What Should I Do about an Unlawful Transaction That I Can’t Reverse?

Shafi'i Fiqh
Maliki Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick

Question

I took part in a transaction buying something permissible. The seller was not a Muslim and I was doubtful if the method of the transaction was permissible, but with (poor) reasoning thinking it was okay and went ahead before asking a scholar. I later asked and was told this was an invalid transaction.

What should I do? The seller will not refund. Should I give what I bought to those in need as charity and gifts or would it be impermissible for them? Should I sell it or keep it/benefit?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide every dimension of our lives to that which pleases Him.

Asking Before Engaging

As believers, we should seek guidance from Sacred Law before engaging in any transaction about which we are unsure. Without the details of your query, we can only provide general guidelines, but this is subject to change depending on the details which we were not provided.

Ownership after Unlawful Transactions

If the transaction was unlawful, then technically you are not the owner of the item. Since the other party refused the refund when you sought to rectify the unlawful transaction, they unlawfully took possession of your money and relinquished ownership of the item to you. Assuming you exhausted your options to undo the wrong and repented, you are not, if Allah wills, responsible for retaining the ownership of the commodity, and Allah knows best.

What to Do with the Item?

You may, therefore, keep the item or give it away, but giving it away does not appear to be required since you mentioned that it is a permissible item (to own).

Should you choose to give the item away, it would reach the recipient via lawful means and, therefore, is completely permissible for the recipient to take possession of it.

Allah knows best.

Transferring Ownership of Unlawful Income

If money or products that one unlawfully acquired is transferred to others, such as one’s heirs, then the impermissible nature of the accrued funds/commodities is not transferred to the recipient. If the money/item is unlawful because of how it is acquired, the sin is only on the one who acquired it, and there is no sin on the one who engages in a transaction with the one who acquired it, such as buying, selling, gift-giving, or hosting a guest.

The evidence for that is that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) used to engage in transactions with the Jews in Medina, buying and selling. He used to eat with them, even though Allah, may He be exalted, described them as consuming interest (riba) and unlawfully taking people’s wealth.

The Nature of Income Changes Upon Transfer of Ownership

Whenever a meal was brought to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), he would ask whether it was a gift or charity (sadaqa) because consuming charity was forbidden for the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace). If he were told that it was charity, he would tell his companions to eat it, but he would hurry to share it with them if it was a gift. [Bukhari]

On one occasion, some meat was brought to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), and it was said that the meat had been given in charity to Barira (may Allah be pleased with her). He said, “It was Sadaqa for Barira but a gift for us.” [Bukhari]

The View of the Malikis

Based on the above, when this money acquired by unlawful means is transferred to others, such as heirs, it becomes lawful for them, which is the view of the Malikis.

Muhammad ‘Ulaysh al-Maliki (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “There is a difference of opinion concerning wealth that was acquired by unlawful means, such as interest (riba) and invalid transactions. If the one who acquired it in that manner dies and leaves it behind, is it permissible for the heirs – which is the correct view – or not? As for wealth that is unlawful in and of itself, and its rightful owner is known, such as wealth taken by force or stolen, it is not permissible for the heir. [Minah al-Jalil Sharh Mukhtasar Khalil]

I pray this is of benefit and that Allah guides us all.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. 

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.