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Lesson 36

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Lesson - 36


"And swallow not up your property among yourselves by false means, nor seek to gain access thereby to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the property of men wrongfully while you know." Ch. 2:188

Quranic expression an example of true eloquence

The commandments regarding fasting, which we discussed in the previous lessons, are contained in the seven verses of Al Baqarah, that immediately precede the verse of this lesson. A sign of the literary eloquence of the Holy Quran is that it expresses with a few simple words a great depth of meaning encompassing a great variety of subjects. This is true eloquence, in contrast with the commonly held misconception that eloquence means expressing a single idea with numerous difficult and complicated words. Such words may be pleasant sounding to the ears because of their rhythm, but other than fooling a few simple people, and soliciting their praise for the speaker, they serve no other useful purpose. The verse quoted above has compacted a great depth of knowledge within its few words. Let us see how this is.

In the verses discussed in the last few lessons, we learned that fasting brings under control man's animal desires of eating, drinking and sexual appetite, and thus the animal within man is restrained. This is similar to the deprivation techniques used to train wild animals to become obedient. This discipline enables man to guard against evil (taqwa). Without it, the animal within man which like the animals on the outside abhors restraint, can lead him to exceed the limitations laid down by Allah and thus get him involved in sin and misery. One difference, however, between man and animal is that, where as an animal does not require money to fulfill the three basic urges mentioned above, man does need it to get married, and to buy food and drink.

Divine philosophy of the creation of wealth

Wealth was created by Allah to be a means of subsistence for mankind, as stated in the verse:

"Your property which Allah has made a (means of) support for you" (4:5).
We can observe that the conduct of daily activities of man's life is based upon wealth which is essential to meet his needs. In order to maintain the struggle for acquisition of wealth, God has also created in man, the desire for food, drink and marital relationship. This leads to a more determined and keen effort on his part, thus leading to a better fruitful outcome of his undertakings. The only problem is that, the desire to earn wealth, like the other desires does not stay restrained, but becomes excessive. Referring to this the Holy Quran has warned mankind in the following words:

"And you love wealth with exceeding love" (89:20).
Within limits, the love for wealth is harmless. If, however, this love exceeds the limits, it makes man commit all those sins, and excesses which have always been a source of grief for humanity. These excesses appear to be getting worse, because the limitations that every religion has placed on the love of wealth have been shattered, and religion no longer exerts the control over mankind that it once did. What are the limitations on the acquisition of wealth set by the Divine Being?

False means of accumulating wealth

The verse of the Holy Quran quoted in the beginning of this lesson tells us about these limitations on acquisition of wealth. The verse states:

"And swallow not up your property among yourselves by false means."
The Holy Quran is such an amazing book that every word of it, even a part of a word, contains a treasure of wisdom and knowledge. This Divine command could have been stated simply in the words:

"And swallow not up property by false means."

However, by adding the Arabic word kum ('your') to amwaal ('property'), our attention is drawn to the harsh reality. It tells us that the wealth one consumes dishonestly really belongs to someone else. All dishonest means for the acquisition of wealth are included in this definition. It would be useful to learn the meaning of the Arabic word baatil (bil-baatili — 'by false means') at this point. Baatil means the opposite of truth i.e., falsehood. Use or consumption of anything that does not rightfully belong to a person, is falsehood. Thus wealth acquired by means of stealing, armed robbery, murder, embezzlement, fraud, inappropriate expenditure, bribery, profiteering, adulteration, black-marketing, smuggling, or anything obtained by breaking a Divine commandment, or the law of the land is unlawful (haram), and man has no right over it.

Some religious individuals may agree that following Allah and His messenger is required, but they may question the necessity of following the law of the land? The answer to this question is, "yes, it is one's duty to do so." If the situation arises that the law of a certain country is contrary to the law laid down by Allah, then such a matter must be decided in accordance with the Holy Quran, and the Hadith as stated in this verse:

"O you who believe, obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those in authority from among you; then if you quarrel about any thing, refer it to Allah and the Messenger" (4:59).

Property of an orphan protected by the Holy Quran

All over the world, in every society, the easiest thing to do is to misappropriate the wealth and property of an orphan. An orphan may be a young child, an older boy, or girl, a widow, or anybody without a ward, or guardian. This population is vulnerable because of their age or gender, and people readily consume their wealth without fear of accountability. The Holy Quran has, therefore given repeated injunctions in this matter, to the effect that the property of orphans (which includes children whose fathers have passed away and widows) is a sacred trust and must not be violated by forceful, or deceptive means. I will now quote a few of these verses:

"Those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, they swallow only fire into their bellies. And they will burn in blazing fire."

In connection with giving the orphans their full right in their inheritance, and on completely returning their wealth and property by their ward when they reach maturity, the Holy Quran states:

"And give to the orphans their property, and substitute not worthless (things) for (their) good (ones), and devour not their property (adding) to your own property. This is surely a great sin."

Substituting the property or the wealth of orphans for that of an inferior quality is a sin. Genuine investment by wards with the intention of increasing the wealth of the orphans is permissible. If, however, the intention is to misappropriate the principal or its profits by giving it the sham appearance of a shared venture, then it is a cardinal sin. These are subtle means of dishonestly consuming the wealth of the orphans, who unfortunately are not in a position to fight for, or prove the validity of their claims in the courts. That is why the Holy Quran has given strict injunctions on their account, and has promised severe retribution if their rights are trampled upon. It has warned that Allah is fully Aware of one's intentions and inner thoughts, and sees one's deceitful actions, and that one should fear His retribution.

Injunctions regarding bribery

The verse under discussion also addresses the issue of bribery. This is an illegal way of accumulating wealth which is so common that the condition appears non-remediable. The Holy Quran warns against conspiring with those in position of power in order to consume the wealth of other people unlawfully. The Holy Quran is an amazing Book! It has used the words:

"nor seek to gain access thereby to the judges."
It is usually difficult to reach the judges or those in position of power. Bribery, however, makes this access very easy, and removes all the impediments in the way, such as the doorman, unfamiliarity with the person in position of authority etc. The words of this verse ("nor seek to gain access thereby to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the property of men wrongfully while you know") have been positioned very carefully. If we ponder upon them, the following conclusions can be withdrawn.

1. It is a sin to acquire somene's property or usurp their right by means of bribery.

2. However, if one has to acquire one's own property, or right, and this cannot be accomplished without making a payment to the authority in charge, then there is no harm in making such a payment. This permission, however, is restricted by a very fine line. Great care has to be taken not to cross this boundary, and intentionally infringe upon the rights of others. That is why it is stated, "while you know," that you are going to take over the property, or usurp the right of someone else. This does not diminish the crime of the official who is taking the bribe. The person whose genuine rights or property have been usurped has no recourse but to make payment and get relief from an inequity. He is thereby acquiring his own property and right and not taking away that of another individual. For these very reasons, the Reformer of this age gave a ruling in favor of this justification. I can site several examples where there is no alternative, but to take such a course. For example, a student had passed a certain exam, but his degree got lost. He contacted different people in authority seeking a replacement copy, but every time they tried to intervene on his behalf, the officials soliciting bribes would thwart these efforts with various excuses. In the end by making an extra payment, he was able to obtain his degree, which was rightfully his. Another individual needed to go out of the country on an urgent business. So much delay was created in issuing him a passport that in the end he had to pay someone to get his travel document.

I want to tell another interesting story and close this lesson with it.

In days gone by, a king got smitten with the love of a lowly commoner, a woman of extraordinary beauty. He put her up in the royal palace, and on her insistence employed her brother in a certain branch of the kingdom. This character was so prone to soliciting bribes that wherever the king put him, he caused a public outcry because of his crooked dealings. After becoming extremely frustrated with him, the king told him to just sit on the palace walls and count the waves in the nearby river, for which task he was promised a gratuity. True to his nature, however, this person started intimidating the owners of the riverboats, telling them that they were interfering with his royally deputized task of counting the waves and only the payment of a certain amount of money could guarantee them a hassle free passage.

In relating this story, I had two objectives in mind. Firstly, that bribery has always been around, and secondly despite all efforts by the government, this disease cannot be eradicated. In this day and age, the rising cost of living, and the excessive love of wealth and luxury have led to a serious rise in this crime of greed. I have worked in the government for forty years and on the basis of my information I can state categorically that every government has tried its best in good faith to eradicate this evil. No government, judiciary, law, police department, or anti-corruption squad has succeeded in doing so, despite a lot of good intentions, and a full effort. In this day and age no other society is more affluent, civilized and progressive than the United States. This moral malady exists over there too in all levels of society. The same holds true for Europe. A prime minister of Japan was also involved in a bribery scandal, although it is one of the most affluent countries.

The real reason is, therefore, not poverty, but a lack of fear of God, and the erosion of belief in the day of judgment. It is the duty of parents, teachers, priests and preachers that they should inculcate in the public, belief in the Divine Being and the Hereafter. Only such a belief can eradicate this sickness, for there is no other cure for it. Fasting (the section which also includes this verse), is an effective way of fostering belief in the Living God. Excessive heat, the privacy of one's home, intense thirst and cold refrigerated water or drink are not sufficient to tempt the believer to swallow even a drop of fluid because of the awareness that Allah is watching him. Remaining steadfast in this belief for a whole month helps to cultivate a living faith in a Living God.

There is yet another wisdom in putting this verse together with the injunctions about fasting. It draws one's attention to the fact that after abstaining from even lawful things for a whole month, solely for the compliance of Divine ordinances, it should be unthinkable to consume what is unlawful and prohibited by Divine injunctions at all times. Glory be to Allah! All praise is His! Glory be to Allah the most High! The Holy Quran is a Book full of great Wisdom!

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