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Khutba on Commerce

A Khutbah given by the Imam – Shaykh Habib Bewley at the jumuah Mosque of Cape Town 2nd April 2010

الحمد لله، الحمد لله الذي جعل صحةَ الإنسان وحياةَ المجتمعِ في إصلاح المعاملة، وحفِظها في المدينة المنورة، نحمده تعالى ونستعينه، ونشكره تعالى ونستغفره ونستغيثه، نعوذ بالله من شرور أنفسنا ومن سيئات أعمالنا، من يهد الله فهو المهتد ومن يضلل فلن تجد له وليا مرشدا، ونشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له، له الملك و له الحمد، يحيي ويميت، بيده الخير، وهو على كل شيء قدير، ونشهد أن سيدنا و مولانا محمداً عبده ورسوله، وحبيبه وصفيه، بلغ الرسالة وأدى الأمانة ونصح الأمة، النبي الأمي الذي أرسله الله بالهدى والدين الحق، بشيرا ونذيرا بين يدي الساعة، صلى الله عليه وسلم وعلى آله وأصحابه ومن تبعهم بإحسان إلى يوم الدين.

أما بعد! فيا عباد الله اتقوا الله حق تقاته ولا تموتن إلا وأنتم مسلمون. يأيها الذين ءامنوا اتقوا الله وقولوا قولا سديدا يصلح لكم أعمالكم ويغفر لكم ذنوبكم. ومن يطع

الله ورسوله فقد فاز فوزا عظيما. اتقوا الله فيما أمر وانتهوا عما نها عنه وزجر.

As I mentioned last week, for a society to be healthy, its muamalat (transactions or dealings) must be healthy – it must be possible to go through one’s life – indeed get through a single day – without falling into the haram. Many people when they think of muamalat think of courtesy, brotherhood, marriage and divorce, but neglect that one area wherein lies the re-empowerment of the Muslim umma – trade. So accustomed have they become to accepting the status quo, so deceived by the master deceivers of the present age, that few question where their money comes from and fewer still question the money itself. Riba, a practice so bad that it is one of the only things Allah and His Messenger declare war on, for Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَذَرُوا مَا بَقِيَ مِنَ الرِّبَا إِنْ كُنْتُمْ مُؤْمِنِينَ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلُوا فَأْذَنُوا بِحَرْبٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ

the translation of which is, “You who have belief! have taqwa of Allah and forgo any remaining riba if you are believers. If you do not, know that it means war from Allah and His Messenger.” Riba, a practice so bad that it is considered worse than fornicating with one’s own mother in the precincts of the Kaaba, today scarcely enters into people’s minds except with respect to avoiding interest-bearing bank accounts. And yet its dust has settled on every transaction that takes place in the present age, for it is within the currency itself. We are all trapped within its embrace and we are all enslaved to it as we are plugged in and totally reliant on its institutions – its banks and the phantom currencies in which they deal, its faceless global corporations, its puppet democratic governments and its stock exchanges.

Now, some Muslims, recognising the predicament we are in, have sought to reform these institutions – Islamicise them if you will. So, they change certain superficial elements of these institutions and lo, instead of banks we have Islamic banks, instead of paper currency, we have Islamic paper currency, and instead of stock trading, we have Islamic stock trading. There we go, everything is as good as new, but in truth nothing has changed. The names may be different, but the underlying processes are the same. And what do you expect, when the institutions themselves have nothing whatsoever to do with the deen of Allah.

Did you hear about the Islamic development bank of Madina funding the jihad and social projects of the Messenger of Allah? No, because no such thing existed. Did you hear about Umar ibn al-Khattab being re-elected to the khilafa by a slim majority following his successes in the wars against the Byzantines? No, because no such thing happened. Did you hear about Uthman printing up a whole new batch of fresh paper dinars to protect the Islamic currency against the speculations of the Persian money traders? No, because no such thing was done. For these are not the institutions upon which the Muslim model for trade was built. Rather, they are the institutions developed by the usurers to extend their web and trap into it as many unsuspecting flies as they can. They are the instruments of riba, and no matter how much we tweak them, that is what they will always. A wolf is a wolf, even when it is dressed up in sheep’s clothing.

So, if reform is not the solution, then what is? The answer is found in the Quran and is beautiful in its simplicity. Allah says,

وَأَحَلَّ اللَّهُ الْبَيْعَ وَحَرَّمَ الرِّبَا

the translation of which is, “Allah has made trade halal and made riba haram .” The answer is re-establishing the institutions about which trade is, and always has been, built – that is how we will extricate ourselves from our situation. And that is how we will gain success, for Allah is with those who are with Him. Those institutions are the free market, the caravans, the guilds and currency with intrinsic value. Today, we will direct our attention to the free market.

The most important part of any city, along with its mosque, has always been its marketplace – this was as true in medieval Christian Europe as it was in the Muslim lands. And it always enjoyed pride of place, next to the main centre of worship or the city hall. Indeed, many cities developed around market-places, rather than market-places being added to a city. And that is because the market-place was, and can be again, the primary source of a city’s wealth and only venue where trading can take place in a safe and properly regulated environment.

The proof of the importance of a free market with respect to the Deen of Allah is found in the sunna of the Messenger of Allah, for one of the first things he did, upon arriving in Madina, after overseeing the building of the mosque, was to set up a new market for the Muslims. And the reason he did that was to provide the Muslims with a venue where they could be free of the oppression that they were forced to undergo every time they tried to trade in the market already present in Madina – that of the Banu Qaynuqa’, one of the three Jewish tribes living in Madina at the time. For the overseers of that market used to levy taxes on the traders, set up monopolies, rent out spaces and engage in usurious transactions, all of which go against the principles of free trade and the Islamic market as we shall see in the second khutba. And that is uncannily similar to the situation we find ourselves in today where again we find ourselves oppressed and overtaxed and forced to use venues and institutions that contradict the very principles of our deen. And all the while they oppress us, they tell us that that is the natural consequence of ‘free trade’, a term that in fact means the very opposite of what it says. Indeed in 1853, Henry Carey, the chief financial adviser of Abraham Lincoln, equated it to slavery and exploitation, saying in his book, The Slave Trade: Domestic and Foreign, “By adopting the ‘free trade,’…we place ourselves side by side with the men who have ruined Ireland and India, and are now poisoning and enslaving the Chinese people.”

Our jihad, our duty as Muslims today, is to join with Allah and His Messenger in declaring war on riba. Our duty is to re-establish ‘free trade’ in the true sense of the word by reclaiming the market-place.

أقول قولي هذا و أستغفر الله لي و لكم و لسائر المسلمين من كل ذنب فاستغفروه إنه هو الغفور الرَّحيم.الحمد لله الحمد لله رب العالمين، وأشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له وأشهد أن محمداً عبده ورسوله، صلى الله وسلم وبارك عليه وعلى آله وصحبه، والتابعين وتابعي التابعين ومن تبعهم بإحسان إلى يوم الدين.

أما بعد! فيأيها الذين ءامنوا اتقوا الله ما استطعتم واسمعوا وأطيعوا وأنفقوا خيرا لأنفسكم. يا عباد الله أوصيكم وإياي بتقوى الله وطاعته وأحذركم وإياي عن معصيته ومخالفته. قال الله تعالى في كتابه الكريم: وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ إِلَّا إِنَّهُمْ لَيَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَيَمْشُونَ فِي الْأَسْوَاقِ

Allah says in His Noble Book, the translation of which is, “We never sent any Messengers before you who did not eat food and walk in the market-place.”

The free market of the Muslims – this market-place in which Messengers walked – is based on a number of principles:

The first is the freedom of opportunity. Everyone, no matter how little they wanted to sell, was free to use the market whenever he wanted – there was no requirement for trader’s licence or anything else. It is narrated that Ali ibn Abi Talib, said,

سوق المسلمين كمصلّى المصلّين، فمن سبق إلى شيء فهو له يومه حتى يدعه

“The markets of the Muslims are like their places of prayer – whoever gets first to any part of it, then it is his for that day until he leaves it.” In other words, just like mosques, and just like bridges, roads and public gardens, everyone should have an equal right to use and benefit from markets. So, whoever got a place in the market first, it was his to use, regardless of who had been using the place the previous day. First come, first served. Nobody had the right to pre-book a spot, as is shown by the following account of Umar ibn al-Khattab.

مر عمر بن الخطاب على باب معمر بالسوق، وقد وضع على بابه جرة ، فأمر بها أن تقلع، فنهاه عمر أن يحجر عليها أو يحوزها

Umar ibn al-Khattab once passed by the Gate of Ma’mar in the market and saw that a jar had been placed by the gate, so he commanded that it be taken away. Umar forbade anyone to put any stones on a place or lay claim to it in any way.

And that is because the suq is a public space, not belonging to anyone. Ibn Zabala narrated that Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Hasan said,

أن رسول الله تصدق على المسلمين أسواقهم

“The Messenger of Allah gave the Muslims their markets as a sadaqa.” And as a consequence of that, they must be free to use – no rent can be charged for their use. Umar ibn Abdal-Aziz said,

إنما السوق صدقة فلا يضربن على أحد فيه كراء

“The market is a sadaqa, so no one should be charged rent in it.” This is a fundamental principle of the market, for if there is a necessity to pay rent then it prevents the very poor or those who only have a small amount of goods to sell from using the market. And this principle has largely been forgotten by the Muslims today with many of the Islamic markets that are set up charging the traders astronomical rents. And often those rents, they say, are necessary to pay for the costs of flying in superstar Muslim speakers from all over the world to speak at those events. So putting the deen into practice is put aside in favour of talking about how to put it into practice. Mashallah, what a world we live in.

Another principle of the market was that it was prohibited for taxes to be levied on it – when the Prophet first came to the market of Madina, he struck the ground with his foot and said

هذا سوقكم فلا يضيق ولا يؤخذ فيه خراج

“This is your market – it is not to be constricted nor may a tax be taken in it.” There is no income tax in Islam, and it is not for the Sultan to levy such a tax on his citizens and those who make use of the market. The only thing that should be paid on one’s trade is zakat.

And nor may any buildings or permanent structures be erected in the market-place, because that is a way of constricting the space and restricting access. The Prophet said,

هذا سوقكم لاتتحجروا ولا يضرب عليه خراج

“This is your market. Do not build anything in stone in it and do not let any tax be levied in it.” It is a publicly-owned space. You would not go to the mosque and build yourself a special prayer room, so nor should you do the same in a market. That is not to say that shops or storehouses are forbidden for they are not. It is perfectly acceptable to build yourself a shop on your own land. But not in the market-place. It needs to be kept empty and free so that anyone and everyone can come and use it an any time. That is the way to encourage trade and encourage the circulation of wealth, for if there was no available venue, then there would be no incentive for traders to set up caravans and travel to far-off cities to sell their wares.

Another principle of the market is that there can be no monopolies. And monopolies come about when one permits capital to command the price, so there is no wholesale price and retail price. A person is not permitted to undercut his competitor simply because he is wealthier and is able to buy more stock. Umar ibn al-Khattab passed by a man selling raisins, two mudds for a dirham, so he said to him,

زد في السعر وإلا فاخرج من سوقنا

“Either raise your price or leave our market.”

All of these principles are to ensure freedom of opportunity and guard against monopolies or the cornering of the market. And that is essential to preserve the health of a society and preserve equity. Every urban area needs such a market, just as every urban area needs roads, highways and places of worship. Without it, everyone is soon converted into wage slaves for the giant monopolies and corporations that take their place. And all human dignity is lost. So we ask Allah to help us re-establish the markets, and give every human the opportunity to regain that dignity. We ask him to make us like the traders about whom In Abbas said,

أوصيكم بالتجار خيرا فإنهم بُرُدُ الآفاق و أمناء الله في الأرض

“I advise you to be good to the traders, for they are the cloaks that guard against calamities and Allah’s trusted ones upon the Earth.”

2 Responses

  1. salam alaikum,

    pls,i couldn’t read this very important khutbah on commerce with ease on my phone because the ink was light pls,re-write it with deep black ink,for the sake of Allah and His Prophet(SAW).

  2. May Alah reward you for these illuminating concepts… and may the Muslim Community return to applying the muaamalaat as Alah has ordained.

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