Salam - Explained

Salam is a sale whereby the seller undertakes to supply some specific goods to the buyer at a future date in exchange of an advanced price fully paid at spot.

Here the price is cash, but the supply of the purchased goods is deferred. The buyer is called “rabb-us-salam”, the seller is “muslam ilaih”, the cash price is “ra’s-ul-mal” and the purchased commodity is termed as “muslam fih”, but for the purpose of simplicity, I shall use the English synonyms of these terms.

Salam was allowed by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) subject to certain conditions. The basic purpose of this sale was to meet the needs of the small farmers who needed money to grow their crops and to feed their family up to the time of harvest. After the prohibition of riba they could not take usurious loans. Therefore, it was allowed for them to sell the agricultural products in advance.

Similarly, the traders of Arabia used to export goods to other places and to import some other goods to their homeland. They needed money to undertake this type of business. They could not borrow from the usurers after the prohibition of riba. It was, therefore, allowed for them that they sell the goods in advance. After receiving their cash price, they could easily undertake the aforesaid business.

Salam was beneficial to the seller, because he received the price in advance, and it was beneficial to the buyer also, because normally, the price in salam used to be lower than the price in spot sales. The permissibility of salam was an exception to the general rule that prohibits the forward sales, and therefore, it was subjected to some strict conditions. These conditions are summarized below:

  1. First of all, it is necessary for the validity of salam that the buyer pays the price in full to the seller at the time of effecting the sale. It is necessary because in the absence of full payment by the buyer, it will be tantamount to sale of a debt against a debt, which is expressly prohibited by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Moreover, the basic wisdom behind the permissibility of salam is to fulfil the instant needs of the seller. If the price is not paid to him in full, the basic purpose of the transaction will be defeated. Therefore, all the Muslim jurists are unanimous on the point that full payment of the price is necessary in salam. However, Imam Malik is of the view that the seller may give a concession of two or three days to the buyers, but this concession should not form part of the agreement.
  2. Salam can be effected in those commodities only the quality and quantity of which can be specified exactly. The things whose quality or quantity is not determined by specification cannot be sold through the contract of salam. For example, precious stones cannot be sold on the basis of salam, because every piece of precious stones is normally different from the other either in its quality or in its size or weight and their exact specification is not generally possible.
  3. Salam cannot be effected on a particular commodity or on a product of a particular field or farm. For example, if the seller undertakes to supply the wheat of a particular field, or the fruit of a particular tree, the salam will not be valid, because there is a possibility that the crop of that particular field or the fruit of that tree is destroyed before delivery, and, given such possibility, the delivery remains uncertain. The same rule is applicable to every commodity the supply of which is not certain.2
  4. It is necessary that the quality of the commodity (intended to be purchased through salam) is fully specified leaving no ambiguity which may lead to a dispute. All the possible details in this respect must be expressly mentioned.
  5. It is also necessary that the quantity of the commodity is agreed upon in unequivocal terms. If the commodity is quantified in weights according to the usage of its traders, its weight must be determined, and if it is quantified through measures, its exact measure should be known. What is normally weighed cannot be quantified in measures and vice versa.
  6. The exact date and place of delivery must be specified in the contract.
  7. Salam cannot be effected in respect of things which must be delivered at spot. For example, if gold is purchased in exchange of silver, it is necessary, according to Shariah, that the delivery of both be simultaneous. Here, salam cannot work. Similarly, if wheat is bartered for barley, the simultaneous delivery of both is necessary for the validity of sale. Therefore the contract of salam in this case is not allowed. All the Muslim jurists are unanimous on the principle that salam will not be valid unless all these conditions are fully observed, because they are based on the express ahadith of the HolyProphet (peace be upon him). The most famous hadith in this context is the one in which the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said: 

Whoever wishes to enter into a contract of salam, he must effect the salam according to the specified measure and the specified weight and the specified date of delivery. 

However, there are certain other conditions which have been a point of difference between the different schools of the Islamic jurisprudence. Some of these conditions are discussed below:

(1) It is necessary, according to the Hanafi school, that the commodity (for which salam is effected) remains available in the market right from the day of contract up to the date of delivery. Therefore, if a commodity is not available in the market at the time of the contract, salam cannot be effected in respect of that commodity, even though it is expected that it will be available in the markets at the date of delivery.

However, the other three schools of Fiqh (i.e. Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali) are of the view that the availability of the commodity at the time of the contract is not a condition for the validity of salam. What is necessary, according to them, is that it should be available at the time of delivery.

This view can be adopted in the present circumstances.

(2) It is necessary, according to the Hanafi and Hanbali schools that the time of delivery is, at least, one month from the date of agreement. If the time of delivery is fixed earlier than one month, salam is not valid. Their argument is that salam has been allowed for the needs of small farmers and traders and therefore, they should be given enough opportunity to acquire the commodity. They may not be able to supply the commodity before one month. Moreover, the price in salam is normally lower than the price in spot sales. This concession in the price may be justified only when the commodities are delivered after a period which has a reasonable bearing on the prices. A period of less than one month does not normally affect the prices. Therefore, the minimum time of delivery should not be less than one month.

Imam Malik supports the view that there should be a minimum period for the contract of salam. However, he is of the opinion that it should not be less than fifteen days, because the rates of the market may change within a fortnight.

This view is, however, opposed by some other jurists, like Imam Shafi’i and some Hanafi jurists also. They say that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has not specified a minimum period for the validity of salam. The only condition, according to the Hadith, is that the time of delivery must be clearly defined. Therefore, no minimum period can be prescribed. The parties may fix any date for delivery with mutual consent.

This view seems to be preferable in the present circumstances, because the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has not prescribed a minimum period. The jurists have prescribed different periods which range between one day to one month. It is obvious that they have done so on the basis of expedience and keeping in view the interest of the poor sellers. But the expediency may differ from time to time and from place to place. Likewise, sometimes it is more in the interest of the seller to fix an earlier date. As far as the price is concerned, it is not a necessary ingredient of salam that the price is always lower than the market price on that day. The seller himself is the best judge of his interest, and if he accepts an earlier date of delivery with his free will and consent, there is no reason why he should be forbidden from doing so.

Certain contemporary jurists have adopted this view being more suitable for the modern transactions.


Source: Republished with the kind permission of Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani.
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