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Al-Ihtikar: What Is Prohibited From Being Hoarded? Is It Just Food And Water Or Antibacterial Wipes Too?

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Indeed all sustenance is from Him and we will only ever receive what is written for us, whether we choose to obtain it legally and with God-consciousness, or illegally and at the behest of our lowest desires and greeds.

Can I stockpile mint leaves because I love a fresh mint tea?!

Imagine you walk into your local supermarket and you see the last few bags of sugar. You run up and grab them knowing that they will likely be unavailable next time you come in due to shortages. You pay for them, stocking up for the hard weeks ahead. 

Is sugar considered as something prohibited from being hoarded or if it is not classified as an essential food item, it is permitted to be stockpiled? What about my favourite cereal? Or mint leaves because I like to relax with a mint tea? Is this the same as buying twenty hand sanitisers during a pandemic?

In part one we introduced the subject of monopolisation and price-fixing called al-Ihtikar الاحتكار. This is to purchase essential items and store them for the purpose of their price going up and increasing your profit, or to hoard such that others do not have equal access to an essential item. As we evidenced through verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith, this act is considered amongst the most heinous of social sins, reflecting a deeply insecure and selfish person or society. 

As one scholar recently put it, “Foolish are the ones who hoard for tomorrow with no guarantee of tomorrow.”

In this part, we ask whether its only essential foods that are prohibited from being hoarded in Islamic law, or does it extend to tools or what is locally needed? This would ensure that we do not think narrowly about this subject such as confining it to food and water or simply stating it is about high prices and affordability.

The problem of literalism when interpreting Qur’an and Ahadith

Books of narrations are replete with ahadith prohibiting hoarding, however many of them mention certain food items specifically: wheat, barley, dates, grapes and the like. Consequently, throughout the ages, many scholars have limited the prohibition of hoarding to only these items as only these are mentioned in the sources. The argument goes, Had the divine legislator wanted us to know more, he would have informed us of the other items to be prohibited and we cannot go beyond his statements.’  

As a result of this literalism, there would be no prohibition on hoarding anything else.

The opposing assumption states that these mentioned items were most commonly used or amongst the essential needs at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s), hence them being mentioned. It does not mean that we have to restrict ourselves to this list because these were essential items 1400 years ago, and we may have a different list of essential items now. 

Whilst this is a rational argument, some of the narrations are explicit that needs cannot be based on a shortlist but rather must be relative to time and space. For example, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a) said, If in the city (place of public services and markets) there was food other than it (what you are used to) then there is no problem (eating what is permissible) and in another sahih narration he (a) said,If there is a lot of food sufficient for people to get it, then theres no problem.” [1]

We can see here relativity in food and location; it is not spoken of in the specific, restricted sense. The Quran also seeks to widen the scope of what people make narrow unnecessarily asking, “Who is there to forbid the beauty which God has brought forth for His creatures, and the good things from among the means of sustenance?(7:32). The meaning of these narrations and verses is that if monopolising is restricting people then it is the monopolisation that is problematic, not the specific item being monopolised.

The great scholar Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi (d. 1849 AD), known as Sahib al-Jawahir, states: Monopolisation is prohibited in every category of what is needed by a protected soul and whatever necessity it needs, and not restricted for them in food or water or clothes nor anything else which is restricted to time. [2]

In fact, monopolisation is the outcome. What precedes monopolisation is the restriction in the availability of a thing that people need and so based on the Sharii legal principle of Muqaddimaat al-Hurmah, “The requisite or antecedent of a prohibition is also prohibited”, means there is prohibition even in restricting people from the needs they have, be it a little or a lot.

The scholar Sheikh Muhammed Jawed Mughniyyah has an emphatic set of statements in these regards:

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And we say to the scholars, those who specify the prohibition of monopolisation to wheat and barley and dates, it would necessitate you upon this opinion that the monopolisation of oil and electricity would not be considered prohibited. With certainty, life today would be impossible without these. And also it would necessitate you to monopolise weapons and bar whoever needs to defend himself in a righteous way. What harm comes today if you dont have dates and raisins (compared to not having oil and electricity)?!

And I believe the coloniser, if he were to know about this law – your bowing to the literal meanings and just sticking to the prohibition on dates and raisins and youre allowing monopolisation of iron, steel and gold and this fixed literal meaning (he would exploit it greatly) [and it] is a slander on the sharia of the Master of the Messengers (s).

So can I stockpile my mint leaves or not?!

The debate around what can prohibited allows us to think broadly about time and space and the relative needs in our own time. In this moment, the greatest commodity appears to be antibacterial soaps and wipes, hand sanitisers, and the likes. This of course could not be mentioned at the time of Prophet Muhammad (s) but is categorised as an essential need today. Therefore it is prohibited from being hoarded, stored for personal gain, or causing harm to others in society by virtue of their lack of access.

There are, however, other items which may not be considered essential but people need or want. If by its quantity of purchasing you make it unavailable to people, even though it is not essential but becomes restricted in access, then it too is considered as hoarding and is prohibited.

So go out and buy your mint leaves or antibacterial soaps – but only as much as you would in your normal shop; for a few days or a week’s worth or until you would next go to the shop for it. If it becomes unavailable next week then so be it. And if someone else buys it to such an extent it becomes unavailable for you, your reward with Allah (swt) lies in your patience and reliance upon Him. 

Indeed all sustenance is from Him and we will only ever receive what is written for us, whether we choose to obtain it legally and with God-consciousness, or illegally and at the behest of our lowest desires and greeds.

In part 3 we will InshaAllah ask, how does Islamic Law respond to a hoarder and is stockpiling for positive reasons like a food bank the same as hoarding, if it reduces access for ordinary people?


Sources

[1] ان كان في المصر طعام غيره فلا بأس
ان كان الطعام كثيرا يسع الناس فلا بأس

[2] Al-Jawahir, vol. 22 pg 481

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