By Taj Ahmad
6 June 2014
Protecting consumers from malpractices of traders and commercial organizations is an important responsibility of any state. Qur’an and Hadith laid down the basic structure of consumer protection some 1,400 years ago which are as valid today as they were during the golden age of Prophet (peace be upon him) and the rightly guided caliphs. Qur’an categorically denounces all unfair means in Surah An-Nisa: “O you who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: but let there be amongst you traffic and trade by mutual good will.” (Qur’an, 4:29)
Surah Mutaffifin prohibits all kinds of mischief by traders including misrepresentation, adulteration and fraudulent products collectively called as ‘Tatfeef’: “Woe to those that deal in fraud; those who when they take a measure from people, take in full. But when they have to give by measure or weight to them, give less than due.” (Qur’an, 83: 1-3)
While passing by a seller, Allah’s messenger once came upon a heap of grain and when he put his hand inside it, he felt some dampness. He asked the owner, why is this dampness? The owner replied, rain had fallen on it, O Allah’s messenger. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said; why you did not put the damp part on top of the heap so that people might see it, then he said; whoever cheats is not from us (Muslims). Sellers have the responsibility to disclose any defect or shortcoming in the merchandize enabling the customer to make an informed decision and should not twist the facts to misguide or confuse the buyer.
In the contemporary shopping markets and malls, traders have very rigid returns exchange and refund policies, some of them allow only a few days to return and some do not refund even though the items are in good conditions. As part of good consumer practices, Islam asks traders to give the customer right to return the goods. Allah’s messenger said whoever accepts back what he had sold to a Muslim, Allah will forgive his faults. (Abudawood)
With regard to correct weight and measurement, the glorious Qur’an says: “So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance.” (Qur’an, 55: 9)
People of Madyan were subjected to Allah’s retribution and were destroyed by thunderbolts and fire from the sky as they used to cheat people in different ways and did not listen to Allah’s messenger Shoaib, who warned them not to manipulate the scale.
When traders commit widespread exploitation of consumers through different ways of deceit depriving poor buyers of their hard earned money, it is state’s responsibility to save the society by implementing effective legislation for consumer’s protection.
Hoarding is another corrupt practice which is used to artificially inflate the prices, whereas Islam tells that prices should be determined purely by demand and supply function. Allah’s messenger said none withholds goods till the price rises but a sinner (Muslim). Once prices rose to a higher level in Madinah and people came to Prophet (peace be upon him) saying; 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.” (Al-Bukhari) This Hadith indicates that arbitrary fixing of prices is prohibited because it may cause loss to businessmen on one side and on the other it creates a made-up famine. However state has the prerogatives to regulate prices in exceptional cases.
Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “A city dweller should not sell the merchandise of a villager (Muslim).”
The rationale behind this Hadith is that the city dweller might withhold it until prices escalate whereas the villager will try to sell it as soon as possible. Though due to growing distance between cities where the produce is consumed and the farms where it is harvested, it has become necessary to have storage houses and middle men in the cities. But other measures should be taken to control hoarding and maintain prices at reasonable level.
Malpractices in the property market are also rampant where speculative buying and selling drives prices higher ultimately the market crashes. The 2008 bubble in the UAE real estate market and its subsequent crash led to large-scale losses to retail investors and consumers. Financial markets are another area where influential traders manipulate prices of stocks to their benefit and small retail investors generally happen to be the ultimate losers. There is a need for market regulators to implement strict rules and penalties for violators for the safety of small investors. Pensioners were the biggest losers in the 2007 financial market crash in the US and Europe.
Loans and debts are norms of trade which Islam fully supports however loan should never become a tool for exploitation of debtor and that is why interest of all sorts and manifest are prohibited. In addition Qur’an calls for giving enough time to debtor to repay his loan in case of difficulty. Allah says in Surah Baqura “If there is one in misery, then (the creditor should allow) deferment till (his) ease, and that you forgo it as alms is much better for you, if you really know.” (Qur’an, 2:280)
Allah’s messenger said a person would be called on the day of resurrection and he would not have any good deeds except that he had instructed his servant to show leniency to those who were in financial difficulty. Allah the exalted would say, I am more entitled to this attribute, so he will forgive all his sins (Muslim). Debtor should also endeavor to repay his obligation timely and sufficiently.
Once a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and very rudely demanded the camel he had loaned to the Prophet (peace be upon him). The companions being very displeased wanted to stop him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to the companions; he is a creditor and he has the right to demand. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said; give him a camel of same age. The companions found a camel which was of senior age. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said; give it to him as the best among you is the one who discharge his debt in the best manner. (Al Bukhari & Muslim)
While selling the sacrificial animals during Eid ul Adha, traders use a number of unfair tricks to make animals look healthier and weigh heavier than they really are. For example animals are given special feeds, medication and injections that swell their body. “The messenger of Allah forbade the practice of “Najsh” and leaving the animals un-milked with the purpose of accumulation of milk to deceive the buyer (Muslim).”
To protect the transacting parties from conflicts Qur’an calls for writing down the transaction done on credit or future obligation. “O you believe, when you transact a debt payable at a specified time, put it in writing, and let a scribe write it between you with fairness.” (Qur’an, 2:282)
Lastly the messenger of Allah said “the trustworthy, truthful merchant is associated with the Prophets the upright and the martyrs on the day of resurrection (Tirmidhi). However, if the intentions in business transactions are not worthy and the lawful and forbidden are not differentiated then another Hadith says “The merchant will be raised on the day of resurrection as Fujjar (that is corrupt, transgressors, disobedient, sinful) except the merchants who fear and are pious and truthful.” (Tirmidhi)