The Prophet (peace be upon him) expressed such principles in brief statements, but the import is applicable in the widest sense. Here is a hadith which lays down five principles in human dealings that are all geared to ensuring fairness. We note that the first principle draws on local conditions in Arabia at the time, yet it has wider applications. Abu Hurayrah reports: The Prophet has forbidden that an urban man should sell the goods of a Bedouin. Do not drive prices upwards. Let not anyone undersell his brother, nor propose to a woman when his brother has proposed to her. Let not any woman ask for her sister's divorce so as to take her husband. (Related by Al-Bukhari)
The first principle may sound strange unless the local conditions at the time are taken into account. What it refers to is the case when a Bedouin or a villager comes into town to sell his goods. He hopes to get the current price for his goods. He is seen by a local trader who offers him to sell his goods for him gradually, at a higher price. If the goods are of the type that is needed all the time by most if not all people, the offer really intends to drive the price up by withholding some of the quantity on offer. The urban trader is simply offering to keep the quantity brought by the Bedouin or the villager so that what is available in the market remains low. This is bound to raise the price, or at least keep it high. Offering the whole quantity straightaway means availability of the goods, which prevents prices from rising, if not actually lowering them. Hence, what the urban trader offers is forbidden.
The question arises here about the reverse situation, which means that the Bedouin or the villager requests the urban trader to sell his goods for him at the appropriate time and price. This comes under seeking advice and benefiting by expertise. If it remains within this area, not intended to artificially raise prices, then it is permissible.
The second principle outlined in the Hadith forbids driving prices up by false means. This used to take the form of someone who attends a sale to drive the price of the commodity upwards. He has no intention of buying it, but offers to pay a price higher than what the purchaser is offering. He does so that the purchaser will offer more. This could be a trick agreed by the person making the offer and the seller. Both know that this person is not interested in the commodity and has no real intention of buying it. He is only interfering in the sale in order to ensure that the seller gets a higher price for it. This is again forbidden, particularly if it is agreed upon beforehand.
In both these situations, the ultimate buyer or the consumer will suffer as he will have to buy at a higher price. Islam wants a fair deal for all. This means that the seller gets a healthy profit and the buyer does not have to pay more than the fair price.
We will discuss the other three principles outlined in the Hadith next week, God willing.