The twenty-fifth Greater Sin is Consumption of Harām. In the Qur’anic ayat ‘Akal al-soht’ is translated as eating of what is unlawfully acquired. Hence the word “eat” is not restricted to consumption of edibles but includes the use of any and every article, which has been acquired unlawfully or by illegal means.
Consumption of Harām is listed as greater sin in the Holy Qur’an and the tradition of Imam Riďa (a.s.) from the book Uyūn al-Akhbar ar-Riďa and the tradition of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) as related by Amash. In the following ayat of Surah al-Mā’ida:
“And you will see many of them striving with one another to hasten in sin and exceeding the limits, and their eating of what is unlawfully acquired; certainly evil is that which they do. Why do not the learned men and doctors of law prohibit them from their speaking of what is sinful and their eating of what is unlawfully acquired? Certainly evil is that which they work.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:62-63)
In this ayat Soht refers to the acquirement as well as use of anything acquired unlawfully. The dictionary meaning of ‘Soht’ is ‘to be finished’ or ‘to be lost’. The thing that becomes ‘Soht’ is that which is finished off or used up. The use of this word signifies that unlawfully acquired things do not have any ‘barakat’ and will not benefit the possessor in any way. It should be evident that this unlawful practice would include usurping another’s property, taking interest and all activities that are undertaken using the money obtained by illegal means. The use of article brought with such money is also unlawful.
Sayyid Abu A’lā Maududi writes in his book Islam and the Economic Problems: “Islam permits the people to obtain their livelihood in any way they choose. They have their freedom to choose their occupation and obtain the necessities of life, but Islam does not allow them to earn in a manner that is harmful for society. It should also not endanger the social equilibrium. Islamic laws not only prohibit the consumption of wine and intoxicants and gambling, but also prohibit any action that causes these sinful things to come into being. For example to undertake cultivation of grapes for wine making, to manufacture wine, to transport, to buy or sell wine, to give it and to use it; all these are Harām too. Islam does not consider free-sex to be a human activity. Islam has prohibited dancing. It does not consider singing and playing musical instruments lawful professions. Any activity that is beneficial to one person but harmful to someone else or to society is considered Harām in Islam.
All such types of actions carry a heavy punishment in this world and a dreadful retribution in the hereafter e.g. bribes, stealing, interest-taking, adulteration and frauds, unlawful hoarding of edible items to hike their rates making life difficult for the poor. In the same way all such actions that instigate wars and those occupations that do not require effort, making the person rich by luck, such as lottery. All these occupations are Harām.”
Shaykh Sadūq (r.a.) has narrated a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said,
“Any action of Khayanat with the Imam is ‘Soht’.”
There are many types of ‘Soht’. ‘Soht’ includes that which is received from the tyrant rulers, bribe to Qazis, payment for prostitution, wine, alcoholic nabid (a kind of wine), and interest.
“To bribe a Qazi (for giving a favourable judgement) is to disbelieve in Allah the Almighty.” 1
A similar kind of tradition is to be found in the book al-Kāfi, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) says:
Although consumption of every type of Harām is ‘Soht’, some of them are denounced more emphatically and their punishment is more severe. The worst of these is taking bribe. One who accepts bribe is just like a disbeliever and the Holy Prophet (S) has cursed him. The one who takes interest is equated to the one who has made war against Allah (S.w.T.) and the Prophet (S).
There are Three types of bribes:
(1) Bribe paid to a judge for a favourable judgement.
(2) Bribe for ‘Harām’ work.
(3) Bribe for permitted things.
The first kind of bribe comprises of money etc. paid to a judge so that he may give a favourable judgement. The judge may also be bribed for pointing out the loopholes whereby one could weaken the position of the opposite party. It is absolutely Harām even if the one who is paying the bribe is right and the judge delivers the correct judgement. The paying and receiving of this type of bribe or whatever may comprise this bribe is also Harām and a Greater sin. A person who pays or accepts such a bribe deserves the curse of Allah (S.w.T.).
The Holy Prophet (S) says:
“May Allah curse one who gives a bribe, one who accepts it and one who acts as an agent between them.”4
Elsewhere, the Holy Prophet (S) says:
“Beware of bribe! It is nothing but disbelief. The one who is involved in bribe will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.”5
Bribe is not only a sin for the guilty but it constitutes assisting in sin, the one who accepts. However if one is compelled to bribe and without it he cannot obtain his rights, it is another matter, but it is still Harām for one who accepts it. Similarly it is also Harām to reach someone by bribing. The one who acts as an arbitrator or agent and takes an active part in negotiating bribe is also a sinner.
This type of bribe is absolutely Harām whether paid in cash or kind. Bribe may also comprise of offering some services to the judge like stitching his clothes free of cost or constructing his house etc. Bribe can even be paid in words. One may praise a judge unduly to please him and thus influence him to give a favourable ruling.
Even if a bribe is paid in the name of khums and gift, it is Harām. For example to give someone a gift or a present with the intention of bribing him i.e. with the intention that by giving a gift the beneficiary will act to benefit the giver in some way. Similarly khums and zakat given with the intention of bribing is also Harām. It will not be considered as Khums or Zakat and it will be obligatory for one who has paid Khums or Zakat with such intentions, to pay it once more. Khums and Zakat are to be given with the purest of intentions, that of achieving nearness to Allah (S.w.T.) . There can be no other motive. One of the signs of Qiyāma is mentioned in traditions in the following words:
“Bribes will be accepted as gifts.”
The second kind of bribe is the bribe paid to someone, a tyrant or an oppressor for inflicting harm on a third person. The Holy Qur’an says:
“And do not swallow up your property among yourselves by false means, neither seek to gain access thereby to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the property of men wrongfully while you know.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:188)
In this ayat believers are warned not to use anything obtained illegally and not to use their wealth to bribe those in power in order to obtain anything unlawfully.
The third type of bribe is one that is paid for something lawful. Like paying someone in order that he may help in obtaining ones rightful property or to escape from a tyrant. Bribing for lawful things is allowed.
In a tradition Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) was asked about the person who bribes the occupant of a house to vacate it so that the owner may himself use it as his residence. Imam (a.s.) said that there was no harm in it. However the house mentioned in this hadith does not belong to the person who pays the bribe. It is a trust property or a public place like, the mosque, madrasa, lane, by-lane, and bazār etc. Thus if someone is occupying a place in the mosque or a student is living in a room in the public hostel, he can be bribed to vacate it.
Hafsul Amr enquired from Imam ‘Ali an-Naqi (a.s.): “The ruler has appointed agents to purchase our agricultural produce. Is it allowed for us to bribe those agents so that we may remain safe from the ruler’s tyranny?”
Imam (a.s.) replied,
“There is no harm in it. You may pay whatever you think fit.”
Then Imam (a.s.) asked:
“Do you have to supply lesser quantity of grain to the ruler after you have paid the bribe to these agents?”
“Yes,” said the questioner.
“You have invalidated your bribe (i.e. you have made the bribe Harām),” Imam told him.6
Thus it is clear that bribing to cause someone to be oppressed is Harām but it is permitted in order to save oneself from oppression.
It must however be made clear that though it is permitted to gift something for lawful acts or to save oneself from oppression, it is detestable to accept such gifts. Because these gifts bear a close resemblance to bribe. Also, the habit of bribing for lawful things may make a man habitual and he may be inclined to pay bribes for unlawful purposes too. One is prone to error. If a pious person refrains for Makrūh (detestable) bribe he will never be prone to the Harām bribe. The following tradition supports this fact.
“Those are they for whom Allah does not desire that He should purify their hearts; they shall have disgrace in this world, and they shall have a grievous chastisement in the hereafter. (They are) listeners of a lie, devourers of what is forbidden.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:41-42)
Explaining this ayat, Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says:
“It is that person who fulfills the wish of his believing brother and accepts a gift in return.”
Shaykh Ansari says in the book, Makasibul Āmāl: “There are many explanations of this tradition. One of it is that we must absolutely refrain from accepting gifts in return for favours done that we may never fall into the trap of accepting bribe.”
A characteristic feature of earnings by Harām means the money and wealth so acquired. It is narrated from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said,
“The madness of (acquiring or constructing) buildings. Mud and water occupies the head of one who earns by unlawful means.”7
It means that a person with unlawful earnings is constantly worried about his wealth and strives to convert it into fixed property so that it is not lost. The buildings of mud and water neither benefit the owner in the Hereafter nor do they provide peace in this world. Such a person spends every bit of his wealth for pieces of land. Finally, Allah (S.w.T.) orders the land to swallow all his wealth.
Unlawful gains are harmful both from the worldly point of view as there is no barakat in such gain and also from the spiritual point of view as these form obstacles in the acceptance of acts of worship.
The Holy Prophet (S) says:
“When a single morsel of Harām enters the stomach of a person and becomes a part of his body, the angels of the sky and the earth curse him.”8
The Messenger of Allah (S) has also said:
“Acts of worship accompanied by the acquiring of Harām are like buildings that rest on (crumbling) sand.”9
They lack a firm foundation and hence are of no use. Such buildings can never remain intact and are soon destroyed.
The noble Messenger of Allah (S) has remarked,
“Prayers of the one who eats a single morsel of Harām are not accepted for forty nights nor are his invocations accepted for forty days. Every piece of flesh that grows by consuming Harām is most deserving of being burnt in hell-fire and even a single morsel consumed causes some growth of flesh.”10
The Holy Prophet (S) has also stated,
“One who wishes to have his invocations accepted must keep aloof from Harām food and unlawful earnings.”11
A man asked the Holy Prophet (S):
“I wish for the acceptance of my deeds.” The Prophet (S) told him,
“Keep your food purified from Harām and do not let any unlawful thing enter your stomach.”12
The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) revealed to Janabe Isa Ibn Maryam (a.s.):
“Inform the oppressors of Bani Israel that they must not call Me and invoke Me as long as they are involved in unlawful earnings. And if they call Me and invoke Me in this condition, I will curse them.”13
Whatever man eats is like a seed sown in the earth. If the seed is good it will bear sweet fruits. If the seed is bitter and poisonous, so is the fruit that grows from it. If the food is good and lawful it has beneficial effects on the heart. It is purified from every blemish and impurity. The organs of this person perform good deeds, but if one consumes food obtained through unlawful means it causes the heart to harden. The symptoms are soon obvious. A hard hearted person is unaffected by any kind of preaching and remains absolutely impenitent. Such a man is not moved even when he sees clear injustice. No good can be expected from him. Not a trace of goodness is visible in his dark heart. He refuses to accept what is right and is immune to every kind of moral advice. The tragedy of Karbala is the perfect example of this phenomenon. These are the characteristics clearly pointed out by Imam Husain (a.s.) in his address to the troops of Ibn Sād:
“You bellies are filled with unlawful (wealth). Now you will not accept the truth. Why don’t you deal with justice? Why don’t you listen to me?”14
In other words, when a person’s heart becomes hard and darkness occupies it.
During the rule of the Abbasid King Mahdi, there was a Qazi named Sharīk bin Abdullah. He was an honest and upright Judge, till the time he was summoned by the king. The Abbaside King forced him to choose one from three things :
(1) Either he should accept the post of the Royal Qazi
(2) He should become the teacher of the King’s son
(3) or he should dine with the king, at least once.
The Qazi thought that easiest of the Three was to eat with the king once, so he agreed to dine with King Mahdi. The ruler ordered the royal chef to prepare the best of the dishes. When the Qazi had eaten the food, the cook remarked to his companions, “Now, Qazi Sharīk will never achieve salvation.”
The prediction came to be true. The Harām food affected the Qazi to the extent that he also accepted the other two conditions. He became the special Qazi of the King and the tutor of his children. It is said that Qazi Sharīk used to be very strict and unflinching with the treasurers while obtaining his share from the royal treasury.
One day the treasurer protested, “You have not sold me grain that you act so ruthless in recovering its price.” Qazi Sharīk replied, “Yes, I have sold something more valuable! I have sold my religion.”
One day a tray filled with delicious dishes was sent by Harūn al-Rashīd for Bahlūl. Bahlūl did not accept it. The servants of the king said, “It is not possible to reject the present of the Caliph.” Bahlūl, the wise, pointed towards the stray dogs and said, “Give it to the dogs.”
The servants became angry and said, “You have insulted the royal gifts.” Bahlūl became silent then said, “Be quiet, if the dogs learn that this food is sent by the king, they will not touch it.”
Eating Harām gives rise to every type of infamy. Whereas, the Halāl morsel is the cause of every kind of goodness and charity. Numerous traditions praise the acquisition of livelihood through lawful means. For example the Holy Prophet (S) says,
“Worship consists of seventy parts and the best part is earnings by lawful means.”15
The Messenger of Allah (S) has also said,
“When a man eats Halāl food an angel stands over his head and prays for his forgiveness till he finishes eating.”16
The Prophet (S) has remarked in a similar vein,
“One who strives to earn his livelihood in a lawful manner from morning till night, achieves salvation.”17
The Holy Prophet (S) states that Allah has said:
“I will not care on the Day of Qiyāma from which door he enters Hell, the person who does not care from which door he earns money in this world.”18
The Prophet of Allah (S) has also mentioned the following tradition:
“One who does nor care from which way he earns wealth in this world will be sent to Hell in Qiyāma and I shall not care from which way he is made to enter it.”19
Maybe, those who do not refrain from unlawful earnings are afraid that if they give up this chance they may suffer poverty and deprivation. This is just a false notion. It is merely a satanic thought because it goes against the Divine promise of lawful sustenance repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an. It is unreasonable, as it is contrary to the numerous traditions of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) has promised to provide sustenance to each and every creature. The Divine promise is never unfulfilled. Allah (S.w.T.) only tests the believers to see if they strive patiently to acquire lawful livelihood or act impatiently and deviate. Whatever sustenance is decreed is surely received. It is only the impatience of the people and the weakness of their faith that makes them leave the path of lawful earnings and stray towards illegal occupations. When a person does this he fails the test. Allah (S.w.T.) deprives this person of the lawful sustenance that was in his destiny. Allah (S.w.T.) has not decreed for anyone unlawful sustenance.
On the occasion of the last Hajj, the Holy Prophet (S) addressed the Muslims in the precincts of the Masjidul Harām:
“Know that, the trustworthy Spirit (Jibrīl) has informed that no creature dies till he has received his destined sustenance.
Then fear Allah and do not vie among yourself in earning your livelihood. If there is some delay in receiving your sustenance, it must not be that you pursue it in disobedience to Allah. Verily, Allah has distributed only Halāl sustenance to every creature. He has not destined Harām sustenance to anyone.
Hence one who fears Allah and acts with patience, Allah shall bestow upon him His sustenance through lawful means. But one who abandons purity and takes up Harām methods, a similar amount shall be decreased from his lawful sustenance. He shall be made to account for his Harām earnings on the Day of Qiyāma. Allah the Almighty has prohibited it in the following words:
“...and do not substitute worthless (things) for (their) good (ones)...” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4:2)
It should not be that in a hurry to obtain livelihood you obtain it through illegal ways, before Allah provides you with the Halāl sustenance that He had decreed for you.”20
One day, Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) reached the mosque and alighted from his mule. He entrusted his animal to a person and entered the mosque. The man pulled out the saddle and ran away leaving the mule unattended.
When ‘Ali (a.s.) returned, he was holding two dirhams. He intended to give them to the man who had looked after the mule. He found the mule without the saddle. After reaching home he gave the same two dirhams to his slave for the purchase of another saddle. The slave went to the bazār found the same rein. It came to be known that the thief had sold the stolen rein for two dirhams. It was the same amount that he could have earned in a lawful way. When the slave related the whole incident to ‘Ali (a.s.), he said,
“By abandoning patience man converts his Halāl sustenance into Harām. Though he does not receive more than what is in his destiny.”21