20: Prohibition of Consuming People’s property Unjustly
Allah Almighty says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, do not consume one another's wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful. And whoever does that in aggression and injustice - then We will drive him into a Fire. And that, for Allah, is [always] easy.” (An-Nisa: 29-30)
Allah Almighty prohibits people from consuming one another’s wealth unjustly such as taking other’s money illicitly by means of gambling, riba (usury) and games etc. Even if these means are disguised as legitimate, yet Allah knows if the person aims to hide behind these means to eat people’s money. Almighty Allah forbids people against using the prohibited methods to take people’s money. He excludes trade from the prohibition because it is legitimate and it is done with the consent of both the buyer and seller. So, Allah allows it for believers, i.e. to earn money through trade. Also, Almighty Allah forbids people against killing themselves by committing prohibitions and eating people’s money unlawfully. Allah is merciful to people through his commands and prohibitions because they are obligations prescribed for their own goodness and reform.
The prohibition of killing the self in the verse applies also to the act of committing suicide by taking poison or any other deadly method. It also prohibits killing other people. Allah has made the crime which the human commits against other people like a crime against himself and humanity as a whole.
Whoever commits any act that Allah prohibits to transgress and oppress others while he knows it is not permissible and insists on doing it Allah will torture him in the hellfire which is easy for Allah (AWJ).
“O you who have believed, do not consume one another's wealth unjustly.”
The verse suggests that this is a purifying process of the Muslim society from the remnants of Jahilayah (pre-Islamic ignorant practices). Allah stimulates the consciences of Muslims with this call “O you who have believed”... It is a call for the requisites of faith, the requisites of this character that Allah calls them with to prohibit them from eating each other’s money illicitly.
Consuming money unjustly comprises all methods of exchanging money among the people in a way that Allah does not allow and totally prohibits. Some of these methods are fraud, bribery, gambling and monopolism of most needed commodities to make them expensive and increase their prices. It also includes all kinds of impermissible trading and selling starting with riba. We cannot be certain whether this text was revealed after or before the prohibition of riba in the Qur’an. If it was revealed before prohibiting riba then it is an introduction to the future prohibition. Riba is indeed the worst method of eating money unjustly. If the verse was revealed after the prohibition of riba, then it is included in the different kinds of eating people’s money unjustly that the verse prohibits.
The commercial transactions that are done with the consent of both parties, the buyer and seller, are excluded from the prohibition: “…but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent.”
It is a brief exclusion that means: If it is a transaction happening with the consent of the parties involved then the former prohibition does not apply. The mention of trade in the Qur’anic context suggests that people might confuse between this kind of commercial transaction and the kinds that are described as eating people’s money unjustly. We can notice this confusion if we return to the verses of the prohibition of riba in surat al-Baqarah such as the saying of usurers on prohibiting riba: “Trade is [just] like interest.” Allah answers them in the same verse: “But Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden interest.” The usurers are intentionally confusing between trade and riba to defend their cursed economic system. They say that trade or commerce makes financial gains and profits and this is why it is just like riba. So, for them, there is no point in permitting trade and prohibiting riba.
There is a big difference between the nature of commercial and usurious transactions, and between the services that trade provides for the industry and the people and the calamities that riba causes to trade and the people.
Trade is a good mediator between industry and consumers; it promotes for commodities and sells them. Accordingly, they are improved in quality and they become easy for the people to get. Trade is a service for both parties and benefit for everybody. A benefit that depends on skills and hard work, it is also liable for profit or loss.
On the other hand, riba is the total opposite of all that. It overburdens industry with usurious interests that are added to the costs, it also weighs down trade and consumers with paying the interests imposed on the trade. At the same time – as it was obvious during the time when capitalism was dominating – riba directs industry and investment in a way that is not for the best interest of industry or consumers. The first aim of the usurious system is to increase profits to pay the interests of industrial loans even if it means that people consume luxurious products and not to find the necessities! That means investment will always focus on accomplishing the projects based on stimulating the desires and accordingly that would destroy the human existence. On top of that, this constant profit is always for the capital. It does not take part or share in case of loss – like trade – and it does not depend mainly on the human efforts like the way it goes in trade, in addition to the black list of charges against the usurious system. These negativities obligate us to sentence the usurious system to death, in other words to eliminate it, as Islam does.
This confusion between riba and trade might be the reason why the Qur’an adds this exclusion “…but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent.” It comes after the prohibition against eating people’s money unjustly. The linguists call this addition a discontinuous exclusion.
“And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.” This is an explanation coming after the prohibition of eating people’s money unjustly. It suggests the devastating impacts that occur in the society due to the illicit practice of taking people’s money unjustly. It is like a killing process. Allah wants to be merciful with those who believed when He prohibits them from this unlawful act.
It is indeed the truth. The promotional methods that aim to unjustly eat people’s money are many such as riba, gambling, monopolism, deceit, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, bribery and theft. It also includes selling what should never be sold such as dignity, conscience, manners and religion. Whenever these methods prevail in the ancient or modern Jahiliayah societies, it means that such societies are killing themselves and falling into the pit.
Allah wants to be merciful towards the believers by saving them from this destructive death to life and wrecker of spirits. This is the Will of Allah to make life easier for people to be able to overcome their human weakness which devastates them when they give up the direction of Allah to adopt the direction of those who want to pursue their desires.
This threat is followed by the torture of the hereafter. It is a threat to those who eat people’s money unjustly by means of transgression and oppression. They are warned by the eternal torment after the first warning in the verse that their methods will cause death and destruction to the present life.
No one will be excluded from the consequences of practicing these destructive methods, the eater of money and the one whose money is eaten will both pay for it as the society is connected in the result. Whenever we allow the promotion of the transgressing oppressing methods in the society in which the money is eaten unjustly, then the word of Allah will be fulfilled upon this society, i.e. His punishment, in the present life and the hereafter. Almighty Allah says: “And whoever does that in aggression and injustice - then We will drive him into a Fire. And that, for Allah, is [always] easy.”
Thus, the Islamic methodology shows the human soul its destinations – in the present life and the hereafter – through legislation and direction. It appoints the spirit as a watchful guard to follow the direction and apply the legislation. It appoints each person in the society as a guard because the whole society is responsible. If they don’t apply, all of them will get their share in the punishment of the present life represented in death and destruction. As for the final punishment on the Day of Judgment, they will be held accountable for the neglect and allowance of the false conditions in the society to prevail.
“And that, for Allah, is [always] easy.” No one can ban this, no one can stop the punishment and no one will ever escape it if the reasons justifying its occurrence exist in the society.