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Interpretation of Sura Cow - Verse 188

188. " And do not devour your property among yourselves by wrongful means, nor offer it as a bribe to judges, with intent that you may unlawfully swallow up a portion of other people's property, while you know."


This verse prohibits Muslims from committing a very indecent action. It tells them not to swallow up the property of other people unrightfully, and not to earn wealth through a wrong way. They should be aware not to occupy the belongings of others forcefully and unjustly and then the oppressors refer to the judges so that haply they might give them something as a present or bribe in order to appropriate people's properties oppressively. If so, they have done two great wrongs: devouring others' rights, and bribery. " And do not devour your property among yourselves by wrongful means, nor offer it as a bribe to judges, that you may unlawfully swallow up a portion of other people's property, while you know."

The subject of bribery is so important in Islam that Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says about it: "...and bribery in judgement is the same as disbelief in Allah, the Exalted." 78 The holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) is narrated to have said in a famous tradition:

" Curse of Allah be upon the bribee, the briber and the one who makes every effort between them." 79 Something similar to this meaning is expressed in Sura An-Nisa'. No. 4, verse 29 where it says: " ... do not devour your property among yourselves falsely, except that it be trading by your mutual consent, ..." The verse under discussion clearly says that if some ones gain a case by giving bribes, the wealth under the suit which they win will be unlawful for them. Thus, the mere apparent winning in the court does not make the properties lawful. This very fact is clearly referred to in a tradition from the holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) where it says: " Verily, I am a human being (who is commissioned to judge between you through apparent means) . If a conflict comes forth to me in which some of you may have stronger evidence than that of the other party, then I will judge in favour of him according to it. So, if I thereby judge for him upon the right of a Muslim, it is a piece of fire. He can take it or leave it off." 80

Bribery, a Calamity

One of the calamities that humankind had been entangled with from the earliest times, and which is running with a more intense speed today, is bribery. It has been one of the greatest barriers of the execution of social justice. It causes that the regulations and laws, which must basically preserve the rights of the oppressed groups, to be employed, in most societies, to support the interests of the authoritative groups.

It is the rights of the weak, in fact, that law must support, for the rich and powerful people, with the possibilities they have, are always capable to defend their benefits. Evidently, if the path of bribery be opened, laws and judges may produce just a contrary result, because it is usually the powerful ones who are able to spend in bribery. Therefore, as a consequence, laws can be a new toy for them to continue their Satanic game of transgression and cruelty against the rights of the oppressed. For this reason, when bribery influences in a society, it destroys the foundation of the social life of those people. In this situation, transgression, inequity, injustice and undue distinction penetrate in all organs and, as a result, there remains but a bare name of laws and justice.

That is why Islam, showing the foulness of bribery, has condemned it intensely so that it has been counted a great sin in the view of the religion.

It is worthy noting that the ugliness of this indecent action is often covered in some other fallacious arguments and charming terms. This status causes that bribers and bribees usually make use of words such as: present, offering, dedication, tip, reward, recompense, and so on, for the bribe. But it is clear that these variations of names do not change the nature of bribery at all, and, however the money paid or taken thereby is certainly unlawful (haram) .

It is cited in Nahjul-Balaq­ah that Ash'ath-ibn-Qays went to Ali-ibn-Ali-Talib (a.s.) in a night with a closed flask full of honey paste to give it to him (a.s) as a present hoping that he would win the case in the court of Hadrat Ali (a.s.) . But Ali (a.s.) surprised and violately said: " Childless women may weep over you. Have you come to deviate me from the religion of Allah, ...? " " By Allah, even if I am given all the domains of the seven (stars) with all that exits under the skies in order that I may disobey Allah to the extent of snatching one grain of barley from an ant, I would not do it. For me, your world is lighter than the leaf in the mouth of a locust that is chewing it. What has 'Ali to do with bounties that will pass away and pleasures that will not last? ..." 81

Islam has condemned bribery in any form and by any name. It is narrated in the history of the life of the Prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h.) that once he was informed that one of his governor-generals had received a bribe in the form of a present. Then the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) harshly told him:

" Why do you take the thing which is not your right? " Then the man, apologizing to him (p.b.u.h.) , said that it was a present. Again, the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) expressed:

" If you were to remain at home while you were not a governor from my side, would people present you with anything? " 82 Then, the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) ordered the present to be taken and be sent inside the Muslim public treasury, when he dismissed him from his rank.

Even, in order that a judge would not confront with bribery in its hidden shapes, Islam advises that judges would not go shopping in the market themselves, lest discounts unconsciously affect on them and, when judging the suit, they eventually take the side of the giver of the reduction. How good it is that Muslims, inspired by their heavenly Book, do not sacrifice all their holy things at the foot of bribery! It is also said that the purpose of the verse is that they do not spend the wealth and properties of each other by means of vain pleasures like gambling or other games.

It is narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) who said: " The Quraish used to play games upon their wives, children, and personal wealth, losing them. Allah prohibited them of doing that." 83 It is better to consider all of these commentaries for the verse, because it can bear the meanings of them all totally.


78. Wasa'il-ush-Shi'ah, vol. 12, chapter 5

79. Bihar-ul-Anwar, vol. 104, p. 274

80. Fi-Zilal-il-Qur'an, vol. 1, p. 252

81. Nahjul-Balaq­ah, Sermon, No. 224

82. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) , vol. 1, pp. 155,156

83. Majma'-ul-Bayan, vol. 2, p. 282 (84) Tafsir-Baydawi, vol. 1, p. 40

Adapted from the book: "The Light of The Quran - Interpretation of Sura Al-Baqarah (The Cow)" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani and A Group of Muslim Scholars"

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