 C.E.
In fact Islam is the only major world religion founded by a businessman – Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was a very honest and successful businessman. He hailed from a family that was involved in commercial and trading enterprises. Before the prophethood he was very much involved in business. Makkah was the trade center of Arabia. Caravans from Syria and Yemen used to pass by Makkah. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) joined in these caravans. Historians report that he travelled to Syria, Yemen and Bahrain and many other places in Arabia in these caravans. Some historians have also suggested that he probably traveled to Iraq and Habasha in Africa.
From his early age he was involved in trade, which earned him the reputation of being hardworking, honest, truthful and a very successful businessman. It was due to this reputation that a rich lady of Makkah, Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) hired him to work for her business. He made several business travels for her and was very successful. She was impressed with his work as well as his great personality and proposed marriage to him. After his marriage to Khadija, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) continued his work and made several business journeys to different parts of Arabia.
Ancient Arabia used to have commercial fairs in almost all major towns and regions; it is probable that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) visited some of these commercial fairs. After becoming the prophet of God, his business activities decreased, but still now and then he used to involve himself in some business transactions.
Before him, Prophet Shu’aib (peace be upon him) was a great Prophet of Allah. He was sent to the people of Madyan closer to the time of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him). Prophet Shu’aib (peace be upon him) was sent among a people who were very much involved in business. They were very proud of their business knowledge and success, but they were dishonest. He told them to observe ethics in business. They became very angry with him and told him, “Don’t mix religion with business.”
84. To the Madyan (Midian) people (We sent) their brother Shu'aib. He said: "O my people! Worship Allah, you have no other Ilah (God) but Him, and give not short measure or weight, I see you in prosperity; and verily I fear for you the torment of a Day encompassing.
85. And O my people! Give just measure and weight in justice and reduce not the things that are due to the people, and do not commit mischief in the land, causing corruption.
86. That which is left by Allah for you (after giving the rights of the people) is better for you, if you are believers. And I am not set over you as a guardian.
87. They said: "O Shu'aib! Does your Salat (prayer) (i.e. the prayers which you offer has spoiled your mind, so you) command that we leave off what our fathers used to worship, or that we leave off doing what we like with our property? Verily, you are the forbearer, right-minded!” (They said this sarcastically).
88. He said: "O my people! Tell me, if I have a clear evidence from my Lord, and He has given me a good sustenance from Himself (shall I corrupt it by mixing it with the unlawfully earned money). I wish not, in contradiction to you, to do that which I forbid you. I only desire reform so far as I am able, to the best of my power. And my guidance cannot come except from Allah, in Him I trust and unto Him I repent.”(Hud 11:84-88)
The Qur’an tells us that Allah’s punishment came upon those people and only Prophet Shu’aib (peace be upon him) and his followers were saved.
Ibn 'Abbas said, "Prophet Da'ud, was a maker of coats of mail and shields, Adam was a farmer, Nuh a carpenter, Idris a tailor, and Moses a shepherd.''(peace be upon them).
It is an undeniable fact that before the advent of Islam the Arabs were recognized as a trading nation because economic activities were of utmost importance to them. Since Makkah was a barren land and unfit for cultivation, the economic life of the Arabs of Makkah revolved around trading. They were mostly involved in export and import. They exported their own goods to all the surrounding countries and imported their goods to their own cities. For this purpose, their commercial caravans used to travel to Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Ethiopia etc. The importance of their trade caravans can be assessed by the fact that the Holy Qur'an has revealed a full Surah (Al-Quraish) to denote that their business towards Yemen in winter and towards Syria in summer were a blessing from Allah on account of their services to Kabah.
(And with all those Allah’s Grace and Protections for their taming, We cause) the (Quraish) caravans to set forth safe in winter (to the south), and in summer (to the north without any fear), (Quraish 106:2)
It is interesting to note that Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) hijra from Makkah to Yasrab (later Medina) was paved by local traders who had been engaged for quite some time in a commercial relationship with the community in Makkah. Abu Huraira narrated: “You people say that Abu Huraira tells many narrations from Allah's Apostle and you also wonder why the emigrants and Ansar do not narrate from Allah's Apostle as Abu Huraira does. My emigrant brothers were busy in the market while I used to stick to Allah's Apostle content with what fills my stomach; so I used to be present when they were absent and I used to remember when they used to forget, and my Ansari brothers used to be busy with their properties and I was one of the poor men of Suffa. I used to remember the narrations when they used to forget.” (Bukhari).
The bulk of Makkah’s population consisted of merchants, brokers and bankers. The first three caliphs were also merchants. Abu Bakr and Usman were drapers. Umar is reported to have been a corn-dealer. Among the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) we find skilled traders as well as craftsmen, farmers, and every other kind of professional person and worker. Each of the companions loved the noble Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) from the depths of his being; he wished nothing more than to be in his company and disliked nothing more than being parted from him. Yet we find that each of them was busy with his work, this one journeying over the earth on a business trip, that one working in his palm-grove and farm, and yet another busy with his craft. The Ansar (people of Madinah) were, by and large, farmers and growers of date-palms, while the majority of the Immigrants from Makkah (Muhajireen) were engaged in trade and business.
'Abdur Rahman bin 'Auf, the Muhajir, and Sa'd ibn al-Rabi', the Ansar were made brothers-in-Allah by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) when the Muslims of Makkah migrated Medina. S'ad, welcoming in all sincerity said to him: “Allah has been very Kind and Generous to me and I am the richest man among the people of Al-Madinah. At present I have two big orchards and I have two wives. You can choose any of the two gardens for yourself and I will transfer it to you your name. And I will divorce one of my wives, so that after her period of Iddat you can marry her. Since you are my brother in religion, it is my religious and social duty to look after your needs”
'Abdur Rahman’s pride and self-respect could not allow him to accept the offer. He said to Sa’d: “May Allah Almighty bless you with greater prosperity in your possessions and your family and children. May you enjoy your wealth. Just show me the way to the market. I will earn my own livelihood, I do not like to burden anyone.”
'Abdur Rahman bin Auf then went to the Bani Qaynqa' Market and started his own business and was blessed with prosperity and wealth. 'Abdur Rahman bin Auf says that in business Allah Almighty gave him prosperity and wealth beyond his wildest dreams. If he picked up even a stone it turned into gold and silver in his hands.
In addition to his business ventures, 'Abdur Rahman bin Auf entered into the field of agriculture on a very large scale. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) allotted to him a huge agricultural farm in Khaiber, and using his own resources as well as he bought extensive agricultural lands. He had twenty camels just to transport water to irrigate the fields in Jaraf.
When seven hundred camels loaded with grains entered Medina, the whole city vibrated. Mother of the believers Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) asked what was this unusual rustling sound and what had caused it. She was informed that it was due to the seven hundred camels of 'Abdur Rahman bin Auf with their trading goods, entering the city all together. On hearing this Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said that she had heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say that 'Abdur Rahman bin Auf wound enter Paradise ‘leaping and jumping’ i.e. with ease.
'Abdur Rahman bin Auf continued his trading activity until he became one of the wealthiest men among the Muslims, leaving behind a huge estate when he died. For his four wives he left eighty thousand dinar; huge bricks of gold that were part of his assets not in use were cut and distributed among his heirs. Besides this he left behind a thousand camels, a hundred horses and a herd of three thousand goats.
Outside of Mecca and Medina, trade was the foremost concern. It is reported by Ibn 'Abbas that 'Ukaz, Majanna and Dhul-Majaz were market-places in the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. When Islam came, Muslims felt that marketing there might be a sin. Al-Bukhari reported that the Muslims were reluctant to do business during the hajj, fearing that this might compromise the sincerity of their intentions or the purity of their worship. So, the Divine Inspiration came:
“There is no sin on you if you seek the Bounty of your Lord (during pilgrimage by trading, etc).” (Al-Baqarah. 2:198)
Commercial activity therefore, is unquestionably one of the benefits of hajj.
Islam in fact reached East and West Africa, East Asia through the business people. The Islamic heartland straddles the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe and was central to all trade routes. Routes to and from southern Africa and Europe passed through African Islamic lands. Routes to and from China/southeast Asia to Europe passed through key Islamic territory, as did similar routes leading to India. The region, therefore, already had an advantage in the trade industry. As Islam continued fortifying itself, Arabs were becoming more and more involved in trading. The actual process of trading began with spices because they were not bulky, perishable, or breakable and therefore could be carried/traded over long distances easily.
Islam permits and in fact encourages business sans usury.
“…whereas Allah has permitted trading and forbidden Riba (usury)….” (Al-Baqarah 2: 275).
Islam urges the Muslims to engage in trade and commerce and to even undertake journeys in order to seek the bounty of Allah. In fact, Allah mentions those who travel for the purpose of trade side by side with those who fight in His cause:
“…others seeking Allah’s Bounty; yet others fighting in Allah’s Cause....” (Al-Muzzammil 73:20)
The Muslims are enjoined to "spread over the land and seek the abundance of God."
“Then when the (Jumu’ah) Salat (prayer) is finished, you may disperse through the land, and seek the Bounty of Allah (by working, etc), and remember Allah much, that you may be successful.”(Al-Jumu’ah 62:10)
Islam entails a proper balance between commercialism and humanitarianism, and between profit and social responsibility. Islam therefore, offers a perfect solution to the current problems of profiteering, consumer exploitation, irresponsible corporate governance and environmental degradation. Islamic business also strengthens economic justice and enhances business harmony. A number of important business principles such as principle of minimum wage for employees, basic consumerism principles such as the right of buyers to return purchased goods, the principle of venture capital, etc were introduced by Islam more than fourteen centuries ago.
The Prophet’s (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) teachings on business and economic issues are many and they cover almost every aspect of business and economics. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) emphasized that honesty and kind dealings with customers are the secrets of success in business. He said, “The truthful and honest merchant is associated with the Prophets, the upright and the martyrs” (Tirmidhi).
He also said, may Allah forgive any omission and commission: God shows mercy to a person who is kindly when he sells, when he buys and when he makes a claim (Bukhari).
As in earliest times, doubts were frequently expressed as to which classes of merchandise could be excluded from trade, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) instructed to exclude only three classes of merchandise:
Anything which is not one's own property cannot be sold. [Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal].
Things that are considered to be ritually unclean (which specifically include wine & swine etc.), are, of course, unmarketable. [loc. cit.]
Water-the sale of water is forbidden. [Ibn Maja, Ruhun, because it is, together with air, an article of common use.
Islam, however, condemns hoarding to make high profits at the cost of public interest. Islam does not allow making profit by withholding the commodity from the market so that it becomes scarce. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "If anyone withholds goods until the price rises he is a sinner" (Muslim).
It is unlawful to hoard food and other basic necessities. Everyone should take what they need and no more.
"And let those who covetously withhold of that which Allah has bestowed on them of His Bounty (Wealth) think that it is good for them (and so they do not pay the obligatory Zakat).Nay, it will be worse for them; the things which they covetously withheld shall be tied to their necks like a collar, on the Day of Resurrection. And to Allah belongs the heritage of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." (Al-Imran 3:180)
The withholding of grain for 40 days out of a desire of high price is prohibited in Islam (Ahmed, Hakim etc).
Islam encourages establishment of industry. However, manufacturing and trading of prohibited goods is prohibited. Establishment of necessary industry is a communal obligation. In fact it is an obligation on the Muslim community as a whole. Such obligations are termed "the obligations of sufficiency" (fard kifiyah). Some people must establish necessary industry otherwise all people would be treated as sinners in that the community as a whole as they neglected an obligation causing suffering to the people. The Muslim must develop such industries, crafts, and professions as are essential for the life of a community, for the strength of a free and powerful nation, and for the posterity and wealth of a country. If there is a shortage of qualified persons in some field of essential science or industry, the entire Muslim community is blameworthy, especially those in positions of authority.
The importance of industry can be gauged from the fact that a whole chapter of the Quran has been named AI-Hadid which means Iron.
"… And We brought forth iron wherein is mighty power(in matters of war), as well as many benefits for mankind, that Allah may test who it is that will help Him (His religion), and His Messengers in the unseen….” (AI-Hadid 57: 25).
Fraud in business dealings is also prohibited in Islam. Deceiving others by withholding full measure is also prohibited. The Qur’an emphasizes on giving of full measure.
"…And give full measure and (full) weight in justice…." (Al-An’am 6:1 52).
Be strict in regard to weights and measures. “When a people cheat in weight and measures, their provision is cut off from them” (Al-Muwatt). The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) told the owners of measures and weights: “You have been entrusted with affairs over which some nations before you were destroyed” (Al-Tirmidhi).
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:"It is not permissible to sell an article without making everything clear nor is it permissible for anyone who knows (about its defects) to refrain from mentioning them" (Baihaqi).
He further said: "Sell the good and bad separately. He who deceives is not of us" (Muslim, Ahmed).
The sin of fraud is greater if the seller supports it by swearing falsely. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "Swearing produces ready sale but blots out blessing" (Bukhari).
The reward for one who is engaged in work/business activity can be determined from Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) who reports that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that “Whosoever in the evening is exhausted through his work, has all his sins forgiven by that evening.”