It was about 20 minutes into the religious Q&A show (11/8/2010) when Sayyid Rashid al-Hussaini dropped the bombshell fatwa on Al-Forat. I don’t usually watch the “Fiqh al-Mustafa” programme but as I stumbled on the channel and the first round of questions were on issues of fasting in Ramadhan I decided to get educated. In fact most of the questions were on the issues of fasting but then suddenly one caller rang up and asked a very serious question about corruption. I am guessing the caller was in his 20s because he said he had graduated but couldn’t find a job. The question was along the lines of:
“Sayyidna, I cannot find a job on merit alone. I have graduated and I deserve to earn a living, recently someone approached me and offered to guarantee me a job with the condition I pay him money. Am I allowed to do so?”
The Sayyid replied:
“Listen to me carefully… you are allowed to pay him this money and get the job, but your money will be haram for him.”
Surely it’s the early hours of the morning and I did not just hear a cleric publicly condone paying bribes in a country already rife with corruption. The Sayyid repeats the ruling. This time there is no room for doubt. He is making it clear that it is okay for the caller to pay the money to secure the job, and earn a living for his family. But the money instantly becomes haram the moment it leaves his hand and touches the man offering him the job.
According to Sharia, there is nothing wrong with this behaviour. Islam strictly forbids giving/receiving bribes but this isn’t considered a bribe. A bribe in Sharia law is when valuables are exchanged in order to change the truth. So, for example, paying money to a judge to deliver an unjust ruling is considered a bribe. Paying money to a man offering you a job, that you deserve, but which you cannot otherwise attain because of corruption is not a “bribe” and therefore allowed under Sharia.
Feeding corruption, morally wrong, dishonest, abhorring behaviour… call it what you will, but its not haram. My intention here is not to delve into jurisprudence because besides not being qualified to speak on this issue I am more interested in understanding where jurisprudence meets ethics. Naturally many questions popped into my head. Can we reconcile jurisprudence with ethics? Do they run parallel to each other or do they sometimes clash? When there is a contradiction, which has to give way to the other?
Another major problem was the fact that this was a cleric publicly announcing to a mainly Iraqi audience that its okay to pay money here and there to people for favours. I done just a little research and understood the jurisprudential background of this dilemma, but how many other people are going to take this ruling and go about their daily lives in Iraq feeding the system that is crippling the country because “the Sayyid” said it’s okay?
The answer was not diplomatic and it did not come with a denunciation of corruption. The message was simply: pay money if you have to, just don’t accept it.