by: Abdullah Fahim
In life, there are always two things: good and evil. Sometimes there are things which fall in between them, which is known as the ‘grey area’. According to Islamic teachings, everything good is considered ‘Halal’ or permissible and all the evil things are considered ‘Haram’ or forbidden. Whether something is good or evil solely depends on the injunctions ordained by Allah Almighty and All-knowing. As a Muslim, it is utmost important to remember that the gist of Islamic teachings is to abide by what is Halal and refrain from what is Haram. Anything that falls into the ‘grey area’ should also be avoided as far as possible.
Islam as a complete code of life provides guidance about every aspect of life. A person’s economic life, i.e. his livelihood is no different from this. Thus, we find that Allah Almighty commands us to search for our livelihood. In Surah (62) Jumuah, Verse 10, Allah Almighty ordains that when the Jumuah (Friday) prayer has finished: ‘disperse in the land and seek the grace of Allah’.
‘Seeking grace’ has been explained by the scholars as seeking one’s livelihood. However, this search for livelihood should be conducted in accordance with the guidelines provided by Allah and His Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam). In Surah (2) Baqarah, Verse 168, Allah Almighty decrees: ‘O people, eat Halal (permissible) good things out of what lies on the earth.’ Therefore, seeking livelihood is not an absolute and unrestricted domain; rather, it is qualified by the fact that the sources of earning must be Halal and lawful.
In one of the most comprehensive, yet concise, Hadith, the Noble Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) summarised the rulings of Halal and Haram and that which falls in the ‘grey area’. He says:
‘What is Halal is evident and what is Haram is evident, and in between them are doubtful things which many people do not know. So he who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honour blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in Haram things, just as a shepherd who pastures his animals round a preserve will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things God his declared Haram are His preserves. Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound and if it is corrupt the whole body is corrupt, and, hearken, it is the heart.’ (Sahih Muslim, 1599)
Indeed, this Hadith has made it very clear that in order to succeed in refraining from Haram, a person must avoid doubtful actions and transactions too. Moreover, as seeking Halal earning has been mandated, this leads to the conclusion that knowledge about sources of Halal earnings is mandatory too. Thus, it is narrated about Umar (radhiyallahu anh) that he would say: ‘Nobody except the person who has knowledge (about the laws of sales) should sell in our market. Otherwise, he will devour interest whether he wants or not.’ (Al-Mu’aamalaat al-Maaliyyah al-Mu’aasirah, D Wahbah Al-Zuhaily)
The significance of this command is reflected in the benefits and virtues that result from abiding by what is Halal and the repercussions of not avoiding what is Haram. Once a famous Sahabi (companion), Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas (radhiyallahu anh) asked the Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) to pray for him to become a person whose prayers are never rejected. The Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) replied: ‘Purify your food, you will become a person whose prayers are never rejected’ (Tabarani). In another Hadith, Abu Hurairah (radhiyallahu anh) narrates that the Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said:
O people, Allah is Good, and He accepts only that which is good. And Allah commanded the believers as He commanded the Messengers by saying: "O Messengers, eat of the good things, and do good deeds. Verily, I am aware of what you do". And He said: "O those who believe, eat of the good things that We gave you".
He then made a mention of a person who travels widely, his hair dishevelled and covered with dust. He lifts his hand towards the sky (and thus makes the supplication): "O Lord, O Lord," whereas his diet is Haram, his drink is Haram, and his clothes are Haram and his nourishment is Haram. How can then his supplication be accepted?
In this Hadith, how powerfully the Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) questions the prospect of a person’s prayer being accepted whose earnings are from Haram sources! Indeed, this Hadith should send out a stark warning to all the believers regarding the injunctions of Halal and Haram.
The importance of avoiding what is Haram in seeking livelihood becomes clearer when we study and analyse the harms resulting from what has been declared Haram. The major Haram transactions in Islam are Riba (interest) based transactions, Qamaar or gambling and Gharar or excessively risky and uncertain transactions.
In addition to severe punishment for some of these transactions in the Afterlife, their extremely negative impacts on an individual’s economic life, as well the economy of a country, have been documented by empirical evidences. It is an undeniable fact that the proliferation of interest-based transactions, gambling and highly risky activities have led to the world economy becoming permanently volatile, uncertain and prone to financial crisis. The fact that a person can profit from merely providing money to others – which is what charging interest involves – certainly impedes productivity and growth and disincentivises creativity, entrepreneurship and other business activities.
Similarly, in addition to causing extremely harmful addiction, gambling leads to laziness and creates false hopes and dreams. Who is there to count that how many lives and families have been destroyed by gambling and excessive risk-taking!
It is another bitter truth that the above Haram activities have widened the gap between the rich and the poor around the globe. The shackles of indebtedness have crippled the economies of poorer and developing countries and have virtually made them slaves of the rich and the powerful countries.
In fact, the root cause of the most recent financial crisis of 2008 was diagnosed as something known as ‘subprime mortgages’. These so-called mortgages consisted of extremely risky financial products, such as CDOs (Collateralised Debt Obligations) and CDSs (Credit Default Swap). In addition of being composed of interest-based products, they also involved Qamaar and Gharar – which are all the major prohibitions in Islamic commercial law (Mufti Taqi Usmani, Causes and Remedies of the Recent Financial Crisis from an Islamic Perspective, Turath Publishing).
Apart from the above, some other Haram activities include: selling an item before owning it or before taking possession of the item, unlawful appropriation of another person’s wealth, stealing, robbing and hoarding etc. There is no doubt that the prohibition of all these activities and abiding by that prohibition will guarantee financial stability, economic growth and prosperity and happiness for all individuals in society.
In conclusion, the importance of refraining from Haram economic activities is an undeniable truth and magnified by the benefits that it brings to everybody. Islam as a complete system of life instructs its followers to avoid Haram activities in their economic life. There is no doubt that this will guarantee economic well-being, prosperity and welfare for everybody. As Muslims, we must believe that seeking Halal brings success and happiness; whereas, chasing wealth, without paying any regard to divine instructions, will only lead to financial instability and economic downfall.
 Alimiyyah (Jamia Islamia Birmingham), LLB (University of Birmingham), LLM in Corporate Law (University College London), Imam & Khateeb (Masjid Taqwa, Birmingham, United Kingdom)