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Fatwa from the Standing Committee on the “Business and “Hibbat al-Jazeerah” companies and pyramid marketing schemes
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Question
The Standing Committee for Academic Research and Issuing Fatwas has received many questions about pyramid marketing companies such as the “Business” and “Hibbat al-Jazeerah” companies, whose work may be summed up as being the attempt to convince a person to buy a product on the basis that he will also convince others to buy; they in turn will convince others, and so on. The more levels of participants there are, the more the first person will gain in commission, reaching thousands of riyals. Every participant convinces others to join in return for a large commission, if he is successful in getting new customers to join his list of members. This is what is called pyramid marketing or network marketing.
Answer
Praise be to Allah.

Praise be to Allaah.
The Committee replied: This kind of dealing is haraam, because the purpose of this dealing is to earn commission, not to buy the product. The commission may reach tens of thousands, whilst the product is not worth more than a few hundred. Any smart person who is offered a choice between the two will choose the commission. Hence these companies rely on marketing and advertising of their product which emphasizes the size of the large commission which the participant can earn, and offers the incentive of a large profit in return for a small sum, which is the price of the product. The product marketed by such companies is merely a screen or a means of earning these commissions and profits. Because this commission is really the point of the transaction, it is haraam according to sharee’ah for several reasons:

1 – It involves riba of two types, riba al-fadl (involving exchange of goods of the same type but of different quantity) and riba al-nasi’ah (involving deferred payment of a larger amount than would be paid if it were paid immediately). The participant pays a small amount of money in order to gain a lot of money, in other words he pays cash for cash of a different amount and with deferred payment. This is the kind of riba that is forbidden according to the texts and to scholarly consensus. The product which the company sells to the agent is simply a screen for this transaction; it is not what the participant is seeking and it makes no difference to the ruling.

2 – It is a kind of gharar (ambiguous transaction) that is forbidden in sharee’ah, because the participant does not know whether he will be successful in finding the number of purchasers (participants) required or not. No matter how long pyramid or network marketing lasts, it must inevitably reach an end, and when a person joins the pyramid he does not know whether he will be in a higher level and thus make a profit, or in the lower levels and thus make a loss. The fact of the matter is that most of the members of the pyramid lose out, except for the few at the top. So what usually happens is loss, which is the case of all ambiguous transactions. One of two things may happen, and it is usually the one that is most feared. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) forbade ambiguous transactions, as was narrated by Muslim in his Saheeh.

3 – These transactions involve consuming people’s wealth unlawfully, because these contracts benefit no one but the companies and some participants whom the company encourages with the aim of tricking others. This is what is forbidden in the Qur’aan, where Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“O you who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves unjustly”

[al-Nisa’ 4:29]

Click here to read Part 2 of Islamic Viewpoint on Network Marketing

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