Defraud is not just the act of usurping financial or material means that aren’t yours. Spiritual defraud exists, and it is also a major sin.
Believers are strictly warned in the Qur’an to avoid defraud. What is the scope of “defraud” and what are the specific messages for believers of our age?
The following verse in the Qur’an lays down a comprehensive definition of defraud and its consequences:
It is not conceivable that a Prophet defrauds; and whoever defrauds (by stealing from public property or war-gains) will come with what he gained by his fraud on the Day of Resurrection. Then, every soul shall be repaid in full what it has earned (while in the world), and they will not be wronged. (3:161)
In its general definition, defrauding means taking something unlawful, benefiting from it, and breaching the public trust. In a more specific context, it refers to stealing something from war gains before they are distributed, and to take secretly from what belongs to the public and abusing what belongs to the state.
The verse first and foremost starts by absolving all messengers of God from defraud and all other forms of corruption. None of the prophets, from Adam to Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them), was involved in this evil act; they possessed only what they knew was their lawful property.
There are different reports about the reason for the revelation of the verse. One of these reports relates the verse to the Battle of Uhud. Accordingly, a group of immature people, most of whom were the hypocrites of Medina, made baseless claims about the noble Prophet, claiming that he would allocate some of the war gains for himself. The verse clearly reveals that defrauding is out of the question for the great figure who led a perfectly upright life from the beginning. Even one case suffices to show his staggering innocence: when the Prophet gave his last breath, his shield was held by a Jewish pawnbroker. As he led his personal life in immense and profound heedfulness, he also showed perfect sensitivity against anything that could raise the smallest doubt about his upright life.
Defraud covers every sort of misappropriation. Obtaining property by generating false speculations relying on one’s authority or misappropriating from discretionary funds are all various forms of defraud. These acts cannot be justified based on a self-acclaimed credit due to one’s services. What is more, it is another form of defraud if one runs for a candidacy to office although he does not deserve it nor does he have any merits for it.
By pointing to the good examples of the Prophets, the verse articulates that their communities should not be involved in this corruption. Otherwise, there are consequences they will have to face. If we consider cases of embezzlement from state banks, wasting people’s money, and pushing people to poverty by burdening the state with loans, it will be better understood how grave a sin defraud is.
Actually, the devoted souls should show more sensitivity in keeping away from defraud. For example, if they gather together for the sake of servitude to God or worship, we need to have the thought within about whether it is our lawful right to step on the carpet under our feet. If we do not do that, then it means we have lost our sensitivity on this issue. I am not saying that it is not your right. Those who built these establishments bought the carpets for your use; this is a different issue. The point I am trying to make is that we need to be so sensitive as to question ourselves about whether we deserve to use these carpets by prostrating ourselves on them and causing them to wear out a bit. We are eating from the food they serve us here, but are we really deserving of it? Having concerns, hesitations, and sensitivity about this issue is very important. Caring about where the morsel in one’s mouth comes from, to whom it belonged, questioning is it really lawful or not, and showing great sensitivity in this respect is a very important duty that falls on a believer.
People running donations-based establishments like schools, cultural centers, and the like must show the same sensitivity. The people who support such services trust the volunteers who run these organizations. If there is defraud somewhere, even if it is as little as one-seventh of a grain of barley in worth, God will bring us to account for it. Nevertheless the Qur’an declares, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it; and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it” (az-Zalzalah 99:8). Accordingly, we will be held liable for even smaller sins. The Arabic word dharra refers to the smallest particle of matter; it used to be called a molecule, then an atom, and then a subatomic particle… You can even call it an ion or ether. So according to the verse, God Almighty will call us to account for evils we cannot even see with a microscope or x-ray.
Bediuzzaman also spent his life with the utmost sensitivity of this kind. In order not to shake the trust of society, he accounted for his very modest belongings. “This coat I wear, I bought it seven years ago as a second hand item. For five years I have been getting by on four and a half liras for clothing, underwear, shoes, and socks.” He did not leave any place for the slightest doubts to be raised about him. Then he explained that he possessed a chicken, which laid an egg every day in spite of the winter, and that its chick grew up and started to lay eggs no sooner than its mother was unable to lay eggs. All of these are not simple stories. By doing that, he accounted for his belongings before the people.
The greatest credit is the people’s trust. People give their support, for they have the belief that, “There is no shadow of doubt and speculative purposes in these people’s lives.” Therefore, if you commit some form of defraud by laying your hands on something that is not your lawful right, you will have, first of all, broken this trust. On the other hand, imagine that the people put their trust in you, but you betrayed them; God will bring one to account for that betrayal.
For the same reason I told certain people who have been my friends for 40 to 45 years, “You had better not own an apartment or car of your own.” I am not such a sensitive person, but let me tell you one thing I did. Many times I opened my hands to God and prayed: “My God, please, here I am imploring You, do not grant worldly means to my own brothers.” Because, if others see them enjoying some wealth, they can say, “Then he is taking something from somewhere.” Praise be to my God, every one of them is employed somewhere as workers and I—the whole world is a witness to it—am not disturbed by this at all. Let them keep living—may God grant them long life—as laborers. I will not feel sad at all. I would be sad if they died as sinful people or if other people gossiped about their dishonesty; for it would mean discrediting an ideal the people gave heartfelt support to.
Thieves of success
Let me express as a final point that defraud can happen with not only material but also spiritual matters. For example, Bediuzzaman mentioned that the victory of an entire battalion cannot be ascribed to their commander only. All the rewards and honor do not belong to the commander, but the entire army. For this reason, laying claims on the accomplishment of an entire movement means associating partners with God, on the one hand (for treating causality like Divine Power), and defraud on the other. It is a great danger if a person lays claim to certain achievements by disregarding the efforts of millions and asserting his role by saying, “my plans and projects, my insight and thoughts…” and appropriating the people’s appreciation for himself by saying, “I did it.” And if others respond to him by singing his praises, and if he welcomes these, it is a further degree of disrespect and moral corruption. Such an attitude is also a form of defraud, a major sin, and a betrayal of trust.
 As-Sa’labi, Al-Kashf wa’l-Bayan, 3/196; Al-Baghawi, Ma’alimu’t-Tanzil, 1/366; Az-Zamahshari,
 Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 89; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Buyu, 7; Sunan ibn Majah, Ruhun, 1
 Nursi, The Gleams, p. 185.