Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 282-283 Continues Our Discussion of Business

More On Economics and Business

Clearly, these verses continue the economic-related verses that precede them, perhaps indicating that I halted my previous discussion in haste. However, due to the lengthy comments my previous post engendered, I’ll take it as a good thing that these verses were separated out and can become their own conversation.

Writing out the terms to an agreement, no matter how simple those terms are or how apparently understood by either party in a transaction, is supremely important. It removes every element of guesswork and supposition and that, when dealing with finances (and many other things, besides), is important. It is with verses like these that we so clearly see, as was discussed in the after-post comments last week, the degree to which Islam is more than a religion but an all-encompassing way of life that governs all facets of life, including economic ones.


The need for two witnesses in the event of executing a transaction equitably is an idea also present in Judaism, both biblically and talmudically. The idea that multiple witnesses should be present for something important stems back to common practices in the ancient world that had been retained in both Jewish and Arab culture. Alternatively, the notion of two witnesses is something that Mohammed could have learned from the Jews of Medina. Though speculative in either case, my guess is that it’s the former. However, I’d be incredibly curious to know whether or not two witnesses was already a common practice amongst others in Arabia before Mohammed, particularly amongst the tribe of Quryash in Mecca, as that tribe was the most business-centered of the Arabic tribes in Mohammed’s time (to my knowledge).

As I’m sure regular Quran Read-A-Long participants foresaw, I’m going to bring up the notion that two female witnesses can be substituted for one male witness. Now, I certainly don’t think that this is misogynistic and I certainly wouldn’t conclude anything negative about Islam’s attitude towards women through this verse. We’ve been down this road before as a discussion topic. I do want to understand what the commentators say about the reasoning behind this: that one woman could remind the other if the second made a mistake. Asad notes that this is due to women being less familiar with business proceedings then men, which I suppose was definitely true back in the day. However, as Kay pointed out last week, Mohammed’s first wife was a well-respected business woman. Would she or a woman similarly adept at business have been required to stand alongside a second woman in order to function as a witness? Do Muslim women today who act as witnesses still do so with another woman present or is it acceptable for a Muslim woman today to act as one of the two witnesses? What is the minimum age that someone need be in order to act as a witness?

And as we’ve discussed before, God and the constant thought of God is brought into these economic transactions as a means of infusing the mundane with the celestial so that we will always act in the most honorable and upright fashion, knowing that God is watching and judging. I’m wondering if this thorough fusing of God in daily affairs is in part a reflection on a degradation of honest business practices in pre-Islamic Arabia or if it’s simply the result of turning to a lifestyle that recognizes the supremacy and sole-existance of God alone and the implications of that belief. That is, does God’s presence in economic issues reflect a pressing issue in Mohammed’s day or act as just one more example of the way God was brought into everything so that we would always act properly?

Please feel free to add anything that I’ve missed and share other points from these verses with us.

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The Cow 282-283

282. O YOU who have attained to faith! Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing. And let a scribe write it down equitably between you; and no scribe shall refuse to write as God has taught him: thus shall he write. And let him who contracts the debt dictate; and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer, and not weaken anything of his undertaking. And if he who contracts the debt is weak of mind or body, or, is not able to dictate himself, then let him who watches over his interests dictate equitably. And call upon two of your men to act as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her. And the witnesses must not refuse [to give evidence] whenever they are called upon. And be not loath to write down every contractual provision, be it small or great, together with the time at which it falls due; this is more equitable in the sight of God, more reliable as evidence, and more likely to prevent you from having doubts [later]. If, however, [the transaction] concerns ready merchandise which you transfer directly unto one another, you will incur no sin if you do not write it down. And have witnesses whenever you trade with one another, but neither scribe nor witness must suffer harm; for if you do [them harm], behold, it will be sinful conduct on your part. And remain conscious of God, since it is God who teaches you [herewith] – and God has full knowledge of everything. 283. And if you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, pledges [may be taken] in hand: but if you trust one another, then let him who is trusted fulfil his trust, and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer. And do not conceal what you have witnessed* – for, verily, he who conceals it is sinful at heart; and God has full knowledge of all that you do.


4 Responses

  1. That is, does God’s presence in economic issues reflect a pressing issue in Mohammed’s day or act as just one more example of the way God was brought into everything so that we would always act properly?

    Quick answer: Both.

    On the one hand, the economic issues in Arabia during the jahiliyah-era were such that the Qur’an stresses the need for more equitable economic behavior in some of the earliest surahs; see especially Surah 83, Al-Mutaffifin (The Dealers in Fraud), but also Surah 102, At-Takathur (The Piling Up), and Surah 104, Al-Humazah (The Scandalmonger). By the time of the revelation of Surah al-Baqarah, these verses were filling in the details to the principles previously established.

    On the other hand, in Islam one of the more important concepts is Taqwa, or God-consciousness. Insha’allah, we strive to have taqwa in all aspects of our lives, business included. For example, before any business contract between Muslims is concluded, they will recite first Surah al-Fatihah (see this story for an example).

    More later, insha’allah.

  2. My opinion…….
    two women witnessess”….(another one of those verses where a woman’s perspective might be different from a man’s)—“Women less familiar with bussiness”–While this may have been true(Bussinesswomen existed but it seems were not common)—I don’t think that is the main purpose of 2 women witnessess. —I think it has more to do with the phrase “the witnesses must not refuse (to give evidence) if they are called upon” . Thus, in the case of commercial contracts comming into dispute, evidence may be required and a (primary) woman witness is granted the privelege/benefit of consulting with the (secondary) woman witness. This benefit does not in any way mean that women are inherently less intelligent, less experienced, worth “half that of men” , “superior” to men or any other concepts that contradict/infringe on the Quranic idea of equality. The phrase “so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her”–reads more as “support” to me.(one that does not lessen justice in commercial contracts). This privilege/benefit for women is apparently limited to commercial contracts as in other witnessing situations it maybe could impact on justice.
    It is also interesting what the Quran does not say—for example—the Quran does not say that in case the “scribe” is a woman, another scribe is required!!! or that extras are required if the debtor or creditor is a woman……etc. thus, it seems this is not about the “intelligence” of women…to me, it seems that the Quran simply understands women.
    Another interesting concept is —“let him who contracts the debt dictate…”

  3. “let him who contracts the debt dictate”—Normally–one would think that a person who loans the money should be the one to write the terms—after all it is his money! –But in the Quran, the one who contracts the debt should dictate the terms because it is his responsibility(debt). By writing the terms–he acknowledges his responsibility to pay back the debt to the agreed upon terms. —There are no excuses that he did not fully understand—or that they were unfair—-etc. Thus—it seem at first that the Quran favors a debtor over a creditor, it actually makes the responsibilty of the debtor transparent. Again we see the concept of a “win-win” transaction, the interests of both the debtor and creditor are safegaurded. It also brings in the concept of equality–neither the debtor nor the creditor are inferior/superior to another–they both have rights. (win-win?—The debtor has to provide terms that are attractive enough for the creditor to risk his money—and at same time favourable to the full completion of the debtors responsibilty). Mutually beneficial bussiness relationships would last longer creating prosperity for all parties and contributing to the prosperity of the community as well. Members of a well-off community who do not have to worry about survival will be better able pursue spiritual needs. That is why in the Quran, the (resonable) pursuit of “happiness” is not “bad”. (remember–this theme also came up when we were talking of marriage). The Quran understands human nature and provides every facility for our spiritual growth.

  4. forgot to mention—-in regard to Jay’s question and JD’s reply—see also “Hilf ul-Fudul” (wikipedia)–a Meccan organization in which a youthful (Prophet) Muhamed (pbuh) was a member. (Before he became a Prophet)

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