Sale of Rotten Dates

By Mufti Taqi Usmani

Q.) One of my friends, a businessman, recently imported a huge quantity of dates which involved big money. Unfortunately, the shipment was received much later than was due. My friend was shocked to see that the whole lot of dates was in a state of ruin with decay.

Having no way out, my friend decided to dump the whole lot in the sea. In the meantime, a Jew trader came with an offer to purchase the lot against a reasonable amount. When asked by my friend as to what would he do with this rot, he replied that he was to prepare wine from it for commercial use. My friend sought religious advice by some Khateebs of the local mosques. One of them suggested that it was permissible to sell the dates to the Jew as it was none of his business to know what the purchaser planned to do with the goods. Any one selling a knife cannot be held responsible if the purchaser cuts the throat of someone with it. The other Imam, on the other hand strictly prohibited him to sell the goods to the Jew. He contented that selling the dates to the Jew would amount to his participation in producing wine which is not allowed in Islam in any circumstances. Dear Mufti Sahib, you are requested to kindly advise how can my friend save himself from the big loss within the limits allowed by Islam?

A.) Selling the lot of rotten dates in the above case is not permissible, because the rotten dates have no other use than to produce liquor. It cannot be allowed on the analogy of a knife sold to someone who, on his own, used it later to kill a person, because the use of a knife is not restricted to killing an innocent person. It is originally meant for a large number of permissible activities. If the buyer has used it for an impermissible or sinful act, the seller cannot be held responsible for it. The rotten dates, on the contrary cannot be used for permissible purposes.

The principle set by the Shariah in this respect is that if something can be used for both lawful and unlawful purposes, its sale is allowed if the intention is to sell it for a lawful use. However, if the article is such that it cannot be used for a lawful purpose and its exclusive use is impermissible in Shariah, its sale is not allowed. My esteemed father, Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi has written a paper on the subject where he has elaborated the details of this principle. The paper is included in his Jawahir Alfiqh V.2. p.439 and relevant principle may be found at page 447.

The question how your friend may be saved from the loss depends on the nature of the contract he has entered into with his exporter. If the contract was to deliver the dates at the buyer's place at the risk of the seller, your friend may have recourse to the exporter to provide him with fresh dates, but if the responsibility of the exporter, according to the contract, was restricted to deliver the dates to the shipping company, and the dates were to be transferred from there at the risk of the buyer (i.e. your friend), then it is the loss of your friend and no one has to compensate it because he himself has assumed the risk. If the loss, however, is caused by any negligence or mishandling on the part of the shipping company, your friend may claim compensation from it.