Bribery
(suḥt, ighlāl)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

The Qur’ān refers to the practice of bribery with six different terms that recur in 23 verses: the verb tudlū (send forth, dangle, subst. idlāʾ) in Q 2:188, the noun suḥt (ill-gotten goods) in Q 5:42, 62-63, the expression akl bil-bāṭil (consuming wrongfully) in Q 2:188, 4:29, 4:161, 9:34, the expression thaman qalīl (a paltry price) in Q 2:41, 2:79, 2:174, 3:77, 3:187, 3:199, 5:44, 5:106 (thaman, without qalīl), 9:9, 16:95, the noun ʿaraḍ (fleeting gain) in Q 4:94, 7:169, 8:67, 24:33, and the verb ghalla, yaghull and yaghlul (to cheat, hate, embezzle, subst. ghill and ighlāl) in Q 3:161. Bribery (rishwa, sometimes voweled as rashwa or rushwa) is defined as “what is remitted to invalidate a right or validate a wrong” (mā yuʿṭā li-ibṭāl ḥaqq aw li-iḥqāq bāṭil) (Baghawī, Sharḥ 10:88). Bribery is also a sub-category of usury (see Enormities, Usury).

Definitions and Usage

Idlāʾ. Cognates of d-l-w occur three times in the Qurʾān: (i) in Q 2:188 metaphorically, in the sense of bribery: And do not devour one another’s assets by false means, nor dangle them (wa-tudlū bihā) before judges so as to devour a portion of other people’s assets wrongfully and knowingly; (ii) in Q 7:22 in the sense of pulling and drawing—He led them on with guile (fa-dallāhumā bi-ghurūr); and (iii) in Q 12:19 in the literal sense of lowering a bucket down a well (see next paragraph).

The “false means” are “false testimonies” (shahādāt al-zūr) (Ibn Qutayba, Gharīb; Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 2:188) while adlā al-dalwa idlā’an wa-dalāhā dalwan means “to send a bucket down a well and pull it up” (Baghdādī, Khizāna 7:475; cf. Farāhīdī, ʿAyn 8:69; Zajjāj, Maʿānī, sub Q 2:188) with a rope (Ṭabarī, sub Q 2:188) and is thus used, in the literal sense, in the verse And there came a caravan, and they sent their water-drawer. Then he let down his pail [into the well and brought it up] and he said: What luck! Here is a youth… (Yūsuf 12:19).

The verbal expression adlā bi- can be used figuratively in several senses that range from narrow specificity to broad generality: (i) for “bribing” (tudlū bihā… ay turshū bihā) (Naḥḥās, Iʿrāb, 1:290; cf. Rāghib, Tafsīr; Zamakhsharī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Abū Ḥayyān, Qummī, etc., sub Q 2:188); (ii) or “disputing” (Naḥḥās, ibid.); (iii) or “adducing one’s proof” (adlā fulān bi-ḥujjatih ay iḥtajja bihā) (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn 8:69); (iv) or as a metonymy (majāz) for “pursuing one’s need” (dalawtu ḥājatī: ṭalabtuhā) (Zamakhsharī, Asās, d-l-w) (v) and a metaphor (istiʿāra) for striving to reach something specific (Rāghib, sub d-l-w; Qūnawī, Ḥāshiya 5:59), as in the figurative use of “baiting” and “fishing” in English: The late Egyptian exegete Muḥammad Mutawallī al-Shaʿrāwī (1911-1998) wrote:

Dalā means to bring out the bucket; adlā, to lower it. In the story of Satan deceiving human beings, Allah said, He led them on with guile (fa-dallāhumā bi-ghurūr)… (Q 7:22). And dangle them before judges, meaning “bribe judges”… It is extraordinary that this very text is the explicit [legal] text on bribery (rishwa). Rishwa is taken from rishāʾ, which is the rope by which the bucket hangs; so one “dangles down” and “pulls up” when bribing (adlā wa-dalā fīl-rishwa) (Shaʿrāwī, Tafsīr, 2:803, sub Q 2:188).

Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī al-Wāḥidī (398?-468/1008?-1076) combined many of the above meanings in his commentary on the passage: “Nor dangle them, that is, do not dangle your assets before judges—do not cajole them with them (lā tuṣāniʿūhum bihā) and do not bribe them so that they allot to you something that belongs to someone else and which you know is unlawful for you to have…. So the meaning of dangle them before the judges is, get near and finally succeed, through those assets you send them, in rallying them to your side” (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ, sub Q 2:188), “so that they will rule for you unjustly” (Samʿānī, ibid.). “It is said of a contestant making a claim, ‘he proffered (adlā) the proof of such and such,’ his proof acting as the rope to which he clings in his disputation” (Ṭabarī, sub Q 2:188). “Bribery is compared to water-drawing either because it makes attainable the need of someone who is far off, like a bucket filled with water reaching near one who is some distance away; or because the judge, thanks to the bribe, passes his sentence and ratifies it without ascertainment, like a bucket disappearing with the rope” (Haytamī, Zawājir, §424). The Maghrebi exegete Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ḥarallī (d. 638/1241) comments, “Do not smooth your way to judges underhandedly with your assets, with a bribe that is kept out of sight, the way one lowers a bucket into a well surreptitiously to extract water, as a briber ‘dangles the bucket’ of his bribe to the judge in secret, to extract his transgression” (in Biqāʿī, Naẓm al-durar 3:95, sub Q 2:188).

The above glosses suggest that whatever bribery is involved in idlāʾ—if any—is implicit in the “cajoling” (muṣānaʿa) of judges and consists in taking advantage of a lack of proof, giving slick testimony in bad faith, and possibly acting surreptitiously in implying eventual profit for the judge at the expense of the defrauded party. To paraphrase al-Zajjāj (241-311/855-923), idlāʾ is to couch the inward betrayal of trust in the outward appearance of veracious proof (Zajjāj, Maʿānī, sub Q 2:188).

The goods dangled as bribes before the judge, furthermore, may be the intended victim’s assets themselves as well as the briber’s. Ibn Qutayba (213-276/828-889) wrote:

And do not dangle them before judges means to dangle your brother’s assets before the judge so that he will rule in your favor, when you know full well you are wronging your brother. Any such ruling based on your manipulation of the matter is in fact against you [as] nothing becomes licit for you that is in reality prohibited to you. It is like the saying of the Prophet, upon him and his family be blessings and peace, “If I judge that anyone be given a share of his brother’s right, let him not take it! For [in such a case] I am only allotting him a portion of hellfire” (Ibn Qutayba, Gharīb, sub Q 2:188).

The full wording of the above-mentioned hadith is, “I am only a human being, but truly you dispute and ask me to give a ruling; one of you may be more expressive (alḥan) than the other, and so I might rule in his favor on the basis of what I hear from him. Therefore, whoever I judge…” (Mālik, Aqḍiya, al-targhīb fīl-qaḍāʾ bil-ḥaqq; Bukhārī, Aḥkām, mawʿiẓat al-imām lil-khuṣūm, the four Sunan, etc.). It became a courtroom tradition for the judge to voice this very warning before a hearing, as alluded to in al-Bukhārī’s (194-256/810-870) chapter-title.


Suḥt

The term suḥt is considered one of the rare words in the Qurʾān and is glossed as “illicit gain or bribery in passing judgment” (Abū Ḥayyān, Tuḥfat al-arīb and Ibn al-Hāʾim, Tibyān, sub s-ḥ-t). Literally, it means “raging hunger” (kalab al-jūʿ) (Ṭabarī, Farrāʾ, Rāzī, Qurṭubī, sub Q 5:42), “the husk that gets stripped” (al-qishr al-ladhī yustaʾṣal) (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub s-ḥ-t), or thorough shaving of the hair (Zamakhsharī, Asās, sub s-ḥ-t; Qurṭubī, sub Q 5:42); in sum, eradication (al-isti’ṣāl) (Māwardī, sub Q 5:42), “is called suḥt because it leaves nothing behind” (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs 3:143), and the form asḥata means to annul (abṭala) (Khazrajī, sub Q 5:42). In legal usage it means anything that is “not merely illicit, but gravely illicit” (ʿAskarī, Furūq, p. 227); that consumes or annuls good deeds and one’s religion (Rāghib, op. cit.; Qurṭubī, sub Q 5:42); and that entails dire punishment, since that is the meaning in which its verbal cognate is used: Do not forge a lie against Allah, lest He eradicate you (fa-yusḥitakum) by some punishment… (Q 20:61). This term occurs, in the sense of bribery, three times in the same sura, al-Māʾida, in reference to Jews: Avid listeners to falsehood, greedy devourers of tainted wealth! But if they come to you, judge between them or turn away from them… (Q 5:42); And you will see many of them rushing to compete in sin and transgression and their devouring tainted wealth. What great evil they have been doing! Would that the rabbis and doctors forbade them from speaking evil and devouring tainted wealth—evil indeed has been their handiwork! (Q 5:62-63).

This entry only covers usage directly related to suḥt as bribery and excludes other types of unlawful income mentioned in Hadith, tafsīr and fiqh such as the dowries of prostitutes (mahr al-baghī), the stud-fee of stallions (ʿasb al-faḥl), cuppers’ earnings (kasb al-ḥajjām), the price of dogs, begging, etc. (see Lawful and unlawful).


Akl bil-bāṭil

 Literally “wrongful eating,” akl bil-bāṭil was glossed as “lying about the religion of Allah and taking bribes over the ruling of Allah” (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 4:161) and “taking bribes in exchange for perverting [the Scripture]” (Qummī, Gharāʾib, sub Q 4:161). The same gloss was also applied to akl al-suḥt. The ostensible gain represented in the bāṭil and the suḥt is the same as the “paltry price” (thaman qalīl) and “fleeting goods” (ʿaraḍ), making all four expressions synonymous and referring to the same scenario. The Azerbaijani exegete Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Bayḍāwī (d. 708?/1308?) said:

It was said that they held leadership among their people and received remuneration and gifts from them, which they were afraid they would lose if they were to follow the Messenger of Allah, upon him be blessings and peace, so they chose them [those material gains] over him. It was also said they used to accept bribes, after which they would tamper with the truth and conceal it. (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:41).

Additionally, as the reports showed (see below, section “Suḥt as bribery of judges”), the Prophet, upon him be blessings and peace, indicated another synonymity between Qurʾānic idlāʾ, Qurʾānic suḥt, and rishwa, one that is reflected in all subsequent tafsīr literature on bribery.

The lexicographers pointed out that the literal meaning of bāṭil is “all that is fleeting, runs out and perishes;” hence its usual meaning as the opposite of right and truth (naqīḍ al-ḥaqq), since right and truth perdure (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Rāghib, Mufradāt, etc., sub b-ṭ-l). As an object of consumption, therefore, bāṭil stands for emptiness and vanity, signifying that ill-acquired gains are no actual benefit in this world. It also points to the opposite of profit in the next world because it wipes out one’s good deeds and even one’s religion, as emphasized by its synonym suḥt.

The construct with “consuming” (akl) comes in the wake of rulings on the fast of Ramadan (Q 2:183-187) which conclude with a reminder not to come near infringing the boundaries of Allah (Q 2:187), as it were, a dire warning not to break one’s fast (see Fasting) with bāṭil and suḥt. “Consuming”, furthermore, is meant as “a metaphor (istiʿāra) for taking something in order to benefit from it with no intention of returning any of it; such taking resembles consuming from all perspectives” (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub 2:188). Both bāṭil and suḥt thus signify bankruptcy laden with negative consequences which the Qurʾān graphically emphasizes as a losing trade and an aliment that will consume its consumer: Those who conceal whatever Allah has revealed of the Scripture and sell it for a paltry price swallow nothing into their stomachs but fire… (Q 2:174), in line with its dual major emphases on commerce and consumption as types of discourse that everyone understands (see Buying and selling; Food and drink).


Thaman qalīl

As shown in two of the verses cited in the previous section (Q3:77 and Q 16:95), the Qurʾān also refers to bribery as an insignificant gain. There are ten verses mentioning such ungainful price or gain in total (Q 2:41, 2:79, 2:174, 3:77, 3:187, 3:199, 5:44, 5:106 (without qalīlan), 9:9, 16:95). The thaman mentioned in all the above verses was glossed as “bribes” (rushā) with the exception of Q 9:9, where the gloss was “a pittance” (ukla) which, according to the Successor exegetes Mujāhid (21-102/642-721) and ʿAṭāʾ al-Khurāsānī (50-135/670-753), consisted in gifts of food and livestock which Abū Sufyān lavished exclusively on those who agreed not to follow the Prophet (Ṭabarī, sub Q 2:174, 5:44, 5:106, 9:9; Zajjāj, sub Q 2:174, 3:187; Thaʿlabī, sub Q 2:174, 3:77; Makkī, sub Q 2:79, 2:174, 3:187, 3:199, 5:44, 5:106; Zamakhsharī, sub Q 3:77, 5:44; Qurṭubī, Abū Ḥayyān and Thaʿālibī, sub Q 16:95; Bayḍāwī, Ibn al-Tamjīd, sub Q 2:41 and Ṭahṭāwī, ʿAwn al-Mannān, p. 93; etc.). In addition to [the Jews’] selling of accommodating judgments and blocking the Message, such briberies were also in exchange for “the concealment of his [the Prophet’s] Message and the alteration of his description [in their Scriptures and exegeses], which He called ‘paltry’ because it lasts little and has evil consequences” (Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 2:174).


ʿAraḍ

The paltriness of that pseudo-gain makes it a losing exchange of one’s share of the hereafter for nothing, which the Qurʾān elsewhere characterizes as “passing goods” (ʿaraḍ) in the verse And a generation has succeeded them who inherited the Scripture. They grasp the accidental gain near at hand and say: It will be forgiven us… (Q 7:169), again in the sense of bribery “according to most exegetes” (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr; cf. Muqātil, Ṭabarī, Zajjāj, Māturīdī, etc., all sub Q 7:169), while al-Nakhaʿī glossed it as “sins” and Mujāhid as “whatever came into their sights on any given day, by way of licit or illicit pleasure in the world, they would take it” (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 7:169).


Ighlāl

The root gh-l-l occurs three times in the sense of “treachery” (ghalla, yaghull, yaghlul, all in Q 3:161), illustrated as “a butcher who leaves some of the meat in the hide [for his own consumption]: that is ighlāl, meaning treachery” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub gh-l-l). The latter cognate can also be translated as “embezzlement” (cf. Pickthall): It is not for any Prophet to embezzle; whoever embezzles will bring what he embezzled with him on the Day of Resurrection… (Q 3:161). Only one exegete appears to have glossed it as bribery, but the latter gloss is confirmed by the usage of ghalla and its substantive ghulūl in the Sunna together with the verb ghaṣaba, to usurp:

Whoever embezzles will bring what he embezzled…, that is, he will bring the very thing he embezzled, carrying it around his neck, exposed before all witnesses. It is like the saying of the Prophet, upon him be peace, “Whoever usurps (ghaṣaba) the extent of a handspan of earth, Allah shall yoke him on the Day of Resurrection out of seven earths” [Bukhārī, Badʾ al-khalq, mā jāʾ fī sabʿ araḍīn; Muslim, Musāqāt, taḥrīm al-ẓulm wa-ghaṣb al-arḍ; etc., all with akhadha ẓulman or saraqa instead of ghaṣaba]. He also said, upon him be peace, “If we send anyone on a service and he then embezzles (fa-ghalla) something, he shall come on the Day of Resurrection yoked to it” [Ṭaḥāwī, Mushkil 11:122 §4339; cf. Bukhārī, al-Aymān wal-nudhūr, kayfa kānat yamīn Rasūl Allāh; Muslim, Imāra, taḥrīm hadāyā al-ʿummāl; etc.]. He also said, upon him be peace, “Gifts from governors (wulāt) are embezzlement” [Baghawī, Sharḥ al-Sunna 10:89, al-Imāra wal-qaḍāʾ, al-rishwa wal-hadiyya lil-quḍāt wal-ʿummāl with umarāʾ instead of ʿummāl]; that is, accepting gifts on the part of governors is embezzlement, because it has the sense of a bribe (Ḥaqqī, Rūḥ al-bayān 2:118, sub Q 3:161).


Suḥt as bribery of judges

The Prophet, upon him be blessings and peace, and, in his wake, many of the earliest authorities (ʿUmar, ʿAlī, Ibn Masʿūd, Anas, Mujāhid, Qatāda, al-Ḍaḥḥāk, al-Suddī, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī, Ibn Hubayra, and Ibn Zayd in al-Ṭabarī, sub Q 5:42; Saʿīd b. Jubayr and ʿIkrima in Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 5:42; and Ibn Sīrīn in Bukhārī, Ijāra, mā yuʿṭā fīl-ruqya ʿalā aḥyā al-ʿArab bi-Fātiḥat al-Kitāb), followed by later exegetes (see below) all glossed suḥt explicitly as bribery (rishwa, pl. rushā). Three other Prophetic glosses specify it as the bribery of judges:

“Whoever takes a bribe in passing judgment (rishwa fīl-ḥukm), it shall form a barrier between him and Paradise” (Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ, sub Q 5:41, from Anas);

“Bribing judges (rishwat al-ḥukkām) is forbidden, and this is the suḥt Allah mentions in His book,” (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 5:42, from Ibn ʿAbbās); and

“Messenger of Allah, what is suḥt? He replied, ‘Bribery in passing judgment’” (Ṭabarī, Samarqandī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya, al-Qurṭubī, Ibn ʿĀdil, all sub Q 5:42, from ʿUmar b. Ḥamza b. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar). This report is mursal, as the narrator is a Tābiʿī who did not meet his grandfather, but the narrators of its chain are all trustworthy (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ 5:360 and Taghlīq 3:285-286).

The same gloss was also given by many early and late exegetes (ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, Zayd b. Thābit, Ibn ʿAbbās, Ibn ʿUmar, Ibn Zayd, Mujāhid, al-Ḍaḥḥāk, and Ibn Hubayra in Ṭabarī, sub Q 5:42; ʿUmar, al-Ḥasan, Qatāda, Suddī in Thaʿlabī, ibid.; ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ in Ibn Abī Ḥātim, ibid.; Muqātil and al-Ṭabarī, sub Q 5:63; Baghawī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Rāzī, Nasafī, Abū Ḥayyān, Ibn ʿĀdil etc., sub Q 5:42). “Their judge, when someone brought a bribe, would place it before himself, pay attention to and speak with the briber but ignore his opponent; he would eat up the bribe and listen to lies… That [suḥt] is specific to passing judgment when one bribes him so that he will rule in one’s favor by false means or annul someone’s right” (al-Ḥasan in Thaʿlabī, sub Q 5:42).

Avid listeners to falsehood occurs twice in two successive verses (Q 5:41-42) for emphasis of the above scenario (Bayḍāwī) and the close juxtaposition of suḥt to the second instance confirms it as an offense “particular to judges” (Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, Tafsīr, 1:327), since they habitually hear cases. Hence al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058) and Ibn al-Jawzī (510-597/1116-1201) list “bribery in the (specific) context of passing judgement” as one of the four or three major glosses for suḥt (in al-Nukat wal-ʿuyūn and Zād al-masīr). The verse of suḥt here is thus closely related to the verse of idlāʾ already discussed (Q 2:188), and both terms were used synonymously with bribery (rishwa).

It was said that the avid listeners to falsehood were the Jews of Medina and the other group (Q 5:41) the Jews of Fadak (Ṭabarī and Ibn ʿAṭiyya, sub Q 5:41-42); or the Banū Qurayẓa and the Jews of Khaybar (Baghawī, sub Q 5:41-42; Balansī, Mubhamāt 1:397 §41; cf. Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 5:41-42); or the noble Banū al-Naḍīr and the less noble Banū Qurayẓa. If one of the latter killed one of the former he would be killed as punishment, but if one of the former killed one of the latter the expiation was a hundred wasq of dates (13 tons; each wasq equalling sixty ṣāʿ, one ṣāʿ being equivalent to 2.175kg, cf. Ibn al-Rifʿa, Īḍāḥ, p. 87). When they came to the Prophet, upon him be blessings and peace, for arbitration the Banū al-Naḍīr rejected his judgment (Rāzī; Qurṭubī; ʿIrāqī, Asbāb al-nuzūl, 1:359). Such newfangled fines were evidently the stuff of bribery and readiness for compromise in the religion.

Bribing judges, moreover, was common among Arabs in pre-Islamic times (see Jāhiliyya). This is illustrated by the story of ʿĀmir b. Ṭufayl and ʿAlqama b. ʿAlātha (a Companion) each giving a bribe of one hundred camels to Haram b. Quṭba al-Fazārī to curry favor in his judgment on their epic rivalry; after waiting a year he ruled in favor of both equally (Ibn Ḥajar, Iṣāba, sub ʿAlqama b. ʿAlātha; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:188). Although this episode provides some historic background, it is not related to the circumstances of revelation of any particular verse.


Suḥt as “bribery in religion”

Ibn Masʿūd (d. before 34/655) alone glossed suḥt as “bribery in religion,” perhaps on the grounds that one who accepts bribery in exchange for modifying or passing a certain judgment commits unbelief (Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, etc., sub Q 5:42; Ṭabarānī, Kabīr 9:257-258 §9100, a sound report through trustworthy narrators: Haythamī, Majmaʿ, 4:199-200; Sakhāwī, Maqāṣid p. 335 §861). Both he and Masrūq (d. 63/683) viewed the acceptance of a gift after delivering a judgment as unbelief (kufr) (Nasāʾī, Ashriba, dhikr al-riwāya al-mubayyina ʿan ṣalawāt shārib al-khamr; Ṭabarī, sub Q 5:42). In another report Masrūq asked ʿUmar (d. 23/644), “Commander of the believers, is suḥt bribery in giving judgment?” ʿUmar replied, “Woe to you, that is unbelief!” “What is suḥt, then?” “That you pursue a certain need on someone’s behalf before the authorities, after which you eat up his wealth” (Ṭabarānī, al-Duʿāʾ, 1:581 §2106).

Another rationale for the “bribery in religion” gloss is the background of mercenary, mendacious, and selective interpretation and application of the Scripture implied by the verse immediately preceding the first mention of suḥt in the Sūra: O Messenger, do not be saddened by those who race to unbelief among those who say with their mouths ‘We believe’ although their hearts never believed and among those who profess Judaism—avid listeners to falsehood, avid listeners to another group who never came to you—who pervert decrees from their assigned places! They say: ‘If you are given this then take it, but if not then beware!’… (Q 5:41). This rationale is confirmed by the “cover-up” hadith about the stoning of a couple of socially prominent Jewish adulterers from Fadak, whose reader covered up the words ordaining the penalty of stoning with his hand when ordered to open the Torah and read the relevant passage (see Adultery and fornication; Boundaries of Allah; Legal punishments).


Bribery as a Judeo-Christian sin in the Qurʾān and Sunna

The three verses of al-Māʾida mentioning suḥt refer to the Jews by agreement of the exegetes (from Mujāhid, al-Ḥasan and Qatāda to Ibn ʿĀshūr, Abū Zahra and Zuḥaylī, all sub Q 5:42 and 62-63), specifically their leaders such as Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf, Kaʿb b. Usayd, Mālik b. al-Ḍayf and Wahb b. Yahūdhā, to whom the rich remitted an annual payment in exchange for favorable judgments (Tafsīrs of Muqātil, cf. Farrāʾ, Akhfash, Thaʿlabī, Baghawī, sub Q 5:42). The Jews of Khaybar reportedly attempted the same with ʿAbd Allāh b. Rawāḥa (d. 8/629), who had been sent to them on official duty by the Prophet—upon him be blessings and peace. To lighten the agricultural poll-tax they owed they offered him some of their women’s gold jewelry, but he said, “What you have offered as a bribe is suḥt; we do not consume it,” to which they replied, “Upon this stand the heavens and the earth!” (Mālik, Musāqāt, mā jāʾa fīl-musāqāt).

Another verse singles out the Jews as given to the taking of usury when they have been forbidden to do so, and the wrongful devouring of people’s assets (Q 4:161) while another specifies the Jewish and Christian clergy: O believers, verily many of the rabbis and priests devour people’s assets wrongfully… (Q 9:34). In both verses the “devouring” was explained to refer to the taking of bribes in exchange for accommodating judgments, in light of Q 5:62 (Ṭabarī, Māturīdī, Samarqandī, Thaʿlabī, Wāḥidī, etc., sub Q 4:161; Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Zamanīn, Thaʿlabī, Makkī, etc., sub Q 9:34). The juxtaposition of bribery with usury is reiterated in the Hadith to the point of subsuming the former under the latter, as shown in the next section.


Bribery as damnable consumption and an enormity

In reinforcement of all the above-mentioned constructs and as already indicated in the introduction, the Sunna unequivocally denounces bribery as one of the enormous sins (kabāʾir, see Enormities) as shown in the authentic Prophetic hadiths marking it as cursed, landing its culprits in hellfire, or annulling one’s belief—except when bribing is unavoidable to protect oneself from being robbed of one’s rights (Haytamī, Zawājir §424; Naḥlāwī, Ḥaẓr, p. 252 §107). Among these hadiths are the following.

“Allah’s curse be on the briber (rāshī/ākil al-rishwa) and the one bribed (murtashī/muṭʿim al-rishwa),” narrated from six Companions (Abū Hurayra, ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ, ʿĀʾisha, Umm Salama, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf and Thawbān; Ibn Ḥajar, Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr 4:347-348 §2588; Wāʾilī, Nuzhat al-albāb 4:2068-2070 §§2155-2159, both citing Tirmidhī, Aḥmad, Ibn Ḥibbān, etc.); one version adds, “and the go-between (rāʾish)” (Aḥmad 37:85 §22399; etc.). This hadith is adduced—alongside Q 2:188—as the foremost evidence that bribery is among the enormous sins in the later kabāʾir collections (cf. Dhahabī, Kabāʾir, al-qāḍī al-sūʾ, p. 249, §201; Haytamī, Zawājir, §§424-428).

“The briber and the bribee are both in hellfire” (Bazzār, Musnad 3:247 §1037; Ṭabarānī, Duʿāʾ, p. 579 §2094; Awsaṭ 2:295 §2026; and Ṣaghīr 1:57 §58 through trustworthy narrators per Haythamī, Majmaʿ 4:199), narrated from three Companions (ʿĀʾisha, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf and ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr).

“No flesh that grew on wrongful goods/bribery (suḥt) ever enters Paradise. Hellfire is more entitled to it,” narrated from seven Companions (Jābir, Kaʿb b. ʿUjra, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Samura, Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq, Ibn ʿAbbās—and as the saying of ʿUmar and Ḥudhayfa: ʿAbd al-Razzāq 11:345-346 §20719; Aḥmad 22:332 §14441 through the Ṣaḥīḥ narrators according to Haythamī, Majmaʿ 5:247; Tirmidhī, Safar, mā yudhkar fī faḍl al-ṣalāt, ḥasan gharīb; Dārimī, Riqāq, fīl-suḥt; Ibn Ḥibbān, Ṣaḥīḥ 5:9 §1723 etc.; cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr 4:274 §2426).

“No thief who steals is a believer when stealing; no fornicator who fornicates is a believer when fornicating; no drinker who drinks is a believer while drinking—meaning an intoxicant. This I swear by the One in Whose hand is Muḥammad’s soul! And no one who plunders a thing of worth whereby the believers will look up to him is a believer when plundering it; and none of you bribes/embezzles (yaghull) as a believer while bribing/embezzling” (Muslim, Īmān, bayān nuqṣān al-īmān bil-maʿāṣī; Aḥmad 13:521 §8202).

“Any society in which usury appears/dominates will be taken away through penury; and any society where bribes appear/dominate will be taken away through fear” (Aḥmad 29:356 §17822).

“Whoever intercedes for someone successfully, whereupon the latter offers him a gift which he accepts, has entered through a huge door of usury” (Aḥmad 36:588 §22251; Abū Dāwūd, Buyūʿ, al-hadiyya li-qaḍāʾ al-ḥāja).

The last two hadiths cited above juxtapose bribery with usury, and the second makes bribery an offshoot of usury, which suggests yet another momentous synonymity as already discussed in relation to Q 4:161 (see above, “Bribery as a Judeo-Christian sin”).


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See also

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