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  • The Economic Shariah: [(3) Usurpation Of Wealth – (ii) Interest]

    Posted by Umer on September 27, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    Interest is also a similar sin that morally pollutes a person as well as the institutions involved in its transactions. Those who lend on interest totally safeguard their capital by not risking it in any way and extort profit from the poor borrower. In Arabic, it is called riba and the Quran has used this very word for it. Everyone who understands Arabic, knows that it implies a fixed increase which a lender demands from the borrower just because he has given him the permission to use his money for a certain period. The Quran has vehemently prohibited it in the following words:

    الَّذِينَ يَأْكُلُونَ الرِّبَا لَا يَقُومُونَ إِلَّا كَمَا يَقُومُ الَّذِي يَتَخَبَّطُهُ الشَّيْطَانُ مِنْ الْمَسِّ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا الْبَيْعُ مِثْلُ الرِّبَا وَأَحَلَّ اللَّهُ الْبَيْعَ وَحَرَّمَ الرِّبَا فَمَنْ جَاءَهُ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّهِ فَانتَهَى فَلَهُ مَا سَلَفَ وَأَمْرُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَمَنْ عَادَ فَأُوْلَئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (275:2)

    Those who devour interest will rise up on the Day of Judgement like the man whom Satan has driven to madness by his touch because they claim that trading is like interest and how strange it is that Allah has permitted trading and forbidden interest. Consequently, he who received this warning from the Almighty and desisted [in obedience thereto], then whatever he has taken in the past belongs to him and his fate is in the hands of Allah. And those who repeat [the offence] will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein forever. (2:275)

    It is further stated:

    يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَذَرُوا مَا بَقِيَ مِنْ الرِّبَا إِنْ كُنتُمْ مُؤْمِنِينَ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلُوا فَأْذَنُوا بِحَرْبٍ مِنْ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَإِنْ تُبْتُمْ فَلَكُمْ رُءُوسُ أَمْوَالِكُمْ لَا تَظْلِمُونَ وَلَا تُظْلَمُونَ (2: 278-279)

    Believers! Fear Allah and give up what remains of your demand for interest. If you do it not, beware of war from Allah and His Prophet. And if you repent, then you can have your principal amount. Neither will you be allowed to deal unjustly nor will you be dealt with unjustly. (2:278-279)

    The reason why devourers of interest will be raised up on the Day of Judgement as madmen owes itself to their expression of amazement on the fact that the Almighty has not prohibited trading while He has prohibited interest, whereas there is no difference between the two. They maintain that if a trader can demand profit on his capital, why can’t a lender on interest demand profit on his capital. According to the Qur’an, only a madman can give such an insane statement and such insanity demands that its reward be no different than insanity itself. So in accordance with the law of similarity between the deed and its reward, such people would be raised up as madmen on the Day of Judgment.

    Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, while commenting on this expression of amazement of interest-devourers, remarks:

    It is evident from the objection raised by the interest-devourers that the breed of people who regard interest and trading as analogous to one another is not very rare after all. It was found even in olden times. The Quran has … not even commented on this foolish inference since its baseless nature is self-evident and only sheds light on the insanity of those who raise it. A trader invests his capital in a trade which is in demand from the people. He makes his merchandise available to people through hard work and by taking a lot of risk. These people, in the first place, were not in a position to procure this merchandise themselves, and if they were able to then it was only at a heavy cost. Moreover, a trader spews his capital in the open market for competition and his profit is determined by the low and high trends of the market itself. He may end up losing all his money due to these trends and he may be able to make some profit. So his hands are tied in this enterprise as he cannot earn a single penny of profit in selling his merchandise until his invested capital enters the market after being exposed to the risks and fluctuations of the market forces and after once again providing service to society. So how can the enterprise of a trader, who takes risk and provides service to the society when he invests his capital, be compared to that of an interest-devourer whose enterprise is mean, callous, cowardly and hostile to humanity in its very nature. He is a person who is not willing to take the slightest risk with his capital but is very eager to extort profit. [1]

    Here it should be kept in mind that the Quran has prohibited only the charging of interest; it has not prohibited the paying of interest. However, as a natural consequence of this prohibition, a person who, without any genuine reason, acts as an agent of an interest-devourer or writes down its transaction or bears witness to it, must be regarded as an equal criminal on the Quranic principle of تعاون على الاثم (co-operation with evil). It is narrated by Wahb ibn Abdullah (rta):

    لَعَنَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ… آكِلَ الرِّبَا وَمُؤْكِلَهُ

    The Prophet has severely condemned the devourer of interest and the one who acts as an agent [2] of the interest-devourer.[3]

    The Prophet (sws) has emphatically directed people to refrain from the slightest possible trace of interest while borrowing in barter as well:

    الذَّهَبُ بِالذَّهَبِ وَزْنًا بِوَزْنٍ مِثْلًا بِمِثْلٍ وَالْفِضَّةُ بِالْفِضَّةِ وَزْنًا بِوَزْنٍ مِثْلًا بِمِثْلٍ فَمَنْ زَادَ أَوْ اسْتَزَادَ فَهُوَ رِبًا

    If you lend gold, then take back the same type and the same amount of gold; and if you lend silver, then take back the same type and the same amount of silver; for he who gave more or desired more, then this is precisely what interest is.[4]

    الْوَرَقُ بِالذَّهَبِ رِبًا إِلَّا هَاءَ وَهَاءَ وَالْبُرُّ بِالْبُرِّ رِبًا إِلَّا هَاءَ وَهَاءَ وَالشَّعِيرُ بِالشَّعِيرِ رِبًا إِلَّا هَاءَ وَهَاءَ وَالتَّمْرُ بِالتَّمْرِ رِبًا إِلَّا هَاءَ وَهَاءَ

    If you lend gold in exchange for silver, then there is a possibility of interest in this. [5] Similarly, for wheat in exchange for another type of wheat, [6] barley in exchange for another type of barley, date for another type of date. Indeed if the exchange is done on the spot, then there is no harm.[7]

    This is the correct meaning of the above quoted Ahadith. If all the Ahadith on this topic had remained intact, the scholars of our ummah would not have faltered in interpreting them. However, owing to the misinterpretation of the narrators in some chains of narration, the words هَاءَ وَهَاءَ (on the spot), or similar words in the second Hadith quoted above, were incorporated in the first one; similarly, the word الذَّهَبُ بِالذَّهَب (gold in exchange for gold) of the Hadith quoted first were put in place of الْوَرَقُ بِالذَّهَبِ (if you lend silver in exchange for gold) of the second. It is because of this intermingling of words that our jurists have erroneously derived the concept of riba al-fadl from such Ahadith, whereas the correct concept in this regard is what the following words of the Prophet (sws) say: إِنَّمَا الرِّبَا فِي النَّسِيئَةِ (riba is only in transactions of loan). [8]

    It should be borne in mind that interest pertains only to those transactions in which a commodity is borrowed for the purpose of “using it up” whereby the borrower would be burdened to recreate it in order to return it to the lender. If any additional amount is demanded over and above it, then this no doubt is injustice as affirmed both by reason and revelation. On the contrary, transactions in which the commodities and items in question are “used” rather than being “used up” relate to lease, and the money demanded by the owner on providing this service, which is termed as rent, can in no way be objected to.

    Similarly, it should also remain clear that whether a loan is acquired for personal, business or welfare purposes, the real meaning of riba is not ascertained on these bases. It is an indisputable fact that in the Arabic language the word riba, irrespective of the aim of the lender and the condition of the borrower, just implies a pre-determined increase acquired on a loan. Consequently, the Quran itself has clarified this fact: during its own period of revelation, lending on interest for business purposes was quite rampant and these loans were given with the intention of prospering through the wealth of others. The Quran says:

    وَمَا آتَيْتُمْ مِنْ رِبًا لِيَرْبُوَا فِي أَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ فَلَا يَرْبُوا عِنْدَ اللَّهِ وَمَا آتَيْتُمْ مِنْ زَكَاةٍ تُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَ اللَّهِ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ الْمُضْعِفُونَ (39:30)

    And that which you give as loan on interest that it may increase on [other] people’s wealth, it has no increase with Allah; but that which you give as zakah seeking Allah’s countenance, then it is these people who shall get manifold [in the Hereafter] of what they gave. (30:39)

    The expression “…that it may increase on [other] people’s wealth” is not only inappropriate for application to interest-based loans given to the poor for their personal use, but is also clearly indicative of the fact that interest-based loans were generally given for business purposes and in this way they “increased on other people’s wealth” according to the Quran.

    It is to this fact that the following verse also points:

    وَإِنْ كَانَ ذُو عُسْرَةٍ فَنَظِرَةٌ إِلَى مَيْسَرَةٍ وَأَنْ تَصَدَّقُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ (280:2)

    And if the borrower is in difficulty grant him respite until it is easy for him to repay and if you write off [the debt], it is better for you, if you only knew. (2:280)

    Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi comments on this verse in the following words:

    Today some naive people claim that the type of interest which prevailed in Arabia before the advent of Islam was usury. The poor and the destitute had no option but to borrow money from a few rich money-lenders to fulfil their personal needs. These money-lenders exploited the poor and would lend them money at high interest rates. It is only this type of interest which the Quran has termed as riba and forbidden. As far as commercial interest is concerned, it neither existed at that time nor did the Quran prohibit it.

    The verse categorically refutes this view. When the Quran says that if the borrower is in difficulty, he should be given respite until he is able to pay back his debt, it clearly points out that in those times even the rich used to acquire loans. In fact, if the style and stress of the verse are correctly understood, it becomes clear that it was mostly the rich who used to procure loans. Indeed, there was a strong chance that the borrower would find himself in difficulty even to pay the original amount. The money-lender, therefore, is directed to give him more time and if he forgoes the original amount, it would be better for him. The words of this verse strongly indicate this meaning. The actual words of the verse are: وَإِنْ كَانَ ذُو عُسْرَةٍ فَنَظِرَةٌ إِلَى مَيْسَرَةٍ. The particle of condition اِنْ (if) is not used for general circumstances, but, in fact, is used for rare and unusual circumstances. For general circumstances, the particle اِذَا (if) is used. In the light of this, it is clear that the borrowers in those times were generally the affluent (ذُوْ مَيْسَرَة), but in some cases were poor or had become poor after acquiring the loan and in that case, the Quran has directed the money-lenders to give them a time rebate. [9]

    He has concluded this discussion by saying:

    Obviously, the affluent would have turned to the money-lenders not to fulfil their personal needs, but, of course, their business needs. So what is the difference between these loans and the commercial loans of today.[10]

    (Javed Ahmed Ghamidi)

    (Translated by Dr. Shehzad Saleem)


    [1]. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 1, 632-633.

    [2]. These agents can be the ones who work for professional money-lenders or work in the institutions set up by them.

    [3]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 955, (no. 5347).

    [4]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 693, (no. 4068).

    [5]. This directive is meant to put a stop, at the very outset, to ways which lead to the door of interest. Since dissimilar commodities are given on credit, there is all the probability of some increase or decrease in such barter transactions; the Prophet (sws) therefore prohibited them.

    [6]. This translation is in accordance with the copulative relation of this sentence to the previous one. The words الْوَرَقُ بِالذَّهَبِ(if you lend silver in exchange for gold) in which two different commodities are mentioned entail that the wheat mentioned in this expression be of two different categories also.

    [7]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 692, (no. 4059).

    [8]. Ibid., 697, (nos. 4089, 4091).

    [9]. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 1, 638-639.

    [10]. Ibid., vol. 1, 639.

    Umer replied 3 years, 10 months ago 1 Member · 5 Replies
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