Thursday, September 06, 2007

Buyer Beware

In the Capitalist system, it is the consumer who is responsible for assessing the quality of a product before purchasing it. Consequently, this has resulted in products which have harmed or even led to the loss of innocent lives. Little importance has been placed on the value of life in the pursuit of wealth accumulation. Only the Islamic Aqeedah can raise the character of man to such a level where he is not driven by his own desires but rather by the desire to please Allah (swt).
In recent weeks, China has been in the limelight for selling products which have been found to contain poisonous ingredients. Initial reports came out of Europe and North America, where pets were dying from food made in China that contained the toxic substance, melamine. Thereafter, toothpaste and cough syrup made in China were found to contain anti-freeze and brake fluid. Most recently, toys and baby bibs made in China have been found to contain dangerous levels of lead. The Chinese government has defended their products by stating that the contaminated goods are a minute percentage of their overall exports. At the same time, companies such as Mattel are pursuing initiatives to recall any Chinese made products that could be hazardous.

It’s not a “Made in China” Problem

The problem of selling products that are unsafe to the general public is not only limited to China but has been a recurring theme throughout the global market for many years:

- In the ‘70’s, Ford Motor Company produced the Pinto, a sub-compact car to the US market. Due to the car’s poor design, a rear-end collision could likely result in the car catching fire and exploding. Ford was aware of the design flaw but decided against a recall and repair (which amounted to $11 per car) as a result of a cost-benefit analysis which deemed it cheaper to deal with potential lawsuits.
- Drug giant Merck received FDA approval in 1999 for its anti-inflammatory arthritis drug Vioxx, despite a lack of research on long-term risks. For years, the FDA allowed the company to exaggerate the benefits of the drug in its advertising campaigns and did not recommend a recall even after studies linked the drug to drastic increases in the risk of heart attack or stroke.
-Recently, GlaxoSmithKline introduced Avandia, a medicine for Type 2 Diabetes. Dr. David Graham, an FDA drug safety officer warned the FDA panel that Avandia would be responsible for between 1,600 to 2,200 heart attacks and strokes for every month the drug continued to be sold. Nevertheless, the committee voted 22 to 1 to allow the drug to stay on the market.

The above cases highlight just a few instances where public safety was compromised for a larger profit margin. Some have attempted to deflect this issue as an isolated problem resulting from a “few greedy individuals”. However, the reality is that these problems are linked to the Capitalist way of life. When the Western thinkers separated Church from state, and gave man the right to legislate, they held that the highest ideal was that of freedom. They believed that man has the right to do what he wants, say what he wants, and spend his wealth as he wants – without restriction or regulation. Consequently, the desire to make profit naturally becomes the driving force behind every decision. The issue of harm to the greater community is only considered in terms of “getting caught”. That is, if the probability of getting caught is low (or the penalties levied on the corporation are minimal) then the company will take such a road, as they believe maximizing profits will fulfill their highest ideal; “freedom of ownership”.

“A truthful and trustworthy trader will rise up with the Prophets, the righteous and the martyrs.” [Tirmidhi]

The Islamic Aqeedah: Our Only Source

As Muslims our actions emanate from the Islamic Aqeedah. The criterion that we use when making decisions is the Quran and Sunnah. As Muslims our only objective is to please Allah (swt) with the hope in attaining Jannah Insha-Allah. As a result, what we do, what we say, and what we spend our wealth on is all based on whether it is in accordance with the hukm of Allah (swt) rather than our own narrow whims and desires.

Allah (swt) says:

“Have you seen him who has taken as his Illah (God) his own vein desires?” [TMQ 25:43]

We do not value the temporary benefits achieved over the manner in which it has been attained. Rather every action must be weighed and judged according to what Allah (swt) and His Rasul (saw) have revealed because only with adherence to these laws can success be attained in both this life and the hereafter.

The Sahabah understood the submission to Allah (swt) in all areas of life including business. Rafi’ b. Khadeej (ra) said:

“We used to cultivate land in the time of the Messenger of Allah. We used to lease it for a third, fourth or a specified amount of food. One day a man from my paternal relatives came and said: The Messenger of Allah (saw) forbade us from something which was beneficial for us but the obedience of Allah and His Messenger is more beneficial for us. He forbade us from cultivating the land by leasing it for a third, fourth or a certain amount of food, he ordered the landowner either to cultivate it himself or give it to others to cultivate it for their own and he disliked that it be leased or the like.” [Ahmad]

From the above hadith benefit was not seen in terms of profit but rather, benefit was seen as following the command of Allah (swt) through the guidance of the Prophet (saw). Although adherence to the Messenger may at times prove to be challenging in terms of material success, we should remember the glad-tidings for those honest and truthful businessmen:

The Prophet (saw) said,

“A trustworthy and an honest and truthful businessman will rise up with martyrs on the Day of Resurrection.'' [Ibn Majah, Hakim]

“The merchants will be raised on the Day of Resurrection as evil-doers, except those who fear Allah, are honest and speak the truth.” [Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah]

The Hukm Concerning Deceit and Fraud

As Islam is our basis for each and every decision, we must adopt its rules and guidelines in all aspects of our lives. This decision criterion extends to the business realm as well. As Muslims, we should not consider that Allah (swt) left us to trade in whichever manner we choose without giving us established rules. Allah (swt) sent Rasul-Allah (saw) as a guide whom we must follow. When reading the following words:

“Woe to those that deal in fraud those who when they have to receive by measure from men exact full measure. But when they have to give by measure or weight to men give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account?” [TMQ 83: 1-4]

We should understand that Allah (swt) has forbidden fraud and deceit in our business dealings. The consequence of this understanding should motivate us to remove ourselves from any transactions that would be considered fraudulent or deceptive.

Therefore when we engage in selling, we must not mislead or hide any defects in the commodity. The defect in the commodity must be shown to the purchaser otherwise the sale can be deemed null and void and would be considered deceitful.

This deceit can occur when the seller hides the defect of the commodity knowingly from the purchaser; or by covering the defect from the purchaser in a way which implies to the purchaser that there is no defect, or by covering the commodity in a way which shows that it is good. Deceit should not be confused with the skill of negotiation which is permissible.

The Prophet (saw) said,

“The Muslim is the brother of the Muslim, and it is not allowed for a Muslim to buy a faulty thing from his brother without him being shown that fault.” [ibn Majah]

It is essential for a Muslim to conduct themselves according to the hukm of Allah as this is the only criterion we will be judged by on the Day of Judgment. The procedure of buying and selling should not be seen as a mundane and routine necessity. Rather, it is a human action from which we can derive many rewards both in this life and in the hereafter.

Monitoring the Markets in the Khilafah

The Islamic State acts as a regulatory body to ensure that the traders and skilled workers do not cheat in their trade, their work or their products. The government will prevent any other type of action that may harm the community, i.e. the incorrect uses of weights and measures or harmful ingredients in general merchandise.

When the Khilafah is re-established insha-Allah, there will be three types of judges:

- Qadhi who is in charge of settling the disputes between people over transactions and penal codes.

- Muhtasib who is in charge of settling any breach of law that may harm the right of the community.

- Qadi of Mazaalim who is in charge of settling disputes between the people and the State.
The Muhtasib will be entrusted to ensure that the market place is free of any deceit or fraud as in the time of the Khulafaa’.

The Prophet (saw) appointed Said bin Al-’Aas on the market of Makkah after its conquest. Umar bin Al-Khattab also appointed Al-Shifa, a woman from his clan as a market judge (inspector) i.e. a judge of Hisba. He also appointed ‘Abdullah bin ‘Utbah over the market of Al-Madinah. He would personally deal with the judiciary of the Hisba, and go around the markets just like the Prophet (saw) used to do. At the time of Haroon Al-Rasheed, the Muhtasib used to go around the markets, checking the weights and measures, and look into the traders’ transactions.

Islam is the only system based on the belief in the supremacy of the Creator. Islam is required to be implemented by a state which accepts and submits to the Creators’ laws in order to guarantee that business and trade is conducted in a fair and honest manner. Muslims, who are working to restore the Islamic economic system in the Muslim world as part of the re-establishment of Islam as a complete way of life are looking to implement Allah (swt)’s laws. The fruits of such an implementation would not see such problems, such deaths and the consequent human misery that inevitably accompanies it.

May Allah (swt) help those who are working to establish the system which will guarantee mercy and justice for all humanity.


No comments: