Giving to others their dues fully, while taking yours from them

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 2 February 2024

“Woe to the cheaters, who, when they take the measure (of their dues) from people, they take it fully, but when they measure out to others or weigh out for them, they give less than is due! Do they not think that they will be raised again, to a mighty day? — the day when mankind will stand before the Lord of the worlds.” — ch. 83, At-Taṭfīf, v. 1–6

وَیۡلٌ لِّلۡمُطَفِّفِیۡنَ ۙ﴿۱  الَّذِیۡنَ اِذَا اکۡتَالُوۡا عَلَی النَّاسِ یَسۡتَوۡفُوۡنَ ۫﴿ۖ۲  وَ اِذَا کَالُوۡہُمۡ اَوۡ وَّزَنُوۡہُمۡ یُخۡسِرُوۡنَ ﴿ؕ۳  اَلَا یَظُنُّ اُولٰٓئِکَ اَنَّہُمۡ مَّبۡعُوۡثُوۡنَ ۙ﴿۴  لِیَوۡمٍ عَظِیۡمٍ ۙ﴿۵  یَّوۡمَ یَقُوۡمُ النَّاسُ لِرَبِّ الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ؕ﴿۶

“And give full measure when you measure out, and weigh with a true balance. This is fair and better in the end.” — ch. 17, Banī Isrā’īl, v. 35

وَ اَوۡفُوا الۡکَیۡلَ اِذَا کِلۡتُمۡ وَ زِنُوۡا بِالۡقِسۡطَاسِ الۡمُسۡتَقِیۡمِ ؕ ذٰلِکَ خَیۡرٌ وَّ اَحۡسَنُ تَاۡوِیۡلًا ﴿۳۵

“And to Midian (We sent) their brother (i.e., a member of their own community) Shuaib. He said: My people, serve Allah, you have no god other than Him. And do not give short measure and weight. I see you in prosperity, and I fear for you the punishment of an all-encompassing day. And, my people, give full measure and weight justly, and do not defraud people of their things, nor act corruptly in the land, making mischief.” — ch. 11, Hūd, v. 84–85

وَ اِلٰی مَدۡیَنَ اَخَاہُمۡ شُعَیۡبًا ؕ قَالَ یٰقَوۡمِ اعۡبُدُوا اللّٰہَ مَا لَکُمۡ مِّنۡ اِلٰہٍ غَیۡرُہٗ ؕ وَ لَا تَنۡقُصُوا الۡمِکۡیَالَ وَ الۡمِیۡزَانَ اِنِّیۡۤ اَرٰىکُمۡ بِخَیۡرٍ وَّ اِنِّیۡۤ اَخَافُ عَلَیۡکُمۡ عَذَابَ یَوۡمٍ مُّحِیۡطٍ ﴿۸۴  وَ یٰقَوۡمِ اَوۡفُوا الۡمِکۡیَالَ وَ الۡمِیۡزَانَ بِالۡقِسۡطِ وَ لَا تَبۡخَسُوا النَّاسَ اَشۡیَآءَہُمۡ وَ لَا تَعۡثَوۡا فِی الۡاَرۡضِ مُفۡسِدِیۡنَ ﴿۸۵

The first passage of six verses that I read begins with the words: “Woe to the cheaters.” This word “woe” both expresses sadness at the behaviour of those who cheat and defraud others and also warns them that they will meet a bad end. In the literal sense, these verses refer to ordinary buying and selling, in which each side, buyer or seller, wants to take fully what is due to it from the other side and rightfully should be given to it, but in giving what it should be giving in return, it gives less than it. Each side tries to deceive the other. For example, in times past, when there was less legal protection for the consumer, sellers of goods rigged their weighing scales or measuring devices to make it appear to the buyers that they were getting the right amount that they were paying for, when in fact it was less than that. There were some very tricky, ingenious and hard to detect methods employed for this purpose.

Human sense of justice recognises that false­hood and deceit of that kind is wrong. The Holy Quran takes this matter very seriously. It has a chapter whose name is either given as Al-Taṭfīf, meaning the act of cheating or falling short in one’s duty, or it is given as Muṭaffifīn, meaning the people who do this. I have read its first six verses. It warns such people of the very serious consequences they will face in the Hereafter. But as their deceit and cheating deprives others of the material things of this world, then laws have to be made by governments to punish them in this world as well. It is only in recent years, in our own times, that such laws have been made, especially in Western countries, which protect buyers and consumers from dishonest salesmen. The Quran has told us of the necessity for such laws.

Of course, the cheating condemned here does not apply only to buying and selling things, but to all kinds of human activity in which two parties have an agreement or contract, verbal or written, or where we are assigned certain duties and responsibili­ties. For example, there is a contract between an employer and an employee, or a workman and the person that he is doing a job for. There are duties and responsibili­ties of the government and its citizens towards each other, of spouses towards one another, and of parents towards their children. The act of taṭfīf  is when a person falls short in doing his duties towards others, but requires others to fulfil their duties towards him.

As regards cheating people in buying and selling, when such defrauding becomes widespread, it undermines trust between human beings, which is harmful to society. It is economically damaging because people have to waste their time and energy in trying to avoid being cheated and deceived. The deceiver also would have been better off if he spent his time and ingenuity, not in devising ways of cheating others, but in improving his products and services, so that people want to buy them.

It is said about our Holy Prophet Muhammad that when he used to manage Hazrat Khadijah’s trading business, before he was made a Prophet, taking goods from Makkah to sell in Syria, and buying goods from there to bring back, he always acted with complete and scrupulous honesty in his transactions. Whatever he was selling, he would describe it truthfully, both as regards its good points and its faults. As a result, people trusted him and the business prospered. Those who cheat, in the way described in these verses, are very short-sighted. They make quick gains, but those gains benefit only them or their dependents. But they cause widespread harm in society, the same society in which they have to live as well. They have to cope with other people’s dishonesty, and cannot complain about it because they are doing the same themselves.

Not only does Allah condemn these defrauders, but in the second passage I read above Muslims are directly instructed to give full measure and weigh with a true balance. Mankind realised very early on that there was a need to have agreed standards for weights and measures that everyone accepted. Buyers and sellers both have to agree that a certain weight is one kilo or one pound, or a certain length is one metre or one foot. This is a branch of science in its own right, called metrology (not to be confused meteorology or the science of weather and climate). Various countries have their own official organisations dealing with weights and measures, and an international organisation was established in 1875 called the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, with headquarters in Paris, which enables all the countries of the world to have the same standards of weights and measures. So, for example, what is 1 kilo in UK is also recognised as 1 kilo in Pakistan. This doesn’t happen by itself; it requires various countries to agree to the same standard. When Muslims differ about the start of Ramadan or the day of the Eids, so that 1st Ramadan in London is not 1st Ramadan in Birmingham, or Eid-ul-Fitr in Lahore is not on the same day as in Peshawar, it is only because they have not agreed on a standard. On the other hand, the day after the 28th of February this year will be the 29th of February, whether you are in UK, USA, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

The third passage of the Quran that I recited relates that a certain prophet called Shuaib taught his people first to worship the One God, and take nothing else as a god, and the second teaching, next to this, is:

“do not give short measure and weight … give full measure and weight justly, and do not defraud people of their things”.

This teaching is of such supreme importance that it comes second only to worshipping God and refraining from what is called shirk. Yet we find that it is in Muslim countries, more so than in non-Muslim countries, that this teaching is violated commonly in everyday dealings.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad said:

“The truthful, honest merchant is with the prophets, the truthful, and the martyrs” (Tirmidhi, hadith 1209),

meaning that Allah with raise him in the Hereafter to join the company of prophets, saints and the shahīd. How could a trader, just by being truthful and honest, be raised to such a high rank? It is because there is a very strong temptation to be dishonest in selling and buying. In selling you sell a defective thing as if it was perfect, and in buying you knowingly pay a low price because the seller is poor and desperate to sell, or perhaps he doesn’t know the full value of what he is selling. Anyone who is able to resist this temptation, and go against the dishonesty prevailing in the society around him, must be a rare person of very high moral values. The Holy Prophet also said:

“May Allah have mercy on him who is lenient when he buys and when he sells and when he demands his rights” (Bukhari, hadith 2076).

In other words, whether he buys or he sells, in both cases he makes sure he does justice to the person that he is dealing with. And again, if he has to demand his right from the other person, because he was treated unjustly, he demands it with justice and good manners, and doesn’t over-do it.

Finally, I would point out that when Muslims are instructed, as I read out above, “And give full measure when you measure out, and weigh with a true balance”, this is not only about buying and selling, or discharge of other worldly duties. It also relates to our entire behaviour, that whatever we do, we do it properly, and not half done, and we keep a balance between our different obligations. For example, we have home obligations versus work obligations, we have religious obligations versus worldly obligations. Between any pair of clashing obligations, we maintain a just balance. Another example of applying this principle is that when someone presents his opinion or gives some information which he thinks is useful, we should “give full measure”, i.e., we should examine and consider it with the seriousness that it deserves, and not dismiss or reject it without giving it proper thought. And as to accepting what that person has conveyed to us, we should “weigh with a true balance”. We should come to a true and fair judgment. It should not be based on our liking or disliking that person or on the basis of prejudice or bias for or against that person.

So may Allah enable us to give to others in full what we owe them, and ask from them only what is our justified right and not beyond that, Ameen.