Why You Shouldn’t Hoard During the Coronavirus Panic

Our actions have very real consequences. Do we allow ourselves to be consumed by a rapacious individualism that harms the most vulnerable? Or do we walk the path of goodness?

Our actions have very real consequences. Do we allow ourselves to be consumed by a rapacious individualism that harms the most vulnerable? Or do we walk the path of goodness?

“I’ll show you… when the chips are down, these civilised people, they’ll eat each other… people are only as good as the world allows them to be”.

Heath Ledger’s Joker says these words to Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

As the world is engulfed by Covid-19, Coronavirus, will the Joker’s words prove true? Scores of people hoarding food, sanitary products, and toilet rolls preliminary suggest that the Clown Prince of Crime might be right. Businesses have likewise exploited consumers and have increased prices.

Both of these behaviours are Islamically reprehensible and harm the most vulnerable in an already exceptionally difficult situation.

Hoarding and unjust business has been condemned by Islam

The strong wording of the Prophet (pbuh) against hoarding should be enough for any believer to desist in such behaviour, let alone the very serious harm that the most vulnerable face amidst mass hoarding.

The Prophet (pbuh) said in plain terms, “He who hoards is a sinner” (Muslim). Moreover, it was narrated by Umar bin Khattab (ra) that “I heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say; ‘whoever hoards food (and keeps it from) the Muslims, Allah will afflict him leprosy and bankruptcy'” (Sunan ibn Majah, Chapter on Business Transactions).

Prophet Shu’ayb (as) advised his people on honest trade and dealings: “Do not defraud the people by reducing their things” (Surah Al-Shu’ara, Verse 183). Ibn Kathir states that means do not short-change them. What can be said of shopkeepers who are deliberately inflating prices and exploiting people in their time of need? 

More broadly, Muslims should not be a cause of harm for any human being. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe; and the believer is the one from whom the people’s lives and wealth are safe” (Sunan an-Nasai). Moreover, the Prophet (pbuh) said that “The Muslim is the brother to the Muslim, he does not cheat him, lie to him, nor deceive him…” (Tirmidhi).

When humanity and unity have been so emphatically stressed in our religion, how is it befitting for us to behave in a way that harms our fellow human beings?

Hoarding harms the most vulnerable 

Hoarding harms the most vulnerable in society. Supply and demand, the bread and butter analytical tool of economists, can be used to explain this. When businesses see higher demand for goods, they increase prices to maximise profit. The well-off can afford bulk buying, so the initial price increase is because of the well-off. Those who are not well-off are not ordinarily able to bulk buy, and now they have to spend even more just to buy a standard amount. Hoarding adversely affects the poorest.

Businesses will, in turn, want to purchase as much stock as they can from suppliers because they are making more profit from the higher prices. Because of this, suppliers will in turn increase prices to make more money from businesses. This makes it more difficult for hospitals, charities, and food banks to purchase essential food and sanitary products. This has already happened, with some food banks reporting shortages.

This chain of events begins with consumers hoarding. But, that in no way means that businesses are free of guilt. They too face an active choice to raise prices. Fortunately, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has stated that it will act against businesses that charge excess prices.

CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli has stated:

We urge retailers to behave responsibly throughout the coronavirus outbreak and not to make misleading claims or charge vastly inflated prices. We also remind members of the public that these obligations may apply to them too if they resell goods, for example on online marketplaces.”

It is important to note here that empty shelves do not necessarily mean that there is a shortage. Shops are not able to re-stock and re-shelve fast enough to cope with the intense demand. As of yet, supply chains have not been significantly affected. The empty shelves are caused by changes in how consumers are consuming, and not how producers are producing. As of yet, there has not been significant disruption to supply chains, and the government is working closely with supermarkets to ensure that the food supply continues. 

If hoarding continues, supermarkets will be forced to limit how many purchases individuals can make. Some supermarkets already have done this. That is why we all must wake up to the reality of our actions and stop hoarding immediately. We are actively harming the most vulnerable and bringing about the very situation that we are trying to avoid.

Concluding remarks

As Muslims, we view the entirety of our life as a test. For those of us blessed with a lush lifestyle far removed from the fear and hunger that others experience in countries like Yemen or Syria, we face serious upheaval for perhaps the first time in our lives. Our abstract understanding of life as a test is being rectified in mass cancellations, hazmat suits, and the constant fear of a potentially deadly virus. 

Our actions have very real consequences. Do we allow ourselves to be consumed by a rapacious individualism that harms the most vulnerable? Or do we walk the path of goodness?

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