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Hayder is a Researcher at the Centre for Academic Shi’a Studies. He is also a postgraduate student at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter @Hayder_alKhoei

Cleric Condones Corruption

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.

8 Comments on “Cleric Condones Corruption”

  1. Ahmed August 29, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    Fair enough. If you’re desperate and need to feed your family what choice do you have?

  2. Hayder al-Khoei August 29, 2010 at 2:23 am #

    The “lack of choice” or “I was forced to do it” argument is the same argument Ba’athists have used in court to justify mass murder, it is an argument Nazi SS officers used in Nuremberg and it is the same argument prostitutes use when they have a child to feed.

    Instead of calling a Sayyid and asking him what I should do I would call every single media outlet in Iraq and name and shame every single corrupt politician and bureaucrat who is offering to accept bribes in exchange for rights. In Iraq, it is getting ridiculous, graduates need to pay bribes to get jobs, policemen need to pay bribes to protect citizens and politicians offer them for votes.

    I would imagine there will be a lot less people willing to give/accept bribes if they see those around them being given hefty prison sentences. Politicians in Iraq have taken many difficult decisions that have cost them their political future – there has already been a precedent. For example, both Allawi and Maliki would be much more popular today if they didn’t tackle the Shia militias in 2004 and 2008 respectively. Why can’t Iraq launch a war against corruption with the same vigour and passion it has against terrorism. It would cost a lot less money and a lot less lives.

    I am a realist and I do not believe in a utopian society where people stop accepting/giving bribes because it is morally the “right” thing to do. I believe people will stop engaging in this behaviour when there is fear they will be caught and punished.

  3. Mohammed Abdullah August 29, 2010 at 4:39 am #

    Speaking of corruption, are they still using those plastic toys for explosives detection?

  4. Ali August 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    Question: Why can’t Iraq launch a war against corruption with the same vigour and passion it has against terrorism. It would cost a lot less money and a lot less lives.

    Answer: Becuase it doesn’t bother America the same way the Shia’ ‘terrorist’ did.

  5. Hayder al-Khoei August 30, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    Neither Allawi or Maliki distinguished between Shia terrorists and Sunni terrorists. The Iraqi Army dealt with terrorists in Fallujah, Najaf, Baghdad and Basra and showed no sectarian preferences.

    The Americans advised Maliki against going to Basra in March 2008 and the British commander was on a skiing holiday when Maliki ordered the attack. In fact for six days the British army could not move against the terrorists in Basra because London struck a secret deal and wanted to honour it.

  6. Ali M August 31, 2010 at 1:02 am #

    Are you genuinely comparing Baathist and Nazi footsoldiers who killed and tortured countless innocents who did those crimes because it was ‘their job’ to the average Joe Iraqi who is forced to pay a bribe to gain employment?? The title of this blog is misleading. The cleric isn’t condoning corruption; the opposite actually he specifically forbade it by saying the money would be haram on the corrupt employer. However, what is the Iraqi man supposed to do in this situation. Rejecting jobs by refusing to pay bribes will not end this problem. Strong legislation, will and policing will.

  7. Ali D August 31, 2010 at 5:17 am #

    Ali M :
    The title of this blog is misleading. The cleric isn’t condoning corruption; the opposite actually he specifically forbade it by saying the money would be haram on the corrupt employer. However, what is the Iraqi man supposed to do in this situation. Rejecting jobs by refusing to pay bribes will not end this problem. Strong legislation, will and policing will.

    I agree with the above, as stated by Ali M. The cleric simply iterates an answer of fiqh to a question of fiqh. His job, and I refer to ‘him’ specifically as an individual rather than a part of a whole, is in this case not to do less or more than answer the man’s question from a religious view point.

    I agree that there exists the major, and largely untreated, issue of corruption that is tightly and seemingly irreversibly (at least in the very short term) woven into all tiers of society. But the blame, from my view point, does not rest with this individual you refer to. If you do indeed think that the problem, or part of the problem, lies within a divide between jurisprudence and ethics then the ‘blame’ lies elsewhere to individual Islamic scholars providing individual Islam teachings.

    You might more accurately argue that people in such positions (i.e. those who have exposure in the public eye or those give religious viewpoints about social issues) should do more to discourage bribery in a country rife with corruption; in such a case, however, the problem would be viewed more systematically wherein, again, the scholar is not condoning corruption or stepping outside the boundaries of his assumedly limited authority.

    As Ali M alluded to, telling this man to not pay the bribe, in any capacity, will not even slightly help curtail corruption in Iraq. The only effects would be short term, immediate and to the detriment of the man who will be left without a job to support him and any family he may have.

  8. Fatema November 3, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    I knew it would lead to this

    haa Sayedna it was all about ta8iyya ini’ doe?

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