Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, The one who pretends that he has been given what he has not been given, is just like the (false) one who wears two garments of falsehood.” [Bukhari]
People think plagiarism in Islam does not even exist because there are no copyrights in Islam. Of course there are no copyrights in Qurán and hadith as we don’t own Islamic texts (verses, ahadith, quotes of the Sahabas and so on) but you know why WE don’t own them? It’s because Some One Else does!
Allah owns His verses – Allah owns us all! Whatever we possess belongs to Allah – NOT the people! And Allah has given us the CHOICE of giving away what belongs to us! No one else can claim each other’s possession as everything of one is sacred upon the other.
So in this world, what you write and sketch, belongs to you. Just like what you wear belongs to you. What you eat belongs to you. What you earn belongs to you. UNLESS you choose to give it away within your free will – for the sake of Allah who gave you all of those above.
When one gives away with his/her own will, it’s called charity. When one gives away with his/her own will and puts a price on it, it’s called trade. When his/her will is not involved and the other person takes it regardless, it’s called stealing! Or plagiarism in other words – As simple as that!
Someone who’s been a direct victim to mass plagiarism after several episodes of the above illustration going viral (for all the wrong reasons), this topic hits close to home. Something that was meant to be an experience of niqabis by niqabis turned into a hate speech full of negative vibes when men starting posting it as a form of blatant instruction (men who clearly have no experience of wearing a niqab). And of course that happens when people leave out all the context that the actual person used it for. When original artist’s work is used for misrepresentation of the original artist’s intent, it sabotages intellectual diversity. We’ve had our other artworks shared around without credit a gazillion times as well – most of the times people even change the graphics of #AlhamdulillahForSeries and put their own logo on it. Sometimes people even sell our journals forward without permission or simply distribute it without us knowing.
And unfortunately, we CONSTANTLY get complaints from Muslim businesses how so and so copied them EXACTLY – mostly Muslims ripping off other Muslims. We had to turn down many ad collaborations with brands that had copied another Muslim brand or they unjustly used others’ artwork in their products without their consent and this is what prompted us to write this piece!
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said to us, “Honesty descended from the Heavens and settled in the roots of the hearts of men (faithful believers), and then the Qur’an was revealed and the people read the Qur’an, (and learnt it from it) and also learnt it from the Sunna.” Both Qur’an and Sunna strengthened their (the faithful believers’) honesty.” [Bukhari 7276]
Please note that the text in blue is by others (who are linked – purple text).
1) Know what plagiarism is because even 50% copy is considered Plagiarism
Plagiarism has so many forms. As students of Islamic Online University ourselves, we know how we are instructed on the matters of plagiarism before each assignment and test. This is IOU’s stance on plagiarism:
“Plagiarism is sometimes misunderstood to refer to copying alone; however plagiarism is much deeper than just copying. It includes quoting without proper references, collaboration, and stealing other people’s ideas while passing them off as one’s own. Plagiarism is the “failure to acknowledge the ideas or writing of another” or “presentation of the ideas or writing of another as one’s own” and should be read to cover intentional and unintentional failure to acknowledge the ideas of others. In this context “others” means any other person including a student, academic, professional, published author or other resource such as the Internet. The Islamic Online University believes that failing to acknowledge the use of ideas of others constitutes an important breach of Islamic and academic values and conventions of the institution.“
And as stated by the Permanent Fatwa Committee, headed by late Sheikh `Abd Al-`Azeez Ibn Baz (may Allah bless his soul)…:
…“A Muslim’s property is not permitted (to be taken by others) without his consent.”…This is applicable whether the owner…is a Muslim or a non-Muslim…“
So if your product looks EXACTLY like another Muslim OR a non-Muslim product – or it’s even 50% same, it’s time to reconsider your design and content. Especially if your intent is sadaqah jaariyah or halal income.
The Prophet ﷺ said: “He who is two-faced in this world will have two tongues of fire on the Day of Resurrection.” [Abi Dawud 4873]
I wouldn’t have considered a 50% copy plagiarism until I read the following (although they have specifically stated that about assignments, but the plagiarism rule applies on all types of things)…
“…Assignments that contain a rating higher than 50% will be automatically rejected and validated for plagiarism with a manual check by the tutorial assistant or relevant academic. The student will be given a grade of 0 and there will be no second chances for submitting the assignment…Remember that we are Muslims studying Allah’s religion, and so plagiarizing in Islamic Studies is a sin and can rob your studies of reward...”
I understand that some people may genuinely have similar ideas and content. Or some people may not even be aware that something that they are producing is already out there. It has even happened to us. We created a full product, only to find out that someone is creating a similar product as well and even though our designs were completely different, we scratched off the whole idea (which meant hours and hours of hard work going to waste), but we didn’t want to lose our potential sadaqah jaariyah in the process so we shifted our focus instead.
2) Background context is important
Just imagine how impure our religion would have been if people attributed ahadith to themselves or anyone undeserving of attribution. Citations and references are the web that held together the science of hadith all those years. It helped us receive pure knowledge that we have today. Without it, our deen would have been just like all other religions. Mixed with falsehood. Mixed with people’s interpretations and quotes. Mixed with misuse of words, translations and contexts.
References is where the beauty of Islam lies – the authenticity and purity in its text because no one claimed each other’s words or actions. Meaning no one copied without giving the due credit! And if someone did, the whole chain of hadith went weak!
Scholars studied 1000s and 1000s of lives by traveling 1000s and 1000s of miles JUST to bring the authentic ahadith to us! Ahadith with the strongest chains. When the hadith is not branded Sahih, we doubt its credibility. Because someone in that chain was not trust-able enough – either in terms of memory or honesty.
If you want to do real research in any field, you have to follow the links and people behind those links. By not linking the words we appropriate back to the source, we erase their context and thus destroy a lot of valuable information that is required to build trust.
As Sheikh Khâlid b. Sa`ûd al-Rashûd, presiding judge at the Saudi Grievance Board states on “Islam Today”
“This is one of this is one of the reasons why the Islamic science of hadîth narration – isnâd (attribution) – was developed. Indeed, Islamic civilization was the very first in the world to develop and codify rigorous science for citing one’s sources.
In the classical discourse of this science what is now called plagiarism was known as tadlîs (deceptive attribution)…This is where a narrator deliberately leaves out a source to make his chain of transmission look stronger than it actually is.
It often entailed the narrator taking credit for hearing a hadîth from a prestigious source he did not actually hear the hadîth from. He would do this by omitting a less prestigious intermediate narrator and failing to credit that intermediate narrator as his direct source.
Al-Ghazalî relates to us that Ahmad b. Hanbal was once asked about a case where a person finds a manuscript containing hadîth narrations. The question was whether it was alright to copy hadîth from the manuscript before returning it to its owner. Ahmad answered the question saying: “No. He must first get permission. The he can write.”…
Everyone should have a right to copy a hadith, right? But look at that level of honesty subhaanAllah!
`Abd Allah b.Mubârak: “I would rather be cast down from the sky than be guilty of deceptive narration.”…”
3) Stolen property is not Halal or accepted as charity
When you steal an artist’s work (whether his/her writing or art etc.) and pass it on as your own while convincing yourself of earning sadaqah jaariyah or halaal earning, you deceive yourself before you deceive others.
Stolen property is not accepted as charity. It may become sadaqah jaariyah for the original owner, but for the the other person, it’s simply an illusion. Indeed, quoting one’s sources is rendering a trust. This is a religious duty commanded by Allah in the Qur’ân:
“Indeed, Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due…” [Qur’ân – 04:58]
4) Sharing is caring, but dishonesty is a sin
All of the above doesn’t mean we can’t share anything. The problem is dishonesty – not simply sharing. Share all you want as long as you give the due credit to the original owner so the true meaning and experience remains.
Dishonesty is misattribution to oneself of the work of others – which is also known as plagiarism. It is by law – a crime.
Even when it comes to hadith and Qur’anic verses, we are supposed to give the reference. We’re supposed to share the original source because all rights belong to Allah and His messenger (saws). If we share a hadith without telling people that it’s by Muhammad (saws), some people may think it’s our quote. Such deception may not only cause us harm but others as well.
We all need a convenient shortcut to quickly determine what to believe and what not to — and one such shortcut is to find where a certain bit of information comes from, and judge its credibility based on what we may know of its source. When an author etc. fails to cite his/her sources, he/she degrades our ability to judge the information we’re getting. We may not believe it or trust it if we’re uncertain of the source it’s coming from.
“O you who have believed, do not betray Allah and the Messenger or betray your trusts while you know .” [Qur’an – 08:27]
As Little Wings Gallery states:
“I think it’s time to address a growing problem in the Muslim creative community…. As a professional designer…I’d like to discuss an issue, that I’ve been a victim of, and that sadly I see occurring more and more.
You see as an artist, designer or creative in general, you spend hours up on hours refining your skills, brainstorming ideas, overcoming hurdles, revising, testing, questioning, resolving, just to create that one thing you feel compelled to make. Often with the result of going back and having to do it all over again to get it just how you envisioned. So when someone else comes along and takes what you’ve created so they can use it for their own purpose or profit, it’s like a stab to the heart….
By all means be INSPIRED by what others do or by what you find on the internet, but use that inspiration to CREATE YOUR OWN piece of work….
If creating something is beyond your ability then maybe support the artist by being a stockist. Don’t steal…It’s disrespectful to the person who created it and at the end of the day there is no barakah to be gained in doing so, “Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim.” – The Last Sermon by Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)”
5) Plagiarizer loses the credibility
Alhamdulillah that Islam has retained rights of each and every one. Which is why, everyone’s blood, wealth and property is sacred on another.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The whole of the Muslim is sacred to his fellow Muslim, his blood, his wealth and his honor.” [Ibn Majah]
Ever wondered why an honor is a trust as well? It’s not even something tangible yet sacred! Because their whole credibility and reputation depends on it.
Once it is found that a writer/blogger/artist has plagiarized, then every word they have written or each piece of art they will produce in the future will become a suspect.
There will be no credibility in anything they present in their views, actions and thoughts. Such harm is not only to the plagiarizer but sometimes also the plagiarized – when people aren’t sure of the original owner of the work, both parties may become a suspect of plagiarism. In other words, it is not only a self-inflicted wound but it may bruise others as well – which may make it hard for people to believe whatever they produce when the authenticity is gone.
6) Helping others means assisting in good deeds only
As Kendra in KSA states: “I recently had a student openly tell me that she was planning on cheating. I told her that cheating is Haraam. She proceeded to tell me that I didn’t know Islam well enough because if I did, I would know that we should want for our neighbor what we want for ourselves, so when people cheat they’re just helping each other out and that should be fine.”
So if you’re helping someone to earn dishonest marks or money instead of teaching them to work hard or the skills needed to succeed, you’re not really doing any “good” for your fellow Muslim.
Narrated Anas: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Messenger ﷺ! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet ﷺ said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” [Bukhari]
So preventing someone from wrong is how you actually help them!
7) Our value in front of Allah is more important than our social media numbers or earnings
Many people take images and articles from around the internet and post them as their own – sometimes not to earn, but simply to gain popularity on social media etc. Sometimes that means circulating a paid digital product for free (without buying all those copies). In that case, it’s good to reconsider your intentions and actions – because sometimes we may have good intentions, but a wrong action nullifies it while sometimes we have bad intentions and a good action doesn’t benefit it.
It’s ok to repost, share and send it forward as long as it’s through proper means. Not through misattribution or a deliberate lie.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “…He who deceives is not of us.” [Riyad as-Salihin]
“Don’t steal others’ intellectual property…I understand that people need to be cautious about what they post on the internet, most definitely. But you also have a responsibility to not steal other people’s property. And yes, it’s theft. You wouldn’t go to someone’s house and steal his bike just because he left it outside in plain sight. You’d still be considered a thief. So yeah, just because someone posts something on social media, “in plain sight” – that doesn’t give you the right to screenshot it or copy it and use it for your own purposes.
I recently called someone out for using some of my intellectual property to promote their own account, and the response was appalling. It went something like this:
-But YOU put it on the internet, so it’s fair game for me to use it.
-At the end of the day, nothing belongs to us, and everything belongs to Allah!
-But I’m using it for a good reason.
-Oh, you just want me to mention you so that you can get more followers!
SubhanAllah. When we’re trying to do something for the sake of Allah, we should do it properly, not through the theft and re-purposing of another person’s work…I actually love it when my work is shared freely and openly! I write so that people can benefit, may Allah accept. But simply do it properly, not through plagiarizing…
Plagiarism cuts me like a knife. When someone uses the words from my book or my social media pages, then makes minor edits to pass it off as his/her own work…a part of my desire to share shrivels up and retreats to a corner of my heart…It’s like someone is taking a piece of my heart right out of my body and displaying it as though it belongs to her. Please, please don’t do this. It’s so hurtful to me. I know I can’t control what happens on the internet, but integrity will always be an important trait of a believer. That’s in your hands. May Allah swt bless us with integrity in every part of our lives.”
8) Ethical Muslim customers try to buy from halal ethical businesses:
Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘The two parties to a transaction have the choice so long as they have not separated. If they are honest and open, their transaction will be blessed, but if they tell lies and conceal anything, the blessing of their transaction will be lost.” [Nasa’i 4457]
Have you been a victim of plagiarism? Please share your story below so people know how Muslims are affected by what people consider so harmless.