An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

Prohibiting Unlawfully Earned Money



Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 29 – 30

Talking about the sequence of these ayaat, Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani writes looking back from the beginning of Surah an-Nisa, we see that it points out to the creation of all human beings from one father and mother and that all of them are bound in the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood, which suggests that rights of human beings at large have to be guarded and fulfilled. Then came a detailed statement about orphans and women, which was followed by the commands of inheritance stressing upon the fulfillment of the rights of other relations in addition to those of the orphans and women.

Pursuant to this came the commands of marriage telling about women who can be lawfully married and about those with whom marriage is unlawful because marriage is a transaction and contract which entitles someone to enter into a woman’s life and property.

The ayaat under study bid the protection of human life and property and forbid any uncalled for intrusion in that area – whether they are men or women, related or unrelated, Muslim or non-Muslim with whom there is a no-war pact in force. [Tafseer al-Mazhari]

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُم بَيْنَكُم بِالْبَاطِلِ إِلَّا أَن تَكُونَ تِجَارَةً عَن تَرَاضٍ مِّنكُمْ ۚ وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا

“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.” [an-Nisa 4: 29]


Explaining this Ibn Katheer writes in his Tafseer, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala prohibits His believing servants from illegally acquiring each other’s property using various dishonest methods such as Riba, gambling and other wicked methods that appear to be legal, but Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala knows that, in reality, those involved seek to deal in interest.

Mufti Muhammad Shafi explains the word la takulu [لَا تَأْكُلُوا] literally means, “do not eat.” However, in the common usage it means do not usurp the property of another person by false means whatever that may be by eating or drinking or using.

The word batil [بَاطِلِ] which has been translated as “unjustly” has been explained by ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud and the majority of the Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum that it covers all other forms which are impermissible and forbidden by the Shar’iah. It includes theft, robbery, usurpation, breach of trust, bribery, interest, gambling and other false transactions.

False Means as Explained by the Qur’an and Hadeeth

Mufti Muhammad Shafi writes in his Tafseer, the Qur’an uses one word “bil-batil” to declare that all wealth and property acquired by false means is unlawful. We get the details of the different kinds of impermissible transactions from the Ahadeeth of Rasoolullah ﷺ.

Therefore, we must study the Qur’an with the Ahadeeth, as they provide an explanation of the various commands of the Qur’an.  

Permissible Methods

The first part of ayah 29 declares that devouring the other person’s property by false and disapproved methods is unlawful. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then gives an example of a permissible method, “…but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent.”

Ibn Katheer explains that it means do not revert to illegal ways and means to acquire money. However, there is no harm in commercial transactions that transpire between the buyer and the seller with mutual consent so that money is legally earned from these transactions.

Mujahid said that it means, “By selling and buying or giving someone a gift.” Ibn Jareer recorded this statement.

In his Tafseer, Mufti Muhammad Shafi explains that the reason trade was singled out in the ayah, out of all the other permissible form of acquiring wealth and property, is that trade and labor are the best means of earning livelihood out of a variety of those open to man.

When the Prophet ﷺ was asked about the purest and the most lawful mode of earning, he said, “For a man to work with his hands and every honest transaction.” [Narrated by Ahmad; classed as hasan by the commentators on al-Musnad; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb]  

The Option to Buy or Sell Before Parting, is Part of Mutual Consent in Trading

Imam Ibn Katheer writes in his Tafseer, mutual agreement in various transactions is attained when both parties have the right to uphold or dissolve the agreement before they part.

In the Two Saheehs, it is recorded that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

الْبَيِّعَانِ بِالْخِيَارِ مَالَمْ يَتَفَرَّقَا

“The seller and the buyer retain the (right to change their mind) as long as they have not parted.” Al-Bukhari’s wording for this Hadeeth reads,

إِذَا تَبَايَعَ الرَّجُلانِ فَكُلُّ وَاحِدٍ مِنْهُمَا بِالْخِيَارِ، مَالَمْ يَتَفَرَّقَا

“When two men conduct a transaction, they retain their (right to change their mind) as long as they have not parted.”

Special Conditions of Clean Eating

Mufti Muhammad Shafi writes in his Tafseer that according to a narration from Mu’aadh ibn Jabl radhiAllahu ‘anhu, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

“The cleanest earning is the earning of the traders, on condition that, when they talk, they do not lie; and when they are asked to hold something in trust, they commit no breach of trust; and when they buy something from someone, they do not start finding faults in it; and when they sell their own stuff, they do not praise it (unrealistically); and when they have a debt to pay, they do not evade payment; and when they have a debt to recover, they do not harass the person.” [Isfahani, as quoted by Mazhari]

Trade and Mutual Consent

The words “but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent” in ayah 29, lay down two conditions for the validity of a transaction through which the property of another person can be lawfully acquired.

First, it must be a transaction of trade which requires exchange of properties. Transactions of gambling, speculation and usury or the transactions of sale where the commodity does not exist are forbidden and invalid in Shar’iah.  

Explaining this Mufti Muhammad Shafi writes, we can say that trade is the name of the exchange of one commodity with the other. Having commodity on one side and having no commodity against it is not trade. It is deception.

The same holds true for interest-based transactions where the amount of interest is a return for the time allowed in a loan and “time” is not a commodity. The same thing happens in speculation and gambling. Here the commodity does exist on one side, however, the existence of a commodity against it is doubtful.

Likewise, there are transactions based on forward trading where the commodity does not exist but a deal is made for its sale/purchase.  Here you have commodity on one side and nothing but a promise on the other. Therefore this is not trade. This is deception and fraud. The Muslim jurists call it al-bai’ al-baatil, a void transaction of sale.  

Second, the transaction must take place with mutual consent of the parties involved. If there is a trade, where the object of sale exists, but the parties do not agree mutually, then that sale becomes invalid and impermissible.

An example of this trade could be, going to a store, liking something but we are not pleased with the price. We pick up the item and go to the store manager to buy it at the price that we like. The store manager refuses to sell it at that price. We argue for a while, then forcefully put the amount (that we prefer) in his/her hand, pick up the item and leave the store feeling proud that we have scored a bargain. This is not trade, no matter how proud of yourself you are. Things purchased or sold with deception have no blessing in them.

Such a trade has been called fasid and is invalid.

Mufti Shafi Usmani concludes, thus, it becomes very clear that the restriction in this ayah justifies only those forms of buying, selling and trading the justification of which stands proved on the authority of the hadeeth of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. All other forms of trade are impermissible and forbidden.

Forbidding Murder and Suicide

The first part of ayah 29 described the property rights of human beings and the later part talks about the right of life. Mufti Shafi Usmani explains that the property has been mentioned first, perhaps because injustice and negligence are common in financial matters. No doubt, unjust killing is far graver, yet, customarily, less frequent. (However, in today’s time we have seen an increase in both.)

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا

“And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is ever Merciful.”

Imam Ibn Katheer explains that this means do not kill yourself by committing Allah’s prohibitions, falling into sin and eating up each other’s property unjustly. Surely, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, “… is ever Merciful,” meaning in what He commanded us and prohibited for us. It is for us to safeguard ourselves from falling into misdeeds that will lead us into the fire or result in His punishment in this world.

Mufti Shafi Usmani writes, according to the consensus of the commentators, this include suicide as well as killing each other unjustly (whether a Muslim or a non-Muslim).

Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘Amr bin Al-Aas said that when the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sent him for the battle of Dhat As-Salasil, “I had a wet dream during a very cold night and feared that if I bathed, I would die. So I performed Tayammum (with pure earth) and led my company in the Dawn prayer. When I went back to the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, I mentioned what had happened to me and he said,

يَا عَمْرُو صَلَّيْتَ بِأَصْحَابِكَ وَأَنْتَ جُنُب

‘O ‘Amr! Have you led your people in prayer while you were in a state of sexual impurity?’

I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! I had a wet dream on a very cold night and feared that if I bathed I would perish, and I remembered Allah’s statement,

وَلاَ تَقْتُلُواْ أَنفُسَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيماً

And do not kill yourselves. Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you. So I performed Tayammum and prayed.’

The Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam smiled and did not say anything.”

This is the narration reported by Abu Dawoud.

Ibn Marduwyah mentioned this ayah and reported that Abu Huraira radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

مَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْسَهُ بَحَدِيدَةٍ، فَحَدِيدَتُهُ فِي يَدِهِ، يَجَأُ بِهَا بطْنَهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ، خَالِدًا مُخَلَّدًا فِيهَا أَبَدًا، ومَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْسَهُ بِسُمَ فَسُمُّهُ فِي يَدِهِ، يَتَحَسَّاهُ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ، خَالِدًا مُخَلَّدًا فِيهَا أَبَدًا، وَمَنْ تَرَدَّى مِنْ جَبَلٍ فَقَتلَ نَفْسَهُ، فَهُوَ مُتَرَدَ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ، خَالِدًا مُخَلَّدًا فِيهَا أَبَدًا

“Whoever kills himself with an iron tool, then his tool will be in his hand and he will keep stabbing himself with it in the Fire of Jahannam, forever and ever. Whoever kills himself with poison, then his poison will be in his hand and he will keep taking it in the Fire of Jahannam forever and ever. Whoever kills himself by throwing himself from a mountain, will keep falling in the Fire of Jahannam forever and ever.”

This hadeeth was also collected in the Two Saheehs.

Abu Qilabah said that Thabit bin Ad-Dahhak said that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

مَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْسَهُ بِشَيْءٍ، عُذِّبَ بِهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَة

“Whoever kills himself with an instrument, will be punished with it on the Day of Resurrection.”

Ayah 30

This is why Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said in the following ayah,

وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ عُدْوَانًا وَظُلْمًا فَسَوْفَ نُصْلِيهِ نَارًا ۚ وَكَانَ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرًا

“And whoever does that in aggression and injustice – then We will drive him into a Fire. And that, for Allah, is [always] easy.”

It means whoever commits what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has forbidden for him transgression and injustice – while knowing that it is forbidden for him, yet he still dares to commit it then s/he will be cast into the Fire. Ibn Katheer writes that this ayah contains a stern warning and a truthful promise. Every sane person should beware of it, those who hear the speech with full comprehension. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala make us of them, ameen.  

  • We learn that a commodity and mutual agreement is required for a sale to take place. We cannot sell things over speculation or make a sale when there is no commodity or service or when the parties do not agree, the buyer or the seller.

  • We learn that if we like something but do not agree on the price, we cannot harass the seller to sell it to us. The seller too has a right, in Islamic finance, to choose to sell something or not at a price quoted. The buyer has a right to find another seller willing to sell the commodity at a price that s/he can afford or prefer.

  • We need to be careful about our financial transactions, how we earn our money and how we spend it.
رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”
[Al-Baqarah 2: 127]


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