Trade (Price Manipulation, Hoarding, Brokerage, Exploitation and Fraud, Interest, Bribery, etc.)
Halal (Lawful) and Haram (Forbidden)
Islam’s Universal Mercy to Animals
- Spreading Gossip
- The Sacredness of Life
- The Sanctity of the Lives of Allies and Non-Muslim Residents
- The Sanctity of Property
- Racial and Color Discrimination
Prayers, Supplications, and Remembrance of God
Supplications and Remembrance of God
- What Is Sin?
- The Major Sins (al-Kaba’ir)
Halal (Lawful) and Haram (Forbidden) 1
Halal is a Qur’anic term that means permitted, allowed, lawful, or legal. Its opposite is haram (forbidden, unlawful or illegal). Determining what is halal and haram is one matter that, prior to the advent of Islam, over which the peoples of the world were very far astray and utterly confused. Thus, they permitted many impure and harmful things and forbade many things that were good and pure.
They erred grievously, either going far to the right or the left. On the extreme right was India’s ascetic Brahmanism and Christianity’s self-denying monasticism. In addition, other religions were based on mortifying the flesh, abstaining from good food, and avoiding other enjoyments of life that God has provided for humanity. On the extreme left was Persia’s Mazdak philosophy, which advocated absolute freedom and allowed people to take whatever they wanted and to do whatever they pleased. It even exhorted them to violate what is naturally held inviolable.
When Islam came, the errors, confusion, and deviations with respect to halal and haram were widespread. One of Islam’s initial accomplishments was, therefore, to establish certain legal principles and measures for rectifying this situation. These principles were made the determining criteria on which defining halal and haram were based. Thus this vital aspect was determined according to the correct perspective, and the related rules were established on the basis of such principles as justice, morality, righteousness, and perfect goodness. As a result, the Muslim community occupied a position between the extreme deviations mentioned above and was described by God as a middle community, the best community that has ever been brought forth for humanity (3:110).
- The first principle is that all that God has created and the benefits derived from them are for humanity’s use are permissible. Nothing is haram except what is forbidden by a sound and explicit nass (i.e., either a Qur’anic verse or a clear, authentic, and explicit sunna [practice or saying] of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. These are the two main sources of Islamic law.).
- In Islam, the sphere of forbidden things is very small, while that of permissible things is vast. In relation to acts of worship, the principle is limitation: Nothing can be legislated in this regard except what God Himself has legislated. But as far as living habits are concerned, the principle is freedom, because nothing can be restricted in this regard except what God Himself and the Messenger, as based upon His Revelation, have forbidden. No rabbi, priest, king, or sultan has the right to forbid something permanently to God’s servants. The Qur’an took to task the People of the Book (the Christians and Jews) for giving their priests and rabbis the power to make things and actions lawful or forbidden.
‘Adiy ibn Hatim, who was a Christian before accepting Islam, once came to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. When he heard him reciting:
The Jews take their scholars (teachers of law), and the Christians take their monks, as well as the Messiah, son of Mary, for Lords beside God, whereas they were commanded to worship none but the One God. There is no deity but He. Glory be to Him, that He is infinitely exalted above that they associate partners with Him (9:31),
he said, “O Messenger of God, but they do not worship them.” The Messenger replied, “Yes, but they forbid to the people what is halal and permit them what is haram, and the people obey them. This is indeed their worship of them.” (Tirmidhi, “Tafsir,” HN: 3292)
- One of Islam’s beauties is that it forbids only that which is unnecessary, harmful, and discardable (useless and unwanted), while providing alternatives that are better and give greater ease and comfort. For example: God forbids seeking omens by drawing lots, but provides the alternative of istikhara. Islam teaches that Muslims facing a problem should consult other Muslims and seek God’s guidance. Istikhara means to ask for God’s guidance in choosing between two conflicting decisions. For this there is a salat and a du‘a (a supplication for guidance). He forbids usury but encourages profitable trade; forbids (to men) the wearing of silk, but gives them the choice of wool, linen, cotton, and so on; forbids adultery, fornication, and homosexuality, but encourages lawful marriage; forbids intoxicating drinks but provides other delicious drinks that are wholesome for the body and mind; and forbids unclean food but provides alternative wholesome food.
Thus, when we survey all of Islam’s injunctions, we find that if God limits His servants’ choice in some matters, He provides them with a still wider range of more wholesome alternatives. Assuredly, God has no will to make peoples’ lives difficult, narrow, and circumscribed; on the contrary; He wills ease, goodness, guidance, and mercy for them.
Another Islamic principle is that whatever leads to something that is forbidden is also forbidden. In this way, Islam intends to block all avenues leading to what is haram. For example, Islam forbids extramarital sex as well as anything that leads to it or makes it attractive (e.g., seductive clothing, private meetings and casual mixing between men and women, depicting nudity, pornography, obscene songs, and so on).
Just as Islam forbids whatever leads toward the haram, it forbids resorting to technical legalities in order to do what is haram by devious means and excuses. For example, God forbade the Jews to hunt on the Sabbath (Saturday). To get around this, they would dig ditches on Friday so that the fish would fall into them on Saturday and be caught on Sunday. Those who resort to rationalizations and excuses to justify their actions consider such practices permissible. However, Muslim jurists consider them haram, since God’s purpose was to prevent them from hunting on the Sabbath, whether by direct or indirect means.
Renaming a haram thing or changing its form while retaining its essence is a devious tactic, since both actions are of no consequence as long as the thing and its essence remain unchanged. Thus, when some people invent new terms in order to deal in usury or to consume alcohol, the sin of dealing in usury and drinking remains. As we read in the Traditions: “A group of people will make peoples’ intoxication halal by giving it other names” and: “A time will come when people will devour usury, calling it ‘trade."
In all of its legislation and moral injunctions, Islam emphasizes the nobility of feelings, loftiness of aims, and purity of intentions. Indeed, in Islam, having a good intention transforms life’s routine matters and mundane affairs into acts of worship and devotion to God. Accordingly, if one eats food with the intention of sustaining life and strengthening one’s body so that he or she can fulfill his or her obligations to the Creator and other people, eating and drinking are considered worship and devotion to the Al-mighty. If one enjoys sexual intimacy with his or her spouse, desiring a child and seeking to keep both spouses chaste, it is considered an act of worship that deserves a reward in the Hereafter.
When Muslims perform a permissible action along with a good intention, the action becomes an act of worship. But the case of the haram is entirely different: It remains haram no matter how good the intention, how honorable the purpose, or how lofty the aim may be. Islam can never consent to employing a haram means to achieve a praiseworthy end. Indeed, it insists that both the aim and the means chosen to attain it must be honorable and pure. “The end justifies the means” has no place in Islam.
It is God’s mercy to people that He did not leave them in ignorance concerning what is lawful and forbidden. Indeed, He has made these matters very clear. Accordingly, one may do what is lawful and must avoid what is forbidden insofar as one has the choice to do so. However, there is a gray area of doubt between the clearly halal and the clearly haram. Some people may not be able to decide whether a particular matter is permissible or forbidden, either because of doubtful evidence or of doubt concerning the text’s applicability to the circumstance or matter in question. In such cases, Islam considers it an act of piety to avoid doing what is doubtful in order to stay clear of doing something haram.
In Islam, the haram has universal applicability, for that which is forbidden to a non-Arab cannot be permitted to an Arab, or that is restricted for a black person cannot be allowed to a white person. Islam contains no privileged classes or individuals who, in the name of religion, can do whatever they please according to their whims. No Muslim can forbid something to others but allow it for himself or herself, for God is the Lord of all and Islam is the guide for all. Whatever God has legislated through the religion He has sent for humanity is lawful for all people, and whatever He has forbidden is forbidden to all people until the Day of Resurrection.
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Eating and Drinking
The following products are definitely lawful: Milk (from cows, sheep, and goats), honey, fish, plants that do not intoxicate, fresh or naturally frozen vegetables, fresh or dried fruits; legumes and nuts (e.g., peanuts, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts), and grains (e.g., wheat, rice, rye, barley, oats). Such animals as cows, sheep, goats, deer, geese, chickens, ducks, and game birds are lawful, but they must be sacrificed according to Islamic rites before being eaten.
Sacrificing animals in the Islamic manner (zabiha) and following Islam’s dietary rules are excellent ways to avoid certain diseases. Sacrificing is done to ensure the meat’s quality and to avoid any microbial contamination. Lawful animals must be offered in such a way that all of the blood is drained from the animal’s body.
The Islamic method of sacrificing an animal is to cut its throat, so that the blood runs out and does not congeal in the veins. Thus, animals that have been strangled, beaten to death, or died in a fight or accident cannot be eaten. One who sacrifices the animal must be a mature sane Muslim, who sacrifices it while reciting Bismi’llah (In God’s Name) with a sharp device and without severing it. The animal must be completely dead before it is skinned.
A product is considered haram if it has any contact with, or contains anything from:
- Pigs, dogs, donkeys, and carnivorous animals (e.g., bears and lions).
- Reptiles and insects that are considered ugly or filthy (e.g., worms, lice, flies, and cockroaches).
- Animals killed by strangulation, a blow to the head (clubbing), a headlong fall, natural causes (carrion), or being gored or attacked by another animal. Fish are exempted from this class. When the Messenger was asked about the sea, he replied: “Its water is pure and its dead are halal.”
- All animals, except fish, that are not sacrificed according to Islamic rules.
- Alcohol, harmful substances, and poisonous and intoxicating plants or drinks (e.g., hashish, opium, and contemporary drugs, whether natural or chemical).
- Animals with protruding canine teeth (e.g., monkeys, and cats, lions).
- Amphibians (e.g., frogs, crocodiles, and turtles).
- Animals slaughtered for worship of, or in the name of, that which is not God.
- Scorpions, centipedes, rats, and similar animals.
- Animals that are forbidden to be killed (e.g., bees).
Birds with talons (e.g., owls and eagles).
- Any meat that has been cut off of a live animal.
- Animals won in a bet or a game of chance.
- Food additives whose raw materials are forbidden and produced through a process incompatible with Islam.
- Such impurities as dogs and pigs, alcohol, dead bodies not killed according to Islamic principles (except fish), blood, human and animal urine and waste matter, parts obtained from stillliving animals (except for wool, hair, horns, and so on), and the milk of animals that cannot be eaten (e.g., donkeys, cats, and pigs).
Jurists differ over whether some of the forbidden food substances can be used as medicine. Some do not classify medicine as a “compelling necessity” like food based upon the following hadith: “Assuredly God did not provide a cure for you in what He has forbidden to you.” Others consider the need for medicine equal to that of food, for both are necessary for preserving life. However, they maintain that any medicine containing a haram substance is permissible only under the following conditions: If the patient’s life is endangered if the medicine is not taken; if there is no entirely halal alternative or substitute medication available; and if the medication is prescribed by a Muslim physician who is both knowledgeable and God-conscious.
Hunting and Game Animals
- For game animals to be lawful, the hunter must be a Muslim or a member of the People of the Book. A Muslim cannot hunt while in the state of ihram.
- The hunter should not hunt merely for sport, meaning that he or she kills animals but has no intention to eat them or to otherwise benefit from them.
- The weapon should pierce the animal’s body, making a wound, for death by impact (e.g., hitting a deer with a car) does not make it halal.
- The hunter must say Bismi’llah when hurling or striking with the weapon, or dispatching the hunting animal.
- If a dog, a falcon, or a similar animal is used, it should be a trained animal and catch the game animal only for its owner.
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Khamr, translated as intoxicants, signifies any alcoholic drink that causes intoxication. Humanity has been afflicted with no greater calamity than alcohol. If statistics were collected worldwide of all the patients in hospitals who, due to alcohol, suffer from mental disorders, delirium tremens, nervous breakdowns, and digestive ailments and added to those collected worldwide regarding the suicides, homicides, bankruptcies, sales of properties, and broken homes related to alcohol consumption, the number of such cases would be so staggering that, in comparison, all exhortation and preaching against it would seem too little.
Whatever Intoxicates Is Haram. The first declaration made by the Messenger concerning this matter was that wine is forbidden and that khamr means any substance which intoxicates, in whatever form or under whatever name it may appear. Thus, beer and similar drinks are haram. When the Messenger was asked about certain drinks made from honey, corn, or barley by the process of fermentation until they became alcoholic, he replied succinctly: “Every intoxicant is khamr, and every khamr is haram.”
Whatever Intoxicates in Large Amounts Is Haram in Any Amount. Islam takes an uncompromising stand in prohibiting intoxicants, regardless of whether the amount is little or much. If an individual is permitted to take just one step down this road, other steps follow. The person starts walking and then running, and does not stop at any stage. This is why the Messenger said: “Of that which intoxicates in a large amount, a small amount is haram.”
Trading in Alcohol. The Messenger forbade any trading in alcohol, even with non-Muslims.
Drugs or “Khamr Is What Befogs the Mind.” ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab declared from the Messenger’s pulpit, that “khamr is what befogs the mind,” thus providing us with a decisive criterion for classifying items as khamr. There is no room for any uncertainty, for any substance that befogs or clouds the mind, as well as impairs its faculties of thought, perception, and discernment, is forbidden by God and His Messenger until the Day of Resurrection. This definitely includes such drugs as marijuana, cocaine, and opium.
The Consumption of Tobacco and Other Harmful Things. A general Islamic rule is that it is haram to eat or drink anything that may cause death, either quickly or gradually, such as poison or substances that injure one’s health or harm one’s body. Thus, if tobacco or another substance is proven to harm one’s health, it is haram, especially if a physician has told the patient to quit smoking. Even if it were not injurious to one’s health, it is still a waste of money and brings no religious or secular benefit, and the Messenger forbade wasting one’s property. This becomes more serious when the money spent on such items is needed to support oneself and one’s family.
Clothing and Adornment
From the Islamic point of view, clothing has two purposes: to cover the body and to beautify the appearance. God Almighty counts His bestowal of clothing and adornment upon human beings as one of His favors to humanity: O children of Adam! Verily, We have bestowed upon you clothing to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you (7:26).
Before dealing with questions of adornment and good appearance, Islam addressed itself in considerable depth to the question of cleanliness, for cleanliness is the essence of good appearance and the beauty of every adornment.
Gold Ornaments and Pure Silk Clothing. Islam forbids gold ornaments and clothing of pure silk to men, but permits them to women.
Women’s Clothing. Islam makes it haram for women to wear clothes that do not cover the body, that are transparent, and that are so tight fitting that they delineate the parts of the body, especially those that are sexually attractive.
Dressing for Ostentation and Pride. The general rule for enjoying life’s good things (e.g., food, drink, and clothing) is that they should be enjoyed without extravagance or pride. Extravagance consists of exceeding the limits of what is beneficial in the use of the halal, while pride is something related to the intention and the heart rather than to what is apparent. Pride is defined as the intention to look superior and above others, and God does not love any proud boaster (57:23). In order to avoid even the suspicion of pride, the Messenger forbade garments of “fame” (i.e., clothes worn to impress others and that generate competition in vain and idle pursuits).
Going to Extremes in Beautification. Islam denounces such excesses in beautifying oneself that require altering one’s physical features as God has created them. The Qur’an considers such alterations as inspired by Satan, who will command them (his devotees) to change what Allah has created (4:119).
Items Related to Luxurious Living and Paganism. Muslims may adorn their houses with flowers, decorated fabrics, and other permitted ornamental objects. They are free to desire beauty in their homes and elegance in clothing. However, Islam disapproves of excess, and the Messenger did not like Muslims to fill their houses with luxurious and extravagant items or items related to paganism, for Islam has condemned luxury, extravagance, and paganism.
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Gold and Silver Utensils. In accordance with what has been stated above, Islam has forbidden the use of gold and silver utensils and pure silk spreads.
Commemorating Great People. Islam abhors any excessive glorification of people, no matter how “great” they may be or whether they are living or dead. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, also gave similar warnings. For example, he said: “Do not glorify me in the same manner as the Christians glorify Jesus, son of Mary, but say: ‘He is a servant of God and His Messenger."
A religion who views even the Messenger of God in such a light is one of such moderation that it cannot tolerate the erecting of idollike statues for some individuals, so that people may point to them with admiration and esteem. Many pretenders to greatness and selfproclaimed makers of history have slipped into the hall of fame through this open door, since those who are able to do so erects statues or monuments to themselves, or let their admirers do so, so that people do not appreciate those who are truly great.
Children’s Toys. Children’s toys in the form of human beings, animals, and the like are allowed in Islam.
Keeping Dogs without Necessity. Keeping dogs inside the house as pets was forbidden by the Messenger. Dogs kept for a purpose (e.g., hunting or guarding cattle or crops) are allowed.
Condemned Industries and Professions. Islam has forbidden certain professions and industries because they are harmful to society’s beliefs, morals, honor, or good manners. Some of these are prostitution, erotic arts, and manufacturing intoxicants and drugs.
Illicit Sexual Intercourse. All revealed religions have forbidden and fought against fornication and adultery (zina). Islam, the last of the Divinely revealed religions, is very strict in prohibiting zina, for it leads to confusion of lineage, child abuse, family breakups, bitterness in relationships, the spread of venereal diseases, and a general laxity in morals. Moreover, it opens the door to a flood of lusts and selfgratifications.
When Islam prohibits something, it closes all the avenues of approach to it. This is achieved by prohibiting every step and every means leading to what is haram. Accordingly, whatever excites passions, opens ways for illicit sexual relations between a man and a woman, and promotes indecency and obscenity is haram.
Superstitions and Myths. Soothsayers or diviners existed in Arab society during the Messenger’s time. They deceived people by pretending to reveal information about past and future events through their contact with jinn or other secret sources. The Messenger struggled against this deception, which had no basis in knowledge, Divine guidance, or a revealed Scripture. For the same reason, divination with arrows and making decisions based upon what is observed in sand, seashells, tea leaves, cards, and palms, as well as fortunetelling by cards and similar methods, are all forbidden.
Magic. Islam also condemns magic and those who practice it. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, counted the practice of magic among those major deadly sins that destroy nations before destroying individuals, and that degrade those who practice them. Some jurists consider magic as unbelief (kufr) or as leading toward unbelief.
Omens. Drawing evil omens from certain articles, places, times, individuals, and the like was, and still is, a current superstition.
Relaxing the Mind. Following the Messenger’s example, his noble and pure Companions relaxed their bodies and minds. ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib said: “Minds get tired, as do bodies, so treat them with humor,” and “Refresh your minds from time to time, for a tired mind becomes blind.” Abu al-Darda said: “I entertain my heart with something trivial in order to make it stronger in the service of the truth.”
Thus, there is no harm if Muslims entertain themselves to relax their mind or refresh themselves with some permissible sport or activity. However, the pursuit of pleasure should not become the goal of their life so that they devote themselves to it, forgetting one’s religious obligations. Nor should one joke about serious matters. It has been aptly said: “Season your conversation with humor in the same proportion as you season your food with salt.”
Muslims are forbidden to joke and laugh about other people’s values and honor. Such sports and games as foot racing, archery, spear play, and swimming are permissible.
Singing and Music. Among the entertainments that may comfort the soul, please the heart, and refresh the ear is singing. Islam permits singing. In order to create an atmosphere of joy and happiness, it is recommended on such festive occasions as the ‘Iyd days, weddings and wedding feasts, births, and ‘aqiqat (thanksgiving to God for the birth of a baby by sacrificing sheep). However, there are some limitations placed upon singing:
- The song’s subject matter should not be against Islam’s teachings. For example, if the song praises wine and invites people to drink, singing or listening to it is haram. It also must not stir up pessimism and despair.
- Although the subject matter may not be against Islamic teachings, the way of singing (e.g., bodily movements that stir up lust or impulses to commit haram acts) may render it haram.
- Islam opposes excess and extravagance in anything, so it cannot tolerate excessive involvement with entertainment. Too much time should not be wasted in such activities.
- Each individual is the best judge of oneself. If a certain type of singing arouses one’s passions, leads one toward sin, excites the animal instincts, and dulls spirituality, one must avoid it so that he or she will not cave into temptation.
- There is unanimous agreement that if singing is done in conjunction with haram activities like attending a drinking party, or if it is mixed with obscenity and sin, it is haram.
Gambling, the Companion of Drinking. While permitting a variety of games and sports, Islam prohibits any game that involves betting (e.g., has an element of gambling). Muslims cannot seek relaxation and recreation in, or acquire money by, gambling.
The Qur’an mentions drinking and gambling together (5:90-91), since their harmful effects on the individual, family, and society are very similar. What is more like alcoholism than an addiction to gambling? This is why one usually is not found without the other. The Qur’an is absolutely right when it teaches us that both drinking and gambling are inspired by Satan, that they are akin to idolatry and divining by arrows, and that they are abominable habits that must be shunned.
The Lottery. Lotteries and raffles are also forms of gambling. There should be no laxity or permissiveness toward them in the name of “charitable institutions” or “humanitarian causes.”
Movies. Movies may be regarded as permissible if the following conditions are met:
- The content must be free of sin and immorality – indeed, of anything that is against Islamic beliefs, morals, and manners. Portrayals that excite sexual desire or greed, glorify crime, or propagate deviant ideas, false beliefs, and the like are not permissible, and Muslims cannot watch or encourage them.
- Watching movies should not result in the neglect of religious obligations or worldly responsibilities.
- Physical intermingling and free mixing among men and women in movie theatres must be avoided in order to prevent sexual undertones and temptation.
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The Qur’an and the Hadith urge Muslims to engage in trade and commerce, and to travel in order to “seek God’s bounty.”
Forbidden Trades. Islam forbids all trade that involves injustice, cheating, making exorbitant profits, or promoting that which is haram. Examples of such trades are doing business in alcoholic beverages, intoxicants, drugs, pigs, idols, or anything whose consumption and use has been forbidden. Any related earnings are considered sinful.
Even if the trading is in entirely halal things, merchants must still adhere to many moral considerations, such as not lying and cheating, for those who cheat are considered to be outside the Islamic community; not tampering with the scales when weighing; not hoarding, lest they forfeit the protection of God and His Messenger; and not dealing in usury or interest (riba), for God has forbidden it.
The Prohibition of a Sale Involving Uncertainty. The Messenger forbade any kind of transaction that could lead to a quarrel or litigation due to some uncertainty.
Price Manipulation. In Islam, the market is to be free and allowed to respond to the natural laws of supply and demand. Unnecessary interference in the freedom of individuals is unjust. However, if any artificial forces (e.g., hoarding and price manipulation) interfere in the free market, public interest takes precedence over the individual’s freedom. In such a situation, price control becomes permissible in order to meet society’s needs and to protect it from greedy opportunists by thwarting their schemes. Researchers have concluded that, depending upon the nature of the circumstances, price controls may be either unjust and forbidden or just and permissible, depending upon the relevant circumstances.
Hoarding. Freedom for individual and natural competition in the marketplace is guaranteed by Islam. Nevertheless, it severely condemns those who, driven by ambition and greed, accumulate wealth at the expense of others and become rich by manipulating the price of food and other necessities.
Interfering in the Free Market. The Messenger forbade another practice related to hoarding: allowing a person in the town to sell on behalf of a person from the desert. Scholars have explained this as follows: A stranger would bring some goods to be sold in town at the current market price. A townsman would approach him, saying: “Leave them with me for a while. I will sell them for you when the price is better.” If the stranger had sold his own goods, the price would have been lower, the people would have benefited, and he would have made a reasonable profit.
Brokerage. With the exception of such unlawful cases as mentioned above, brokerage is permissible, since it is a kind of mediation and connection between the buyer and the seller, which in many cases facilitates a profitable transaction for at least one of them or for both. In modern times, brokers have become far more necessary than before due to the complexities of trade and commerce, which involve all types of exports and imports, and wholesale and retail sales and purchases. Brokers play an important role in keeping things moving. There is nothing wrong, therefore, if they charge a commission for their services. The commission may be a fixed amount, proportional to the volume of sales, or whatever is agreed upon among the parties involved.
Exploitation and Fraud. In order to prevent the market’s manipulation, the Messenger forbade najash. Ibn ‘Umar explained that najash signifies someone’s bidding for an item in excess of its price without having any intention of actually buying it, but merely in order to induce others to bid still higher. Many times this is prearranged for the purpose of deceiving others.
“He Who Deceives Us Is Not of Us.” Islam prohibits every type of fraud and deception, whether in buying and selling or in any other matter between people. In all situations, Muslims must be honest and truthful, holding their faith to be dearer than any worldly gain.
Frequent Swearing. The sin of deceiving becomes greater when a seller supports it by swearing in God’s name that something is true. God’s Messenger told merchants to avoid swearing in general and, in particular, in support of a lie: “Swearing produces a ready sale but blots out the blessing.”
He disapproved of frequent swearing in business transactions because it is probably done to deceive people, and because it reduces respect for God’s Name.
Withholding Full Measure. One way of defrauding customers is to measure or weigh inaccurately. The Qur’an orders full measure and full weight (6:52) and severely warns against any fraud in this aspect of business transactions:
Woe to those that deal in fraud, those who, when they have to receive by measure from people, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to people, give less than (what is) due. Do they not think that they will be called to account? On a Mighty Day – A Day when (all) humanity will stand before the Lord of the Worlds? (83:1-6)
Buying Stolen Property. In order to combat crime and to confine criminals within a very narrow sphere of activity, Islam has forbidden Muslims to buy any article that they know to be usurped, stolen, or taken unjustly from its owner. Anyone who does so abets the usurper, the thief, or the one committing injustice.
Interest. Islam permits an increase in capital through trade. At the same time, it blocks the way for anyone who tries to increase his or her capital through lending on usury or interest (riba), whether at a low or a high rate.
Sale for Deferred Payment (Credit). While it is best to buy an article with cash, it is also permissible to buy on credit by mutual consent. Some jurists opine that if the seller increases his or her price and if the buyer asks for deferred payments, as is common in installment buying, the price differential due to the time delay resembles interest, which is likewise a price for time. Accordingly, they declare such sales to be haram. However, most scholars permit it because there is, on the whole, no resemblance to interest in such a transaction, since the seller is free to increase the price as he or she considers proper, as long as it does not cause blatant exploitation or clear injustice. If it does, it becomes haram. In order for such trade to be lawful, there should be mutual consent and the amount and the duration should be fixed and known to both sides.
Bribery. Taking a bribe is one way of consuming someone else’s wealth wrongfully. A bribe refers to any kind of property offered to a judge or public servant in order to obtain a favorable decision favor of oneself or against a rival, to expedite one’s own affair, or to delay any competition, and so on.
Wasteful Spending. Just as the wealth of others is sacred and any violation of it, whether secret or open, is forbidden, a person’s wealth is sacred with respect to oneself. Thus, one should not waste it by extravagant or other wasteful spending.
Salaried Employment. Muslims are free to seek employment with a government, an organization, or an individual, as long as they can do their job satisfactorily and carry out their duties. However, they cannot seek a job for which they are unfit, especially if the job carries judicial or executive authority.
Forbidden Types of Employment. Muslims cannot take jobs that are injurious to the cause of Islam or harm Muslims. Accordingly, they cannot work for companies that manufacture haram items. Similarly, any service rendered in support of injustice or in promoting what is haram is itself haram. For example, Muslims cannot work in organizations that deal with interest, in bars or liquor shops, nightclubs, and the like.
A General Rule in Earning a Living. When it comes to making a living, Islam differentiates between lawful and unlawful methods. One of the rules is that any transaction in which one person’s gain results in another’s loss is unlawful, while any transaction that is fair and beneficial to all the parties concerned, and that is transacted by mutual consent is, lawful.
O you who believe, do not devour one another’s wealth in legally nonvalid, wrongful ways, except it be a trade by mutual consent; and do not cause your own and community’s perishing. (Do not forget that) God has deep, special compassion (toward you as believers). Whoever acts wrongfully through enmity (toward others) and by way of deliberate transgression and wronging (both himself and others), We shall surely land him in a Fire to roast there. That indeed is quite easy for God (4:29-30),
lay down two conditions for a transaction: mutual consent of the parties involved, and the benefit to one party should not be a loss to the other.
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Relations among the members of an Islamic society are based upon two fundamental principles: awareness of the strong bond of brotherhood and sisterhood that links one individual to another, and protecting the individual’s rights and the sanctity of his or her life, honor, and property, as guaranteed by Islam. Any words, deeds, or behavior that contravene or threaten these two principles are forbidden, the degree of prohibition depending upon the magnitude of material or moral injury that might result from it.
Severing Ties with a Fellow Muslim. It is haram for Muslims to shun, break ties, or turn away from a fellow Muslim. If two Muslims quarrel with each other, they may be allowed a cooling-off period of 3 days at the most, after which they must seek reconciliation and peace, overcoming their pride, anger, and hatred.
Settling Disputes. While it is incumbent upon disputants to settle their differences in an Islamic fashion, the Muslim community also has a responsibility in this regard. As it is based upon mutual caring and cooperation, it cannot stand by passively and watch its members dispute and quarrel with each other, and thereby permit the conflict to grow larger. Those who command respect and authority in the community are obliged to come forward to set things right with absolute impartiality and without allowing themselves to become emotionally involved with either side.
“Let Not Some People Mock Other People.” In 49:10-12, God prescribes several things related to preserving Muslim brotherhood and sisterhood and what this implies with regard to that which people consider sacred. The first of these is the prohibition of mocking, deriding, and scoffing at others.
“Do Not Slander.” The second prohibition is against lamz, which literally means “piercing and stabbing.” Here it is used to mean finding faults, as the person who finds faults in others is doing something similar to piercing them with a sword or stabbing them with a dagger – and perhaps the wound inflicted by the tongue is more lasting. The form of prohibition expressed in 49:11 (Do not slander yourselves) is very subtle, for it means not to slander each other. This meaning is derived from the Qur’an’s viewing the Muslim community as one body in its mutual concerns and responsibilities, so that whoever slanders a fellow Muslim in effect slanders himself or herself.
Suspicion. Islam seeks to establish its society on a clearn conscience and mutual trust, not on doubt, suspicion, accusation, and mistrust. Hence it mentions the fourth prohibition designed to safeguard what people hold sacred: O you who believe, avoid (indulging in) much suspicion. Truly some suspicion is a sin (49:12).
Sinful suspicion is defined as ascribing evil motives to others. Muslims cannot impute such motives to fellow Muslims without justification and clear evidence. Given that the basic assumption that people are innocent, mere suspicion should not be allowed to cause an innocent person to be accused.
Spying. Mistrust of others produces evil thoughts in the mind, while outwardly it leads a person toward spying. But since Islam establishes its society upon inner and outer purity, just as spying follows suspicion, the prohibition of spying comes immediately after that of suspicion. Prying into other peoples’ private affairs and spying on their secrets is not permitted, even if they are engaged in sin, as long as they do it privately.
Backbiting. The sixth evil forbidden in the verses cited above is backbiting (ghiyba): And do not ... backbite one another (49:12). The verse likens it to eating of one’s dead brother’s (sister’s) flesh. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, wanted to drive home the meaning of backbiting to his Companions through questions and answers. He asked them: “Do you know what backbiting is?” They replied: “God and His Messenger know best.” He said: “It is saying something about your brother (sister) which he (she) would dislike.” Someone asked: “What if I say something about my brother (sister) that is true?” The Messenger replied: “If what you say of him (her) is true, it is backbiting; if it is not true, you have slandered him (her).” (Muslim, “Birr,” 70; ABu Dawud, “Adab,” 40)
Spreading Gossip. Another evil, which usually accompanies backbiting and is strictly forbidden by Islam, is gossiping. This is defined as passing on to others what you hear from someone in such a way that will cause dissension among people, sour their relationships, or increase already-existing bitterness between them.
The Sacredness of Honor. Islamic teachings safeguard human dignity and honor, and, in fact, regard them as inviolable and sacred. Once while looking at the Ka‘ba, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar remarked: “How great and sacred you are! But the sanctity of a believer is greater than yours.” A Muslim’s sanctity includes the sanctity of his or her life, honor, and property.
The Sacredness of Life. Islam has made human life sacred and has safeguarded its preservation. According to its teachings, aggression against human life is one of the greatest sins, second only to denying God. The Qur’an regards killing a person unjustly as equivalent to killing all people (5:22). Since the human race constitutes a single family, an offense against one member is an offense against all of humanity. The crime is more serious if the killed person was a believer in God:
And for the one who kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein. And the wrath of God is upon him and His curse, and a tremendous punishment has been prepared for him. (4:93)
The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “The passing away of the world would mean less to God than the murder of a Muslim” and: “God may forgive every sin, except for one who dies as an idolater (and an unbeliever) or who kills a believer intentionally.” (Nasa’i, “Tahrim,” 1:2) On the basis of these verses and Traditions, Ibn ‘Abbas deduced that God will not accept any repentance done by the murderer.
The Sanctity of the Lives of Allies and Non-Muslim Residents. Thus far we have quoted texts that warn Muslims against killing or fighting fellow Muslims. But let no one think that the life of a non-Muslim is not safe in a Muslim society, for God has declared the life of every person to be sacred, and He has safeguarded it.
This applies as long as the non-Muslims do not fight the Muslims. If they fight the Muslims, the Muslims can fight them in retaliation for their deeds. However, if the non-Muslims have a treaty with the Muslims or are dhimmis (non-Muslim residents of an Islamic state), their life is sacred and the Muslims cannot attack them.
Suicide. Whatever applies to murder also applies to suicide. Whoever takes his or her own life, regardless of the method used, has unjustly taken a life that God has made sacred. Since people did not create themselves, not even one single cell, their life does not belong to them but is a trust given to them by God, the All-Merciful. They are not allowed to diminish it, let alone to harm or destroy it.
Islam requires Muslims to be resolute in facing hardships. They are not permitted to give up and run away from life’s vicissitudes when a tragedy befalls them or some of their hopes are dashed. Indeed, they are created to strive, not to sit idle; for combat, not for escape. Their faith and character do not permit them to run away from the battlefield of life, and they possess a weapon that never fails and ammunition that is never exhausted: the weapon of unshakable faith and the ammunition of moral steadfastness.
The Sanctity of Property. Muslims are permitted to earn as much as they desire, as long as they do so through lawful means and increase their wealth through lawful investments, and pay the due on it such as zakat. However, Islam warns against attachment to wealth and the world and leading a luxurious, dissipated life, and exhorts believers to spend in God’s way for the needy and God’s cause.
Since Islam sanctions the right to personal property, it protects it, through moral exhortation and legislation, from robbery, theft, and fraud. The Messenger mentioned its sanctity in the same sentence with the sanctity of life and honor, and considered stealing as contradictory to faith: “A thief is not a believer while he (she) is engaged in stealing” (Bukhari, “Ashriba,” 1; Muslim, “Iman,” 24) and: “It is haram for a Muslim to take (so much as) a stick without its owner’s consent.”
Racial and Color Discrimination. There is no special distinction for people with a certain skin color or who belong to a particular “race” of humanity. Muslims cannot be a partisan of one race against another, and of one people against another.
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Islam’s Universal Mercy to Animals
Islam’s universal mercy embraces not only human beings, whether believers, People of the Book, or non-Muslims, but all other living creatures. Accordingly, Islam prohibits cruelty to animals. Thirteen centuries before any societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals were established, Islam made kindness to animals a part of its faith, and cruelty to them a sufficient reason for a person to be thrown into the Fire.
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, once related to his Companions that a prostitute found a dog panting with thirst. She descended into a well, filled her shoes with water, and gave it to the dog. She continued to do so until the dog’s thirst was quenched. The Messenger said: “Then God was pleased with her, forgave her sins, and led her to the way of Paradise.” (Bukhari, “Anbiya,” 54; Muslim, “Salam,” 153) He also mentioned a woman who left a cat without food and drink to die; she was led to the way of Hell.
Respect for God’s living creatures reached such an extent that when the Messenger saw a donkey with a branded face, he denounced such a practice: “I would brand an animal only on the part of its body farthest from its face.” (Canan, ibid., 6:306) When Ibn ‘Umar saw some people practicing archery using a hen as a target, he said: “The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, cursed anyone who made a living thing into a target.” Ibn ‘Abbas said: “The Messenger forbade making animals fight each other, since people would goad animals into fighting each other until one of them was pecked or gored to death, or close to it.” He also reported that the Messenger strongly condemned the castration of animals.
As regards slaughtering animals, Islam insists that it be done in the way that is least painful to the animal and that the knife be sharpened – but not in front of the animal. Islam also prohibits the slaughtering of one animal in front of another.
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What Is Sin?
Sin is committing something that God and His Messenger have forbidden and not doing what they ordered to do. Since a believer’s heart and conscience are sensitive to sin and obedience to God, God’s Messenger said: “Righteousness is good morality, and sin is that which causes discomfort (or pinches) within your soul and which you dislike people to become informed of.” (Tirmidhi, “Zuhd,” 52) In other words, sin is what Muslims try to abstain from at all costs.
The Major Sins (al-Kaba’ir)
The major sins are those acts that God Has forbidden and threatened to punish severely if they are committed. God wills that they be avoided:
If you avoid the major (part) of what you have been forbidden (to do), We will cancel out for you your (other) evil deeds and will admit you (to Paradise) with a noble entry. (4:31)
Scholars differ in this regard. Some say there are seven major sins, and support themselves with the following hadith: “Avoid the seven noxious things” – and after having said this, the Messenger mentioned them: “Associating anything with God as a partner, magic, killing one whom God has declared inviolate without a just case, consuming an orphan’s property, devouring usury, turning back when the army advances, and slandering chaste women who are believers but indiscreet.”
However, this hadith does not limit the major sins only to those mentioned. Rather, it points to the type of sins that fall into the category of “major” without excluding others, such as violating the parents’ rights, adultery and fornication, consuming alcohol, gambling, and theft, all of which are also included in this category.
- Unbelief in any of the essentials requiring belief
- Neglecting any pillar of Islam (i.e., the prescribed prayers, paying zakat, fasting Ramadan, and Hajj)
- Violating the parents’ rights
- Practicing magic
- Adultery, fornication, and homosexuality
- Theft and usurpation
- Consuming alcohol
- Dealing with usury and interest
- Slandering innocent people, especially chaste women
- Fleeing the battlefield
- Wrongfully consuming an orphan’s property
- Mocking others
- Spying and ill-suspicion
- Abandoning relatives
- Wrongdoing and injustice
- Fraud and cheating
- Violating other people’s rights
- Pride and arrogance
- Bearing false witness and taking a false oath
- Consuming wealth acquired unlawfully
- Giving short weight or measure
- Committing suicide
- Giving and accepting bribes
- Learning about Islam for the sake of this world
- Betraying a trust
- Recounting favors
- Listening to private conversations
- Breaking one’s promise
- Fortune-telling and believing in fortune-tellers
- Making idols and engaging in idolatrous practices
- Trading in unlawful things
- Displaying overbearing conduct toward one’s spouse, servant, children, weak people, and animals
- Offending neighbors
- Offending and abusing Muslims
- Wearing silk and gold (men only)
- Sacrificing an animal in the name of that which is not God
- Knowingly ascribing one’s paternity to one who is not his or her real father.
Muslims must try not to commit any sins. Moreover, when they do so, they must repent immediately and seek God’s forgiveness. Scholars say that any sin, no matter how small, is great so long as it is committed with ease and indifference, without repentance, and without seeking God’s forgiveness, while any major sin, no matter how great, is not great so long as it is avoided as much as possible and the one who commits it repents and seeks God’s forgiveness.
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Prayers, Supplications, and Remembrance of God 2
Belief requires prayer as a means of attainment and perfection, and our essence desperately needs it. God Almighty decrees: Say (O Muhammad): “My Lord would not concern Himself with you but for your prayer” (25:77), and: Pray to Me and I will answer your (prayer) (40:60).
If people say that they pray so many times but that their prayers are unanswered, despite the assurance given in the above verse, we should point out that an answered prayer does not necessarily mean its acceptance. There is an answer for every prayer. However, accepting the prayer and giving what is requested depends upon the All-Mighty’s Wisdom. Suppose a sick child asks a doctor for a certain medicine. The doctor will give what is asked for, something better, or nothing. It all depends upon how the medicine will affect the child. Similarly the All-Mighty, Who is All-Hearing and All-Seeing, answers His servant’s prayer and changes loneliness into the pleasure of His company. But His answer does not depend on the individual’s fancies; rather, according to His Wisdom, He gives what is requested, what is better, or nothing at all.
Moreover, prayer is a form of worship and worship is rewarded mainly in the Hereafter. In essence, prayer is not done for worldly purposes, because worldly purposes are causes for the prayer. For example, praying for rain is a kind of worship occasioned by the lack of rain. If rain is the prayer’s only aim, the prayer is unacceptable, for it is not sincere or intended to please God and obtain His approval.
Sunset determines the time for the evening prayer, while solar and lunar eclipses occasion two particular kinds of worship. Since such eclipses are two means of manifesting Divine Majesty, the All-Mighty calls His servants to perform a form of worship particular to these occasions. The prayer said has nothing to do with causing the eclipse to end, for this is known already through astronomical calculations. The same argument applies to drought and other calamities, for all such events occasion certain kinds of prayer. At such times, we best realize our impotence and so feel the need to take refuge in the high Presence of the Absolutely Powerful One through prayer and supplication. If a calamity is not lifted despite many prayers, we should not say that our prayer has not been accepted. Rather, we should say that the time for prayer has not yet ended. God removes the calamity because of His endless Grace and Munificence. The end of that event marks the end of that special occasion for prayer.
We must pursue God’s good pleasure through worship, affirm our poverty and weakness in our prayer, and seek refuge with Him through prayer. We must not interfere in His Lordship, but rather let God do as He wills and rely on His Wisdom. In addition, we should not accuse His Mercy.
Every creature offers its own kind of praise and worship to God. What reaches the Court of God from the universe is a kind of prayer. Some creatures, like plants and animals, pray through the tongue of their potential to achieve a full form and then display and show certain Divine Names (e.g., a plant’s seeds grow naturally into plants, and the joined semen and eggs of animals grow naturally into animals. Since they have this potential, their natural disposition to mature is, in essence, a prayer. By doing so they affirm the manifestation of such Divine Names as the All-Sustaining and All-Forming.).
Another kind of prayer is done in the tongue of natural needs. All living beings ask the Absolutely Generous One to meet their vital needs, as they cannot do so. Yet another kind of prayer is done in the tongue of complete helplessness. A living creature in straitened circumstances takes refuge in its Unseen Protector with a genuine supplication and turns to its All-Compassionate Lord. These three kinds of prayer are always acceptable, unless somehow impeded.
The fourth type of prayer is the one engaged in by humanity. This type falls into two categories: active and by disposition, and verbal and with the heart. For example, acting in accordance with causes is an active prayer. We try to gain God’s approval by complying with causes, for causes alone cannot produce the result – only God can do that. Another type of active prayer is plowing the soil, for this is nothing other than knocking at the door of the treasury of God’s Compassion. Such a prayer is usually acceptable, for it is an application to the Divine Name the All-Generous.
The second type of prayer, done with the tongue and the heart, is the ordinary one. This means that we ask God from the heart for something we cannot reach. Its most important aspect and finest and sweetest fruit is that we know that God hears us, is aware of our heart’s contents, that His power extends everywhere, that He can satisfy every desire, and that He comes to our aid out of mercy for our weakness and inadequacy.
We should never abandon prayer, for it is the key to the Treasury of Compassion and the means of obtaining access to the Infinite Power. We should hold on to it and ascend to the highest rank of humanity and, as creation’s most favored and superior member, include the whole universe’s prayer in our prayer. We should say, on behalf of all beings: From You alone do we seek help (1:5), and become a beautiful pattern for all of creation.
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Supplications and Remembrance of God
All words of praise and glorification of God, extolling His Perfect Attributes of Power and Majesty, Beauty and Sublimity, whether one utters them by tongue or says them silently in one’s heart, are known as dhikr (remembrance of God). He has commanded us to remember Him always and forever: O you who believe, celebrate the praises of God, and do so often; and glorify Him morning and evening (33:41)
In a hadith qudsi (a Tradition whose meaning God inspired in the heart of the Messenger) the Messenger narrated: “God says: ‘I am to My servant as he expects of Me, I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him to Myself; if he remembers Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly better than his; if he draws nearer to Me a hand’s span, I draw nearer to him an arm’s length; if he draws nearer to Me an arm’s length, I draw nearer to him a fathom length; and if he comes to me walking, I rush to him with [great] speed’” (Bukhari, “Tevhid,” 50; Muslim, “Dhikr,” 2).
God has bestowed a special distinction upon those who remember Him. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “The devotees have surpassed all.” They asked: “Who are these exceptional people, O Messenger of God?” He replied: “Those men and women who remember God unceasingly” (Muslim). These are the people who are really alive. Abu Musa reported from the Messenger: “The likeness of the house where God is mentioned and the one where He is not is like that of a living to a dead person.” (Bukhari, Da'awat,” 66)
How Much Dhikr Is Required? God, the Exalted, ordered that He should be remembered a great deal. Describing the wise men and women who ponder His signs, the Qur’an mentions: those who remember God standing, sitting, and on their sides (3:191) and: those men and women who engage much in God’s praise. For them has God prepared forgiveness and a great reward (33:35). Mujahid, one of the earliest interpreters of the Qur’an, explained: “A person cannot be one of ‘those men and women who remember God much’ as mentioned in the above verse of the Qur’an, unless he or she remembers God at all times, standing, sitting, or lying in bed.”
The Excellence of Dhikr Assemblies. Joining the assemblies or circles of dhikr is commendable, as shown by the following hadith: Ibn ‘Umar reported: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘When you pass by a garden of Paradise, avail yourselves of it.’ The Companions asked: ‘What are the gardens of Paradise, O Messenger of God?’ The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, replied: ‘The assemblies or circles of dhikr. There are some angels of God who go about looking for such assemblies of dhikr, and when they find them they surround them.’” (Muslim, “Dhikr,” 39)
The Excellence of Istighfar. Asking God’s forgiveness for one’s sins is also of great importance. Said Nursi says that we should take prayer in one of our hands and seeking God’s forgiveness in the other. Prayer urges and reinforces one to do good deeds, while seeking His forgiveness discourages one to commit sins. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas said: “If one asks without fail for forgiveness from God, He shows him (her) a way out to get out of every distress and difficulty, and gives him (her) sustenance through ways utterly unthought of.”
Supplicating at the Most Opportune Times and Locations. These are, for instance, the day of ‘Arafat, Ramadan, Friday, the last part of the night, dawn, after the prescribed prayers, while prostration, while it is raining, between the adhan and the iqama, when armies meet each other, times of strain and great need, and when one’s heart is soft and tender.
Praying for a Fellow Muslim in His or Her Absence. Safwan ibn ‘Abdullah reported: “I visited Abu Darda’s house in Syria. I did not find him there, but Umm Darda (his wife) was home. She asked: ‘Do you intend to perform Hajj this year?’ I replied: ‘Yes.’ She said: ‘Please supplicate to God for us, for God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, used to say: A Muslim’s supplication for his or her fellow Muslim in his (her) absence is accepted. When he (she) asks for blessings for his (her) brother (sister), the commissioned angel says: Amen, may it be for you too!’”
Beginning a Supplication. It is highly recommended that one should begin the prayer and supplication with praises of God, seeking His forgiveness for sins, calling God’s blessings and peace upon His Messenger, as well as on his Family and Companions, and reciting some of His Names.
1. This section is taken from various parts (edited and summarized) of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, trans. Muhammad Siddiqi (ASIN: 1999).
2.This section is taken (edited and summarized) from Said Nursi, The Words 1, "The 23rd Word"; Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunna (trans.), Ist., 1:445-480; and M. Fethullah Gülen, Prophet Muhammad: Aspects of His Life, (trans.), The Fountain, 2000, 2:117-122.