Islamic guidance on trade and business in the words of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud

Ata-ul-Haye Nasir and Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam
Hazrat Musleh e Maud 5
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra in Torkham, Pakistan | 1948

The Holy Prophetsa, upon being asked, what type of earning was best, said: “A man’s work with his hand and every transaction which is free from cheating or deception.” (Bulugh al-Maram, Kitab al-Buyoo‘, hadith: 782)

Islam has given beautiful and magnificent teachings to mankind the likes of which other religions fail to present. Islam has addressed issues related to every aspect of human life and offered lasting solutions to worldly and spiritual matters. Islam forbids man to sit idly and urges him to work hard and strive for the attainment of religious and worldly progress. Allah the Almighty states in the Holy Quran:

وَاَنۡ‭ ‬لَّيۡسَ‭ ‬لِلۡاِنۡسَانِ‭ ‬اِلَّا‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬سَعٰی

“And that man will have nothing but what he strives for.” (Surah al-Najm, Ch.53: V.40)

When man keeps doing hard work, ceases to give up and persists in his efforts, he ultimately attains the purpose of his pursuit. 

For example, in matters related to trade and business, Islam has provided ample guidance. Dishonesty is a trait despised by Islam to such an extent that the Holy Quran invokes curse upon those who utter lies. Similarly, Islam forbids any act of dishonesty, in all shapes and forms, and allows normal trade done with honesty and fairness. 

Allah the Almighty, whilst giving Hazrat Ahmadas the glad tidings of the Promised Son, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, revealed: 

“He will be extremely intelligent and perceptive and will be meek of heart and will be filled with secular and spiritual knowledge.” (Tadhkirah [English], p. 176)

When we study the life and writings of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, one thing that stands out is the great knowledge and wisdom he was bestowed with. Whether it be spiritual knowledge or secular knowledge, Huzoor’sra insight and foresight was extremely sharp. 

In today’s society, materialism is rampant, and some do not fret from using all legitimate or illegitimate means for worldly development. With regard to this matter, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has provided significant guidance for a person to conduct their business in a fair and reasonable manner. 

In a world where accomplishment in business has become a way of trickery and deception, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra provides pointers and avenues for tradesmen and merchants to adopt and explore, which ultimately navigates one to the road to success. Below are a few from the many extracts, full of guidance that Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has provided:

Hard work and acquiring knowledge of the trade

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said that in order for one to be successful in trade, one must work hard and acquire knowledge of the trade. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra said:

“People do not work hard and do not acquire knowledge of the trade. They desire to run their business with illegal resources. […] If they utilised the proper ways, they would not need to adopt such [dishonest] means.”

Huzoorra added that a person who worked diligently and cautiously would succeed in their objective. However, if one also exhibited honesty in their dealing, then that would bear exceptional fruits. If one was indolent with regard to their work instead of being diligent, Huzoorra said, “then success is difficult”. (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 7, pp. 306-307)

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra urged everyone to develop and grow in their work in a way that was not individualistic. Huzoorra explained that cooperation was key to success. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said:

“The best thing for worldly advancement is cooperation. The people of Europe cooperated with each other and made progress. […] So the results that can be achieved through cooperation cannot be achieved in any other way. In the same manner, [by means of mutual cooperation] our Jamaat can also advance.” (Fazail-e-Quran (3), Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 11, p. 560)

A merchant must remain informed

Explaining the importance for a merchant to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the industry, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra, on 26 April 1922, said: 

“[…] one who is unaware of the importance of something cannot benefit from it. Take, for example, the tea that is produced in India – the people [of India] were unaware of its value. They did not pay attention to it. Its plants were produced and would dry up in the forest. The British appreciated its value and its importance in trade with the Chinese and immediately bought the areas [of land] where tea was produced for a cheap price. 

“Tea gardens all over India now [1922] belong to the British. They acquired them for a price, not by force. Indeed, they have benefited from their knowledge. The British now earn 200 million rupees annually from this tea in India.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 3, p. 151)

A golden principle of trade

On one occasion, whilst explaining a crucial principle of trade, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra said:

“The meaning of siyasah [statecraft and governance] also implies that one should make use [of people] with such moderation that they should neither be exploited nor underwhelmed. Siyasah does not only relate to the government, rather all traders and professional people have their respective siyasah.

“The siyasah of a trader is that they should neither bulk-buy without due diligence to such an extent that [unsold] stocks start to rot in their warehouse, nor should they acquire goods in such low quantity that the demand of the customers cannot be met. In fact, they should buy goods according to the demand, so that neither the goods are wasted while waiting for customers, nor that the customers have to be turned away due to a lack of goods. 

“Similarly, a manufacturer’s or a workman’s siyasah is that they should neither take so long in producing the goods that the trading season elapses nor should they start churning out goods before any signs of demand have arisen.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 5, p. 381)

Refrain from fraud as it is a national vice

Fraud, deceit and dishonesty are traits detested by Islam. Man generally deems his dishonest actions and trickery to be mere methods of “getting by” or “getting through life”; however, fraud is an issue that can potentially destroy the credibility of a nation. Speaking on this issue, Huzoorra said: 

“Fraud in business is a national vice for it destroys the credibility of a nation. When I last visited Kashmir, I found the annual trade of silver utensils and shawls at an ebb. It had come down from 10 million rupees annually to 1.7 million owing mainly to the dishonesty of those engaged in this trade and industry.” (The Way of the Seekers, pp. 81-82)

Justice and honouring contracts

With regard to justice and honouring agreements, on 1 May 1914, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra said:

“There are many people who do not act according to justice. Whenever they deal with someone, they try their utmost to usurp their belongings. These people do not honour promises. When a deal has been sealed, it is a matter of shame for someone to expect from X to abide by [the agreement], but not themselves, and [to expect that] they must get some profit under all circumstances, even if the other person suffers a loss.

“The traders wish to sell their goods at the full price, despite their being damaged and of a low quality. On the other hand, the buyers desire to pay less but get items of a higher quality. […] In short, everyone wishes to inflict loss upon others in their own favour, but does not wish to benefit others. […]

“Although it has become a norm to commit fraud against fellow humans, people also wish to commit fraud against Allah. […] They do not fulfil their agreements with God but hope from God to fulfil His end of the promise. They say that as they have declared themselves Muslims, so God will indeed consider them as such. No matter how much malice, grudge and enmity they may be harbouring or evil they may be committing, God [they believe] would treat them as Muslims by getting deceived [Himself]. However, they do not know that He is the Knower of the unseen. Humans may be tricked, shopkeepers may defraud their customers, servants may deceive their masters, and masters may trick their servants, but God can never be deceived because He is fully aware of man’s each and every weakness.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 4, pp. 81-83)

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud

Trade and interest

Nodaway, in business, many believe that trade is impossible to run without interest. This idea is false and is one that should not be entertained. One must stay far from that which Allah Himself has declared unlawful. On 9 January 1914, Huzoorra said:

“Now, look at interest. Allah the Exalted has prohibited it, and said that if you do not quit this, [‘then beware of war from Allah’]. (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch. 2: V. 280)

فَاۡذَنُوۡا‭ ‬بِحَرۡبٍ‭ ‬مِّنَ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ 

“This is equivalent to fighting against Allah the Almighty. […]

“Some people say that there is no harm in interest, and without this, the [system of the] world gets destroyed, and one cannot do without it. […] People declare trade and interest as inseparable, ‘whereas, Allah has made trade lawful and made interest unlawful.’ (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch. 2: V. 276) 

‭ ‬وَاَحَلَّ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬الۡبَيۡعَ‭ ‬وَحَرَّمَ‭ ‬الرِّبٰوا 

“Some people object to this saying that no reasoning for the prohibition of interest and permission of trade has been mentioned. However, when a doctor prohibits something, it is bound to be harmful. If, however, he permits something, it is certainly going to be beneficial. Likewise, anything which Allah the Almighty declares to be unlawful would be harmful. That is the reasoning.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 4, p. 20)

Withholding supplies from the market is forbidden

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra stated:

“Islam also demands that supplies should not be deliberately withheld from the market with the purpose of artificially boosting prices. If a person hoards goods for this reason, he does so by going against Islamic principles. If a trader has wheat but deliberately withholds its supply from the public in order to raise prices, he is engaged in a sinful activity, according to Islamic teachings.

“Some people believe that regulation of markets by the state is a modern economic concept, but Islam has always recognised its need. The British have now come to recognise that hoarding with the purpose of extracting higher prices is not good for the economy, but Islam recognised it thirteen centuries ago. An Islamic government would require that no trader could hoard his goods, and if any trader were found to be doing so, the government would be entitled to force liquidation of his inventory at appropriate market prices. Thus, the broader Islamic principle mandates that any good that is a need of the people must not be artificially hoarded. The word used for hoarding is ihtikar which primarily refers to the hoarding of food grains. But in line with the Islamic rules of jurisprudence, this injunction would be interpreted broadly to cover all goods that are withheld from the market with the intent of raising the price.” (The Economic System of Islam, pp. 56-57)

Guidance regarding loans

With regard to loans, during his Friday Sermon on 19 November 1920, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra explained:

“Those who borrow [money] and then use excuses, show laziness or even deny returning [the money], are not only the enemies of their own selves but also of their country and nation. When they feel any need [for money], they cry, but when the lender demands [the money], they show indifference […] 

“Such people are harmful in two ways for two kinds of people. [As a result of their behaviour…]: 1) Those who have a real need, cannot borrow [money]. 2) Those who lend money to them, are deprived of this good deed in the future. […]

“Remember well, that just as the shariah commands us to do good to others, it also commands us to value the generosity of a benefactor, and not to be ungrateful. One who lends you money in time of need, is your benefactor. You should treat them in a civilised manner, and return them [the borrowed money] in the same vein as you received it.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 6, pp. 549-550)

Injunction against artificial lowering of prices

With regard to an artificial lowering of prices, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra said:

“Islam does not permit that prices be forced down by artificial means, because, as mentioned above, this too enables unscrupulous traders to strangle their rivals by forcing them to sell at reduced prices.

“During his reign, Hazrat Umarra, while inspecting the market, came across a trader from outside Madinah who was selling dried grapes at prices that local producers and traders could not compete against. Hazrat Umarra ordered the man to remove his produce from the market or to sell it at the price prevailing in Madinah. When asked for the reasons for this order, Hazrat Umarra replied that without such an order the local merchants would have suffered a loss even though they were not charging an undue price.

“It is true that some Companionsra questioned the validity of this order in view of the saying of the Holy Prophetsa that market prices should not be interfered with. However, their objection was not well-founded, since the prohibition against state intervention in market prices by the Holy Prophetsa pertained to interference with the free interplay of supply and demand. The government should avoid undue interference, as it would provide no benefit to consumers while inflicting serious losses upon traders.

“The validity of this principle is borne out by recent events. The government failed in its attempt to fix the wheat price because, in the prevailing war conditions, no trader was able to sell at a cost price and remain in business. The result was that the normal market activity for wheat came to a standstill and a black market emerged. Starving people were ready to buy wheat at whatever price they could afford. The price that was fixed at six rupees a maund [about 37 kg] by the government at once soared to 16 rupees in the black market. People did not even report to the government about the black market because their survival depended on it. Several months ago, I had drawn the government’s attention to this danger but this warning went unheeded. The right course was adopted only after a great deal of suffering and serious unrest among the public. The earlier wheat price control order was meant to safeguard farmers’ interests, but in reality, the farmers lost heavily while the traders netted large profits.

“In short, the Holy Prophetsa prohibited only improper interference with price levels or unnecessary disruption in the normal operation of supply and demand. He did not forbid regulation to check abnormal price movements whether prices are driven artificially high or artificially low. The prohibition of ihtikar, which is firmly established according to the sayings of the Holy Prophetsa , also bears this out, because ihtikar only means that artificial increases in prices be checked. Therefore, Hazrat Umar’sra action, although an interference in the market, was a necessary regulation; it was consistent with shariah and demonstrated a sound principle of Islamic teachings.

“The aforementioned are the three sources of unlawful wealth accumulation that Islam has prohibited. In this manner, Islam blocks all channels that lead to the unlawful and excessive accumulation of wealth.” (The Economic System of Islam, pp. 57-59)

Hospitality while doing business (during Jalsa Salana Qadian)

On 22 December 1916, prior to the Jalsa Salana Qadian, Huzoorra advised the local shopkeepers, saying:

“I especially want to draw the attention of the residents of Qadian that they should partake in the hospitality [of the Jalsa guests] even if it may incur some inconvenience to them. I do not like to stop the local shopkeepers from doing their business. God Almighty has permitted trade even on the occasion of Hajj. This is also an opportunity for Qadian’s shopkeepers to do business but, where on the one hand, God Almighty does not prohibit trading, He also does not permit being completely lost in it. Thus, the shopkeepers may earn and trade by all means, but they must also spare some time for hospitality.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 5, p. 358)

Every Ahmadi should be hard-working

At another occasion, while mentioning the responsibilities of a citizen as per the Islamic teachings, Huzoorra stated:

“Islam requires every man to earn his living and not to live an idle life. The Holy Prophetsa has said: ‘The best food is that which a man earns with the labour of his own hands.’” (Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam, p. 250)

It is a great blessing of Allah the Exalted for the Ahmadiyya Jamaat that He has, through His divine Mercy, given us a blessed leadership that continues to guide people for the betterment and development of the Jamaat. Whether it is a field of religious education or worldly affairs, the blessed guidance of Islam, presented to us by the Khulafa, enables us to overcome everyday hurdles.

The guidance provided by Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra is as important in this era, as it was a century ago, as society still faces many financial disputes and conflicts. By acting upon these golden principles, we can create a peaceful and prosperous society.

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