On every Wednesday, I will share a part of the translation of the book Kitab Al-Kasb (the book of Earning a Livelihood) written by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani.
Part 20: Is Commerce Superior or Farming?
Thereafter, our scholars disagree on the relative merits of commerce and farming. Some of them say that commerce is superior because of the statement of Allah, “And others travelling the land seeking the bounty of Allah and others fighting for the sake of Allah” [Al-Quran, surah Al-Muzammil, verse 20]. The meaning of “travelling the land” is commerce, and Allah gives precedence to it in mention over jihad, which is the hump peak of the religion and the way of the Messengers.
Because of this, ‘Umar said, “Indeed, that I die between the flanks of my camel (on the saddle) while travelling the land seeking the bounty of Allah is more to my liking than to be killed fighting for the sake of Allah” [Narrated in al-Suyuti]. The Prophet, says, “The trustworthy merchant is with the noble virtuous people on the day of resurrection” [Narrated by ibn Majah, al-Hakim and al-Tirmidhi].
Most of our scholars are of the view that farming is superior to commerce because it is of wider benefit. For through the vocation of farming is produced that by which a person fortifies his backbone and derives strength to render obedience to Allah. The Prophet said, “The best of people is he who is most beneficial to people” [Narrated by al-Quda’i], hence to be occupied with what is more generally beneficial is superior.
Farming is also better because charitable giving in farming is also more manifest, for the people, animals and birds inevitably partake of what is earned by the farmer, and all that is counted as charity for him. The Prophet says, “Never does a Muslim plant a tree, and a person or animal or bird partakes of it, except that it becomes for him a charity” [Narrate by al-Bukhari, Muslim and al-Tirmidhi]. And in a narration, “What the ‘afiyah eat of it becomes for him a charity.” The ‘afiyah are birds which go out searching for their sustenance and return to their nests.
When it is in the custom of people to belittle earning which is lacking in charitable giving like the vocation of weaving even though it partakes of assisting in the performance of the prayer, then we know that earning which involves more charitable giving is superior.
As for the interpretation of what they have commented – (with regard to the fact that) it has been narrated from Makhul and Mujahid that the meaning of “travelling the land” refers to the quest for knowledge – we say concerning it that that is superior, for Imam Muhammad, has already pointed to that in his statement, “The quest for earning is obligatory just as the quest for knowledge is obligatory.” Therefore the comparison of this seeking earning, with that seeking knowledge is proof that the principle “the quest for knowledge is obligatory” is higher in rank than the other.