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Islamic Approaches to Corruption

There is a rich tradition in Islamic heritage of high moral standards, ethics, religious values and norms of behavior, which govern personal, professional and business life. These standards, ethics and values have much in common with other world religions and as such it may be more useful and unifying to invoke these values as common cultural values, rather than to promote them as purely Islamic values. But because Islam carries so much stigma in public domain, this research article will  reiterate these anti-corruption precepts as contained in Islam. However, we propose to reflect on the impact of corruption before looking at Islamic texts and moral teachings which promote justice and ethical accountability for all mankind. 


Corruption is not a new thing in human societies. It is an age-old menace which can cause tremendous harm to society. Corruption has been likened to a form of cancer that undermines morality, good governance and the rule of Islamic law. It is an affliction that diverts resources meant for sustainable development and progress, to wasteful and dangerous ends. In that sense, corruption is not only a problem for the present generation, but the next as well, because a corrupt act committed today will also affect generations to come. 

Corruption is almost a commonplace practice. It covers a wide range of illegal practices. Perhaps throughout history and among different peoples there has been some kind of corruption. Corruption is not limited to the public sector; the private sector has a similar share, if not more. It is true that Islam encourages private enterprise, but Islam, at the same time, emphasizes a leading and effective public sector. Islam is for good and effective governance, which protects the weak and curbs the strong. Without a solid public sector, the weak are left victims to the whims of the profit mongering businessman. Corruption too has different definitions. What is considered corruption for some may not be so for others. It depends entirely on the norm that is accepted by certain societies. 

For instance, some of the advanced countries have allowed huge bribes paid out by multinationals to high ranking officials in other countries as tax deductible. The countries whose high ranking officials accept the huge bribes will end up paying much more than the real price of the service or product. What is even worse is when decisions tend to be made based on the amount of bribe or commission they could get. It is no longer the price and quality of service or product that is being purchased that become the most important criteria. When this happens, the user of the service or product will become the victim. Bribery is taken extremely seriously and it is forbidden in Islam. For example, there is the well-known Hadith; Ahmad narrated from Tawban who said: “The Messenger of Allah (SAW) cursed the briber (or 'corrupter'), bribe-taker (or 'corrupted') and the mediator meaning the one who walks between the two.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and ibn Majah) which illustrates the severity with which bribery and corruption is viewed. Bribe is that which is given or taken to violate the right of others. Businessmen may sometimes be tempted to offer bribe in order to persuade another party to give them special favours or to     allow them to get away with dishonest practices. Bribe should never be given. It is a big sin. The Islamic stand on bribery is very clear. “The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) cursed the one who bribes (rashi) and the one who takes (murtashi).” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith No. 1595).

The impact of corruption on development is devastating. Indeed the World Bank has stated that corruption is one of the greatest obstacles to economic and social development. Corrupt practices weaken public institutions damage to the environment. Such factors impact disproportionately on the poor who are least able to afford the extra costs associated with corruption. In addition to material impact, corruption also affects the value system of a society by undermining the principles of justice, equality and accountability, reduce the quality of and access to public services, deter investment and growth and cause. It is an integral part of an Islamic society and its faiths; it is more of a holistic nature. In the Holy Qur’an - Almighty Allah says: "And O my people! Give full measure and weight in justice and reduce not the things that are due to the people, and do not commit mischief in the land, causing corruption." (Surah Hud, Ayat :85)
A system can not survive for a long time without conditioning the mind-set of the populace. The early Muslim monarchies, despite everything said above, played major roles in prosecuting Jihads and expanding the frontiers of the empire, providing the young faith with the political and military protection required for its survival. Gradually, people came to accept bribery and corruption as an acceptable feature of political leadership. In this respect Shaykhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said: "This is why those who are in authority are of two groups: the scholars and the rulers. If they are upright, the people will be upright; if they are corrupt, the people will be corrupt."

Corruption is also said to be highly related to materialistic tendencies, which can be due to real needs caused by income or greed and desire to live well beyond one's means. When this happens, it can easily lead to gross inefficiencies both financially and productivity wise. Those involved will find ways and means of applying pressure on others whom they can prey upon, instead of providing genuine service to such victims. It is quite common for those intending to receive bribes to delay approval or payment process so that they can expedite the service in return for some bribes. Apart from the obvious damages that we cause to society through bribery and corruption, Islam provides another view on this menace. Justice is a central value in Islam. Moreover, Islam promotes social justice which includes the fair and equitable distribution of wealth, the provision of basic necessities and the protection of the weak from economic exploitation by the strong. The Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) had been reported to have said, "If you get from the people because of your position it is bribery. Would you get it if you are not holding that position, or if you stay in your father's house?" 

This Hadith provide us with the strict definition of bribery and corruption in Islam. Gifts that we get could be considered as bribery if it is meant to oblige us to abuse our position or power. However, if it is customary for those in power to receive gifts because of the respect, love and services that they have rendered to the people, then of course, it cannot be regarded as bribery. In essence, Islam too frowns upon bribery and corruption. It is definitely a sinful act. All benefits derived from sinful activities are definitely unlawful. To this applies the famous Hadith that states that the flesh that grows out of unlawful income has no place in the hereafter but hell. The Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) said: "Allah does not punish the individuals for the sins of the community until they see the evil spreading among themselves, and while they have the power to stop it, do not do so." (Ahmad)

Islamic teachings provide a moral framework for preventing corruption which is referred to as fasad in the holy Qur’an. Almighty Allah says: "But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of legal enjoyment in this world, and do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not corruption on Earth (mischief in the land). Verily, Allah likes not the Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes and sins, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corrupts)." (Surah Al-Qasas, Ayat :77) 

However, the concept of fasdis much broader than the term ‘corruption’; it encompasses all behaviour that disrupts human life and social harmony, undermines justice and harms the environment. The term of fasadah is being mischievous, wrong-doer or evil-doer is also causing harm to other   people. A non-true believer tends to become unethical, and habitually practices incorrect and unjust actions against everybody - even in counter with his fellow brothers of the same faith! As holy Qur'an states: "Corruption (sins and disobedience of Allah, etc.) has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned (by oppression and evil deeds, etc.), that Allah may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (by repenting to Allah, and begging His Pardon)." (Surah Ar-Rum, Ayat :41). Another verse from holy Qur'an: "And incline not toward those who do wrong, lest the Fire should touch you, and you have no protectors other than Allah, nor you would then be helped." (Surah Hud, Ayat :113)

Corruption is perceived as evil and mischief that prevents human beings from doing good to others. The holy Qur'an cites: "Those who follow the Messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write (i.e.Muhammad SAW) whom they find written with them in the Taurat (Torah) (Deut, xviii, 15) and the Injeel (Gospel) (John xiv, 16), - he commands them for Al-Ma’ruf (i.e. Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam has ordained); and forbids them from Al-Munkar (i.e. disbelief, polytheism of all kinds, and all that Islam has forbidden); he allows them as lawful At-Taiyibat [(i.e. all good and lawful) as regards things, deeds, beliefs, persons, foods, etc.], and prohibits them as unlawful Al-Khaba’ith (i.e. all corruption or evil and unlawful as regards things, deeds, beliefs, persons, foods, etc.), he releases them from their heavy burdens (of Allah’s Covenant), and from the fetters (bindings) that were upon them. So those who believe in him (Muhammad SAW), honor him, help him, and follow the light (the Qur’an) which has been sent down with him, it is they who will be successful." (Surah Al-A'raf, Ayat :157).

There are other holy Qur'anic verses that stress the importance of enjoining what is virtuous and forbidding what is vicious. It is basically a question of sheer morality. Certainly, the aim of such ethical principle is to establish justice and maintain it as well. Almighty Allah says: "Verily, Allah enjoins Al-Adl (i.e. justice and worshipping none but Allah Alone - Islamic Monotheism) and Al-Ihsan [i.e. to be patient in performing your duties to Allah, totally for Allah’s sake and in accordance with the Sunnah (legal ways) of the Prophet (SAW) in a perfect manner], and giving (help) to kith and kin (i.e. all that Allah has ordered you to give them e.g., wealth, visiting, looking after them, or any other kind of help, etc.): and forbids Al-Fahsha’ (i.e all corruption, evil deeds, e.g. illegal sexual acts, disobedience of parents, polytheism, to tell lies, to give false witness, to kill a life without right, etc.), and Al-Munkar (i.e all that is prohibited by Islamic law: polytheism of every kind, disbelief and every kind of evil deeds, etc.), and Al-Baghy (i.e. all kinds of oppression), He admonishes you, that you may take heed." (Surah An-Nahl, Ayat : 90)

The problem that we have to sincerely question is whether the bribe that we have paid for will bring about future streams of income to us or not. If the stream of income that we receive is clearly the result of the bribe that we have paid for, then naturally, the stream of income that we derive is unlawful in the eyes of Islam. For instance if we bribe to get to a certain position, the stream of income that we enjoy from such a position is also questionable Islamically. This is the real danger of all our sinful actions. Whether we pay zakat or donate our wealth for a very noble cause from such wealth, there is no benefit to us. This is because, neither zakat nor good charitable deeds are counted from unlawful income. Accepting bribes as a judge or ruler is tantamount to disbelief in Allah. This is backed by the holy Qur’anic verse which Almighty Allah says: "And eat up not one another’s property unjustly (in any illegal way e.g. stealing, robbing, deceiving, etc.), nor give bribery to the rulers (judges before presenting your cases) that you may knowingly eat up a part of the property of others sinfully." (Surah Al-Baqara, Ayat :188)

Shariah or Islamic law and religious laws provide a normative framework that is likely to give more weight, impact and legitimacy to anti-corruption initiatives in the context of Islamic countries. Leaders and those in positions of power in Muslim countries are ultimately accountable to their Lord and Creator. In a Hadith narrated by Hazrat Adi ibn Amirah al-Kindi (RA.) provide examples of specifically Islamic approaches to tackling corruption; the Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) said: "Whoso from you is appointed by us to a position of authority and he conceals from us a needle or something smaller than that, it would be misappropriation (of public funds) and [he] will (have to) produce it on the Day of Judgment." (Sahih Muslim no. 847)

Corruption is significantly correlated with poverty, it is clear that a major portion of the responsibility for the unethical climate prevailing in most Muslim countries rests squarely on the shoulders of their leaders. But in Islam leaders are servants of their followers (sayyid al qawn khadimuhum). They are to seek the welfare of their subjects, and guide them toward what is good. In a hadith reported by Hazrat Abu Malih (RA.), the Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) said: "A ruler who has been entrusted with the affairs of the Muslims, but makes no endeavor (for their material and moral uplift) and is not sincerely concerned (for their welfare) will not enter Paradise along with them." (Sahih Muslim1:82)

If a leader or Amir becomes corrupt he should first be given a call to Islam (submission) in private, or possibly in public if his evil deeds were done in public. If he does not turn away from his corruption or evil deeds, he should be overthrown or removed from position. However, in the process of removing him from position, he should not be physically fought, such as waging war with weapons. This is because the ruler is still Muslim, and the Muslims are not to attack or kill another Muslim. If, however, the Muslim leader or ruler completely abandons his salat, he nullifies his Islam and can be fought if necessary. (However, to prove this, it would take an Islamic court or similar situation in which the person could defend themselves against all accusations). The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "In the near future there will be Amirs (rulers) and you will like their good deeds and dislike their bad deeds. One who sees through their bad deeds (and tries to prevent their repetition by his hand or through his speech), is absolved from blame, but one who hates their bad deeds (in the heart of his heart, being unable to prevent their recurrence by his hand or his tongue), is (also) safe (so far as God’s wrath is concerned). But one who approves of their bad deeds and imitates them is spiritually ruined. People asked (the Prophet (SAW)): Shouldn't we fight against them? He replied: No, as long as they say their prayers." (Sahih Muslim :4569, Hadith Narrated Hazrat Umm Salamah (RA.).

Islam teaches that humans are the stewards of God on earth and are therefore, accountable to Almighty Allah for their deeds and choices. Such responsibility and accountability provides the motivation to abide by Islam’s moral and ethical code. Furthermore human behavior is also influenced by the concept of taqwa which is a central concept in the teaching of the holy Qur’an which can be translated into the state of being pious or God-fearing. Muslims are encouraged by the holy Qur’an to demonstrate the taqwa of Allah Almighty by behaving in a just and ethical manner. In this way the concept of taqwa in Islam provides the foundation for ethical transparency and accountability.

There is no separation between the secular and the sacred in Islam and the law is suffused with religion. As a result, fighting corruption in an Islamic context must be rooted in the Islamic values guarded by the Shariah or Islamic law to ensure ownership and legitimacy of anti-corruption measures.  In recent decades the international fight against corruption has been carried out within a largely secular framework. However, Islamic teachings promote a moral framework that can provide a foundation for the fight against corruption; Islam calls upon Muslims to behave in a just and ethical manner that is conducive to sustainable development.

Islamic teachings not only encourage mankind to be responsible for their own behavior but also the behavior of their fellow human beings. According to Islam, enjoining what is right and prohibiting what is wrong is the responsibility of the whole community. Muslims should openly advocate against the wrong doing of others in order to promote a more just and accountable society. With such high levels of domestic corruption, the workplace within the above mentioned countries is bound to be affected. Muslims will have tremendously difficulty abiding by the high moral standards that the holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) wish us to live by. In particular Muslims trying to tackle the issue of poverty should embrace and promote the moral framework laid down by Islam as a way of curbing corruption and achieving justice and sustainable development. 

Unfortunately, Islamic values are not often appreciated by people of states in the Muslim World. Enlightened religious leaders are supposed to address social problems and raise their voices against injustice, corruption etc. The world is eager to see a model Islamic State free from corruption. That model is not available today for many reasons. However, no one is perfect and it is only by learning from mistakes of the past and questioning "received wisdom" that change is possible. Almighty Allah says: "Verily! Allah will not change the good condition of a people as long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves (by committing sins, corruption and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allah)." (Surah Ar-Ra'd, 
Ayat :11)

After all, we are all accountable to Almighty Allah in every action that we do on this earth. A famous Hadith has it that Allah Almighty will call us to account how we spend our life, our youth, our wealth and our knowledge. The Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) said: "Beware of bribery for verily it is sheer infidelity, and the briber will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise." [Bihar al-Anwar, v. 104, p. 274, no. 12]

On the other hand, a faith-based reform is always optimistic. Basically, corruption cannot continue to grow in a society of believers sharing a common faith. Although there are exceptions amongst few believers, the fast rule throughout history is that faith-based societies tend to observe probity. Certainly, preaching alone is not enough to bring about effective reform. Faith maintains a positive attitude towards uprightness. Furthermore, enlightened concepts, religious values and norms could lead to a realistic reform whenever they are supported by honest and fair actions. Institutionalization of reform is a must. Individual efforts of believers, philosophers and thinkers could encourage the public to participate actively. However, in order to enhance a positive reform an organizational set-up is most desirable. 

Today, corruption can no longer be considered as a country’s internal problem alone. In this case, every nation must work with every other nation to fight corruption. As such, the fight against corruption must be on a holistic, global and unified scale. Anything less would be self-defeating. All of this has been made possible by an intellectual superstructure, a moral philosophy that encourages acquiescence to the rule of corrupt and despotic rulers. We believe that many of the development challenges that the Muslim Ummah faces has its roots in problems of poverty, poor governance and limited education opportunities, all of which are exacerbated by the existence of corruption we must also do this for the Ummah, to secure a better economic, social and political future for ourselves. We pray to Allah Almighty to give us the strength to take up the anti-corruption agenda and verily, Allah is the Guide of those who believe, to the Straight Path. In exactly the same way, a Muslim who believes in Allah the Just can not stand injustice, Corruption and abuse of office are manifestations of injustice.



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