Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
And do not consume each other's wealth unjustly, nor offer it to men in authority with intent of seizing unlawfully and knowingly a part of the wealth of others.
(Chapter 2: Verse 188)
Islam is a comprehensive religion that guards all aspects of life. In the previous verses, Allah addressed matters regarding our survival, wellbeing and social justice. He set laws that govern our basic life needs for food and nutrition. God said to humanity:
People, eat what is good and lawful from the earth, and do not follow Satan’s footsteps, for he is your sworn enemy. (02:168)
then God delivered a more specific address to the believers:
You who believe, eat the good things We have provided for you and be grateful to God, if it is Him that you worship. (02:172)
Likewise, Allah addressed issues related to marriage and reproduction. He set laws so the believers would have marriage as an outlet for sexual desires. All life necessities must have laws that govern them. For example, God’s law allows you to eat and drink from whatever you own, or from whatever has no rightful owner. In other words, you can buy your food, grow it, or go out to the wild and eat from any land that does not have a rightful owner. The only two considerations you have to keep in mind are: Is this type of food or drink permissible? And, is this food or drink a property of someone else? God respects and guards the effort the owner of the land had put in to grow his crops and tame his animals. Allah protects these private possessions from everyone else. Thus, Allah –The all Merciful- legislated laws that regulate the movement of life and protect your wealth and the wealth of others.
When the property of each person is respected and protected, the society can function properly. A farmer, for example, sows seeds but he requires manufacturers to make an ax, a plow and a waterwheel for him. And the manufacturer requires skilled laborers to run the machines and suppliers to provide the raw materials. It is a chain where everyone is contributing and playing an important role. God wants to guard these dealings among people. He says:
And do not consume each other's wealth unjustly, nor offer it to men in authority with intent of seizing unlawfully and knowingly a part of the wealth of others. (2:188)
Money and labor are the wealth of societies. The money I have today will pass to another person through trade. What laws govern this circulation of wealth? They are the laws of fair treatment and respect for other people’s rights. Allah is warning us against dealing with each other unjustly, or through false pretenses. This means that you should not attempt to earn more money through theft, extortion, cheating or making substandard products.
More importantly, if you allow yourself to earn a living by cheating others, then you will not be able to stop others from doing the exact same thing to you. Which do you think would serve you better? You may be able to cheat a few people and earn some extra cash, but if everyone you deal with cheats you, you will end up in loss. This is how a corrupt society makes everyone a loser. On the surface, you feel like you made extra money, but in reality, you lose money and end up having to pay bribes, buy defective products and get substandard services. When, on the other hand, people are governed by fairness and justice, each one will benefit and thrive. God explains:
He sends water from the sky that fills riverbeds to over?owing, each according to its measure. The stream carries on its surface a growing layer of froth, like the froth that appears when people melt metals in the fire to make ornaments and tools: in this way God illustrates truth and falsehood- the froth disappears, but what is of benefit to man stays behind- this is how God makes illustrations. (13:17)
God gives us the example of a rainstorm that sweeps all kind of rubble and dead leaves and carries it on the surface of streams. Likewise, when gold and other metals are melted, dirt and other contaminants separate and rise to the surface. These things that come to the surface become most visible but that does not mean that they are beneficial or desirable. To the contrary, they are useless and will soon disappear. Similarly, when you observe the corrupt getting rich and rising to the top of society, you should keep in mind that they do not represent the truth and soon they will vanish.