Trading through the phone before possessing the goods
Dear Shaikh, Can a person buy goods from the seller simply over the phone and sell it immediately in the same way (over the phone), without actually possessing it ? For example, can a person buy a container of potatoes over the phone that's on its way in a ship on the sea (not in his possession) and also sell it to someone over the phone without actually possessing it ? Please advice. Jazaak Allahu Khairan.
All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger.
It is not permissible for a person to sell something unless the seller owns it and possesses it as the Prophet said: "Do not sell what you do not possess." [Ahmad] Moreover, Zayd Ibn Thabit may Allah be pleased with him, said: "The Prophet forbade selling goods in the place where they were bought until the tradesmen take them to their houses [unless the goods are actually possessed by them]." [Ahmad] Some scholars differentiated between selling food and other tradable items. The goods that you mentioned in the question (potatoes) are food, and the majority of the scholars are of the view that it is not permissible to sell food before possessing it, whether or not this food is one of the types to which Riba (interest and usury) applies. Al-'Adawi from the Maliki School of jurisprudence said: 'Whoever buys or sells food whether or not it is one of the types to which Riba applies, he is not permitted to sell it before possessing it.'
A question is to be asked here: What is the possession, which if fulfilled, renders the sale permissible?
The possession of anything depends on the nature of that thing. Al-Hajjawi from the Hanbali School of jurisprudence said: 'Possessing [in a sale transaction] something that is irremovable, like land, trees and the like is by leaving it for the buyer by allowing him to make use of it and handing him the keys, and by removing the household items of the seller from it, according to the prevailing customs, and possessing something that is removable like a boat, an animal and the like, is by taking it after unloading the goods from the boat according to the prevailing customs, as regards clothes and similar items that could be possessed by handling it, it is enough to possess it by hand.'
Therefore, it is known that removing the goods from the stores of the seller or from his place to the boat if the person who receives the goods is the agent of the buyer then this is considered as possessing the goods. In this case it is permissible for the buyer to sell these goods while they are in the sea but they remain on his liability until the second buyer or his agent actually possesses them.
However, if the first buyer does not have an agent who receives the goods on his behalf, then it is not permissible for him to sell while they are in the sea because the buyer and seller are not in the boat and neither of them has an agent who will do the handling and possessing of goods.
If the possession of goods is done, whether the real possession in which hand to hand trading is conducted by the buyer or his agent, or the sale which has the ruling of possessing the goods like leaving the estate for the buyer, then in this case it is permissible to buy and sell through the phone or other means of modern communications.
Allah Knows best.
Fatwa answered by:The Fatwa Center at Islamweb