Getting to Know Allah
Allah Despises the Riba-Eaters
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)."
Allah is not given to splitting hairs on practices He considers a sin. 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.
For Allah, earning even a penny’s worth of interest is a sin. Usury is normally defined as “the act of lending money at an exorbitant rate of interest.” Interest may be a more accurate word than Allah’s use of usury when referring to His prohibition against charging interest, whether simple or compounded, on borrowed money since any amount is a grave sin.
2:276 Allah prohibits usury and does not bless it; but He compounds alms. And Allah does not like a vicious unbeliever.
3:130 O believers, do not devour usury, double and redoubled, and fear Allah that you may prosper!
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 making money from money, Allah promises an all-out war, with Muhammad 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 wealth through strictly monetary transactions versus by trade. Why was one type of transaction a sin, and the other was not? While Allah uncharacteristically does not go into detail in the following revelation, He informs the believers that one is not like the other, and that they had 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.
The prohibition against interest may be another prohibition that the Koran borrowed from the Torah, although that book does not explicitly forbid Jews from charging interest to non-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!
A loan to Allah does not appear to be subjected to the same conditions as a loan to mortals.
2:244 Fight for the Cause of Allah and know that Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
2:245 Who is it that will lend Allah a generous loan (spends money in His way), so that He might multiply it for him manifold? Allah provides sparingly and generously, and to Him you shall be returned.
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.
Muhammad as Borrower
Judging from Muhammad’s experience as a borrower, it is not inconceivable that, if it could have been done, he would have suggested to Allah that He not only prohibit the charging of interest, but the practice of loans altogether; that loans be considered gifts from Him. Muhammad owed much of his success as a merchant to Khadijah (see From Merchant to Messenger: “Wives of the Prophet,” Boreal Books), a wealthy older Meccan woman who hired and later married the allegedly illiterate young man, to accompany her caravans to and from Damascus. After discovering Islam some fifteen years later, her now forty-something husband would spend all of their wealth on the promotion of his new religion. It was not enough and he was forced to borrow money to simply survive. His main source of borrowed funds was his uncle Abbas.
According to Gheorghiu, author of La vie de Mahomet, Muhammad still owed his uncle the equivalent of twenty ounces of gold when he was found among the seventy Meccans captured at the famous battle of Badr (see Jihad in the Koran: “Battle of Badr,” Boreal Books).
After much discussion as to whether they should be burnt alive or decapitated by a close Muslim relative to avoid having to pay blood money to the family, the merchant in Muhammad decided—after seeking the angel Gabriel’s advice, of course—that the prisoners or their families could pay a ransom to obtain their freedom.
Abbas proposed to his nephew that his ransom be considered the substantial amount of money he still owed him. Muhammad would have none of it. He told his uncle that he would have to do better than that because, “those twenty ounces of gold, was something of yours that the mighty and powerful Allah, gave to me.” The kin whose money kept his nephew’s dream alive after Khadijah’s ran out paid the additional ransom, and wisely forgot all about the loan.