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Selling what is not in one’s possession

Published: 24/08/2011 11:00:00 AM GMT
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Someone buys from me a specific quantity of merchandise for an agreed price. However, sometimes the total quantity of goods being purchased is not in my possession at the time of the sale. What I do is take the full price of the goods from the customer and ask him to come back at a later time to collect his order. Is this permissible, or does this come under the prohibition in Islam of selling what one does not possess?

Answered by

Sheikh Sâmî al-Suwaylim, member of the Islamic Advisory Board of al-Rajhi Bank

Hakîm b. Hazzâm relates that he asked the Prophet (peace be upon him): “A man comes to me and asks me to sell him something that I do not have. Should I sell it to him and then go and acquire it for him from the marketplace?”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “Do not sell what you do not have.” [Sunan al-Ttirmidhî (1232), Sunan Abû Dâwûd (3503), Sunan al-Nasâ’î (4611), and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (2187)]

Scholars differ regarding the meaning of this hadîth. The strongest opinion is the one preferred by Ibn Taymiyah that the meaning of “what you do not have” is: “what you are unsure that you will be able to acquire.” It may be that the product being sold is not readily available in the marketplace or may only be available at a price higher than the one that it is being sold for. In such circumstances, either the buyer or seller will be injured by the sale. [Refer to Ibn al-Qayyim, Zâd al-Ma`âd]

On the basis of this opinion, if the product being sold in this way is neither in the possession of the vendor nor in his reach at least effectively, then he may not sell it. Alternatively, what he should do is request his customer to give him some time to verify the availability and price of the product for him and if he wants to purchase it afterwards he can.

If the product is easily available to the seller from some other vendor or supplier at a known price, then from a legal standpoint it is effectively – though not literally – in the seller’s possession. In this case, such a sale does not come under the Prophet’s prohibition.

And Allah knows best.

Source: Islam Today

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