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Islamic Principles Of Business Ethics And Consumer Protection

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INTRODUCTION

The importance of business can never be overemphasised. Business has always played a vital role in people’s economic and social lives throughout the ages. The involvement of Muslims in business is not a recent phenomenon. It dates back to fourteen centuries. Islam urged the Muslims to keep their wealth free from the element of haram. It also addressed various inappropriate and exploitative business practices that were prevailed in society and provided detailed teachings in this regard. Such instructions are also called “the business ethics of Islam.” The concept of business ethics has now become an integral part of today’s economic system. The modern business management institutions have expanded this subject to include it in their curriculum, and an integrated approach to inline the business activities and social practices is being desired. Since such practices directly affect consumers’ rights, the importance of these ethics is now legally recognised in every civilised society.

Ethical values while conducting any business are highly observed in Islam. Qur’an and Hadith have laid down an ethical discipline in business transactions to be followed by the traders. Islam considers honesty, fair conduct, moral values of law, and morality as a part of business transactions. Islam has promoted fair competition to provide people benefits of the improved and sterling products at reasonable prices. All of this must be shaped together to ensure justice to the traders, and those who betray these rules are liable to the punishment of God.

The Arabic equivalent for “Consumer Protection” is Himayat -u’l-mustahlik. Islamic law does not provide a particular area of consumer protection as the term does explicitly not appear; also, it is not found in the traditional literature of fuqaha’. However, Islamic law has provided detailed Shari’a rulings and guidelines for the protection of consumers’ rights. Consumers’ legal rights mainly derive from the Islamic law of transaction, which outlines many principles and ethical standards that are sufficient to protect any consumer. Also, various chapters address the same topic such as liability (Daman), contracts, uncertainty (gharar), the law of options (khiyarat/khiyar ul ‘Ayb).

In short, the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah embody some fundamental and essential principles concerning the protection of consumers in business activities. This article aims to provide a brief discourse of such tenets, which not only guarantees the safety of consumers but also endorse the importance of moral and ethical values while conducting a business.

TRUSTWORTHINESS IN BUSINESS CONTRACTS

Islam provides full liberty of earning to a person in business through any halal means and always encourages people to trade. Moreover, Trade is recognised as an essential part of ibadah. Islam does not tolerate any cheating, fraud, or exploitation. In this context, The Holy Qur’an says:

“O you who believe! Eat not up to your property among yourselves in vanities but let there be amongst you traffic and Trade by mutual goodwill.”

The holy Qur’an says:

“O ye who believe, fulfill your contracts.”

In the same regard, Qur’an also states:

“Do not defraud people of their things, and do not commit corruption in the earth.”

A Muslim person in business should be sincere and truthful while conducting any transaction. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ once said:

“When you buy something, say to the seller: no cheating.”

Allah has also promised the honest traders with great reward in this world, and Hereafter, the Prophet said:

“the truthful, trustworthy merchant will be with the Prophets, truthful and martyrs.”

MUTUAL CONTRACT

The Arabic meaning of the contract is “aqad” which is the bone marrow of any transaction. It is the combination of “offer” and “acceptance”6. Qur’an and Hadith have laid down some fundamental principles regarding the contract. For a contract to be valid according to Shari’a, certain conditions are to be exercised; first and most importantly, the contracting parties must have the legal ability to conduct a transaction. A person who does not qualify for these conditions is not permitted to enter any contract. In today’s era, it should be borne in mind that traders constantly deceive consumers due to their inability to participate in any contract; Islam is the only religion that provides the eligibility criteria to the parties for the transaction. In addition to that, the subject purpose of the contract should be lawful, and the contracting parties must have their free consent. Consent obtained through; any fraud, misrepresentation, or by force is enough to make any contract void. The Holy Prophet Muhammad said:

“Indeed, a transaction is only valid with mutual consent.”

Moreover, to protect consumers from any conflict, Qur’an calls out for writing down the contracts.

The Holy Qur’an says:

“O you who believe! whenever you transact a debt payable at a specified time, write it down, and let a scribe write between you.”

Thus, a contract should be evident and vibrant as well as the clauses should be very transparent and should preferably consist of the spoken word (past tense). Moreover, the period between “Ijaab” and “Qubu’l” should not be exceeded to what is necessary. Additionally, there should be no ambiguity in a contract that may lead the transacting parties to any argument or conflict. There is a famous doctrine regarding conflicts in the contracts that states:

“whatever leads to a conflict makes the contract void.”

Thus, a contract should be very transparent and clear.

Standards Regarding Weights and Measures:

Islam directs traders concerning measures and the quality of goods. The traders are required to keep the standard of weights and measures. The standardisation of weight and measures is also emphasised in Qur’an.

The Holy Qur’an says:

“Give full measure when ye measure and weigh with a balance that is straight; that is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination.”

It is better to err on giving more while selling and prefer to get less while avoiding harm to the parties. In this context Qur’an says:

“Woe to Al-Mutaffifîn [those who give less in measure and weight (decrease the rights of others)], Those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, demand full measure, and when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due”

Qur’an also says:

“… And give full measure and (full) weight, injustice; We do not burden any soul beyond his capability…”

Thus, every Muslim trader’s responsibility is to avoid such kinds of sinful and mischievous acts to ensure the protection of consumers against any injustice.

The Holy Qur’an also states:

“And O my people, perfect the measure and the balance with justice and do not make the people short of their things, and do not go about the earth spreading disorder.”

In the commentary of this verse, the famous writer Mufti Muhammad Shafi’i Uthmani writes:

“Here, it is helpful to keep in mind that kufr and shirk are the roots of all sins. People soaked in these are usually the first to be invited to believe. Faith comes before consideration could be given to matters like social transactions and induvial deeds. Whether they have deliverance in the present world or would deserve punishment are things that too are decided based on this faith or denial. All events related to past Prophets and their people mentioned in the Qur’an bear witness to this mode of action – except two communities. The punishment came upon them, because of their disbelief as well as due to their evil deeds. The people of Sayyidna Lut A.S were one of them upon whom, as mentioned earlier, their entire habitation was overturned. It has been stated that their evil practice was the reason for it. The people of Sayyindna Shuaib were the other one; they were punished because of their habit of weighing less and measuring shorts. This tells us that both these things are most hated and grave, more than any other sin. the reason is that they bring severe loss upon the entire human race leaving the world populated by it is a disorder of ominous proportions.

The above-said anecdote demonstrates the importance of weight and measures in a Muslim society.

PROFICIENCY IN PRODUCTION

To provide consumers protection against substandard products, Islam has requested the manufacturers to supply superior goods and never compromise on the quality of products. Selling inferior and defective products is highly condemned in Islam. All the manufacturing processes should be done with perfection. There should be no stone left unturned to produce safe and secure products. Prophet Muhammad said:

“Allah loves one of you, who works perfectly.”

The Prophet also reported to have said:

“Allah has decreed proficiency in all things, so when you kill, kill well, and when you slaughter, slaughter well. Let one of you sharpen his blade and spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.”

This tradition indicates that a man should perform his every task, including products with high proficiency and skills. Therefore, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to produce excellent products that are flawless in every way to ensure the safety of consumers.

ADULTERATION

Adulteration is another corrupt practice that is strictly prohibited in Islam. Islam has instructed the manufactures to maintain purification in their manufactured goods. Deceiving consumers by providing them adulterated or contaminated goods is highly condemned in Islam. The Holy Prophet said:

“One who sells adulterated products is not from us.”

UNCERTAINTY: GHARAR

Uncertainty (gharar) means anything whose consequences are undetermined. The famous Muslim scholar Mustafa al Zarqa’ defined Gharar as:

“Gharar is the sale of probable items whose existence or characteristics are not certain, due to the risky nature that makes the trade similar to gambling.”

Islam prevents the traders from indulging in any transaction where the result is hidden or highly doubtful to protect them from unfair results. Such type of transactions may lead the parties to quarrel and conflict. Transactions embracing uncertainty regarding its subject of a sale, price, or delivery time are treated as Gharar based transactions, thus prohibited by Shari’a. This includes objects of sale that do not exist or are not in possession. In this regard, Imam Bukhari narrated on the authority of Abu-Hurairah:

“Allah’s Apostle forbade the meeting of the caravan (of goods) on the way, and that a residing person buys from a Bedouin, and that a woman stipulates the divorce of the wife of the would-be husband, and that a man tries to cause the cancellation of a bargain concluded by another. He also forbade An-Najash and that One who withholds the milk in the udder of the animal so that he may deceive people on selling it.”

Moreover, Ibn e Umar has narrated:

“The Prophet forbade selling the offspring of a pregnant animal.”

Abu Huraira also narrates that:

“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ forbade Gharar transactions and

hasah transactions.”

These traditions illustrate that any uncertainty is enough to make a contract null and void. Both parties in a contract must have complete knowledge about what is being exchanged to avoid uncertain results. Moreover, the commodity being exchanged must exist rather than just expected.

GAMBLING

As indicated earlier, Islam forbade transactions comprising uncertain consequences; Gambling is also strictly banned in Islam. The Arabic synonym for Gambling is “maysir,” which is derived from ‘yusr’, which means ease. Such transactions consist of easy profits without any effort, and the financial loss of any one of the parties is confirmed. The Holy Qur’an has strictly outlawed these kinds of transactions.

The Holy Qur’an says:

“O you who believe! Intoxication and gambling, the dedication of stones, and divination by arrows are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. Eschew such abomination, that you may prosper”.

The reason behind this is that Islam stresses earning through real effort and work. Gambling could not be considered as work; because it is purely a game of luck. In such kinds of practices, a lucky person may conquer a massive amount of wealth or lose everything. Thus, Gambling is nothing more than a reallocation of wealth in society based on mere fortune.

Additionally, Gambling also consists of social and moral threats as it could be addictive. A gambler who gains a considerable amount of wealth at a particular event may become desirous to tempt his fate again to earn more money without any effort. At the same time, a loser may feel forced to play again to recover his loss.

HOARDING

Correspondingly, hoarding is another unlawful activity that is used to create an artificial paucity of supplies by storing them for the sake of high prices. This type of practices is totally against the natural market system of Islam as freedom of natural competition is guaranteed in Islam. Islam promotes the circulation of wealth and never tolerates such type of exploitation and manipulation. Prophet ﷺ said:

“If anyone withholds grain for forty days out of the desire for a high price, Allah will renounce him.”

He ﷺ also has said:

“Whomever hoard, he sins.”

On another occasion, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said to Sayyida Asma:

“spend according to your mean, and do not hoard; otherwise, Allah would be withholding from you.”

Based on these traditions of Holy Prophet ﷺ, any hoarding or stockpiling of consumable items are strictly banned in Islamic Shari’a. During the era of Calipha Umar bin Khattab, a strong warning was issued against hoarding of any marketable commodity.

PRICE MANIPULATION

Nowadays, when it has become a common practice of traders to use different tactics to manipulate the prices artificially, Islam strictly forbade any type of such practices including hoarding and bidding without the intention of buying. The market system is accessible in Islam, as any interference from the traders to affect the free economy system and natural demand and supply rule is highly criticised.

Once prices rose to a higher level in Madinah and people came to Prophet ﷺ saying: O Allah’s Messenger! Prices have risen high; fix them for us. Allah’s Messenger replied:

“Allah is the One Who fixes prices, who withholds, gives lavishly and provides. And I hope that when I meet Allah, none will have any claim on me for injustice regarding blood or property.”

This Hadith illustrates that fixing of price is not welcomed in Islam. Instead, it should be left unrestricted, relying on natural demand and supply. However, there are some exceptional situations where the government holds the right to interfere with eliminating financial exploitation if any.

Another corrupt practice to artificially manipulate the prices occurs during the season of Eid ul Adha; traders start carving several techniques to make a sacrificial animal look healthier than they are. Animals are given special supplements and injection that swells their bodies. Such kind of crooked does stringently proscribed in Islam. Abu Hurairah narrates it:

“The messenger of Allah forbade the practice of “Najašh” and leaving the animals unmilked with the purpose of the accumulation of milk to deceive the buyer.”

Similarly, another unethical practice exercised by the traders is that the agents of the seller often quote higher prices during pre-sale negotiations or bidding without any intention of buying to convince the buyer to get into the competition and try to get the item at any cost. This type of practice is called “Najašh,” which is also outlawed in Islam. The Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“No town-dweller should sell for a village man. Do not practice Najsh (i.e., do not offer a high price for something you do not want to buy or deceive people). No Muslim should offer more for a thing already bought by his Muslim brother, nor should he demand the hand of a girl already engaged to another Muslim. A Muslim woman shall not try to bring about the divorce of her sister (i.e., another Muslim woman) to take her place herself.”.

Moreover, this Hadith also illustrates that it is also not permitted for a Muslim to participate in a transaction when the fortitude of someone other than him has proved to purchase that commodity. Offering a higher price in an already completed transaction is highly condemned in Islam. All these rules provided by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ ensures consumer protection.

REFUNDS

In our modern-day markets, traders have minimal refund and exchange policies. A few of them allow the customers to return or exchange the purchased goods, restricted with several conditions. Most of them follow the rule “goods once purchased, can not be returned or exchanged” and do not allow their customers to refund or exchange. In contrast, Islam, as a highly protecting consumer religion, encourages the traders to give the customers the right to return or exchange goods.

In this regard, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

“whoever accepts back his sold items, Allah will take back his wrongdoings.”

Moreover, Islam gives the purchaser a specific right (khiyar al ‘aib, khiyar al šhart) of three days return policy which permits the consumer to return purchased goods to the vendors, even

when there is nothing wrong with the product. Equally, change

of mind is also accepted open-heartedly in this policy.

All these mentioned features leave no doubt behind that how comprehensively and deeply does Islam has addressed the importance of protecting consumer rights. The flawless and impeccable system of Islam has thoroughly reviewed all aspects in this regard. There left no angle being untouched. There remains no chance of consumer exploitation if all these rulings are implemented. All of this clears out the fact that Islam has taken over all other Man-made laws, which are clear evidence of its being a divine and complete religion that conducts human life hereafter and in this world.

CONCLUSION

The above discussion highlights the importance of business ethics and Islam and provides an applicable structure for consumer protection legislation. It also leads us to conclude that Islam disapproves of all business practices that explicit or implicit harm or injustice to society. It promotes the freedom of Trade and economy. Furthermore, the principles mentioned earlier left no doubt that the Islamic concept of business is much more comprehensive than is usually believed. For Islam, the whole life is business. The concept of business ethics has become an integral part of today’s economic system. It is pertinent to discuss that the Islamic Banking and finance industry has flourished a lot over the last few decades. While this system provides Muslims with opportunities for interest-free financing according to Islamic teachings, it has also established itself in the financial world as a satisfactory, reliable, and profitable alternate. Here, it should be emphasised that Islamic teaching concerning business practices and transactions is not limited to Riba. The above-mentioned Islamic principles must be taken into account while conducting any business activity to achieve the true spirit of the Islamic economic system.

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