Buying and Selling
(bayʿ, shirāʾ, tijāra)

Muzaffar Iqbal and Csaba Okvath

Three Qurʾānic terms refer to buying and selling: shirāʾ, bayʿ, and tijāra. Buying and selling is mentioned in the Qurʾān in literal as well as figurative sense.

Definitions and Usage

shirāʾ, bayʿThe two terms are auto-antonyms (aḍdād), because the exchange of something and its price can both be called a sale or a purchase, depending on the perspective (Ibn al-Anbārī, Aḍdād, §36, wa-shtaraytu; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub sh-r-y;). Al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. 502/ca.1108) says “buying and selling are two inseparables (yatalāzimān), because the buyer (mushtarī) gives price and takes the thing for which price is given and the seller (bāʾiʿ) gives the thing in exchange for its price; this is when money is exchanged for a thing, but when things exchange hands through barter, then both parties can be called buyers and sellers. This is why bayʿ and shirāʾ are used interchangeably... al-shirāʾ and al-ishtirāʾ are used for anything in exchange of which another thing is obtained” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub sh-r-y). 

Qurʾānic usage attests both perspectives: of sale, And among people is the one who sells/ (yashrī) his soul seeking the pleasure of Allah (Q 2:207), and they sold him (sharawhu) for a paltry price (Q 12:20); and purchase: Verily Allah has purchased (inna-Llāha-shtarā) from the believers their lives and their wealth in exchange for the Garden (Q 9:111). The eighth stem from the roots b-y-ʿ (ibtāʿa/yabtāʿu/ibtāʿan) and sh-r-y (ishtarā/yashtarī/ishtirāʾ) synonymously refer to buying, but the active participles retain their semantic difference and become antonym (ḍidd) , thus al-shārī and al-mushtarī mean buyer, while al-bāʾiʿ is the vendor, the seller and the merchant (Zabīdī, Tāj, sub sh-r-y; 38:363). In one verse (Q 62:9), the noun bayʿ refers to both buying and selling, which should be left when the call to prayer is proclaimed on Friday (Farrāʾ, Maʿānī; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Samarqandī, Baḥr).

Cognates of the root b-y-ʿ occur fifteen times in four derived forms: six times (Q 9:111; 48:10x2,18; 60:12x2) as the Form-III verb bāyaʿa (“to pledge”); once (Q 2:282) as the Form-VI verb tabāyaʿtum (“to sell to one another”); once (Q 22:40) as the plural noun biyaʿun (sing. bīʿa, “churches”); and seven times (Q 2:254, 275x2; 9:111; 14:31; 24:37; 62:9) as the noun bayʿ.

The root sh-r-y appears twenty-five times: Form-I verb (sharā) is used four times (Q 2:102, 207, 4:74; 12:20) and Form-VIII verb (ishtarā) occurs twenty-one times in various conjugated forms.

The noun tijāra, defined as “purchasing goods (li-ishtirāʾ al-ashyāʾ) with the aim of selling them for a greater amount (of money) than that for which it was bought, in order to obtain profit and earn money” (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:16), from the root t-j-r—a rare sequence of letters for Arabic verbs (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, kitāb al-tāʾ, bāb al-tāʾ wa-l-jīm wa mā yuthallithuhumā)—denotes commerce, that is, both buying and selling (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, al-jīm wa-l-tāʾ wa-l-rāʾ), using capital (raʾs al-māl) in order to gain profit (Rāghib, Mufradāt). Its eighth form (ittajara/yattajiru/ittijāran) carries the same meaning as Form-I verb (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān). Exegetes mention that the etymology of the tribal name Quraysh also refers to trade, for they were “traders (tujjār)” (Muqātil, Ṭabarī, Tafsīrs, Samarqandī, Baḥr, Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 106:1); they were called “ahl tijāra -– people of trade”; the verbal noun qarsh means kasb (earnings by trade) (Samʿānī, Tafsīr); verbal forms I qarasha, V (taqarrasha) and VIII iqtarasha all convey the meaning of trading and collecting [wealth] (Samʿānī, Baghawī, Tafsīrs; Khāzin, Tafsīr; Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, al-thulāthī al-ṣaḥīḥ min al-qāf; ʿAyn, Jawharī, Ṣīḥāḥ, bāb al-sīn, faṣl al-qāf; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, al-qāf, bāb al-qāf wa-l-rāʾ wa mā yuthallithuhumā; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, al-shīn, faṣl al-qāf).

There are nine occurrences of tijāra (Q 2:16, 282; 4:29; 9:24; 24:37; 35:29; 61:10; 62:11x2), which Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Fayrūzābādī (729-817/1329-1415) grouped into six contexts (Baṣāʾir, baṣīra fīl-tijāra, 2:295-296):

  1. the metaphorical trade of those engaged in jihad (q.v.) with their souls, physical selves, and wealth, as in Q 61:10-11, O You who believe! Shall I guide you to a trade that will save you from a painful torment? Have faith in Allah and His Messenger and strive in His cause with your wealth and your souls;
  2. the metaphorical “profitless trade” of the hypocrites (q.v.), who buy misguidance in exchange for guidance, as in Q 2:16, those who have purchased misguidance at the price of guidance, but their trade has brought no profit (see Guidance and Misguidance);
  3. “the never-perishing commerce” of the reciters of the Qurʾān who recite the Book of Allah, perform the prayer, and spend from that which We have provided them secretly and openly hope for a commerce that will never perish (Q 35:29);
  4. the literal and metaphorical commerce of the “slaves of this world”, as in Q 62:11, And when they see some commerce or diversion, they scatter toward it and leave you standing. Say, “That which is with Allah is better than diversion and commerce; and Allah is the best of providers”;
  5. literal buying and selling, as in Q 4:29, O you who believe! Consume not each other’s wealth falsely, but trade by mutual consent, and slay not yourselves. Truly Allah is Merciful unto you;
  6. the literal commerce of the chosen slaves (khawāṣṣ al-ʿibād), who turn away from all worldly trade, as in Q 24:37, Men whom neither trade nor sale diverts from the remembrance of Allah.

Buying and Selling with One’s Soul

There are two kinds of human beings who buy and sell with their souls: those who seek Divine Pleasure and those who pursue worldly gains, to the exclusion of the consideration for the Afterlife, thus facing a possible perdition in the Hereafter. In one of the most evocative metaphorical usages of buying and selling, Allah Most High, “the real Owner and Possessor of our souls and lives” (Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām al-Qurʾān, sub Q 9:111) “buys” from the believers their souls, “even though He is beyond any need of such transactions” (Rāzī, Tafsīr): Truly Allah has purchased from the believers their souls and their wealth in exchange for the Garden being theirs. They are those who fight in the way of Allah, slaying and being slain—[it is] a promise binding upon Him in the Torah, the Injīl, and the Qurʾān. And who is truer to His pact than Allah? Rejoice, then, in your bargain that you have made, for that, indeed, is the supreme success (Q 9:111). “This is figurative (majāz) usage and its meaning is that He has made Paradise a reward for them, because they made efforts with their lives and possessions in the Way of Allah. He calls this “buying” for He has made Paradise a reward and a substitute (badal) for their efforts, like the price of a commodity is the badal for it” (ʿAskarī, Wujūh, ishtirāʾ). Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) says

since the common understand of buying and selling among people is the exchange of something for a recompense that is greater or at least equal to what leaves the possession of a person, Allah Most High used the wording that people use among themselves—buying and selling—thus, He has bought from His slaves, through the annihilation of their souls and properties (itlāf anfusihim wa-amwālihim) in His obedience, and gave them an enormous recompense (ʿiwaḍ ʿaẓīm), nothing can be compared to this…Al-Ḥasan said, ‘I know of no believer on earth who would not enter into such a trade’” (Tafsīr).

This is the most generous bargain in favor of the believers:

There is none more generous than the One Who buys from His slave that which He bestowed upon him…He buys from His slaves their souls, and their lives are, in fact, His possession and not their possession. He buys from them their possessions, though they are actually from Him, and were bestowed on them as blessings. This is the true generosity; no one else is able to do this except Him” (Ghulām Thaʿlab, Yāqūta; p. 248).

Muḥammad b. Kaʿb al-Quraẓī says the verse (Q 9:111) refers to the second Pledge of al-ʿAqaba (bayʿat al-ʿAqabat al-kubrā), which took place near Minā, where a group of pilgrims from Yathrib met the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and where ʿAbd Allāh b. Rawāḥa (d. 8/629)--who was to later serve as one of Prophet’s poets and scribes--said to the Prophet: “Impose upon us an obligation from your Lord and anything from yourself.” The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, “I impose upon you for the sake of my Lord, that you worship Him and ascribe to Him no partner, and I impose upon you for myself that you protect me from that from which you protect yourselves and your property.” They said, “And if we do so, what shall we have?” The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, “Paradise.” They said, “A profitable trade (rabiḥa al-bayʿ)! We shall neither rescind nor seek to rescind it” (Thaʿlabī, Kashf ; Makkī, Hidāya; Wāḥidī, Asbāb, Wajīz; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Baghawī; Rāzī; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr;).

Those who fight in the way of Allah sell the life of this world for the Hereafter (Q 4:74), is explained as they exchange “their short sojourn in this ephemeral world for the Divine Pleasure in the Hereafter” (Makkī, Hidāya). They are those “who prefer fighting and dying and choose the reward of Paradise” (Wāḥidī, Wajīz). They are “the sincere believers (al-mukhliṣūn), who selflessly sacrifice their lives (al-bādhilūna anfusahum) in quest of the Hereafter” (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr). Commanding good and forbidding wrong, with one’s soul, is one of the occasions of revelation,  as per the explanation of Q 2:207, And among humankind is one who sells his soul seeking the good Pleasure of Allah, and Allah is kind unto His servants, by the second Rightly-guided Caliph ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (d. 23/644), Allah be well-pleased with him; it also refers generally to all who completely submit to the Lord (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Māwardī, Nukat; Qushayrī, Tafsīr).

Those from among the People of the Book who do not sell the signs of Allah for a paltry price are praised: And truly among the People of the Book are those who believe in Allah and that which has been sent down unto you, and that which has been sent down unto them, humble before Allah, not selling the signs of Allah for a paltry price. It is they who shall have their reward with their Lord. Truly Allah is swift in reckoning (Q 3:199), a verse applicable to (i) al-Najāshī (the Negus of Ethiopia), the ruler of Abyssinia who had given shelter to the emigrants from Makkah before the Hijra to Madina and whose funeral prayer in absentia was prayed by the Prophet in Madina; (ii) the believers from among the Jews and the Christians; (iii) those Jews who became Muslim, in particular ʿAbd Allāh b. Salām and his companions; and (iv) forty men from the people of Najrān, who followed the religion of Prophet ʿĪsā, upon him peace, and then believed in the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, according to many exegetes (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Baghawī, Rāzī, Qurṭubī; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād).

A never-perishing commerce

Q 35:29, which the Basran Successor Muṭarrif b. ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Shikhkhīr (d. 95/713) dubbed “the Verse of the Reciters (āyat al-qurrāʾ)” (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr; Thaʿlabī, Kashf; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar), extols the merit of practicing both the obligatory and supererogatory deeds: Truly those who recite the Book of Allah, establish the prayer, and spend from that which We have provided them secretly and openly, hope for a never-perishing commerce. The Kufan exegete Yaḥyā b. Ziyād b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Daylamī al-Farrāʾ (144-207/761-822) says the phrase hope for a never-perishing commerce is the grammatical jawāb (apodosis) of the phrase recite the Book of Allah and establish prayer (Maʿānī). Noting that the previous verse (Q 35:28) mentions an activity of the heart—awe of Allah—as a characteristic of the people of knowledge, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (544-606/1150-1209), points out the profound wisdom in the two verses which link the inward () form of worship, awe of Allah, to the outward—recitation of the Book of Allah being the deed of the tongue, the establishment of the prayer that of the limbs (ʿamal al-jawāriḥ), and spending an outward financial deed (al-ʿamal al-mālī)—and all of them to the glorification of Allah (taʿẓīmu-Llāh) and compassion (shafaqa) for His creatures (Tafsīr).

On the other hand, there are those who purchase this world at the price of the Hereafter; for them the punishment shall not be lightened, nor will they be helped (Q 2:86). The verse appears in the passage mentioning Divine Covenant (q.v.) with the Children of Isrāʾīl (q.v.), which they broke as they killed their own Prophets, expelled others from their homes and conspired against them in sin and enmity (Q 2:83-85), they believed in part of the Book and disbelieved in other parts—they desired the good of this world at the price of the Hereafter, and “since it is impossible to have both the pleasures of this world (ladhdhāt  al-dunyā) and the pleasures of the Hereafter, Allah—glorified be He—has tasked the legally accountable (mukallaf, see Legal Liability) human beings to desire one or the other; the pursuit of one inevitably results in the loss of the other (Rāzī, Tafsīr sub Q 2:86). The passage goes on to underscore the dire consequences of such trade for the sake of envy (q.v.): How wretched is that for which they sold themselves, that they would disbelieve in what Allah has sent down, out of envy that Allah should send down His bounty unto whomsoever He will among His servants. They earn a burden of wrath upon wrath, and the disbelievers shall have a humiliating punishment (Q 2:90). “What a wretched transaction they made by selling their souls and losing their share of the reward, by disbelieving in the Qurʾān due to envy” (Wāḥidī, Wajīz). Their mutual envy (taḥāsud) removed them from the center of prominence (maqarr al-ʿizz) to the depths of humiliation (ḥaḍīḍ al-khizy) and imposed upon them the ignominy of disdain (Qushayrī, Tafsīr sub Q 2:90). By exegetical consensus, Q 2:90 refers to those Jews who sold the Truth and bought falsehood and concealed what was mentioned about the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace (Ṭabarī, Baghawī, Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs).

Eight other verses warn against acquiring worldly gains by selling for a paltry price (thamanan qalīlan) the Divine Revelation (āyāṭ Allāh; Q 2:41; 5:44; 9:9), His Book (Q 2:79, 174; 3:187), and His Covenant (Q 3:77; 16:95). In all eight verses the referent is either the Children of Isrāʾīl or more generally the People of the Book, i.e. both Israelites and Christians (q.v.). Selling Divine Revelation for a paltry price includes both their alteration of Divine laws and their cover-up of the description of the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, in their own Book (Rāghib, Tafsīr; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 2:174). They sold this distorted content to people claiming that it was from Allah (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:79; see Tampering). Certain Jews of Madina (Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf, Kaʿb b. Asad, Mālik b. al-Ṣayf, Ḥuyayy b. al-Akhṭab and Abū Yāsir b. Akhṭab) are named by the exegetes among those who used to receive gifts (hadāyā) from their followers, but after the coming of the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, they feared that their illegal revenue would stop and therefore they hid or changed the mentions of the Prophet in their book (Ibn Abī Zamanīn, Tafsīr; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Rāzī, Tafsīr, Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 2:41 and 174). Their purchasing misguidance (Q 4:44) refers to their preference for misguidance, their belying of the Prophet (q.v.), and their disbelief in him even though they knew his descriptions from their own Books; moreover, they desired to misguide the believers from the right path and from the love of Truth (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr sub Q 4:44). In Q 3:177, Truly those who have purchased disbelief at the price of belief will not hurt Allah in the least, and theirs shall be a painful punishment, “purchasing disbelief” refers to “replacement of belief with disbelief” (Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Baghawī; Samʿānī; Nasafī, Tafsīrs). They cast the rulings of their Book behind their back and exchanged it for a small price, “that is, for the rubbish (ḥuṭām) of this world and for its transient and worthless things” (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:187). “This is a severe warning to the People of the Book—those from whom He took a Covenant that they would believe in Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, spread his name among people so that they are prepared for his Message; but their scholars concealed the matter and chose worldly gains—how wretched is their transaction (fa-baʾisat al-ṣafqa ṣafqatuhum) and how wretched is their selling!” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:187).

Some push their souls to eternal damnation by buying the amusement of speech (lahwa al-ḥadīth) to mislead [others] from the Way of Allah (Q 31:6). The phrase lahwa al-ḥadīth is variously interpreted: Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Aḥmad al-Wāḥidī al-Naysābūrī (d. 468/1075) mentions a man called al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith who used to travel to Persia from where he would bring tales and legends and relate them to the people of Makka, saying, Muḥammad relates to you tales of ʿĀd and the Thamūd, and I relate to you those of Rustum and Isfandiyār and some would find these more entertaining than listening to the Qurʾān (Wajīz;  also see Muqātil, Tafsīr; Māwardī, Nukat; Samarqandī, Baḥr). According to other commentators, the “amusement of speech” refers to singing and dancing, which is unlawful as it appears in the hadith, “Do not sell the female singers (al-qaynāt), nor purchase them, nor teach them. And there is no good in trading them, and such profit is unlawful” (Tirmidhī, Sunan, abwāb al-buyūʿ, bāb mā jāʾa fī karāhiyat bayʿ al-mughanniyāt; cf. Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Māturīdī sub Q 31:6; see Play and Distraction).

Buying Misguidance

In contrast to the one who sells his soul seeking Divine Pleasure (Q 2:207), there is the harmful trade of those who buy errancy at the price of guidance (Q 2:16, 175; 4:44) and who purchase the world at the price of the Hereafter; for them the punishment shall not be lightened, nor will they be helped (Q 2:86). Since ishtarā (buying) entails giving up something (man taraka shayʾan) and taking something else (wa tamassaka bi-ghayrih) in its place, such commerce indicates their passionate desire (raghba) for misguidance (Zajjāj, Maʿānī, sub Q 2:16). The extended and interlinked usage of trade, buying, and selling in Q 2:16 (It is they who have purchased misguidance at the price of guidance. Their commerce has not brought them profit, and they are not rightly guided) is often cited in the works on Qurʾānic rhetoric as an eloquent example of “matured assimilation” al-istiʿārat al-murashshaḥa (Tahānawī, Kashshāf, sub tarshīḥ, 1:163)—the most beautiful category of metaphorical usage, ranked as the highest, “above which there is no other (wa-laysa fawqa ratabatihā fī-l-badīʿ rataba);” the first metaphor (“buying”) suggests the succeeding metaphors (“profit and trade, ribḥ and tijāra”) (Ibn Ḥujjat, Khizānat al-adab, dhikr al-istiʿāra; 1:111), because they contain shared semantic elements and have inner harmony (al-mulāʾama) (Zarkashī, Burhān, al-istiʿāra, tābiʿ al-sādis wa-l-arbaʿūna; 3:438; also see, Suyūṭī, Itqān, Type 53, fī tashbīhihi wa istiʿārātihi, 3:153). Since trade is to exchange one thing with another that is more preferred, it means that they intentionally exchanged guidance with misguidance (Ibn Qutayba, Gharīb, sub Q 2:16).

Forbidden Literal Transactions

Lawful buying and selling is expressively distinguished from usury (q.v.) in Q 2:275, But Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden usury and from unlawful squandering (q.v.) and „devouring” in Q 4:29, O you who believe! do not devour your property among yourselves falsely, except that it be trade by your mutual consent; and do not kill your people; surely Allah is Merciful to you. forbidden transactions are harmful causes of corruption (mafsada), whereas permitted transactions comprise benefits (wa-l-mubāḥ ʿalā maṣlaḥa) (Kiyā, Aḥkām, 1:233). One reason behind such permission and prohibition is the fact that selling involves compensation (ʿiwaḍ), that is, the price given by the buyer is compensated by the thing received (muqābilun bil-muthamman) in fairness and without cheating (ghabn), while usury implies acting dishonestly and cheating (taghābun) and the unlawful use of money, for one gives nothing in exchange of the surplus one receives (Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 2:275). The exegetes categorize the selling of Yūsuf, upon him be peace,  for a low price (Q 12:20) as unlawful; he was a free person who was sold as a commodity [cf. Q 12:19] (Ṭabarī) and was unlawfully made a slave (Rāzī); his captors valued him not, even though he was a [future] Prophet, the son of a Prophet, [his father, who in turn was] son of a Prophet, who was the son of the Friend of the Most Merciful, Ibrāhīm (q.v.) upon them all  peace (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 12:20) (see Yūsuf, upon him be peace). Moreover, they knoew he was the apple of his father’s eyes (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 12:15). Learning, teaching, selling and buying of magic is forbidden as it leads to perdition in the Hereafter (Q 2:10;; cf. Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām, sub Q 2:102; Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām, 1:48 see Magic).

No Buying and Selling on the Day of Resurrection

Two verses (Q 2:254; 4:31) urge believers to spend before the Day of Resurrection (q.v.), when all buying and selling shall cease. In both verses, the noun bayʿ is glossed as fidya (ransom). In Q 2:254, O you who believe! Spend from that which We have provided you before a day comes wherein there shall be neither bayʿ, nor friendship, nor intercession. And the disbelievers, they are the wrongdoers (Q 2:254). “The noun bayʿ means ransom (fidya, see Expiation) and He called it “bayʿ”, because fidya conveys the meaning of buying back own’s own self (Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Samʿānī; Rāzī, Tafsīrs). The believers are urged to “seize the possible means (musāʿadat al-imkān) to send forth pious deeds before the flagging of energy (futūr al-jalad) and the termination of hope (inqiḍāʾ al-amal)” (Qushayrī, Tafsīr). Q 14:31 adds establishment of prayer to the spending as means of success in the Hereafter: Tell my slaves who believe to establish prayer and spend of that which We have given them, secretly and openly, before a Day comes in which there shall be neither selling (lā bayʿun fīhi) nor any befriending. On that Day, “the neglectful (al-muqaṣṣir) will not be able to buy anything to improve and correct his negligence (mā yatadāraku bihi taqṣīruhu), and he will not possess anything with which to ransom himself, neither friendship nor befriending will be available (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr).

Earning Livelihood

Buying and selling as a means of earning livelihood is specifically linked to the activities of the day time (Q 78:11). Trading is legally valid during Hajj (q.v.) (Q 2:198, There is no blame on you for seeking bounty of your Lord…) (Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām). Believers are, however, commanded (Q 62:9) to leave all trading when the call to prayer is made on Fridays, but when the prayer is finished, you may disperse through the land and seek the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah often that you may succeed (Q 62:10), which is understood not as a command, but as permission (ibāḥa) that allows trading that was prohibited in Q 62:9 by the phrase and leave trade. The phrase you may disperse through the land offers a choice: either to go out for trading or, as per Ibn ʿAbbās, to visit the sick (ʿiyādat al-marḍā), participate in the funeral service (ḥuḍūr al-janāʾiz), or in a general visit a brother in faith (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, Makkī, Hidāya; Māwardī, Nukat; Khāzin, Tafsīr; Abū al-Suʿūd, Irshād; Suyūṭī, Durr).

The occasion of revelation of Q 62:11 (And when they see some commerce or diversion, they scatter toward it and leave you standing. Say, “That which is with Allah is better than diversion and commerce; and Allah is the best of providers”) further establishes the primacy of prayer over commerce. The verse was revealed in the context of the arrival of the caravan (q.v.) of Diḥya b. Khalīfa al-Kalbī in Madina, while the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was delivering the Friday sermon. The caravan brought back olive oil, flour, and wheat at a time when there was a shortage of food in Madina and prices had risen (Wāḥidī, Asbāb; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Its arrival was announced by the beating of a drum. Upon hearing the sound of the drum, all but twelve people left the mosque (Baghawī, Rāzī, Tafsīrs), as per the report of Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh, who was one of those who stayed behind (Bukhārī, al-buyūʿ, bāb qawli-Llāhi taʿālā, wa idhā raʾaw tijāratan aw lahwan…; Muslim, Jumuʿa, fī qawlihi taʿālā, wa-idhā raʾaw tijāratan aw lahwan) The hadith, in the Mālikī School, serves to prove that the minimum required number for a Jumuʿa congregational prayer is twelve (Nawawī, Sharḥ Muslim; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī). Abū al-Qāsim ʿAbd al-Karīm b. Hawāzin b. ʿAbd al-Mālik al-Qushayrī (376-465/ca.986-ca.1073) paraphrases the passage That which is with Allah is better… to mean “Whatever is with Allah for His slaves and the ascetics (al-zuhhād) tomorrow is better than what they purchase today in this world” (Tafsīr).

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, encouraged his community to earn their livelihood through lawful means: “It is better for any one of you to tie a bundle of firewood and carry it on his back and sell it than to beg from another, who may give or may refuse” (Muslim, Zakāt, karāhiyat al-masʿalati lil-nās; cf. Bukhārī, Musāqāt, al-ḥaṭab wal-kalaʾ). He also instructed the believers not to enter in the midst of a transaction being discussed by two other parties (Bukhārī, Buyūʿ, al-nahy lil-bāʾiʿ an lā yuḥaffil al-ibil wal- baqar wal-ghanam; Muslim Buyūʿ, taḥrīm bayʿ al-rajul ʿalā bayʿ akhīh) and “not to be the first to enter the market and the last to leave it, because it is an arena of Satan and the standard of Satan is set there” (Muslim, Faḍāʾil al-Ṣaḥāba, min faḍāʾil Umm Salama).

Spiritual Etiquettes

The legal, ethical, and eschatological teachings of the Qurʾān on buying and selling, supplemented by the Prophetic guidance and normative practice of the Companions were embedded in treatises on etiquettes of acquisition of wealth (kasb al-māl) both for personal and common good of the community. These works explain authentic limits, and provide practical guidelines for ethical and rightful buying and selling practices in order to earn livelihood. One of the earliest such works—Kitāb al-kasb of Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī (132-189/749-804)—written in the middle of the second/eighth century and, although lost, still in use as reconstituted from an integral commentary given by a later scholar, al-Sarakhsī, in his book al-Mabsūṭ—was followed by al-Makāsib wal-waraʿ wal-shubha wa-bayān mubāḥihā wa-maḥẓūrihā of ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥārith b. Asad al-Muḥāsibī (165-243/781-857), Iṣlāḥ al-māl of Ibn Abī al-Dunyā (208-281/823-894), al-Ḥathth ʿalā al-tijāra wal-ṣināʿa wal-ʿamal of Abū Bakr Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Khallāl (234-311/849-923), Qūt al-qulūb (chapters 47 and 48) of Abū Ṭālib al-Makkī (d. 386/996), and Kitāb al-Dharīʿa ilā makārim al-sharīʿa (chapter six) of Muḥammad b. al-Mufaḍḍal al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī (d. 443/1060). These were masterfully integrated by Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī (450-505/1058-1111) in his Kitāb Ādāb al-kasb wal-maʿāsh, Book III of the second Quarter of his magnum opus Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn. Other works of no less importance include al-Ishāra ilā maḥāsin al-tijāra of Abū al-Faḍl Jaʿfar b. ʿAlī al-Dimashqī (d. after 570/1175) and Qamʿ al-ḥirṣ bil-zuhd wal-qanāʿ of the exegete Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273). All of the above-mentioned works have received English translations except for Qūt al-qulūb and al-Dharīʿa.

One constant emphasis in the above-cited works is that every person desiring to engage in buying and selling, or any form of business, should learn the science of earning (ʿilm al-kasb), in the spirit of the rules enjoined by the Rightly-guided Caliph ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, “No one trades in our markets except those who have the juristic knowledge [of trading], for without it, [the traders] may indulge in usury” (Tirmidhī, Witr, mā jāʾa fī faḍli-ṣalāt ʿalā-l-Nabbī ṣallā Llāh ʿalayhi wa sallam). The trader must learn the basic legal rules of sale (al-bayʿ), usury (al-ribā), advance buying (al-salam), hiring (al-ijāra), partnership (al-shirka), and venture capital financing (al-qirāḍ). Traders must also acquire sound knowledge of money, since money (gold dinars and silver dirhams) is exchanged in transactions and without its knowledge, one might indulge in counterfeit coins. The merchant should be just and magnanimous, for justice is a means to salvation (al-najāt), for which it functions just as capital functions in commerce. Magnanimity is a means to success (al-fawz) and felicity (al-saʿāda); it is comparable to profit in commerce. In the final section of the Book of Etiquette, al-Ghazālī outlines seven essential elements of proper conduct of the merchant (Iḥyāʾ, kitāb ādāb al-kasb wa-l-maʿāsh; 3:239-340).


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See also

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