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Aspects Of Islamic Faith -101: Ensuring Fairness In Business Transactions

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave clear instructions about business deals. When we look at these instructions we realize that they are always looking to ensure fairness to both buyer and seller, and to maintain a friendly atmosphere in the market place. Take the following Hadith as an example. Abdullah ibn Umar quotes the Prophet as saying: "Do not sell fruits until they clearly appear to be sound. Do not sell fruits on the trees in exchange for ones on the ground."

Abdullah adds: "I was informed by Zayd ibn Thabit that the Prophet later made an exception in the case of selling the fruits of a tree dedicated for personal use in exchange for ripe dates, but made no other exception." (Related by Al-Bukhari)

This Hadith relates to a situation that existed in Madinah at the time of the Prophet, but it also applies to similar situations that may exist elsewhere. The Arabs at the time relied heavily on dates for their staple diet. They ate dates when they were fresh, or when they have been ripened and dried. Dates can be preserved by simple drying, and they can keep for a long time. As they were the main agricultural produce in their environment, they needed to have clear guidance on how to conduct their transactions.

The first point in the Hadith is the prohibition of selling fruits on the trees until it has been ascertained that the fruits are sound. The reason for this prohibition is the fact that the seller could later argue that the fruits became rotten, or that some disease affected the tree and spoilt the fruits. Apparently several complaints were put to the Prophet because of such claims.

To prevent disagreements and ill feelings, the Prophet prohibited this type of transaction because it is difficult to estimate the worth of the produce on the one hand and, on the other, it is impossible to know what may happen to it before it is ready to pick. When the fruits are seen to be clearly sound, and there is little that could go wrong with the produce, then selling them is perfectly permissible.

The other type of prohibition the Prophet makes is selling the fruit of the date tree, before it is picked, for dates on the ground. This prohibition is due to the discrepancy that may occur. To start with, it is very difficult to estimate the weight or the measure of fruits on the tree. Secondly, fresh dates or grapes are heavier than dried dates and raisins. So it is extremely difficult to maintain fairness in such a deal.

The Prophet, however, later made an exception in the case of a tree which the farmer has dedicated for his own family's use. As such, it is different from the rest of the trees in the farm. The exception allows selling the fruit of such a tree, whether dates or grapes, for dates or raisins on the ground, provided that an allowance is made for the difference in weight because of dryness.

We need to point out that the Hadith mentions that the exception applied to dates only. However, scholars considered other types of produce that are normally dried and stored, such as grapes, which make raisins and sultanas, and wheat or cereals. These are needed for everyday use.

Therefore, an easier transaction meets a common need. Other fruits that may be covered by leaves and differ in size and quality, such as citrus fruits and apricots, cannot be included in this exception.



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