A major sin: Ghulul (defrauding)

It is not conceivable that a Prophet defrauds; and whoever defrauds (by stealing from public property or war-gains)

It is not conceivable that a Prophet defrauds; and whoever defrauds (by stealing from public property or war-gains) will come with what he gained by his fraud on the Day of Resurrection. Then, every soul shall be repaid in full what it has earned (while in the world), and they will not be wronged. (Al Imran 3:161).

Qestion: The verse mentions ghulul[1] (defrauding, misappropriation), which is considered among the major sins. Could you explain what ghulul is? Will you tell about the general frame of ghulul and what is the message to be drawn from the verse by contemporary believers?

Answer: In its general meaning, ghulul means taking something unlawful for a person, benefiting from it, and breaching the trust. In a more specific context, it refers to stealing something from war-gains before they are distributed, and to take secretly from what belongs to the public and abusing what belongs to the state.

The matchless hero of purity

The indefinite article before the word “Prophet” in the verse shows that all Prophets are included in the meaning. This fact conveys two important points:

Firstly, ethical purity is not peculiar to the Final Prophet but all of the Prophets, peace be upon them; Prophets Adam, Noah, Hud, Salih, Moses, Jesus or any other Prophet did not take anything to their person from what belongs to the people. They only took from what they believed to be one hundred per cent lawful given to them.

Secondly, as none of the Prophets committed such an act, it is obviously impossible for Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who is the most illustrious fruit of this blessed tree, to do such a thing. If we compare the line of the Prophets to a set of Prayer beads, then the Pride of Humanity is the prime one among them. The set of beads became a string of prayer beads in the real sense and the circle became complete with him. With respect to the Divine purpose of creation, he is the seed and most perfected fruit of the universe.[2] Frames of concepts became clear with him. Meanings of phenomena that exist and take place around us found their explanation thanks to him. They were interpreted correctly, and by benefiting from them in terms of knowledge of God, truthful meanings were drawn from them. As the Pride of Humanity is the Paragon of Virtue who represents every good character in its peak, he also takes the lead in innocence and uprightness.

There are different reports about the reason for the revelation of the verse. One of these reports relates the verse to the Battle of Uhud. Accordingly, a group of immature people, most of whom were the Hypocrites of Medina, made baseless claims about the noble Prophet—may God forbid such an idea—that he would allocate some of the war-gains for himself.[3] The verse clearly reveals that defrauding is out of the question for that great figure who led a perfectly upright life from the beginning. Even one case suffices to show his staggering innocence: When the noble Prophet gave his last breath, his shield was held by a Jewish pawnbroker.[4] As he led his personal life in immense and profound heedfulness, he also showed perfect sensitivity against anything that could raise the smallest doubt about his upright life.

Lawful seeming guises to unlawful gains

The verse continues as “…whoever defrauds will come with what he gained by his fraud on the Day of Resurrection.” As ghulul means taking secretly from war-gains, anything a person takes without a lawful right falls into the category of ghulul. For example, imagine that a man comes to certain position and makes personal gain by some speculations, misappropriates funds, and tries to justify his acts with claims as “I am exerting myself here. This much money could not be collected if it weren’t for me!” All such things fall within the category of ghulul. We can even say that a person who steps forth for governing the people without being eligible for it violates the people’s rights. According to this verse, which makes a specific address but conveys a general message, the followers of the Prophets should not commit it also. Regarding this issue, they should always be resolved to keep on the righteous path. Otherwise, they will be brought before God with what they took. Therefore, we can say that the verse warns all followers of the noble Prophet in the person of the Prophets. In fact, God’s Messenger told his Companions one day about ghulul—this hadith could be considered as an interpretation of the relevant verse—and expressed what a great sin ghulul was and said: “I do not want any one of you to come on the Day of Resurrection with a groaning camel on his neck, saying,’ O Muhammad!’ and I will say: ‘I cannot do anything for you, I conveyed the message.’” Then the noble Prophet voiced the same fact about other animals of this kind and different types of gains.[5]

The verse ends as follows: “Then, every soul shall be repaid in full what it has earned (this can be goodness or evil depending on the deeds of the person), and they will not be wronged.” May God save all of us from going to the next world with such ugliness as ghulul and laying our hands on anything we do not lawfully deserve. If we consider cases of embezzlement from state banks, wasting people’s money, and pushing people to poverty by burdening the state with loans, it will be better understood how grave a sin ghulul is.

Constant self-criticism in order to avoid ghulul

Actually, the devoted souls should show more sensitivity in keeping away from ghulul. For example, if they gather together for the sake of servitude to God or worship, we need to have the thought within about whether it is our lawful right to step on the carpet under our feet. If we do not do that, then it means we have lost our sensitivity on this issue. I am not saying that it is not your right. Those who built these establishments bought the carpets for your use; this is a different issue. The point I am trying to make is that, we need to be so sensitive as to question ourselves about whether we deserve to use these carpets by prostrating ourselves on them and causing them to wear out a bit. We are eating from the food they serve us here, but are we really deserving of it? Having concerns, hesitations, and sensitivity about this issue is very important. Caring about where the morsel in one’s mouth comes from, to whom it belonged, questioning is it really lawful or not, and showing great sensitivity in this respect is a very important duty that falls on a believer. You may be included in different units of serving faith and people, but let me give an example from the aid organization Kimse Yok Mu. As it is known and seen, Kimse Yok Mu fulfills a very important service of making humanitarian aid. In whichever part of the world a fracture appears, they go running to mend it and to lend a helping hand. However, it should not be forgotten that it is the people’s donations that support this organization and goes to others’ aid. Televisions advertise for it, phone calls pave the way for donations, and people join this goodness, even if it is only with a few liras. Eventually, the donations amount to a certain total. A person who works at such an organization should do this service for the sake of God, without asking any financial demand, if possible. But if he or she does not have any other income for a livelihood, it is possible to give that person a certain salary. However, it should definitely be a fixed amount clearly stated. Otherwise, those who handle the organization might think, “We have the financial means in our hands anyway. Then let us give our employees no less than a high-level journalist. After all, we go to so many different countries of the world and take serious pains. For this reason, a high salary is our right!” This thought is just another form of ghulul.

As for what needs to be done here, within the rules determined by the team that governs the organization, they should say to employees, “You can take this much as your monthly payment, and this is for the travel expenses.” Nothing extra to that amount will be lawful for them. Otherwise, one might lose while seemingly being on the righteous path. While walking to God and having the means to gain His good pleasure, they might fall for Satan’s trickery and—may God forbid!—become a fallen one.

The ethical conduct and discipline of making an explanation to the people

Other people governing establishments of volunteers such as supplementary schools, cultural centers and the like must show the same sensitivity. The people who support this service trust the volunteers to the degree of comfortably saying, “You can take my soul” if a soul were needed somewhere. If there is a ghulul somewhere, even if it is as little as one-seventh of a grain of barley in worth, God will bring us to account for it. As a matter of fact, the Qur’an declares: “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it; and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it” (az-Zalzalah 99:8). Accordingly, we will be held liable for even smaller sins. The Arabic word dharra refers to the smallest particle of matter; it used to be called molecule, then atom, and then a subatomic particle… You can even call it luminiferous aether . So according to the verse, God Almighty will call us to account for evils we cannot even see with a microscope or x-rays.

Bediüzzaman also spent his life with the utmost sensitivity of this kind. In order not to shake the trust of society, he accounted for his very modest belongings: “This coat I wear, I bought it seven years ago as a second hand item. For five years I have been getting on four and a half liras for clothing, underwear, shoes, and socks.” He did not leave any place for the slightest doubts to be raised about him. Then he explained that he possessed a chicken, which laid an egg every day in spite of the winter, and that its chick grew up and started to lay eggs no sooner than its mother was unable to lay eggs.[6] All of these are not simple stories. By doing that, he accounted for his belongings before the people.

Once I listened to Hacı Münir Effendi, who was a respected figure in our village. When soldiers, on the order of the new government, arrested Bediüzzaman during his retreat to Mount Erek, they stopped over in our village on the way. He was hosted at the inn of my grandfather. Münir Effendi described Bediüzzaman with the following words: “When I saw his condition, my eyes were filled with tears. As his shoes were torn, his feet and socks were soaked. I took his simple rubber shoes and brought him a new pair. God knows how difficult it was to convince him to accept it. At dusk, I brought him some soup and compote to break his fast. He took a few spoons from the soup and then said, let me not be wasteful, it is possible to eat the compote for the sahur.[7]” That great teacher could not even afford a pair of new rubber shoes. This was his degree of sensitivity. He did his best in order not to shake the people’s trust in him and presented an example for us in this respect. People of such status, representing certain values, need to lead their lives with such sensitivity. As believers, our greatest credit is the people’s trust. They keep asking “How do you find finance to support the schools?” We have the people’s support. People give their support, for they have the belief; “There is no shadow of doubt and speculative purposes in these people’s lives.” Therefore, if you commit some form of ghulul by laying your hands on something that is not your lawful right, you will have, first of all, broken this trust. On the other hand, imagine that the people put their trust in you, but you betrayed them; God will bring one to account for that betrayal. But it is doubtful whether we can say anything meaningful during such questioning or not. The situation on Judgment Day will surely make the Pride of Humanity sad.

There are such essential values and disciplines in Islamic teaching that it is an entire case to be studied separately. God Almighty bestowed great blessings on Muslims, such as the Holy Qur’an, the Authenticated Sunnah, the Islamic teachings, and made this into the spirit of our lives. If Muslims still fail to erect the monument of their soul after so many blessings pouring down on them, then it means they are spending their lives in vain. Therefore, if we do not embarrass the noble Prophet in the Hereafter, and if we wish God’s graces to keep coming in terms of good works in this world, then we have to show the utmost sensitivity on this issue. For the same reason I told certain people who have been my friends for 40 to 45 years, “You had better not own an apartment or car of your own.” I am not such a sensitive person, but let me tell you one thing I did. So many times I opened my hands to God and prayed: “My God, please, here I am imploring You, do not grant worldly means to my own brothers.” Because, if others see them enjoying some wealth, they can say, “Then he is taking something from somewhere.” Praise be to my God, every one of them is employed somewhere as workers and I—the whole world is a witness to it—am not disturbed by this at all. Let them keep living—may God grant them long life—as laborers. I will not feel sad at all. I would be sad if they died as sinful people or if other people gossiped about their dishonesty; for it would mean discrediting a noble ideal the people gave heartfelt support to.

Thieves of success

Let me express as a final point that ghulul can happen with not only material but also spiritual matters. For example Bediüzzaman mentions that the victory of an entire battalion cannot be ascribed to their commander only.[8] All the rewards and honor do not belong to the commander but the entire army. For this reason, laying claims on the accomplishment of an entire movement means associating partners with God, on the one hand, and ghulul on the other. It is a great danger if a person lays claim to certain achievements by disregarding the efforts of millions and asserting his role by saying, “my plans and projects, my insight and thoughts…” and appropriating the people’s appreciation for himself by saying “I did it.” If others respond to him by singing his praises, and if he welcomes these, it is a further degree of disrespect and moral corruption. Such an attitude is also a form of ghulul, a major sin, and betrayal of trust.

[1] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 189; Khums, 8; Sahih Muslim, Iman, 182; Jihad, 32
[2] As-Suyuti, Al-Hawi, 1/325; Al-Halabi, As-Siratu’l-Halabiyya, 1/240
[3] As-Sa’labi, Al-Kashf wa’l-Bayan, 3/196; Al-Baghawi, Ma’alimu’t-Tanzil, 1/366; Az-Zamahshari, Al-Kashshaf, 1/461
[4] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 89; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Buyu, 7; Sunan ibn Majah, Ruhun, 1
[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 189; Sahih Muslim, Imara, 24
[6] Nursi, Mektubat, p. 70
[7] Pre-dawn meal before fasting.
[8] Nursi, The Gleams, p. 185