Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
With regard to bribes. you mainly mentioned rulers and government people. When we went to Turkey a few years ago, one of the airport workers let our luggage go through even though it was a few kilos overweight then came up to us afterwards demanding payment of a carton of cigarettes. He was really agro about it and we were worried he would make troubles so we paid him. Now in alot of countries, gifts are given to petty officials i.e. airport staff, passport stampers, generally people performing some kind of service and it’s customary to give them something so they speed your case along or process you faster or give better or preferential treatment to you. I know this is a disgusting mentality but I think it’s coz everyone’s so poor. Is it acceptable to do such things, does it constitute a bribe? What if the rights of another person won’t be infringed upon?
This falls under the category mentioned by Imam Kamal ibn al-Humam, as quoted by Ibn Abidin:
4. That which is paid to ward off fear for one’s person or wealth from the one who is being paid. This is lawful for the one paying and unlawful for the one receiving. This is because warding off harm from a Muslim is obligatory and it is not allowed to receive money to perform that which is obligatory…
If the money given is the only way to reasonably ensure the your rights or ward of undue harm, then it would be allowed to pay it. But one has to be reasonable sure that this is the case; otherwise, it would fall under the unlawful bribes.
One should be careful that one does not employ bribes merely to ‘get it done faster’ in cases were there is a due process, even if it may seem slow to one, because the default with regards to bribes is impermissibility.
It is worst when such seemingly reasonable bribes infringe upon or vitiate the rights of others.