Looking back from the beginning of this Surah, 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. It suggests that the rights of human beings 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 present ayaat bid the protection of human life and property and forbid any uncalled for intrusion into that area – whether those human beings are men or women, related or unrelated, Muslim or non-Muslim with whom there is a no-war pact in force. [Tafseer al-Mazhari]
While prohibiting to eat up the property of others the actual words used in the ayah أَمْوَلَكُمْ بَيْنَكُمْ are which have been translated as ‘each other’s property’ against the literal, ‘your property in between you’. There is a consensus of Commentators that these words certainly carry the sense that nobody should eat up the property of the other by false means. The expression also includes, as indicated by Abu Hayyan in Tafseer al-Bahr al-Muhit, that anybody should eat up his own property in that manner – for example, spend it on what is religiously sinful, or is straight extravagance. That too comes under the purview of this ayah and is forbidden.
The word لاَ تَأْكُلُواْ in the ayah literally means, ‘do not eat’. But, in common usage, it means, ‘do not usurp the property of another person by false means’ whatever they may be by eating or drinking or using. In common parlance, the authorized used of what is owned by someone else is indicated by the idiom, ‘eating up’ even though it may not be eatable. The word, batil which has been translated as ‘false means’ covers, in the view of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud and the majority of Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum, all other forms which are impermissible and are forbidden by the Shari’ah. Included there under are theft, robbery, usurpation, breach of trust, bribery, interest, gambling and all false transations. [al-Bahr al-Muhit]
False Means as Explained by the Qur’an and Hadeeth
The Qur’an uses the word بِالْبَـطِلِ by false means to declare that all wealth and property acquired by false means is unlawful. After that, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was entrusted with the duty of providing details. It was he who explained the details of every impermissible transaction.
From this we also find out that the many details of impermissible methods of buying and selling mentioned in the ahadeeth of the Prophet are an elaboration of this Qur’anic command. Therefore, all those commands are, the commands of the Qur’an. Whatever commands of Shari’ah have appeared in the ahadeeth of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam they all have a common feature – they all elucidate upon one or the other Qur’anic command.
The first part of ayah 29 explained above declares that devouring other person’s property by false and disapproved methods is unlawful. Then, in order to exempt permissible methods from the ruling of unlawfulness, it was said in the second part of the same ayah إِلاَّ أَن تَكُونَ تِجَـرَةً عَن تَرَاضٍ مِّنْكُمْ which means that the wealth and property of others which has been acquired through trade by mutual consent is not unlawful.
Although there are, besides trade, several other means and methods which are equally permissible – for example, borrowing, gift, charity, inheritance – but, generally the most recognized commonly practiced form of one person’s property passing into the possession and control of someone else is no other than trade. Trade is generally understood to be a buying and selling activity. But, according to al-Tafseer al-Mazhari, dealings related with service, labor and tenancy are also included in trade, because in bai [sale] what is acquired is mal [property] for mal, while in ijara one get mal for service and labor. Trade covers both.
The reason why trade alone, out of the permissible forms of acquiring wealth and property from others, has been singled out in this ayah is that trade and labor are the best means of earning livelihood out of a variety of options.
Rafi ibn Khadij radhiAllahu ‘anhu says that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam when asked as to which mode of earning was the purest and the most lawful, said: “Man’s work with his own hands, and all honest sale transactions (not false and fraudulent).” [al-Mundhiri, al-Targhib, and Mazhari]
Abu Saeed al-Khudri radhiAllahu ‘anhu narrates that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “The truthful and trustworthy trader shall be with the prophets and the truthful and the martyrs.” [Tirmidhi]
And Anas radhiAllahu ‘anhu narrates that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “The truthful trade shall be under the shade of the Throne on the Day of Doom.” [reported by al-Isfahani, al-Targhib]
Special Conditions of Clean Earning
According to a narration from Muadh ibn Jabal 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 from someone, they do not harass him.” [Isfahani, as quoted by Mazhari]
For this reason, it was said in another hadeeth: “Traders will be raised on the Day of Doom as the sinners except him who fears Allah, acts righteously and says what is true.” [al-Hakim, from Rifa’ah b.Rafi]