Answered by Shaykh Sohail Hanif
What is a bribe and when is it allowed?
Answer: Wa alaikum as-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu
Allah Most High says ‘And do not eat up your wealth among yourselves wrongfully nor use it as bait for the judges with intent that you may eat up wrongfully and knowingly a little bit of (other) peoples property’ [1:188].
And He also says ‘(They are fond of) listening to falsehood and devouring anything forbidden (suht)’[5:42]. It is related from al-Hasan al-Basri and Sa’id ibn al-Jubayr that thesuht mentioned refers to bribes.
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar relates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said ‘Allah has cursed the one who gives a bribe and the one who receives’. [Reported by Tirmidhi who declared it well and rigorously authenticated]
He also said (Allah bless him and give him peace) ‘The one who gives bribes and the one who receives are both in the fire’. [Reported by Tabarani with a chain of narrators that are reliable]
What is a bribe and when is it allowed?
Linguistically the word rishwa (bribe) means that which is given to attain a benefit.
In the sacred law it means that which is paid to a judge or someone similar, to judge in one’s favour or to influence him as one desires. It has also been defined as that which is paid to vitiate a right guaranteed by sacred law or to secure a right not recognised by the sacred law.
Ibn ‘Abidin relates from al-Fath al-Qadir of Kamal ibn al-Humam:
Bribes are of four types
1. That which is forbidden both for the one giving and receiving and it is that which is given for being appointed a legal judge or being granted a position of authority.
2. The seeking of a bribe by a judge to influence a judgement. This is [forbidden] like the previous case, even if he takes it to judge according to what is correct as that is obligatory for him anyway.
3. Receiving money from someone seeking to straighten his matter with the ruler [by seeking help from someone in a position to influence the ruler] to ward off harm or draw benefit. This is forbidden only for the one receiving. The way to make such a payment lawful would be to rent the persons services for a day until the night or two days [for example] so that his services are owned. He then uses the mans services by sending him to the ruler for his particular matter [for this to be considered a renting contract a particular time frame must be mentioned when initiating the contract]…
[This category includes gifts given conditionally for one’s services] As for if no such condition is mentioned but the one receiving knows with certainty that he is only being given the gift to help the giver of the gift concerning his matter with the sultan, our shaykhs see no harm in this [the term no harm (la ba’s) often implies that it is better not to]. And if he saw to the persons need without any condition or greed for anything in return and was in return presented with a gift, this is permissible for him to take and there is no harm in it, and what is related from Ibn Mas’ud concerning the dislike of such a gift is but scruples.
4. That which is paid to ward off fear for one’s person or wealth from the one who is being paid. This is lawful for the one paying and unlawful for the one receiving. This is because warding off harm from a Muslim is obligatory and it is not allowed to receive money to perform that which is obligatory…
[From this category is what has been related that] a poet once came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) so he said to Bilal (Allah be pleased with him) ‘O Bilal, block his tongue concerning me’, so he paid him forty dirhams. [Radd al-Muhtar, 4:303, Bulaq]
Money received in bribes is not owned by the recipient and repentance consists in returning the money to the owner, as mentioned in the Qunya of al-Zahidi. Al-Hamawi mentions in his Ghamz ‘Uyun al-Basa’ir that it is impermissible to inherit an item if one knows that it was given as a bribe. [Kashaf Istilahat al-Funun wal-‘Ulum, 1:863]
And Allah knows best.