Islam’s Market Mandate—Trade Without Exploitation
ISLAM PERMITS, EVEN encourages, trade for profit, but with two strict injunctions: Full disclosure in sales and safeguarding modesty. The purpose of both these provisos is to check exploitation, the formula for which is this: D+SI=E. That is, God well knows that among mere humans Exploitation is the sum of Deception plus Sexual Immodesty, which particularly involves the vulnerable gender, women.
Moreover, the terms of this equation necessarily follow from one another. Thus Islam has specifically proscribed the values of both these moral expressions, deception and sexual immodesty, in selling and in society, because it strictly prohibits their necessary result, exploitation.
This leads to five trade interdictions in Islam. The fact is that were societies to sincerely and uniformly incorporate these five injunctions into trade law today, capitalism would necessarily collapse tomorrow, beginning with the global banking system.
1. The Impermissibility of Belligerence in Trade
Sales are blessed in Islam by the moral irony of the simultaneous “presence” of two absences in permissible transactions: (1) Any form of coercion, including the use of mass misdirection and subliminal enticement, and (2) all types of dishonesty in production, product, or representation. Hence, Islam preconditions the blessing of free trade on the contentedness of both merchant and customer after they walk away from the transaction.
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O you who believe! You shall not consume one another’s wealth by false means. But, rather, let there be free trade among you with consent among yourselves. And you shall not kill one another. Indeed, God is ever merciful to you. And whoever does this—with aggression and injustice—We shall most surely roast him in the Fire of Hell. And that, for God, is ever easy. (Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:29-30)
Note that God puts the offense of taking another’s wealth by false means in close connection with the crime of murder, even if there is cultural understanding that buyers should be on their guard (caveat emptor), an ethic Islam vacates. Both defrauding and killing are acts of violence and unfairness that warrant the divine promise to commit their perpetrators to Hellfire.
Moreover, these two crimes are, in fact, closely connected in life, for many are those who kill in order to consume the wealth of others by means of belligerence. Indeed, the policy and reality of endless war in our times comes down to this. These two spirits of acquisitiveness and carnage are logical extensions of one another. The first is spiritual slaughter, the second its necessary corporeal manifestation.
2. The Impermissibility of Deception in Trade
The development of techniques to enhance trade as it grows is not extraordinary among people. But Islam teaches that such methods should not be deceitful. Islam forbids both falsifying product and service information in sales and hiding defects.
The Prophet ﷺ said: “The believers are naught else but brothers. Never sell a thing while hiding its defects from your brother” (Ibn Mâjah).
Abu Hurayrah reports: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ passed by a man selling food grains. The Prophet ﷺ put his hand inside it. Seeing grit in it, he said: ‘The one who practices cheating is parted from me’” (Abû Dâwûd, Tirmidî).
3. The Impermissibility of Antipathy in Trade
Capitalism encourages pride and disdain as part of trading strategy. Its advertising teaches people to buy every “this” and “that,” whether needed or not, in order to elevate oneself in lordliness over others. This, in fact, is clearly demonstrated in the motto of Onida Television for one sales campaign: “Neighbor’s envy. Owner’s pride.”
Indeed, inciting condescension toward others, inflaming jealousy, motivating egotism, and provoking incorrigibility—these are nothing less than staple attitudes that advertising seeks to instill in people, and from the very earliest ages.
How striking that Islam teaches that these are among the top evil characteristics that a soul can harbor, which stand between it and the pleasure of God and everlasting Paradise. These are all serious misconducts strictly prohibited in Islam—and all the more so when it comes to one’s neighbors.
See for yourself.
When it comes to promoting incorrigibility:
Vying for worldly abundance diverts you…
…until you have visited the graves.
Most surely, no indeed! You shall know in the end.
Again, most surely, no indeed! You shall know in the end.
Most surely, no indeed! If only you could know now the knowledge of the utmost certainty—
that you shall, most surely, see Hellfire!
Again, you shall, most surely, see it with the eye of certainty.
Then you shall, most surely, be asked [to give account] that day, for [all] the delights you have enjoyed in life. (Sûrat Al-Takâthur, 102:1-8)
When it comes to inviting envy:
Narrated Abû Hurayrah: The Prophet ﷺ said: Avoid envy, for envy devours good deeds just as fire devours fuel, or (he said) “grass.” (Abû Dâwûd)
When it comes to inciting condescension:
Moreover, do not turn your cheek to people [in contempt]. And do not ever walk upon the earth proudly exultant. Indeed, God loves no one who is swaggering [or] boastful. (Sûrat Luqmân, 31:18)
When it comes to inflaming jealousy, especially among neighbors:
Moreover, do not become like those who came forth from their dwellings haughtily, as as a show before the people to thus turn them away from the path of God. Yet God is all-encompassing of what they do. (Sûrat Al-Anfâl, 8:47)
When it comes to motivating egotism:
Indeed, God does not love anyone who is self-conceited, boastful—those who are miserly and enjoin miserliness on people, and who conceal whatever God has given them of His bounty. Thus have We made ready for the disbelievers a disgracing torment.
[Nor does God love] those who spend their wealth merely to be seen by people, while [in truth] they do not believe in God nor in the coming Judgment of the Last Day. So as to such as these for whom Satan becomes a close companion—how evil a close companion [they have chosen]! (Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:36-37)
4. The Impermissibility of Trading in Harmful Things
Islam outlaws dealing in intoxicants of any kind, trafficking in known health-damaging substances (cigarettes, for instance, or the lead-sulfide-based kohl, and cancer-causing cosmetics, for that matter, that now flood the world), as well as profiting from the promotion of social ills, like gambling, for example, by selling lottery tickets.
It is not merely consumption or commission of such products and games that Islam concerns itself with, mind you, but with the welfare of all people and society. Moreover, God conjoins these prohibitions with a reminder that the human being’s purpose is not to amass excess wealth, but to suffice oneself with necessities and then suffice one’s brothers in humanity with what remains with one.
They ask you, O Prophet, about intoxicants and gambling. Say: In both of them there is great sinfulness—and some benefit for people. Yet their sinfulness is far greater than their benefit. They ask you, as well, O Prophet, what part of their wealth they should spend charitably. Say: Spend of your surplus. Thus does God make the wisdom of His revealed verses clear to you, so that you may reflect on them (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:219).
Elsewhere, Allah tells us that the aim of this prohibition in trade is to prevent animosity and discontent between people, and to keep their hearts, as they engage in the strong earthward pull of trade, mindful of Him on His Throne high above the Heavens, and, therefore, to keep people contented against greed and the violence that goes with it.
O you who believe! Indeed, intoxicants, and gambling, and idol altars, and divining arrows are but defilement from the works of Satan. So shun them, so that you may be successful. Indeed, Satan only desires to instill between you enmity and bitter hatred through intoxicants and gambling, and to turn you away from the remembrance of God and from the Prayer. Will you not, then, desist? (Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:90-91)
5. The Impermissibility of Exploiting Women for the Sake of Trade
According to the teachings of Islam, a woman’s beauty cannot be publically exploited. Her body, form, and all manner of her loveliness is protected as a matter of privacy.
In terms of unrestricted enjoyment, it is for her with her husband. In terms of the easing of dress and interaction restrictions, she may enlarge her circle of privacy to include defined relations and associations.
This is a clear prohibition against marketers exploiting especially the visual beauty of a woman, and particularly her sexual splendor, to sell as a product in order to sell other products by way of association or suggestion, in order for these merchants to acquire for themselves the world.
Hence, Islam strictly bars the degrading of women, and this includes the most lowly use of women as mere marketing means. From the point of view of our current experience and knowledge, one can only express gratitude for the guidance of our Creator to this prohibition and understanding, for if we follow it, it is preserving of us.
Say to the believing men, O Prophet, that they should lower their gaze from women that are forbidden to them and safeguard the chastity of their secret parts. That is most pure for them. Indeed, God is all-aware of all that they do.
And say also to the believing women that they should lower their gaze from men that are forbidden to them and safeguard the chastity of their secret parts, and not exhibit their own physical adornments, except what must necessarily appear thereof.
Thus let them draw their veils over their bosoms and not exhibit their own physical adornment to other than their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their own sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk who are believers, or those bondservants whom their hands rightfully possess, or male attendants without sexual desire, or children who are not yet sexually discerning about the nakedness of women.
Nor let them stamp their feet while walking to make visibly known what they conceal of their adornments.
But turn all together to God in repentance, O you believers, so that you may be successful. (Sûrat Al-Nûr, 24:30-31)
Thus in Islam, exposing the parts other than the face and hands is forbidden to women in front of men, other than the relatives and associates listed above. And covering the beauty of one’s face is the mark and standard of the Mothers of the Believers.
According to the Quran, such covering, of both standards, is to make publically known modest women, and so to protect them from mistreatment. It is also a protection for the many among men whose hearts have corruption in them when it comes to the inappropriate enticement we experience in the presence of innocent women who are not lawful to us.
O Prophet! Say to your wives and to your daughters and to the womenfolk of the believers that they should draw part of their mantles over themselves in public. This makes it more likely that they will be recognized as virtuous women so that they will not be harassed. And ever is God all-forgiving, mercy-giving (Sûrat Al-A ḥzâb, 33:59).
For this reason, the industry of public-use cosmetics that preys upon women, impoverishing them and subjecting them to relentless public sexual attention and critique, along with its attendant and expanding ornamental “accessory” business, as well as the female-specific cultural context, popularized also by advertising, of enticing looks of the eye and modulation of the voice for purposes of attracting men, all are prohibited public expressions in Islam for women. Indeed, Islam looks at such things as no more than P.R. for Satan in society.
In opposition to this demand that women submit to visually and publicly objectifying themselves, Allah provides for women a higher and far nobler life-mission and calling, to fortify and illumine the home with godliness, to exert their male-equal souls in striving for spiritual ascension, to compete in the uplifting and dignifying of society, to raise their consciousness of the will of God and His Messenger ﷺ, and thereby to ennoble themselves, an entire generation at their feet, and all society.
Women are not to be the chattel of commerce, the public playthings of strange men, the default consumer underclass. Rather, they are to become our models of public virtue, our resident scholars, our living admonition unto God and good.
The effect on our families and social institutions would be nothing short of miraculous were women to accept such a transfiguring delegation. Wholesomeness, decorum, honor, and decency—these qualities would inform the merit of our households, our communities, our societies.
It is in this light that the divine orders addressed directly to the wives of the Prophet ﷺ set the highest standard of moral virtue and purity to which any woman can aspire. In this sense, they are exemplary for all other believing women. They have risen to a lofty station to be striven for by the believing women.
O wives of the Prophet! You are like no other category of women, if you remain God-fearing. So do not be soft in your speech with men, such that one in whose heart there is a sickness should become desirous. Rather, speak a forthright word.
Moreover, abide reverently in your homes. Nor shall you flaunt your beauty and adornment, like the flaunting of women in the former times of ignorance.
Rather, duly establish the Prayer. And give the Zakat-Charity. And obey the commandments of God and His Messenger.
God intends by this only to remove all traces of defilement from you, O People of the Prophet’s Household, and to purify you in spirit with a virtuous purification. (Sûrat Al-A ḥzâb, 33:32-33)
The alternative, of course, is what we know—the fallen, corrupted world that advertising is helping tear down all about us. Such is the very end that Islam is seeking to prevent because it foreshadows both social and spiritual demise. You can read it in the next headline.
Advertising and Adultery: Where Islam’s Fair Trade and Free-Market Capitalism Collide
Transgression is free-market capitalism’s ultimate theme, the primal buying impulse capitalism is actually selling in its quest to subsume all that is human and of human experience under the disenchanted rubric of worldly economics. Islam now stands, alone in the world, as capitalism’s and globalization’s last living antithesis.
Against capitalism’s excessiveness, wastefulness, and argument in blood, Islam proposes respect for the will of the true and only God, His commandments, His messengers, His revelations, His angels and other creations, His irresistible divine decree—hearing and obeying Him, hope for His forgiveness, and recognition that we shall all return to Him for judgment. These things are Islam.
The revelations of these two forces in our world today—man-conjured advertising for capitalism and the divine inspiration of the Quran and the Prophet ﷺ for Islam—have their starkest conflict in the former’s command to generalized adultery for the sake of the fleeting profit of the few in this life, and the latter’s categorical prohibition of adultery and all the sexual mayhem that leads to it and that it leads to in exchange for social felicity in this life and eternal reward in the Hereafter.
Islam considers adultery as among the all-time greatest sins because of the wholesale, indiscriminate devastation it wreaks. It comprises the negation of nearly every hallowed human virtue, so much so that it amounts almost to a declaration of unbelief, renounced only with the most serious atonement. With respect to the characteristics of a true believer, note how the Quran places associating gods with the One God, murder, and fornication and adultery in a close hierarchy of egregious sin, highlighting their relationship with one another:
And those who invoke not any other God along with Allah, nor kill such person as Allah has forbidden, except for just cause, nor commit illegal sexual intercourse—and whoever does this shall receive the punishment (Sûrat Al-Furqân, 25:68).
ʿAbdullâh Ibn Masʿûd reports:
I asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ: “What is the greatest sin in consideration with Allah?” He said: “That you set up a rival unto Allah though He alone created you.” I said: “That is, indeed, the greatest sin.” Then I asked: “What next?” He said: “To kill your child lest it should share your food with you.” I asked: “What next?” He said: “To commit illegal sexual intercourse with the wife of your neighbor” (Bukhârî, Muslim).
Jâbir ibn Samûra reports of what the Prophet ﷺ bore witness to in his celebrated ascension to Heaven:
“…We proceeded on and passed by a hole like an oven, with a narrow top and wide bottom, the fire kindled underneath the hole. Whenever the flame rose up, the people were lifted up [by it] to such an extent that they nearly came out of it. Whenever the fire abated, the people went down into it. There were naked men and women in it. I said: ‘Who is this?’ They told me to proceed on….‘Tell me everything of what I have seen,’ [I said]. They said:….‘Those you saw in the hole [like an oven] were the adulterers’” (Bukhârî, Muslim).
In addressing adultery, the Quran exposes it as a heinous sin and an act of Satan, intended to destroy all humanity. Hence, Islam strictly instructs us to abstain, not merely from the act itself, but even from the slippery slope of its possibilities.
And come not near to unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is ungodliness, and an evil way [that leads one to Hell] (Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:32).
The Prophet ﷺ, therefore, instructed us to avoid every act that leads to adultery. Contrary to their deliberately false portrayal in the profit-enslaving Western media, these prophetic modes and manners neither disparage, repress, nor set women in an inferior position. Rather, they ennoble women in particular, and also the men and women who internalize and practice these godly ways, for they confront men with the humbleness of their frail humanity and compel them to confess the corresponding humanity of the women they transact with as utter equals.
Thus the attendant teachings of the Prophet ﷺ—no man should travel alone with a woman who is not a consanguineous (non-marriageable) relative to him; that every man and woman, unlawful to one another, should avoid eye contact with sexual intent; that women should not wear what is sheer or revealing; that a man should make no flesh contact with women unlawful to him, even by shaking hands; that no man should be alone with a woman unlawful to him, for Satan is the third among them, and the like—these all bring to light the practical application of the aforesaid verses of the Quran.
The Lessons of Sodom
In the example of the people of Sodom of the seven towns, the Quran draws a clear line absolutely linking sexual and economic transgression and violent exploitation. They are one, two conjoined expressions of a single impulse.
We see this today over and again in the clear public exposure of our money men, our financial-political power brokers, and their violent, forced sexual assaults on women and boys, and particularly women who labor in menial jobs, or boys without family—the vulnerable who are displaced, and, therefore, not availed, in reality, of social and especially legal protection.
The Quran explicitly exposes this in recounting the illicit behaviors of the people of Sodom. God devastated them because of their sexual aberrance and aggression, their clear transgression of the perennial teachings of the All-Powerful.
The people of Lot denied the [divine mandate of God’s] messengers.
Behold! Their brother Lot said to them: Will you not be God-fearing? Indeed, I am a trustworthy messenger [sent] to you [by God]. So fear God and obey me! I do not ask of you any reward for this [message]. Indeed, my reward is only with the Lord of All the Worlds.
Are [the men among] you the only beings in all the world that approach males [in lust], while leaving what your Lord has created for you in your wives? Rather, you are people who have transgressed [all bounds].
They said: Most surely, if you do not desist, O Lot, you shall assuredly be of those forever banished [from our city]!
He said: Most surely, I am, indeed, one of those who are utterly loathe to your aberrant doings. He prayed. My Lord! Deliver me and my family from all that they do.
Then We delivered him and his family, all together—except [his wife], an obstinate old woman who was among those who lingered behind.
Then We demolished the others. For We rained down upon them a devastating rain of marked stones! And how evil was the rain of those who were forewarned [to no avail]! Indeed, in this [account] there is a sure sign [of God’s nearing Judgment] nor were most of them believers! (Sûrat Al-Shuʿarâ’, 26:160-174)
And again in the following surah, Al-Naml (27):
Moreover, mention how God delivered Lot.
Behold! He said to his people: Do the men among you openly commit such abominable lewdness with each other even while you look upon one another?
Do you approach men in lust instead of women? Indeed, you are a people who are shamefully ignorant [of God’s commandments].
Yet the response of his people was only to say to each other: Exple the family of Lot from your town for they are a people who seek to keep themselves pure.
So We delivered him and his family from doom—except his faithless wife: Her we adjudged to be among those who would linger behind. Thus We rained down upon them a devastating rain [of marked stones!] And how evil was the rain of those who were forewarned [to no avail]. (Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:54-58)
Also, in Surat Hûd (11):
So when Our messenger-angels came to Lot [in the form of men], he was [greatly] troubled over them. Indeed, he grew helplessly distressed for them, [fearing his people would molest them;] and he said: This is an [intensely] unnerving day!
Then his people came rushing toward him [to seize the strangers from his home]—when [just] before [his people] had been doing vile deeds.
He said: O my people! Here, rather, are my daughters. They are purer for you. So fear God, and do not dishonor me concerning my guests! Is there not among you a rightly guided man?
They said: Most surely, you know very well that we do not have any true desire for your daughters. Rather, you know well what we desire.
He said: If only I had [invincible] power over you, or I could take recourse to a mighty defender!
[Then and there, the guests] said: O Lot! Indeed, we are your Lord’s messenger-angels. Never shall they attain to you. So set out with your family in the latter part of the night—and let no one among you look back. But [as to] your wife, what befalls them shall befall her. Indeed, their appointed time [of destruction] is morning. Does not the morning draw near?
So when Our command [of doom] came to pass [against Sodom], We made [their land’s] uppermost its lowermost. Then We rained down upon it stones of hardened clay, clustered—marked by your Lord! Nor is this ever far-off from the [godless] wrongdoers [of the earth]. (Sûrat Hûd, 11:77-83)
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ duly warned us and all humanity for all time about giving in to the blind-drunk intoxication with the world of the power elite, al-mutrifihâ. He warned us of the disasters that would certainly whelm away any society in which such evil is allowed uncontested to take hold. And adultery and rampant sexualisms of all kinds—and all that leads up to this and follows from it—above all are its telltale signs.
We are seeing these disasters unfold before our very eyes on a terrifying scale unprecedented in history. Yet the ruined creatures of capitalism thus far remain uncomprehending of their impending doom, and the world with them, in the face of previously unreported devastations too cataclysmic to imagine.
No plague, no plight, no disaster, no upheaval, no debacle, no shocking toll of death has proven sufficient to stay the madness with which the capital elite shatter their own once-admirable societies and ways of life, a destruction mind-bogglingly brought about by their own hands from their own created ruthlessness.
No society can long persist once it has built its very morality upon specious foundations of such decisive sexual aberration. Yet no consequence to the common people seems capable of waking them—not even when capitalism’s moral distortions have so publically ruined the propositions and the reality of its own financial systems—and are yet poised to bring about a global financial collapse too terrible in its aftermath to envisage.
I commend you, and the societies we now populate, in our pathetic profit-driven state of increasing coercion—along with loss of privacy, dignity, and moral inspiration—to the verses of the Quran with respect to the people who went before us and the soul-shuddering devastations that swept down upon them when their sins of exploitation, exclusivism, arrogance, exceptionalism, chauvinism, and the concomitant weakness of the people to contend with their rampaging elite, swept down upon them, broke up from beneath them, hemmed them in from every side, and seized them with an eternal finality.
May Allah save us from such an end…and guard our souls from the wicked minions of delusion incessantly whispering in them.
Have they not journeyed through the lands to see how [devastating] was the end of those [who denied faith] before them? They were [far] greater than them in power. For they cultivated the land [with great competence]. Moreover, they built it up [far] more proficiently than these [disbelievers] have built it up.
Then their messengers came to them with clear [and miraculous] proofs [from God, and they belied them]. For never would God wrong them [by punishing them without cause]. But, rather, they wronged their own souls [with ungodliness].
Thereafter, the end of those who wrought evil was the worst [kind of end]. For they had belied the [revealed] signs of God. Indeed, they used to mock them. (Sûrat Al-Rûm, 30:9-10)
Yet if only there had been, among the generations before you, people of lasting virtue [and righteous works]—forbidding corruption in the earth—other than the few among them who did so, and whom We, then, delivered [from punishment]!
As for those who did wrong [by worshipping false gods], they ungratefully followed what endued [them with] luxury [and pleasure] in [life]. For they were defiant unbelievers.
[So beware!] For never would your Lord destroy any [such] towns unjustly, while their people were doers of righteousness. (Sûrat Hûd, 11:116-117)