If you look for the exact equivalent of the words “business” or “commerce” in the classical Arabic language, you will not find them. Modern dictionaries do list words that represent these concepts, but the words they use are really something else. Some may be puzzled by the absence of words in Arabic for professions for which ancient Arabs are so famous. But we should not be surprised because the common usage of these words, and their respective connotations, has relatively recent origins. What is interesting is that most of us no longer think of the origins of these words.
Business means anything that keeps you busy. Commerce originally meant social interaction between two individuals. Even in our modern connotations of the words, we seldom think of limitations on such enterprise except that they should be in a “free” market and be expected to obey some undefined business ethics.
We are led to believe that such ethics are flexible, to say the least; after all, we are told that business and politics are “dirty” games. However, the religious framework of business is very different. One talks about trade, buying, selling, and transactions that deal with things and services of physical and spiritual value. Transactions must follow all rules of justice and equity and be fully understood by the parties involved. There must be full disclosure of the qualities and quantities of the merchandise.
The rules for such transactions are based on the Qur’an, the traditions and practices of the Prophet ﷺ and his companions and are laid out in the books of jurisprudence. In these articles, (Parts 1 &2) we want to introduce the reader to a few words relating to business or commerce as used in the Qur’an.
#1. Ishtira (Purchasing, Buying, Exchanging)
This word, in its various forms is used in the Qur’an about 25 times. The context is always otherworldly and spiritual. The pursuit of the momentary gains and worldly comforts and conveniences should never be at the expense of the ultimate success in the hereafter. Typical examples are in Surah Al Barqara (2:174-175)
“Those who conceal Allah’s revelations in the Book, and purchase for them a miserable profit, they swallow into themselves naught but fire; Allah will not address them on the Day of Resurrection, nor purify them: grievous will be their penalty.”
“They are the ones who buy error in place of guidance and torment in place of forgiveness. Ah! What boldness (they show) for Fire.”.
#2. Bai’ (Selling, Buying from or committing to a transaction).
This word, in its various forms appears in the Qur’an about 11 times. In some places, it refers to worldly trades but considers them less important than the real reason for our being.
Surah Al Baqara (2:282)
“…but take witnesses whenever ye make a commercial contract.”…
(“The commercial contract” is the translator’s rendering for one form of the above word)..”
Surah Ibrahim (14:31), reads:
“Speak to my servants who have believed, that they may establish regular prayers, and spend (in charity) out of the Sustenance we have given them, secretly and openly, before the coming of a Day in which there will be neither mutual bargaining nor befriending.”
In one form, the word is used in extending and accepting loyalty. As an example, the Prophet is told in Surah Al Mumtahana (60:2):
“O Prophet, when believing women come to thee to take the oath of loyalty to thee, that they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not commit adultery (or fornication), that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobey thee in any just matter, then do thou receive their loyalty, and pray to Allah for their forgiveness (of their sins): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
#3. Tijarah (Trade, Transaction, “Commerce”)
I placed the quotation marks on the word commerce, because Yusuf Ali, whose English translation used here, translates tijarah with this word in one place out of about 9 occurrences of tijarah or its variances in the Qur’an. Curiously, however, that place is Surah Fatir (35:29-30) where the context is not commercial.
“Those who rehearse the Book of Allah, establish regular Prayer, and spend (in Charity) out of what We have provided for them, secretly and openly, hope for a Commerce that will never fail.
“For He will pay them their meed, nay, He will give them (even) more of His Bounty; for He is Oft-Forgiving. Most Ready to appreciate (service).
The article continuous in part 2 of the same heading, In Shaa Allaah.