One of the observations when reading the Quran is that it often times appears to jump between what seem to be two unrelated topics, but upon further analysis there is usually a connection that is overlooked.

The following two verses are an example of this:

[2:188] You shall not take each others’ money illicitly, nor shall you bribe the officials to deprive others of some of their rights illicitly, while you know.

 وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُمْ بَيْنَكُمْ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتُدْلُوا بِهَا إِلَى الْحُكَّامِ لِتَأْكُلُوا فَرِيقًا مِنْ أَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ بِالْإِثْمِ وَأَنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

[2:189] They ask you about the phases of the moon! Say, “They provide a timing device for the people, and determine the time of Hajj.” It is not righteous to beat around the bush; righteousness is attained by upholding the commandments and by being straightforward. You shall observe GOD, that you may succeed.

 يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَهِلَّةِ قُلْ هِيَ مَوَاقِيتُ لِلنَّاسِ وَالْحَجِّ وَلَيْسَ الْبِرُّ بِأَنْ تَأْتُوا الْبُيُوتَ مِنْ ظُهُورِهَا وَلَٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنِ اتَّقَىٰ وَأْتُوا الْبُيُوتَ مِنْ أَبْوَابِهَا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

In 2:188, the verse is discussing the condemnation of bribery and corruption, while 2:189 is discussing people’s malicious intent when asking about the phases of the moon. The literal translation of the Arabic idiom used in 2:189 is “do not enter homes through their back” which is equivalent to the English expression “do not beat around the bush.” Therefore, this verse is informing us that righteousness is being straightforward with people when we communicate, but what is the connection between this and corruption?

In 1946, Rudolph Flesch designed the Flesch Readability Score, which is a method to measure the readability of text. The higher the score the easier it is to read the text, while the lower the score the more difficult and incomprehensible the text.

For reference, newspaper comics scored a 93, Sports Illustrated scored a 63, Wall Street Journal scored a 43, and the IRS tax code scored a -6.

In the book “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide” the authors looked at company share holder letters from the turn of the millennium to assess their Flesch Readability Scores. The researchers analyzed these scores for two kinds of companies. The first group were of well managed companies, and the other group were companies that were found later to be plagued with scandals.

What they discovered was the properly managed companies all had scores in the 40 range or readability, while the scandalous companies had scores all in the 20’s and below. This difference in scoring is attributed to the fact that companies that were operating under legitimate business practices would have less to hide compared to a companies that were trying to obfuscate their shady dealings.

These findings do not mean that all confusing corporate jargon in share holder letters is a sign of corruption, but an indication that a great way to hide corruption in plain sight is through confusing speech.

Another example of the connection between speech and corruption can be seen with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who in 2006 was sentenced to six years in prison for bribery and fraud. The cornerstone to his prosecution was regarding a single obscure sentence he bribed politicians to include into a piece of legislation that would provide his clients millions of dollars without anyone realizing what he had done.

As Abramoff stated in a 2011 60 Minutes interview: “So what we did was we crafted language that was so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise to change the US code.”

Here is the language he got tacked on to the reform bill:

“Public law 100-89 is amended by striking section 207 (101 stat. 668, 672).”

The fascinating thing about this sort of language was no one except Abramoff and his client had any idea what this amendment meant let alone what the results would be. Specifically, by conspiring to insert this single obscure sentence into the targeted reform bill it would give a backdoor license to an Indian casino owned by one of Abramoff’s clients.

So now when we revisit these verses we see the connection: that being straightforward is a sign of fair dealings, while using imprecise or ambiguous speech is a sign of corruption.

[2:188] You shall not take each others’ money illicitly, nor shall you bribe the officials to deprive others of some of their rights illicitly, while you know.

 وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُمْ بَيْنَكُمْ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتُدْلُوا بِهَا إِلَى الْحُكَّامِ لِتَأْكُلُوا فَرِيقًا مِنْ أَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ بِالْإِثْمِ وَأَنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

[2:189] They ask you about the phases of the moon! Say, “They provide a timing device for the people, and determine the time of Hajj.” It is not righteous to beat around the bush; righteousness is attained by upholding the commandments and by being straightforward. You shall observe GOD, that you may succeed.

 يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَهِلَّةِ قُلْ هِيَ مَوَاقِيتُ لِلنَّاسِ وَالْحَجِّ وَلَيْسَ الْبِرُّ بِأَنْ تَأْتُوا الْبُيُوتَ مِنْ ظُهُورِهَا وَلَٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنِ اتَّقَىٰ وَأْتُوا الْبُيُوتَ مِنْ أَبْوَابِهَا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

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