(akl amwāl al-nās bi-l-bāṭil, bakhs, taghābun, taṭfīf, ighlāl)

Csaba Okvath and Muzaffar Iqbal

To defraud by deceit, or by using unlawful or unfair means. The Qurʾān mentions four types of cheating: (i) unlawful consumption of wealth of other people (akl amwāl al-nās bi-l-bāṭil ); (ii) decreasing something in an unlawful manner (Bakhs); (iii) slighting (taṭfīf); and (iv) mutual fraud (taghābun). Two sura names (Q 64, 83) also refer to cheating (see below).

Definitions and Usage

Four terms refer to the concept of cheating:

  1. Akl amwāl al-nās bi-l-bāṭil: Consuming the wealth pf people unjustly, where akl is the infinitive of the verbal stem ʾ-k-l – akala - yaʾkulu aklan - maʾkalan, with the original meaning of “to eat”. But Arabs generally use the verb “akala” in special constructs: e.g. with the noun “al-nār”, they say “akalati-l-nāru-l-ḥaṭaba – the fire devoured, destroyed the firewood”; or “akala fulān ʿumrahu – someone has devoured his life” that is used it up, consumed, or destroyed it (Ibn Manzūr, Lisān, ḥarf al-lām, faṣl al-alif). When completed with the expression “bi-l-bāṭili-unjustly”, it refers to consuming it and spending it in a way that is contradictory to the Truth (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ʾ-k-l). The expression appears in the Qurʾān in four verses (Q 2:188; 4:29; 161; 9:34)
  2. Bakhs is derived from the sound triliteral stem “bakhasa – yabkhasu - bakhsan” in the sense of “to decrease something in an unlawful way (ẓulman)” (Samīn, ʿUmdat, faṣl al-bāʾ wa-l-khāʾ). The form “bakhs” refers to a very insignificant quantity, as in the case of selling Yūsuf (q.v.) bi-thamanin bakhsin – for a miserably low price (Q 12:20) (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub b-kh-s). The stem appears in the Qurʾān seven times, five times in verbal form (Q 2:282; 7:85; 11:15; 11:85; 26:183); once as a noun “bakhsan – any loss” (Q 72:13) and once in adjectival usage “bi-thamanin bakhsin – for a small price” (Q 12:20).
  3. Taghābun is the sixth form of the simple stem “ghabana - yaghbinu – ghabnan – ghubnan - ghubūnan” and it means “to cheat”, the sixth form “taghābana – yataghābanu -tagābunan” conveys the meaning of “mutual cheating”; “ghabn” means to decrease (tabkhas) your partner in your commercial transaction by hiding something from him (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub gh-b-n); some say that the “day of taghābun” is a day when the value of things seems to them different from their values in this worldly life. Taghābun is also one of the names of the Day of Resurrection (Samīn, ʿUmdat, bal-ghayn, faṣl al-ghayn wa-l-bāʾ). Taghābun is a hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān, it appears only once in Q 64:9.
  4. Taṭfīn in the infinitive form is not a Qurʾānic noun [stem ṭ-f-f]; it is derived from the second form “ṭaffafa - yuṭaffifu - taṭfīfan” in the sense of “to make deficient, to make scanty”; in the Qurʾān, the expression “ṭaffafa-l-kayl – to decrease the measure” is implied (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ṭ-f-f). The plural active participle [singular: muṭaffif], in the oblique case, appears once as “li-l-muṭaffifīna” in Q 83:1; muṭaffif can be paraphrased as muqallil, who is the one who gives unlawfully less than required (Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 83:1).

Unlawful devouring of wealth

Unlawful devouring of wealth, proscribed four times (Q 2:188; 4:29, 161; 9:34), is a general category of prohibited practice; its specific forms include consumption of wealth of an orphan (Q 4:10), usury , bribes, and gambling (maysir, q.v.; cf. Q 2:219; 5:90, 91); this latter activity is explained by Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688), may Allah be well-pleased with them both, as including all forms of betting (qimār), as well as games involving betting, such as chess (shaṭranj), dice (nard) and others (Ibn ʿAjība, Baḥr, sub Q 2:219). Divine Law (sharīʿa) prohibits the devouring of wealth of others in an unlawful way (bi-mā lā yaḥill), through cheating (khiyāna), extortion (ghaṣb), theft (sariqa) and betting (Wāḥidī, Wajīz, sub Q 2:188).

Believers are advised not to consume others’ wealth unjustly (bi-l-bāṭil), which means taking it without right (bi-ghayri ḥaqq)—that is, taking their wealth forcibly, by theft, through unjust appropriation, hoax (khadʿ), slighting (taṭfīf), or taking it under false pretext, as in the practice of magic (siḥr), soothsaying (kahāna), and telling of auspicious signs (al-faʾl); it also includes betting, bribery and usury, or any form prohibited by the Law, consuming wealth unjustly, that is, by spending it on useless amusements (fī-l-malāḥī), adultery (al-zinā; see, Adultery and Fornication), alcoholic drinks, sodomy (liwāṭ; cf. Q 7:80-84; 11:77-83; 15:57-75), and other prohibited matters (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām, sub Q 2:188).

Cheating by fraudulent measures

Bakhs, derived from the sound triliteral root b-kh-s, means “to decrease something iniquitously (ẓulman)” (Samīn, ʿUmdat, faṣl al-bāʾ wa-l-khāʾ). The root appears five times in verbal form (Q 2:282; 7:85; 11:15, 85; 26:183), once as a noun “bakhsan—any loss” (Q 72:13), and once in adjectival usage “bi-thamanin bakhsin—for a small price” (Q 12:20). Bakhs implies cheating by fraudulent measures, shortchanging, and is opposite of giving “full measure and weight in justice” (Q 11:85) so that people should not be deprived of what is their due. Q 2:282 uses the phrase “wa lā yabkhas minhu shayʾanand he should not leave anything out of it”, thereby instructing the scribe who is writing the contract of debt, to do so with equity, that is, “to justly register the amount, without adding or taking away from it” (Wāḥidī, Wajīz), “without increase or decrease [of amount] and without advancing or postponing the due date” (Samʿānī, Tafsīr). “The scribe needs to record the due rights accurately” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr) to prevent cheating. Three verses (Q 7:85; 11:85; 26:183) describe the teachings given to Prophet Shuʿayb , upon him be peace, who was sent to the people of Madyan . These elucidate, among other matters, the correct etiquette of commercial transactions, including observance of full measure and proper scale, not to diminish people’s goods nor to work corruption upon the earth after it has been set aright (Q 7:85). The people of Shuʿayb, upon him be peace, were a disbelieving nation among whom cheating was so widespread that they are characterized as people of disbelief and unjust decrease (ahl kufr wa bakhs) (Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:85). They disbelieved in the Commands of Allah and manipulated the scales and weights and they treated buyers in a dishonest way (Samarqandī, Baḥr). They are commanded to Give full measure, and be not among those who fall short. Weigh with the right balance, and diminish not people’s goods, nor behave wickedly upon the earth, working corruption (Q 26:181-83) (Ibn ʿAbbās, Tanwīr al-miqbās, sub Q 26:183).

Cheating is contrary to justice

Cheating is contrary to justice, which is the very essence of Divine Law. “Allah the Exalted has made it clear in his Law that the objective is to establish justice among His servants and fairness among people, so the path that leads to justice and fairness is part of the religion and not opposed to it” (Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ṭuruq al-ḥukmiyya, 1:13). Allah Most High gives just reward: He recompenses the believer who should not fear loss in his or her rewards nor increase in bad deeds (Qurṭubī, Tafsīrsub Q 72:13); every believer will be rewarded with the most perfect and complete reward (al-jazāʾ al-awfā) and should not fear that humiliation will cover him (Rāzī, Tafsīr). Likewise, those who desire the life of this world only and deny the Hereafter are rewarded in this world: Whoever desires the life of this world and its adornment—We fully repay them for their deeds therein, and they will not suffer loss (lā yubkhasūna)” (Q 11:15). This verse implies that Allah Most High will justly recompense the disbelievers according to their deeds in this world; they will receive a just reward here on earth, like growth in wealth and properties—so they will not be unjustly decreased (yubkhasūna) in their worldly life (Wāḥidī, WajīzTafsīrs of Rāzī and Baghawī), but “they are those for whom there is nothing in the Hereafter but Fire” (Q 11:16, also Q 42:20).


Another form of cheating is condemned in Sūrat al-Muṭaffifīn (Q 83) (“Defrauders”), which derives its name from the root ṭ-f-f, indicating a decrease in measure (ṭaffafa-l-kayl); an insignificant thing is also called al-ṭafīf (Rāghib, Mufradātsub ṭ-f-f). In a broad sense, muṭaffif is paraphrased as muqallil—the one who unlawfully gives less than required (Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs, sub Q 83:1). According to Ibn ʿAbbās, it is the first sura to have been revealed in Madina shortly after the arrival of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, as cheating was widespread at that time: “When the Prophet arrived in Madina, its inhabitants were the worst kind of defrauders, and so Allah Most High revealed (Q 83:1-4), Woe unto the defrauders, who, when they take measure from people, demand [it] in full, and when they measure for them or weigh for them, they stint. Do they not think that they will be resurrected (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Baghawī). The verses censure those who intentionally decrease (yabkhasūna) the rights of the buyers using false scale and measure (Wāḥidī, Wajīz), which is similar to theft (sariqa), for such a merchant takes away a little portion from the due right of the buyer (Samarqandī, Baḥr). Exegetes mention the opinion of ʿIkrima (d. 107/725), who said, “I testify that every kayyāl (the one who uses false measures) and every wazzān (who uses manipulated scales) shall be in Hell-Fire; for he does not use proper measures for the buyers, but wants full measures for himself” (Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, Samarqandī, Baḥr, Thaʿlabī, Kashf, Zamakhsharī, Kashshāfsub Q 83:1). The meaning of cheating, however, extends beyond commerce, as it has been reported from the Successor Sālim Ibn Abī al-Jaʿd (d. ca. 100/718), who said, “prayer is a well-defined measure. Whosoever completes [its measure], for him is his reward and whosoever lightens (ṭaffafa) it, you know what Allah the glorified and exalted has said about it: Woe unto the defrauders (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr sub Q 83:1).

The Day of Mutual Cheating

Sūrat al-Taghābun (Q 64, the title is variously translated as “The Day of Mutual Cheating”, “The Day of Mutual Gain and Loss”, “The Day of Mutual Fraud”) describes another kind of cheating.

Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) explains taghābun as a term borrowed from the terms of remuneration (mujāzāt) and commercial transactions (tijārāt), it is used when someone deceives another and takes from him something without paying its real value. The term is a loanword from the domain of buying and selling ; for Allah Most High says regarding the disbelievers “they have bought the life of this world [in exchange] for the Hereafter” (Q 2:86) and they are those “who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance” (Q 2:16, 175), but their commerce has brought no profit. Then Allah Most High shows the method of the most profitable trade and asks, “Shall I guide you to a transaction that will save you from a painful punishment?” (Q 61:10). Thus the believers sold their lives for Paradise; the business deal (safqa) of the disbelievers had no profit, while the deal of the believers is ever profitable (Tafsīr).“The substantive taghābun is used metaphorically to indicate eternal loss (khusrān) for disbelievers” (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr) Taghābun is the form VI verbal noun, conveying the meaning of “mutual cheating”; “ghabn” means to decrease (tabkhas) your partner in your commercial transaction by hiding something from him (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub gh-b-n). The “Day of taghābun” (Q 64:9), another name for the Day of Resurrection, is a day when the value of things would seem to be different from their value in the worldly life (Samīn, ʿUmdat, bal-ghayn, faṣl al-ghayn wa-l-bāʾ). It is the Day of Assembly (yawm al-jamʿ) (See ; )—the day on which Allah Most High will assemble all creatures (Q 64:9). On this Day the fraud of every disbeliever—their neglect of belief—will be made known and the cheating of every believer who harmed the pillars of faith in the worldly life by omitting parts of faith will be disclosed (Wāḥidī, Wajīz).

Abū Jaʿfar ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-ca.922) explains further:

In fact, the Day of Taghābun is the Day of Assembly and the Day of Separation and Differentiation (yawm al-tafrīq)—it is the moment of mutual fraud (taghābun) and mutual gain (tarābuḥ), though only the previous noun appears in the verse; it is explained by His Words, “A party will be in Paradise, and a party in the blazing Fire [of Hell; fī-l-saʿīr] (Q 42:7)”. “Mutual fraud” is a reference to the self-cheating of the disbelievers who deprive themselves of a place in Paradise and “the Day of Resurrection (yawm al-Qiyāma) is also called yawm al-Taghābun—the day of Mutual Loss and Gain—for on that Day, the People of Paradise will dupe (ghabana) the people of Fire, which means that the People of Paradise will take Paradise and people of Fire [will take] Hell-Fire by way of exchange (ʿalā ṭarīq al-mubādala); and deceit (al-ghabn) refers to the exchange of good with bad, and the perfect (al-jayyid) with the corrupt (al-radīʾ), pleasure with punishment…Exegetes say, the maghbūn (cheated) is the one who is cheated regarding his relatives and dwellings in Paradise. On that Day, the cheating of every disbeliever will be apparent due to abandoning of belief (bi-tark al-īmān) and the cheating of every believer will be apparent regarding decreasing the amount of beneficence (al-iḥsān) and wasting the days [not using them in the proper way]…ghabn is used as a simile for buying and selling, as the Most High says “those are the ones who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance” (Q 2:16); when He mentions that the disbelievers bought error (al-ḍalāla) instead of guidance and their transaction was not profitable, they rather suffered loss, thus they are duped (ghubinū); while the People of Paradise have purchased the Hereafter by abandoning the worldly life; whereas the people of Fire bought Hell-Fire by neglecting the Hereafter. In a broader sense and metaphorically, this can be called an exchange (mubādala). Allah Most High has divided mankind into two groups. One group for Paradise and another for Hell-Fire. Their dwelling places (manāzil) are located in Paradise and Fire. If disappointment (khidhlān; also translated as ‘being forsaken’) is decreed for a slave, as it was already elucidated in this sura, then he will belong to the people of Fire. And the one granted success [by Allah; al-muwaffaq] will obtain the position of the forsaken one (manzil al-makhzūl) as if it were mutual exchange (tabādul) and taghābun is realized…But Allah knows best. (Tafsīr)


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See also

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