Dealing with a Bribee

Scholars have unanimously agreed to the impermissibility of taking bribes. In fact, it has a damaging effect on the entire society. Therefore, a Muslim should take a positive stance in combating this corruption — first by shunning any engagement in this practice, and second by admonishing and warning those who involve in it.

Here is the fatwa issued by Dr. Muhammad Al-Bahyy, former dean of the Faculty of Theology (Usul Ad-Din),Al-Azhar University, which addresses the issue in detail:

The present question involves two points:

1. Accepting bribes and offering them to a public employee.

2. The stance of those dealing with employees who take bribes: Should they boycott them to deter them from bribery, or should they leave them alone on the grounds that the burden of bribery lies on their own shoulders?

As for the first point, the following Qur’anic verse is clear regarding the prohibition of bribery, whether offering or accepting it:

(And do not swallow up your property among yourselves by false means, neither seek to gain access thereby to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the property of men wrongfully while you know.) (Al-Baqarah 2:188)

This verse thus indicates the prohibition of using public or private property to corrupt people of authority or to obtain some material gains under the cover of law.

This is because property has a social function, which is to bring about benefit for society as a whole, not to corrupt the whole society or some of its individuals. Hence, Islam has allowed confiscating the private property used by its owners against the interest of society and turning it into a public property. This can be done on condition that the owners of such confiscated property be given their living expenses, without abusing them verbally or physically. This is because their fault is the misuse of a property that should be employed to the benefit of the whole society. This also comes in line with the verse in which Almighty Allah says,

(And do not give away your property, which Allah has made for you a (means of) support, to the weak of understanding, and maintain them out of (the profits of) it, and clothe them and speak to them words of honest advice.) (An-Nisaa’ 4:5)

here, (Your property) refers to the believers’ private property, and this indicates that property in the Ummah — even private property — has a public function. It should bring about benefit for the whole society. This is maintained by the part of the verse that reads, (Your property, which Allah has made a means of support for you.) Thus, property that is attributed in the verse to all the believers, though it is in fact a private property, is described as a means of support for the whole society.

Offering bribes to those in authority and those in government institutions corrupts them, and thus the one who offers it is equal to the one who accepts it in spreading corruption. Corruption of a public employee does not affect him or her alone; its negative impact rather extends to public interest. So, if the bribe is offered for the purpose of winning some material gains under the cover or in the name of law, it will then be related to unlawful gain, which is in fact a disguised theft from other individuals in society.

therefore, the one who offers bribe for this purpose and the one who accepts it for the same purpose misuse property, though they are aware of such deviation.

Almighty Allah says, (Neither seek to gain access thereby [by your property] to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the property of men wrongfully while you know) (Al-Baqarah 2:188).

as for the second point, namely, the stance of those who deal with employee used to taking bribery after it has become clear that bribery is a prohibited abomination, it is determined by the following noble hadith:

“He who among you sees something abominable should change it with his hand, and if he cannot, then he should change it with his tongue, and if he cannot, then he should change it [i.e., deny it] in his heart, and that is the least of faith.”

thus, the least stance that could be assumed is denial by heart, which means distancing oneself from and avoiding dealing with such employees.

however, the stances determined in the hadith cannot be contradicted by the claim that the sin of bribery lies on the shoulder of the one involved in bribery, as he or she alone bears the consequences of his or her mistake, and that does not affect those who deal with him or her.

Surely, bribery is not a personal crime, but rather a social one, as it is linked to the use of public property and affects the behavior of the employee. Maintaining the cohesion of social order depends on the proper channeling of wealth and on the straightforwardness of the behavior of employees. Hence, the burden of bribery extends the briber and the bribee to the one who does not censure the bribed person.

As far as I know, such is the Islamic perspective on financial crimes. Yet, this perspective is contingent on the soundness of distribution of money in society and on the proper care for individuals by those managing the house of treasury.