Muslims boycotting non-Muslim products or for that matter non-Muslims boycotting Muslim products is counterproductive and breeds animosity in a multiracial society. This may even invite retaliation and it does not augur well for a multiracial society.
If truth be told, politics is the main reason for the ongoing campaign by some groups to boycott non-Muslim products and it may be an ulterior motive to break racial unity. Islam only forbids businesses that are based on unethical and sinful practices. It can be among Muslims themselves or when dealing with people of other faiths.
Using the social media to propagate their message, those who advocate the boycott have drawn out lists of brands and companies, which are supposedly owned by non-Muslims. Trying to boycott all these brands and companies can be an intimidating task and it will not succeed. Most of the essential products produced locally and imported from overseas and consumed in the country are still controlled by non-Muslims.
In the local context, almost all these companies owned by non-Muslims employ thousands of Muslim workers. This is employment for them.
Why the need to boycott when there are no elements of oppression, intimidation and fraud in the business transactions? Boycotting non-Muslim products if they do no harm to oneself is against the fundamental teachings of Islam. Islam advocates reciprocity when it comes to doing business and human relations. There can always be a mutual understanding between the two that each of their trades is not detrimental to the wellbeing of the other.
Islamic traditions of the past
Muslims have been living in multi-racial and multi-religious societies for the past 1400 years and no revulsive campaign such as this has happened before. In fact, those groups calling for this sort of boycott lack insight into Islamic traditions of the past.
Traditionally, trading and interacting with the non-Muslims have never been a wrongful act in Islam. Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijah herself had social and business interactions with non-Muslims, even with the Jews, during her time. She was a very successful merchant.
Even the Prophet when he managed to get the better of the Jewish tribes, still maintained business with them. He even entrusted the management of his trade fields in Khaibar to the Jews, with the requirement of profit-sharing between them. Even until his death, he never hesitated to transact with the Jews.
As narrated by Imam Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and others in their books of Hadith that “at the end of his life, the Prophet – peace and prayer of Allah be upon him – bought several pounds of wheat from a Jewish merchant. But because he was unable to pay for it at that moment, he mortgaged his shield to that merchant. And until his death came, he was still unable to redeem his shield from that merchant”.
The glory that they had achieved did not stop the Muslims to have business deals with the followers of other faiths. This condition continued even after the Muslims had managed to reach their peak of glory during the reign of Umar Ibn Al Khatthab. The business relations between Muslims and the followers of other faiths also kept on improving, despite the existence of some enmity between Muslims and followers of other faiths. Caliph Umar, for instance, treated the non-Muslim merchants who entered the Islamic countries equally.
In the past, the Prophet even had a peace treaty with some of the Jewish tribes and the Quraishi. Observing the developments of Islamic history since its beginning until it reached the peak of glory and during the Islamic Golden Age dated from the 8th century to the 14th century, it was a period of cultural, economic and scientific fineness in the history of Islam. Muslims were traditionally trading with people of other faiths. Even in the present world, the Muslim world is trading with non-Muslim countries. No Muslim country wants to be isolated when it comes to doing business and it so happens that the non-Muslim world has a lot to offer to the Muslim world, especially in areas related to science and technological know-how.
This attitude is evidence enough that having business relations with followers of other faiths is tolerated in Islam, as long as it does not threaten or violate the shariah rules.
As for international trade, it’s the role of the incumbent government to determine with which country it should trade – Muslim or non-Muslim countries – and not groups which have their own political interests. The decision to ban products being sold due to non-shariah compliance, to boycott, or to impose an embargo on countries and their products, is under the authority of the government and not the ordinary citizens. Allowing those with political interests to audaciously call for the boycott before the government’s decision, will only create unnecessary chaos among the multi-racial people of the country.
In the local context, products of Islamic and non-Islamic entrepreneurs have been well accepted by the majority of Malaysians. Malaysians of different races are living together peacefully and in harmony, many working as co-workers in the same workplace and becoming good business associates in domestic and foreign markets. Let us reach a decision that it is not forbidden for Muslims to buy products made by non-Muslims as long as these products are not against the shariah. Neither should non-Muslims stay away from buying products made by Muslims.
Moaz Nair is a FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.