ON THE ETHICS OF BUYING AND SELLING
(1) It is related by Abdullah bin Omar that “the Apostle of God forbade the selling of a fruit-crop until the fruit had begun to ripen. He forbade both the seller and the buyer.”
– Bukhari and Muslim
(In another version of it, appearing in Sahih Muslim, it is stated that the Apostle of God forbade the selling of the crop of dates until the dates had begun to turn red, and the selling of spikes of corn until the spikes had begun to turn white, and there remained no danger of their destruction).
Just as in our country, the mango-crop is, often, sold much before it is ready, in Medina and other cultivable parts of Arabia, too, the crops of dates or grapes were sold before the fruit had begun to mature, and, likewise, the standing crops of grain were sold before the grain had ripened. The holy Prophet forbade it because it was quite possible that, after the transaction, the crop was destroyed owing to a natural calamity, like a squall or hailstorm, and the poor buyer was put to serious loss. A quarrel could, moreover, arise, in such a situation, between the buyer and the seller over the payment of dues. Hence, the holy Prophet has enjoined on his followers not to be a party to such deals.
(2) It is related by Anas that the Apostle of God forbade the selling of fruits until lustre had come over them. On being asked what was meant by lustre coming over the fruits, the Prophet replied that it meant that the fruits had begun to turn red. The Apostle of God, (then), observed: ‘Tell me, in return for what will the seller realise the dues from his brother, (the buyer), if the Lord withheld the fruits, i.e., the crop was destroyed, by the command of God, before it was ready for the market?’ ”
– Bukhari and Muslim
According to authorities, the owner or seller of the grove should forgo the price altogether if the whole of the crop was destroyed, and return the money he might have received in advance. If, however, the loss has been partial an appropriate allowance should be made for it. The aim and object of these regulations is that due regard was paid to each other’s interest, and all business transactions were carried out in a spirit of goodwill and compassion.
(3) It is related by Anas that the Apostle of God forbade the sale of (the crop) of grapes until the grapes had begun to turn black, and of a standing agricultural crop until the grains had become hard and were ready to be harvested.”
Perhaps, during the days of the holy Prophet only the grapes that turned black on maturing were grown in Medina. That was why he forbade the sale of the crop of dates until the fruit had started turning black. Now, both the white and black varieties of grapes are produced over there in abundance. Together with grapes, the command has, also, been given, in it, about the standing crops of agricultural fields that these should not be sold before the crop was ready for harvesting.
(4) It is related by Jabir that the Apostle of God forbade the sale of the crop of a grove for some years, and he told that allowance be made for loss suffered through a sudden calamity.
To sell the crop of a grove for a number of years has been forbidden because no one could tell whether the crop would be good or bad during that period of time, or if it would endure or be affected by a natural disaster. It would, in fact, be more in the nature of a gamble which apart from being an evil in itself, could, also give rise to other difficulties and problems.
Another commandment contained in the above Tradition is that the owner of a grove ought to make a suitable reduction in the price if, the crop was adversely affected by an unforeseen circumstance.
(5) It is related by Hakeem bin Hizam that: “the Apostle of God forbade me from entering into a deal with anyone for something that was not in my possession (at that time).”
The narrator, Hakeem bin Hizam, was a wealthy merchant. It is reported in Sunan-i-Nissai and Sunan-i-Abi Dawood that once he asked the Apostle of God about the legitimacy of the practice that, sometimes, as a person came to him to buy something which was not in his stock, he settled the deal with him and supplied the article by procuring it from the market. The Prophet, observed, “Do not sell a thing which is not in your possession.”
(6) Abdullah bin Omar related to us saying that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever buys grain should not sell it to anyone until it had come into his possession.”
Though only grain is mentioned in it, it includes all moveable goods.
(7) It is related by Ali that the Apostle of God “forbade buying and selling with a person who was in dire need or difficulties, and he forbade the selling of an article the availability of Which was not certain, and of fruit before it was ready for harvesting.”
– Abu Dawood
What it emphasizes is that the need of a person made desperate by poverty should not be put unfairly to advantage. On the contrary, he should be helped. The other thing it tells is that an article like a bird or deer in the forest or fish in the pond ought not to be sold in the hope that one will catch and supply it for it is neither in the possession of the seller nor is its availability assured, and, further, a difference can, also, arise over the quality of the thing.
(8) Abu Hurairah narrates that: “the Apostle of God, once, happened to pass by a heap of corn (which belonged to a trader). The Apostle of God thrust his hand into it and his fingers felt damp. On being asked, the trader replied that rain had fallen upon it. (So, he had placed the wet corn that was on the top under the dry corn). The Apostle of God, thereupon, observed: ‘Why did you not let the wet corn remain on the top so that the buyers could see it? (Listen), he who deceives is not of us.’”
Another version of the same incident quoted by Tabrani in Mo’jam-i-Kabeer-wa-Sagheer, on the authority of Hazrat Ibn-i-Masud, has it that the Apostle of God, lastly, said: “The sequel of such deceitfulness is Hell.”
(9) Relates Wasila bin el-Asqa that “I myself heard the Apostle of God say; he was saying: ‘Whoever sold a defective thing to anyone without disclosing the defect to the buyer would be caught, permanently, in the wrath of God.’ (Or was it) (that) ‘he would always be cursed by the Angels?’”
Sometimes, a narrator is not sure of the exact words spoken by the holy Prophet, and by way of caution, he indicates his lack of certainty while relating the event. In the above Tradition, too, Hazrat Wasila bin el-Arqam was caught in two minds and could not decide whether the Prophet had said about the deceitful seller that “he would be caught, permanently, in the wrath of God,” or that “he would always be cursed by the Angels.”
(10) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Do not go forward and meet the caravan carrying grain etc., (for trade), (before it had reached the market-place). The trader who went ahead and bought the goods in the way, the owner would, then, have the right to cancel the deal, (if he wished), on reaching the market.”
It was common, in those days, for people to bring the articles for trade from the outlying areas to the towns for selling them in the market. They used to travel in groups, both large and small, and were called Jalab. Clever traders would go on and settle the deal much before the caravan had arrived at the market-place. This practice, evidently, was not to the advantage of the sellers because they could, thereby, be cheated into selling the goods at a lower rate owing to the ignorance of the price current in the market. Another disadvantage of it was that all the grain and other articles of trade coming from outside went into the hands of skilful merchants and they sold them at a much higher rate to the ordinary consumers. Were the goods sold in the market, they would have fetched a better price and the consumers, too, would have got them at reasonable rates. It was for these reason that the holy Prophet forbade the buying of goods in the way, before they had reached the market, an d, further, indicated that if anyone did that, the seller would be entitled to cancel the deal if, on reaching the market, he felt that he had been cheated.
(11) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Do not go forward and meet, (in the way), the caravans bringing grain etc., for sale; and none of you should interfere in the selling transaction of his brother by offering his own goods for sale; and do not try to raise the price of a commodity (by pretending to be a buyer); and the merchants of the towns must not store the goods of the bedouins with themselves for future sale; and do not have the milk collect in the udders of a goat or she-camel intended for sale, and if a person buys such a goat or she-camel, he will be free to keep the animal or return it, as he likes, after milking it, and in case he returns it, he will give a Sa’a (~4 Kilograms) of dates to the owner (along with it).”
– Bukhari and Muslim
Among the instructions given in it, the first is what has, already, been stated in the preceding narrative, i.e., grain and other essential commodities should not be bought by traders from the caravans, bringing them from the countryside, before they had reached the market.
The next requires that if a person is buying an article from a shopkeeper, the other shopkeeper should not interfere in the transaction and try to persuade the customer to buy from him.
The third is concerning the practice of raising the price of a commodity by posing as a buyer and offering a higher price, while a person was engaged in settling the deal with the seller, in order that the real buyer agreed to pay more.
The fourth instruction is that city merchants should not collect grain etc; brought by the village peasants or traders for selling, and keep them, for future sale when the prices will rise. The goods, on the other hand, should be sold when villagers bring them to the market so that artificial scarcity is not created and the prices do not soar. Moreover, when peasants or traders bringing the goods from the countryside will get the price of their commodities promptly, they will be encouraged to bring in a fresh stock of goods, and, thus, the trade will flourish, and they, also, will earn more.
The fifth and the last instruction is that anyone who wanted to sell a milch cattle should not cease milking it for a time so that the buyer was deceived by the inflated size of the udders and agreed to buy it at a higher price.
The Tradition, further, tells that whoever bought such an animal will be within his rights to return it if he felt dissatisfied on milking it at his place. The buyer, in that case, will, also, give a Sa’a of dates to the owner.
In another version of the same narrative, quoted in Sahih Muslim, it is stated that the animal ought to be returned within three days of the deal after which the buyer will forfeit the right, and, also, that a Sa’a of wheat or barley can be given in place of dates.
The object of the commandment requiring the buyer to give a Sa’a of dates, barley etc., along with the animal if he decides to return it, probably is that he kept the animal with him for a few days and made use of its milk, but he had, also, fed the animal during that time, and thus, the account was settled, but if anything was, still, left wanting, it should be made good in that way. Besides, it will be a consolation to the owner.