BISMILLAHIRRAHMANIRRAHIM DEFINITION OF BRIBERY ACCORDING TO ISLAM by Datuk Dr. Syed Othman Alhabshi Deputy Director General Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) Certainly corruption is not a new thing in human societies. It is an age-old menace which can cause tremendous harm to society. The recent call against corruption or more specifically "money politics" by the Prime Minister is definitely very much welcome. It is not only the Prime Minister who should be concern with it, but the whole society should be wary about it so that we could create a clean and honest society. Generally speaking, corruption exists when a person in power has the right to make decisions that concern others whose interests are at stake. The interested parties will try to find ways and means of getting what they want. One of the common ways is to offer the person in power certain favours so that the decision is made in his favour. This could happen only if the decision maker is willing to accept the favours offered to him. On the other hand, if the person in power is not willing to accept such favours, then the process stops there. Unfortunately, it is not as simple. The interested party is not going to stop there either. If he thinks that the stake is too big to loose, he may be willing to give more until it becomes too much to refuse. Once we become obliged, we tend to find it difficult to refuse the next time around. It is also true that the disease can start from the person in power. By making things difficult the interested party will start to entertain the idea that there is another way of doing things. He will try to search for the best way of getting what he wants. It can also be started by those with vested interest. These individuals who have something they really want from those in authority will try their best to reach those in power and suggest some form of kickbacks. Of course, it will not so easy at first, but eventually, with a lot of persuasion and perseverance, they get their way. Of course, at the early stages, most of the corrupt practices are carried out very discretely so that the integrity of the person is never questioned. One can appear to be super clean in public, but in actual fact, those involved are the only people who know what goes on behind those innocent faces. The problem becomes gigantic when corruption is practised openly. Those in power starts demanding what they want and those who give are very open about it too. Both parties have regarded it as a norm because everybody else is doing it anyway. Those who do not do it are considered as either stupid or a thorn in the group. These are the people who will have to make the choice to join them or leave the group. Corruption too has different definitions. What is considered corruption for some may not be so for others. It depends entirely on the norm that is accepted by certain societies. For instance, some of the advanced countries have allowed huge bribes paid out by multinationals to high ranking officials in other countries as tax deductible. You call it by any name which is regarded as an expense and that amount is surely tax deductible. The implication cuts both ways. The countries where these multinationals reside will loose in the form of corporate tax. The countries whose high ranking officials accept the huge bribes will end up paying much more than the real price of the service or product. In the end, the people who gain are the high ranking officials, while both the countries involved, loose out. What is even worse is when decisions tend to be made based on the amount of bribe or commission they could get. It is no longer the price and quality of service or product that is being purchased become the most important criteria. When this happens, the user of the service or product will become the victim. Corruption is also said to be highly related to materialistic tendencies, which can be due to real needs caused by income or greed and desire to live well beyond one's means. When this happens, it can easily lead to gross inefficiencies both financially and productivity wise. Those involved will find ways and means of applying pressure on others whom they can prey upon, instead of providing genuine service to such victims. It is quite common for those intending to receive bribes to delay approval or payment process so that they can expedite the service in return for some bribes. Apart from the obvious damages that we cause to society through bribery and corruption, Islam provides another view on this menace. The Holy Prophet of Islam used to appoint a number of his companions as the collectors of zakat, during the Medina period. They were to make proper assessments on the items where zakat become payable, collect the proper amounts and distribute to the recipients in the same locality. One of these collectors of zakat came back and told the Holy Prophet, "This amount is what I have collected less what I have distributed to the rightful recipients, but this is mine". The Holy Prophet was very upset and rebuked him saying, "What right have you to put aside something that does not belong to you. If you were to remain in your father's house, would you get what you are taking?" The Holy Prophet had also been reported to have said, "If you get from the people because of your position is bribery. Would you get it if you are not holding that position, or if you stay in your father's house?" These hadith provide us with the strict definition of bribery and corruption in Islam. Gifts that we get, could be considered as bribery if it is meant to oblige us to abuse our position or power. However, if it is customary for those in power to receive gifts because of the respect, love and services that they have rendered to the people, then of course it cannot be regarded as bribery. We know that the Holy Prophet himself used to accept gifts of various forms from heads of states in his time. He also used to give similar gifts to others. This is surely not bribery because it is customary to do it. Moreover, it is often given out of love and respect for the person. In essence, Islam too frowns upon bribery and corruption. It is definitely a sinful act. All benefits derived from sinful activities are definitely unlawful. To this applies the famous hadith that states that the flesh that grows out of unlawful income has no place in the hereafter but hell. The problem that we have to sincerely question is whether the bribe that we have paid for will bring about future streams of income to us or not. If the stream of income that we receive is clearly the result of the bribe that we have paid for, then naturally, the stream of income that we derive is unlawful in the eyes of Islam. For instance if we bribe to get to a certain position, the stream of income that we enjoy from such a position is also questionable Islamically. This is the real danger of all our sinful actions. Whether we pay zakat or donate our wealth for a very noble cause from such wealth, there is no benefit to us. This is because, neither zakat nor good charitable deeds are counted from unlawful income. After all, we are all accountable to Allah in every action that we do on this earth. A famous hadith has it that Allah will call us to account how we spend our life, our youth, our wealth and our knowledge. Abdul Rahman ibn Auf, the richest companions among the famous ten whom the Holy Prophet had predicted will enter paradise will have to account for all his wealth, the way he got and spent them, before being allowed to approach the gate of heaven. The other nine would have little wealth to account for and hence will speedily reach heaven. God knows best.