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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
"And swallow not up your property among yourselves by
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
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
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
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
I want to tell another interesting story and close this lesson
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
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!