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Getting to Know Allah

He Despises the Riba-Eaters

Narrated Samura bin Jundab:

The Prophet said: "This night I dreamt that two men came and took me to a Holy land whence we proceeded on till we reached a river of blood, where a man was standing, and on its bank was standing another man with stones in his hands. The man in the middle of the river tried to come out, but the other threw a stone in his mouth and forced him to go back to his original place. So, whenever he tried to come out, the other man would throw a stone in his mouth and force him to go back to his former place."

I asked, "Who is this?"

I was told, "The person in the river was a Riba-eater (a lender who insist on charging interest on borrowed money)."

Bukhari 34.298

Jesus of Nazareth stormed the Temple to rid it of the money changers. Allah would do Jesus one better.

It is not clear, in the intervention by Jesus, as to whether he was for or against the charging of interest on borrowed money or simply against money changers using the Temple to do their business.

Interest is only mentioned once directly in the New Testament in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Some Christians maintain this parable allows for the charging of interest while others say no. Those who say no would argue that Jesus, in the parable of the talents, is demonstrating that seeking to gain interest from money is the sign of a hard man, not a loving man, therefore not an example to follow.

Allah and His Messenger are not given to “splitting hairs” on practices they consider a sin. As you will be able to judge for yourselves, the verses pertaining to the charging of interest are unequivocal and the punishment they foretell for a believer who charges interest on money lent for whatever purpose, in whatever amount, is of the most brutal kind.

Usury is normally defined as “the act of lending money at an exorbitant rate of interest.” Usury is the word used in Fakhry’s interpretation of the Koran when referring to any moneys earned from the “rental” of money. I have seen the word “interest” used in other interpretations of Allah’s revelations. Interest may be a more accurate word than usury when referring to Allah’s prohibition against charging a fee for the use of your money by another person or organization.

For Allah, the earning of even a penny’s worth of interest is a sin, a capital office (pun intended). For Him and His Messenger, interest and usury are synonymous. Allah even makes a distinction between simple and compound interest. Both types are forbidden.

2:276 Allah prohibits usury and does not bless it; but He compounds alms. And Allah does not like a vicious unbeliever.

2:277 Verily, those who believe, do good works, perform the prayers and give the alms-tax, shall find their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, and they shall not grieve.

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3:130 O believers, do not devour usury, double and redoubled, and fear Allah that you may prosper!

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30:39 And what you give in usury, so as to multiply people’s wealth, will not multiply in Allah’s Sight; but what you give in alms, desiring thereby Allah’s Face. Such are the real multipliers.

Perhaps to emphasize how serious He is about His proscription against the believer making any money from money, Allah promises an all out war, with His Messenger at His side, against those who would dare to do so.

2:278 O believers, fear Allah and forgo what is still due from usury, if you are [true] believers.

2:279 But if you fail to do that, take note of a war [waged] by Allah and His Messenger. But if you repent you will have your capital, neither wronging (sic) nor being wronged.

To be safe, make a charitable donation of moneys owing.

2:280 If he [the debtor] is in straights, then allow days of grace until he is at ease. But to remit [the debt] as alms is better for you, if only you knew.

2:281 Fear a Day when you will return to Allah; then each soul will be rewarded fully for what it has earned (the good works it has done); and none shall be wronged.

Some of the believers may have been confused as to the difference between increasing their wealth through strictly monetary transactions or by trade. Why was one type of transaction a sin, and the other not? While Allah uncharacteristically does not go into details in the following revelation, He informs the believers that one is not like the other, and that they better know the difference if they don’t want to burn in Hell for an eternity.

2:275 Those who take usury will not rise up (On the Day of Resurrection) except like those maddened by Satan’s touch. For they claim that trading is like usury, whereas Allah has made trading lawful and prohibited usury. Hence, he who has received an admonition from his Lord and desisted can keep what he has taken (prior to the prohibition) and his fate is to be left to Allah. But those who revert [to it (taking usury)] – those are the people of the Fire in which they shall abide forever.

A loan to Allah does not appear to be subjected to the same conditions as a loan to mortals.

57:18 Surely, the men and women who give in charity and who have lent Allah a fair loan will receive its double and they will have a generous wage.

The prohibition against charging interest may also have been Allah’s way of getting back at the Jews.

4:160 And it was on account of the wrongdoing of the Jews that We forbade them certain good things which had been lawful to them; as well as on account of their frequent debarring [of people] from Allah’s path;

4:161 Their taking usury, although they had been forbidden from doing it and their devouring other people’s wealth unjustly. We have prepared for the unbelievers among them a very painful punishment!

4:162 But those firmly rooted in knowledge among them and the believers do believe in what was revealed to you (Muhammad) and what was revealed before you. Those who perform the prayers, give the alms and believe in Allah and the Last Day – to these We shall grant a great reward!

One way some tried to get around Allah's injunction against charging interest before the Prophet caught on:

Narrated Abu Said:

We used to be given mixed dates (from the booty) and used to sell (barter) two Sas of those dates) for one Sa (of good dates).

The Prophet said (to us), "No (bartering of) two Sas for one Sa nor two Dirhams for one Dirham is permissible", (as that is a kind of usury).

Bukhari 34.294