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Riba, Usury

History of Usury in Judaism & Christianity: 
In modern law usury, is the practice of charging an illegal rate of interest for the loan of money. In Old English law, the taking of any compensation whatsoever was termed usury. With the expansion of trade in the 13th century, however, the demand for credit increased, necessitating a modification in the definition of the term. Except for Geneiss;23:9, Jeremiah;32:10, and Ruth; 4:8, Scripture makes no reference to transaction procedures. Interest is however prohibited in Bible: “Take no interest from him or increase, but fear your God; that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.”(Leviticus;25:39-37  also Deuteronomy; 23:19-20). 
The violation of this law was viewed as a great crime (Psalms;15:5; Peter; 28:8; Jeremiah; 15:10). After the Return, and later, this law was much neglected (Nehemiah; 5:7,10). The Jews consider that usury is prohibited with in Jews and that they could charge interest  from gentiles: “Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.”(Deuteronomy;23:20). Thus the Jews became to be known as money lenders, hated by the masses in Europe due to their exploitation by Jews who charged the interest at exorbitant rates. In the Middle Ages the Christian Church attempted to enforce certain moral commands adverse to commercial transactions. The taking of interest for loans of money was considered income without true work and, therefore, sinful and prohibited. There was also an attempt to generalize the idea of a just price. Although both rules, and especially the former, influenced the law and the economy for centuries, neither of them finally prevailed in the secular world. The growth of finances, industry, and land estate ruled the rabbis to develop laws concerning contracts, partnerships, and legal arrangements to circumvent the biblical prohibition against usury. A series of modes of transaction effecting the transfer and acquisition of property evolved. Usury then was applied to exorbitant or unconscionable interest rates. In 1545 England fixed a legal maximum interest; any amount in excess of the maximum was usury. The practice of setting a legal maximum on interest rates later was followed by most states of the United States and most other Western nations. 

Prohibition of Riba in Islam: 
Defining Usury (Riba): Riba (literally ‘usury’ or ‘interest’) is prohibited in Islam, for the principle is that any profit sought should be through own exertions and at our own expense, not through exploiting other people or at their expense. The Arabic term Riba is considered synonymous to ‘usury’ which has been defined in the writings of a number of very early Muslim scholars, it may help to understand its broader meanings. In his commentary on the Qur'an, Imam Al-Razi says: "The usury based on time delay was the type commonly practiced in pre-Islamic days. A man would lend another person some money for a specified term stipulating that he would charge him a specified amount every month while the principal amount remained intact. When the agreed time arrived, the lender would request repayment. If the borrower cannot pay, he increases the monthly payment and the time of the loan." Al-Jassas says: "It is well known that usury in pre-Islamic days was simply a loan given for an appointed time with a stipulated increase. That increase compensated for delay. This is prohibited by Allah." Mujahid says: "In pre-Islamic days, when a man had borrowed money from another, he would come to him and say: I will pay you so and so if you allow me a longer period for repayment." Qatadah says: "The usury practiced in pre-Islamic days took the form of a sale made for a specified term. When payment is due and the buyer does not have the money to pay the seller, he agrees to pay him extra in return for a postponement." Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal defines usury in the same terms, saying: "If a man had lent money to another and the time of repayment was due, the lender would say to the borrower: You either pay me now or increase the amount to be paid. If he does not settle the debt then and there, one agrees to increase the amount and the other extends the time for repayment." All these definitions agree on the nature of usury. It is financial compensation for time delay. This is what is known as "increase in lieu of time extension." All scholars and all Muslim schools of thought are unanimous that this type of Riba is strictly forbidden. However as regards to the other explanations of Riba (Usury) there is room for difference of opinion. 'Umar bin Al-Khattab, (2nd rightly guided Caliph) according to Ibn Kathir, felt some difficulty in the matter, as the Apostle left this world before the details of the question were settled. Riba (Usury) was one of the three questions on which he wished he had more light from the Prophet (peace be upon him). Muslim scholars, ancient and modern, have worked out a great body of literature on Riba, based mainly on economic conditions as they existed at the rise of Islam. 

Increase in Lieu of Quality
There is another type of Riba, which is known as "increase in lieu of quality". This takes the form of exchanging two quantities of the same kind, such as dates for dates, wheat for wheat, rice for rice. A person may offer 1.5 kilogram of dates or wheat or rice, etc. in return for one kilogram of the same type but of higher quality. There is no doubt that there may be several types of the same produce and their qualities differ immensely. Prices could range from the very cheap to the very expensive, with the latter being two or three or four times as much as the price of the former. It is conceivable that people would like to barter some of their produce for a smaller amount of a higher quality type. But this again is forbidden in Islam as evident from Hadith of Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him); Narrated by Abu Said al Khudri: Once Bilal brought Barni (i.e. a kind of dates) to the Prophet and the Prophet asked him, "From where have you brought these?" Bilal replied, "I had some inferior type of dates and exchanged two Sa’s (measurement of weight) of it for one Sa of Barni dates in order to give it to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to eat." Thereupon the Prophet(peace be upon him)  said, "Beware! Beware! This is definitely Riba! This is definitely Riba! Don't do so, but if you want to buy (a superior kind of dates) sell the inferior dates for money and then buy the superior kind of dates with that money."(Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 3.506). Narrated by Ibn Umar: At an other occasion the Prophet (peace be upon him)  said; "The selling of wheat for wheat is Riba except if it is handed from hand to hand and equal in amount. Similarly the selling of barley for barley, is Riba except if it is from hand to hand and equal in amount, and dates for dates is usury except if it is from hand to hand and equal in amount. (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 3.379). 

Modern Banking Transactions: 
While there are some differences between such usurious practices and banking transaction in today’s world; but there are also essential similarities. In a loan obtained from a bank, a borrower pays a regular amount of interest, which does not affect the principal. This is similar to the practice of pre-Islamic days when a borrower used to pay every month a certain sum to the lender, while the principal remained the same. Moreover, in a banking transaction, when the loan is repaid over a longer period of time, the amount of interest charged is also higher, although its rate may remain the same. 
Strict Prohibition of Riba in Qur’an: 
It should be well understood that there is no case of prohibition stated in the Qur'an more forcefully than the prohibition of Riba. Allah warns the believers that they must desist from practicing usury or they would face a war declared on them by Allah and His messenger (peace be upon him): “O You who believe! Fear Allah and waive what is still due to you from usury if you are indeed believers; or war shall be declared against you by Allah and His Apostle. If you repent, you may retain your principal, causing no loss to debtor and suffering no loss.”(Qur’an;2:278-279). However some eminent scholars have argued that banking transactions and the system of interest is different from Riba as called in Islam (?)
The Islamic law of transactions as a whole is dominated by the doctrine of prohibition of Riba. Basically, this is the prohibition of usury, but the notion of Riba was rigorously extended to cover, and therefore preclude, any form of interest on a capital loan or investment. And since this doctrine was coupled with the general prohibition on gambling transactions, Islamic law does not, in general, permit any kind of speculative transaction the results of which, in terms of the material benefits accruing to the parties, cannot be precisely forecast. The charging of interest is strongly prohibited according to Qur’an; “Those who devour usury will not stand except as stands one whom the Evil One by his touch hath driven to madness.  That is because they say: "Trade is like usury but Allah hath permitted trade and forbidden usury.  Those who after receiving direction from their Lord desist shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for Allah (to judge); but those who repeat (the offence) are companions of the fire: they will abide therein (for ever)”.(Qur’an;2:275). “Allah will deprive usury of all blessing but will give increase for deeds of charity: for He loveth not creatures ungrateful and wicked.”(Qur’an;2:276). “That which ye lay out for increase through the property of (other) people will have no increase with Allah: but that which ye lay out for charity seeking the Countenance of Allah (will increase): it is these who will get a recompense multiplied.”(Qur’an;30:39). Prophet Muhammad (peace by upon him) reemphasized the abolishment of usury in his Last Sermon at Hajj, he said;” All usury transactions, which have been made in the past days of ignorance, are hereby abrogated. You may claim only your capital, neither inflicting nor suffering any injustice. Allah has decreed that no usury is permissible. The first usury transactions I abrogate are those of my uncle, Al-Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib,”. In some Muslim countries efforts are being made to replace the ‘Interest’ with Islamic compliant substitutes.

Interpretations of Riba: 
Owing to the fact that interest occupies a central position in modern economic life, and specially since interest is the very life blood of the existing financial institutions, a number of Muslims have been inclined to interpret it in a manner which is radically different from the understanding of Muslim scholars through last fourteen centuries and is also sharply in conflict with the categorical statements of the Prophet (peace be on him). According to Islamic teachings any excess on the capital is Riba (interest). Islam accepts no distinction, in so far as prohibition is concerned, between reasonable and exorbitant rates of interest, and thus what came to be regarded as the difference between usury and interest; nor between returns on bonus for consumption and those for production purposes and so on.  Hence the Islamic mode of Riba free banking, is gaining popularity. In Islam the basic principles of the law are laid down in the four root transactions of (1) Sale (bay'), transfer of the ownership or corpus of property for a consideration; (2) Hire (ijarah), transfer of the usufruct (right to use) of property for a consideration; (3) Gift (hibah), gratuitous transfer of the corpus of property, and (4) Loan ('ariyah), gratuitous transfer of the usufruct of property. These basic principles are then applied to the various specific transactions of, for example, pledge, deposit, guarantee, agency, assignment, land tenancy, partnership, and waqf foundations. Waqf is a peculiarly Islamic institution whereby the founder relinquishes his ownership of real property, which belongs henceforth to Allah, and dedicates the income or usufruct of the property in perpetuity to some pious or charitable purpose.

Inflation is the very real problem, which makes it difficult for anyone to advance money to another for a period of time without making a loss on transaction. That not only applies to a loan given to another person, but also to money kept in a current account, which pays no interest. Any form of saving which does not give returns, is a losing value because of inflation. There must be no injustice, perpetrated or suffered. That is the divine order stated clearly in the Qur'an: “You shall inflict no injustice and shall suffer none.”(Qur’an;2:279), “O my people! Give full measure and weight in all fairness. Do not defraud people of their goods and do not spread mischief in the land.”(Qur’an;11:85).  All this requires thorough study so that scholars are able to come up with answers to present-day problems, instead of applying the rulings of earlier scholars to later problems. Using interest to offset the decrease in money value caused by inflation has some merit. Here the purpose is to maintain the real value of what a person has. The question is whether it is permissible to do that or not? This is a very difficult question and scholars have not come up with a definitive ruling on this point. The problem will remain until a satisfactory answer is found to ensure fairness to investor, lender and borrower, without exploitation. 

Divergent Opinions:
There are scholars who argue that fixing a guaranteed rate of returns in advance is acceptable because it protects the interest of the individual investor. The rector of Al-Azhar has come strongly in favour of this method. Dr Riazul Hasan Gillani, holds doctorate from Al-Azhar University according to him: Certain kinds of Riba were considered undesirable (makrooh) but not prohibited according to Fatawa Alamgiry &  Imam Abu Hanifa. There were three kinds of Riba, and with the exception of one form, the remaining two were undesirable (makrooh) but not prohibited (haram). The three forms of Riba were Riba Uddain (Debt: Something owed, such as money, goods, or services) Ribaul Qarz (Loan: Something lent for temporary use) and Ribaul Fazal, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited Riba Uddain (Debt) through a decree but did not enforce it on the two forms which were declared undesirable (makrooh) but not prohibited (haram). Dr Gillani elucidates that under Islamic injunctions a woman’s demand for divorce is undesirable (makrooh) but if she insists, it could not be denied to her. If somebody dealt in makrooh Riba, he was not committing a sin. The believers were advised to avoid makrooh Riba, but not prohibited as they were from Riba Uddain (Debt).  
According to Sheikh Al-Azhar Dr. Syed Mohammad Tantawi, a prominent modern-day jurist opines that, the government savings schemes do not fall into the category of Riba at all, because these are investment schemes and not Qarz schemes. Among the other scholars who think that the interest is different from usury, most notable is Dr. Ma’roof Ad-Dawaleebi, who is a scholar of high repute and who has been involved in politics, being former prime minister in Syria and an advisor to the king of Saudi Arabia for many years. Earlier he has been a professor of law in the University of Damascus. This has given him the very important mix of looking for practical solutions and a high standard of scholarship. 
Eminent Pakistani scholar, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi in discussions opines usury to be an evil which is fully integrated in the present international financial system. It should be replaced by Islamic financial system at least in the Muslim societies, till then one should avoid it as far as possible. However, under unavoidable circumstances one has to live with this evil as was the case of slavery, which was gradually phased out. He argues that while there is prohibition of taking Riba, there is no restriction of paying extra on loan because the loan is taken under necessity or compulsion, according to him, Qur’an and Hadith forbids taking Riba or assisting in collection of Riba. Taking lead from the Qur’anic doctrine of necessity, whereby the prohibited (Haram) becomes temporarily permissible under certain extreme conditions; “…But (even so) if a person is forced by necessity without willful disobedience nor transgressing due limits thy Lord is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.” (Qur’an;6:145), he opines that the widows, orphans, sick, retired elders who have no other source of income may invest in government saving schemes to get subsistence to survive, though Islamic welfare government should look after them even without investment. 
All Types of Interest, Riba Forbidden: 
The majority of Islamic scholars still consider all types of interest as Riba, hence forbidden.  “...There is none who can change His words..”(Qur’an;18:27). There is no doubt that Riba is prohibited, but there was some thing about Riba which even 'Umar bin Al-Khattab wanted to know more form  Prophet (peace be upon him) before he left the world. Till Ummah develops a consensus on the serious issue of defining the Riba, the advice of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) be followed, who advised the Muslims to consult their hearts after having studied a matter carefully.  Allah knows the matters of heart well.
Read online or download "‘Dilemma &Delusions" WebDoc, PDF

Article on Riba by Dr.Fazal ur Rehman

"Riba is usually translated in Urdu by the word sud, which is of Persian origin and literally means “profit” is antonym being ziyan. Sud is not synonymous with the Quranic term Riba but is synonymous with the Arabic word 'Ribah'. In fact, any attempt to translate the Quranic term, “riba” in any language, is not only futile, but is also the source of much confused thinking on the subject.- [Extract from article by Fazalur Rahman]

The literal meaning of riba (Arabic Quote To Be Added) as illustrated by the Qur’anic usage is:
To grow e.g. (Arabic Quote TBA)
“And thou beholdest the earth barren, then when We send down water upon it, it quickens and grows…” (XXXII: 5)
To increase; to prosper; (Arabic Quote TBA)
“God destroys riba, but makes alms prosper” (II: 276); (Arabic Quote TBA)
“And whatever you invest in riba so that is may increase upon the people’s wealth, it increases not with God;” (XXX: 39);
to rise  ( for example of a hill) as, (Arabic Quote TBA)
“ And we gave them refuge upon a height…..” (XXIII: 50); 
This is the translation by Mazheruddin Siddiqi of an Urdu article by the author entitled Tahaqiq-I Riba which was published in the monthly Urdu journal of this institute. Fikr-o Nazar i/5 (November 1963). – (Ed.). (Arabic Quote TBA

“As the likeness of a garden upon a hill…”  (II:265)

to swell (for example, foam), as (Arabic Quote TBA)

“Then the torrent carried a swelling scum;” (XIII: 17) 

to nurture; to raise ( a child); as (Arabic Quote TBA)

“My Lord, have mercy upon them (i.e my parents) as they raised me up when I was little!”(XVII:24) (Arabic Quote TBA)

“Did we not raise thee amongst us as a child?” (XXVI: 18);

augmentation increase in power, etc., as (Arabic Quote TBA)

“He seized them with a surpassing grip…” (LXIX: 10) (Arabic Quote TBA)

“That one Nation be more powerful than another nation.” (XVI : 92)

From the lexical meaning giving above, the technical meaning of the term “riba” is derived, discussed in the article in detail


In the modern science of Economics the rate of interest occupies the same place as price and performs the all-important function that any price-mechanism performs, viz., of regulating the supply and demand of credit and rationing it among the customers.  If the rate of interest, i.e., the price of loaning money, is reduced to zero, then we are faced with a limited supply and an infinite demand.  It would become impossible to control the rationing of credit available, so to say, and to assign priorities.  Especially in a society like ours where there is a great danger of nepotism and corruption, it is well-nigh impossible to conceive that correct priorities and correct amounts will be the order of the day with the optimum use of the available funds for development.  At present, however, the rate of interest functions as the objective standard of allocating the credit principle and the real need for a loan is expressed by readiness to pay the proper price, i.e. the interest-rate is arbitrary is absolutely groundless, simply because it is genuinely a price any other price. Mawdudi, explaining the theory which points to the law of supply and demand as the basis of bank-interest, says, “Just think what this comes to mean.” The capitalist does not straightforwardly and by fait means enter into partnership with the businessman, and obtain his rightful share in the profits earned by him (the businessman). On the other hand, he makes a rough estimate of the minimum profit likely to be made by the businessman. Therefore, he says to himself, ‘I should receive so much interest on the money I loan out to him’. The businessman too, on his part, makes a rough estimate of the maximum profit he is likely to earn from the amount of credit he is going to obtain. Therefore, he says to himself, ‘the interest that I pay should not exceed beyond this point’. Thus both the debtor and the creditor indulge in speculation.”

It seems that Mawdudi has not made a serious study of our present banking system. The kind of picture he has in mind of haggling and of mutual adjustment between the needs of the debtor and the creditor may be true of the usurious practices of the baniya, but is not all true of the financial system banks. The prices in petty business may rise or fall, and, in fact they usually do so, but the rate of interest does not rise or fall even by half or one-fourth per cent except under the stress of diverse and multiple economic factors, and such a rise or fall in the rate of interest itself becomes an important economic factor. The fixation and determination of the rate of bank-interest is not the result of any simple mutual understanding between the debtor and the creditor but the outcome of many complex economic factors.

 In the opinion of some economist, the rate of interest can be brought down to zero. In fact the general trend of the economic system has been towards the lowering of the rate of interest. But this can come about only if the volume of the real wealth and state of equality or near-equality comes to exist between supply and demand of money and credit becomes very easy. But this has not been achieved yet even by highly developed countries like the United States. To bring about such conditions in our country, we shall have to make untiring efforts for the production of real wealth and for the formation of capital and unless we succeed in attaining this objective, we shall have to put up with the present rates of interest.

Economists of the Communist school of thought hold a different view of the rate of interest. According to their theory, it is labour only and not capital which produces “surplus value,” i.e. the profit. On this theory, there is no basis at all even for the profits of private business not to speak of the profits made by the banks or the banks-interest. However, the present fiscal system, as it is functioning in Soviet Russia, Yugoslavia and other Communist countries, has to accept bank interest as a necessity contrary to its basic economic theory. The Communist explains this anomaly by treating the present condition as a period of transition in which there can be no escape from bank-interest. They argue that when they have attained their highest ideal, that is of establishing the Communist society organized on the principle, “to every man according to his needs and from every man according to his capacity,” the present banking system with its rates of interest will be abolished. Apart from the question whether or not the system envisaged by Communist is practicable, the difficulty is that if we accept the Communist system, we shall have, also, to accept all it’s regimentations and the coercion employed by it, which, we think, would be resisted by the majority of our people.

As we have, however, explained in the preceding sections of this paper, the general Qur’an teaching wants to develop the maximum of co-operative spirit and socio-economic justice, which is called sadaqah by the Qur’an and which must not be confused with the begging and giving of alms. The co-operative spirit envisaged by the Qur’an was well illustrated by the mu’akhat established by the Prophet after his migration to Medina between the Muhajirun of Mecca and the local Ansar. In the Welfare Co-Operative Commonwealth of Islam, based on the true spirit of sadaqah, bank-interest will certainly be eliminated, because in his ideal Commonwealth, there will be competition among men, but only for virtue and mutual help. To strive to achieve this ideal is the noblest jihad of our times. But if we are to carry on this jihad for the setting up of the Islamic Welfare Co-Operative Commonwealth, it is equally necessary that we should not close our eyes to the present realities, howsoever unpalatable they may be. The abolition of interest presupposes the highest degree imaginable of co-operative spirit and, therefore, cannot be implemented today unless the country’s economy and production are to be left in the direst jeopardy. At present this type of Islamic spirit of co=operation is wanting in our society and, indeed, we are now at the opposite pole from the social order envisaged by the Qur’an. This being the case, it will become particularly impossible for the government to raise interest-free loans for it’s basic non-profit-making projects, such as roads, hospitals, schools, etc. No economy can be built today, nor was one built by our forefathers on qard hasan (qardah-yi hasanah), although private institutions should be encouraged in this direction for purely philanthropic purposes. We, therefore, conclude that the abolition of interest in the present state of our economic development would be a cardinal error.


1.(a) The clear words of the Qur’an, “Consume not riba with continued redoubling.
   (b) The chronological order in which the verses prohibiting riba were revealed.
 (c) The historical traditions concerning the nature of riba going back to the eminent tabi’z commentators of the Qur’an.
(d) The hadith-material describing the historical context in which the verse “remit what is left of riba” was revealed,-all this evidence establishes the following definitions of riba:
“Riba is an exorbitant increment whereby the capital sum is doubled several-fold, against a fixed extension of the term of payment of the debt.”

2. The prohibition of this riba by means of law is a religious necessity.

3. The Qur’an has declared that the opposite of riba is sadaqah which is by no means a form of beggary.  In view of this it is the moral duty of the Muslims to build up a system of economy based on sadaqah, i.e. co-operation and mutual consideration.  Co-operative effort of the Government and the people is needed to achieve this goal.

4. The basic moral idea underlying the Qur’anic prohibition of riba has been given a wider extension and application in the hadith literature, but the contradictions and inconsistencies in the riba-hadith and the evolutionary trend in this literature leading to an ever-increasing rigidity vitiate its authenticity and authority.

5. The passion for sadaqah inculcated by the Qur’an and the way in which the hadith-material supports and elaborates this idea lead to the conclusion that all immoral forms of financial and economic transactions fall under the category of what Ibn Qayyim calls “concealed riba”.  But it is necessary to maintain a distinction between the Qur’anic riba, and the term ‘riba’ as used in later times and by later writers.

6. The system of economy which the Qur’an requires us to establish, being based on the spirit of co-operation, the further nourishment and development of this spirit in the right manner and the reconstruction of society in accordance therewith would make bank-interest and the present banking system quite superfluous which is just what the spirit of the Qur’an and the Sunnah requires of us.

7. As long as our society has not been reconstructed on the Islamic pattern outlined above, it would be suicidal for the economic welfare of the society and the financial system of the country and would also be contrary to the spirit and intentions of the Qur’an and Sunnah to abolish bank-interest.

8. In accordance with the principle of (Arabic Quote TBA) or “graduation” and (Arabic Quote TBA) or “the easing of the way”, it would be necessary to enact legislation against such grave social inequities as feudalism and hoarding, etc. before proceeding to abolish bank-interest.

9. It would be necessary for every citizen of Pakistan to work arduously and with an untiring zeal to reach the desirable goal of reducing bank-interest to the zero point, in other words, to eliminate it completely.  For this end, it would be necessary to increase the volume of real wealth and credit capital in the country to such a point that an equality or near-equality comes to exist between the supply and demand of money in credit, and credit becomes very easy.  In such ideal circumstances the motive for bank-interest, and indeed, the profiteering motive may become extinct.

10. The Measures adopted by the Government and the collective efforts made by the Muslims in general, alone will bring into existence that Welfare Co-operative Commonwealth which is the only way to establish the economic system of Islam in the present modern conditions.

Extract from article By Fazulr Rahman (modern scholar) : http://ebooks.rahnuma.org/religion/  


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