#77: Unreasonably Overpriced Food

Question:

Assalamualaikum. What is your opinion regarding the overpriced sea bass sold recently in Langkawi? Is it considered misconduct towards the customer? Hope for an explanation.

Answer:

Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions and all those who follow his footsteps until the Last Day.

Originally, there is no specific limit for profit in Islam. However, when it involves deception, mistreatment and overpriced price for necessities, hence, there is fiqh which discussed the khiyar rights (choice of cancelling the akad) for the party who are deceived.

In answering the intensely debated issue regarding the selling of a sea bass which reaches up to RM1100, we present several evidences about overpriced goods. There is a hadith narrated from Anas bin Malik RA, he said:

غَلَا السِّعْرُ عَلَى عَهْدِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ سَعِّرْ لَنَا فَقَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الْمُسَعِّرُ الْقَابِضُ الْبَاسِطُ الرَّزَّاقُ وَإِنِّي لَأَرْجُو أَنْ أَلْقَى رَبِّي وَلَيْسَ أَحَدٌ مِنْكُمْ يَطْلُبُنِي بِمَظْلِمَةٍ فِي دَمٍ وَلَا مَالٍ

“Prices became excessive during the time of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), so they said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Set prices for us!’ So, he said: ‘Indeed Allah is Al-Musa’ir, Al-Qabid, Al-Basir, Ar-Razzaq. And I am hopeful that I meet my Lord and none of you is seeking (recompense from) me for an injustice involving blood or wealth.'” [1]

Syeikh Muhammad al-Zuhaili stated: This hadith is evidence that it is prohibited for the ruler to set prices according to the final opinion in the madhhab. A weak opinion stated that it is permissible for a ruler to set the price during ghala’ (downturn) of food. If an imam set the price for goods and traders disagree with the order, then it is permissible for the ruler to sentence them with ta’zir punishment. However, the ruling of the trade is sahih according to the asah (more sahih) opinion. [2]

Syeikh Muhammad Taqi Uthmani said: “Indeed, tas’ir (setting the price for goods) cannot be implemented, except in extraordinary situations, when people are in desperate situations due to overly priced goods where they are from the necessities of people such as food, drink and clothing. If it is not such a situation, then the original ruling is to let the seller and buyer perform trade with the price they agreed on. Apparently, if ihtikar (monopoly of goods) and setting of prices by business cartel doesn’t happen, [3] then this will open the opportunity for free competition in the market until the sellers cannot increase the price higher than the market price. Even if it does increase, there is no ambiguity. Hence, setting prices isn’t needed.” [4]

The above explanation is strengthened with two facts from the actions of Rasullullah PBUH and his companions:

  1. From `Urwah Ibn al-Ja`d al-Bariqi RA, he was given 1 dinar by Rasullullah PBUH to buy a goat. ‘Urwah then bought 2 goats and sell one of them for 1 dinar, making the profit of 100% gained! When he gave it to the Prophet PBUH, the Prophet PBUH was happy and supplicated blessings for him. The blessing of the supplication, every time he went to trade in the market, he managed to get up to 40,000 dinars in profit. [5]
  2. Saidina al-Zubair bin al-`Awwam RA once bought a plot of land with the price of 170,000 dirhams, then his son Abdullah RA sold it after al-Zubair’s death with the price of 1,600,000 dirhams. The total is 9 times its original price. [6]

Imam Abu Ishak al-Syirazi in al-Muhazzab[7]: “Whoever buys some goods, it is permissible on him to sell it with the capital price, with a lower or higher price, according to a hadith narrated from ‘Ubadah bin Samit, the Prophet PBUH said:

فإذا اخْتَلَفَتْ هذِه الأصْنافُ، فَبِيعُوا كيفَ شِئْتُمْ

“If these classes differ, sell as you wish if payment is made on the spot.” [8]

Hence, Imam al-Ghazali in his book Ihya al-Ulum al-Din [9] explained that originally ghabn (surplus) is permissible as long as it is in the acceptable norm. The reason is the purpose of business itself is profit, that involves ghabn even if it is a little. He said some scholars limit profit to one-third of the good’s price, if it is more, then it is a choice, but it is not the opinion of madhhab al-Syafie. It is just ihsan. However, the permissibility is bound with the condition that it doesn’t involve deception or oppression.

Conclusion

We are inclined towards the opinion that states profiting several times over in a business is permissible as long as it doesn’t lead to oppression and tyranny. The reason for this is that profit itself is relative and cannot be compared in absolution with the market price before the profit can be calculated after deducting the cost that the seller has to bear before the nett profit he gains. However, we’d like to advise sellers to always increase their charity and donation to clean the profit they gain, as stated by Rasullullah PBUH:

يَا مَعْشَرَ التُّجَّارِ إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ وَالإِثْمَ يَحْضُرَانِ البَيْعَ فَشُوبُوا بَيْعَكُمْ بِالصَّدَقَةِ

“O people of trade! Indeed, the Shaitan and sin are present in the sale, so mix your sales with charity.” [10]

Syeikh Syams al-Haqq al-‘Adzim Abadi in his commentary said: Usually, in trade there will be useless talk. It is also said, words are also said without any thought and are useless just like the twittering of a bird. Thus, purify this trade with charity for it prevents the anger of Allah SWT. [11]

Thus, we suggest the following:

  1. Display the price clearly so that there is no doubt about it. For example, RM10/100g is displayed, but there is a possibility of confusion or misestimation of the price, for after weighing a fish, the weight may reach up to 2kg and the fish will be RM200. Thus, the seller must explain to the buyer that the price for the fish is RM200.
  2. The concept of “pay first before the dish is cooked and can be eaten” is crucial to prevent any dissatisfaction from either the seller or buyer.
  3. Uphold the hadith narrated from Jabir bin Abdullah R.Anhuma, where the Prophet PBUH said:

رَحِمَ اللهُ عَبْدًا سَمْحًا إِذَا بَاعَ , سَمْحًا إِذَا اشْتَرَى سَمْحًا إِذَا اقْتَضَى

“May Allah have mercy on a person who is lenient when he sells, lenient when he buys, and lenient when he asks for payment.” [12]

Badr al-Din al-‘Aini in his commentary said: In the hadith, it calls for us to be lenient and amiable during muamalah showcasing good character and conduct, leaving stinginess in trade. The reason is there is blessings in trade. The Prophet PBUH didn’t invite his ummah except towards beneficial matters for both religious and worldly affairs. While for the benefits in the hereafter, the Prophet PBUH supplicated for good for those who did good in the trade.  Thus, whoever wishes to be amongst those who are supplicated by the Prophet PBUH should follow and practise what the Prophet PBUH has recommended.

  1. Always donating is good advice, if the seller is willing to sacrifice a little, he can attract and connect with his customers so that they will continue to use his service or buy from his shop.
  2. Avoid mazmumah attributes in one’s heart such as deception, greed, anger and vengeance for they will drive the blessings of Allah SWT away.
  3. Always practise empathy in Islam’s principles in business which is full of love and mahabbah for all of us are brothers.
  4. In business, profit can be claimed, however, in Islam blessings should be sought. This is our aim.
  5. The best example is the example of Rasullullah PBUH and we should follow him.

Lastly, we advise all of us to take a peaceful approach by taking the positive and leaving the negative of things. It is very unfortunate that what has come to pass has not been resolved for each hasn’t moved on. May Allah SWT forgive our sins and that we can become the reason towards the building of a stronger ukhuwah as well as righting our lives to attain mardhatillah. We close with the supplication taught by Rasullullah PBUH:

اللَّهُمَّ إِنَّا نَسْأَلُكَ عِلْمًا نَافِعًا، وَرِزْقًا طَيِّبًا، وَعَمَلاً مُتَقَبَّلاً

“O Allah, I ask You for knowledge that is of benefit, a good provision, and deeds that will be accepted.”

Wallhu a’lam.

 


[1] Narrated by al-Tirmidzi (no.1235). He said this hadith is hasan sahih.

[2] See al-Mu`tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafie, 3/65-66

[3] Just like the rulers aren’t permitted to set the original price of goods, it is also impermissible for sellers to conspire and set a certain price for goods. This is only if it isn’t harmful to the general public.

[4] See Fiqh al-Buyu`, 2/1002

[5] See Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 3642

[6] See Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 3129

[7] See al-Muhazzab, 2/57

[8] Narrated by Muslim (1587)

[9] See Ihya al-Ulum al-Din, 2/79

[10] Narrated by Abu Dawud (3326) al-Tirmidzi (1208), al-Nasaie (4463), Ibn Majah (2145) and Ahmad (16134). Imam al-Tirmidzi evaluated the sand of this hadith as hasan sahih.

[11] See Aun al-Ma’bud Syarh Sunan Abi Dawud, 9/125

[12] Narrated by al-Bukhari (2076), al-Tirmidzi (1320), Ibn Majah (2203) and Ahmad (14699)

[13] See ‘Umdah al-Qari Syarh Sahih al-Bukhari, 11/189

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Home
Account
Cart
Search