tenth call: prohibition of riba
almighty allah says (what can be translated as): “o you who have believed, be pious to allah and leave behind what remains of riba, in case you are believers. so, in case you do not perform (that), then take notice of a war from allah and his messenger (against you). and in case you repent, then you will have the capitals of your riches; you will not do injustice, and you will not be done injustice. and in case any person is under difficulty, then he should (be granted) a respite to (the time of) ease; and that you donate (alms) is more charitable (i.e. more beneficial) for you, in case you know. and protect yourselves against a day in which you will be returned to allah. thereafter every self will be (paid) in full what it has earned, and they will not be done injustice.” (al-baqarah: 278-281)
almighty allah orders his faithful servants who commit to what he prescribes to be pious, he says to them be pious, fear allah and give up what remains to you from riba1 if you are really believers in the decree of allah in permitting selling and prohibiting riba. allah (awj) says about those who take riba and claim that it is exactly like selling: “the ones who eat (up) riba (interest or other unlawful gain; usury) will not rise up except as he whom ash-shaytan (the all-vicious, i.e., the devil) ever smites with the touch rises up. that is because they have said, “surely selling is only like riba.” and allah has made selling lawful, and has prohibited riba.” (al-baqarah: 275)
allah warns those who do not abide by his order. if they do not do it, then they should take a notice of a war from allah and his messenger for not committing to his commandment to abandon usury. if they repent, then they should only have their capital sums without any forbidden interest. they will not wrong the debtor by taking interest from him (asking more than their capital sums), and they will not be wronged (by receiving less than their capital sums). if the debtor is facing a hard time, has no money and cannot pay back his debt, then give him time till it is easier for him to repay his debt. if the lender or creditor remits part of the debt or the whole sum by way of charity, this is better for him. there are also many prophetic sayings that encourage muslims to relieve and help the person in affliction. the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “whoever desires that allah should redeem him from the sorrows and travail of the last day must delay in calling on poor debtors, or forgive the debt in part or whole.”
allah tells people to be afraid of the resurrection day, it is the day when they will leave behind all the matters that have been keeping them busy and away from their lord. they will be brought back to allah and then every person shall be paid what he earned in the present life. if he earned good deeds during his lifetime, then he will be rewarded goodness, and if he earned evil deeds, then he will be paid back what he earned. no soul will be treated or dealt with injustice, no soul will be punished more than what she earned in life, and no soul will take less goodness than what she did in life, on the contrary good-doers will be rewarded much more than they might have been expecting. this is the bounty of allah (awj) for his believers.
the qur'anic text establishes the faith of believers on giving up what remains of riba. they are not true believers unless they fear allah and give up the remains of usury. they are not believers if they do not do so, even if they announce they are believers because there is no faith without obedience, submission and following of the commandments of allah. the text does not cause any confusion or doubt, it does not also let the person hides behind the word belief, while he actually does not obey or accept what allah decrees by not applying in his life and transactions. those who differentiate and separate in religion between belief and transactions are not true believers, no matter how much they testify their belief whether through the tongue or fulfilling of other acts of worship!
“o you who have believed, be pious to allah and leave behind what remains of riba, in case you are believers.” he (awj)2 permits them to keep the previous interests as almighty allah says (what can be translated as): “so, he to whom an admonition has come from his lord (and) so has refrained (in obedience), then he will have whatever is bygone, (i.e. he is forgiven for his parts gains)” (al-baqrah: 275) allah does not make them return the previous interests back, he does not order to take possession of their money, or parts of it because riba is a part in it. there is no prohibition without a text, and no ruling without legislation. legislation is to be applied and has effects after it is issued, which means it does not apply retroactively. as for the previous, it is up to allah (awj), not to the rulings of the law. thus, islam has avoided a huge economic and social shock if it applied the ruling retroactively. this is principal on which modern legislation is based. it shows that the islamic legislation is established to deal with the facts of the human life; islam purifies it, cleans it and releases it to move forward and grow. at the same time, allah (swt)3 links their belief to accepting this ruling and applying it in their lives starting from the moment it was revealed. following this ruling, will mean they have piety in their hearts towards allah (awj). depending on piety, the commandments of islam are applied and the prohibitions are avoided. piety is the full guarantee in the spirits for applying the legislations of allah. it is more effective in executing and applying legislations than the external censorship or supervision by humans. deceiving the external supervision is so easy when the conscience does not have the guard of piety. piety is indeed the internal supervision and the safety valve against breaching the laws of allah (awj).
this was the incitement or encouragement, as for the intimidation or daunts that deter them from taking riba and instills the fear of allah in their hearts: it is a war from allah and his messenger (peace be upon him), a war that the human spirit will face, a tremendous war which has a well-known destiny and consequences. so, how can the weak person stand against this mighty ultimate power??! almighty allah says (what can be translated as): “so, in case you do not perform (that), then take notice of a war from allah and his messenger (against you).”
the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) ordered the governor on makkah after the revelation of these verses to fight the family of al-mughira if they do not stop dealing in riba. the prophet (pbuh) ordered in his sermon on the day of conquering makkah to annul any kind of riba from the time of jahiliyah4, the riba of al-abbas5 (ra)6 was the first to be canceled. the people in debt were finally relieved of the riba they have been carrying for years after embracing islam long time ago. this happened when the muslim society matured and evolved, the rules were well established and it was time to transfer its economic system from the foundation of riba in transactions to purity and legitimacy of selling and buying. the prophet (peace be upon him) said in this sermon:
“every riba pertaining to the day of jahiliyah is under my feet (abolished). the first riba to cancel is the riab of al-abbas…” he (pbuh) did not order them to return what they earned of riba at the time of jahiliyah. he ordered them to cancel the current riba and any kind of riba in the future.
the imam is charged, when the muslim society is established, to fight those who insist on the system of riba and disobey the commandment of allah to abandon it even if they testify that they are muslim. just like how abu bakr (ra) fought the zakat7 evaders who refused to pay the zakat after the death of the prophet muhammad (pbuh), despite their declaration of the shahada that “la ilaha illa allah muhammad rasul allah” and they prayed, but they refused to pay the zakaht. the one who refused to follow the ruling of allah and does not apply it in life is not a muslim.
taking notice of a war from allah and his messenger (pbuh) is more prevalent than fighting by the sword or modern methods of fighting by the imam or leader. this war is announced on each society making riba as its foundation of economic and social system. this war is announced totally and ultimately. it is a war on nerves and hearts, on blessings and prosperity, on happiness and assurance. it is a war in which almighty allah directs some of the disobedient people against each other, the ones who violated his system and method. finally, it is a war of weapons between nations, armies and countries. it is an overwhelming unlimited war which emerges due to the detestable riba system. capitalists who use usury stir these wars directly or indirectly. they throw their baits in which companies and industries fall for, followed by nations and governments. they gather around preys and accordingly they ignite wars or they run after their moneys supported by the power of their governments and armies so they also inflame wars. sometimes people are overburdened with taxes and costs of paying the interests, so poverty and discontent spread between workers and producers and their hearts listen to destructive calls and they stir up wars. the worst thing that happens at such case, if not all of the above, it is the ruin of souls, collapse of morals, pursue of desires, destruction of human structure in a horrible way that is even worse than atomic wars.
it is a war beyond our abilities: “so, in case you do not perform (that), then take notice of a war from allah and his messenger (against you).”
almighty allah announces this war on those who deal in riba… it is an ongoing war, eating everything and everybody of the lost humanity. humanity is heedless, humans think they are profiting and progressing when they see the hills of materialistic production coming out of factories. these hills would have pleased humans, if they were growing out of a pure origin, but they are coming out of the contaminated source of riba. they only represent piles which strangle humans and squash them downward. the pack of international usurers sits on those piles, without any feeling of humans who are shocked and breathless under these cursed piles.
islam calls the early muslim community and it still calls the whole humanity to the pure sharia8. islam calls humanity to repent from all sins, transgression and wrong method: “and in case you repent, then you will have the capitals of your riches; you will not do injustice, and you will not be done injustice.”
it is repentance from the transgression of jahiliyah, the jahiliyah that does not apply to a certain time or system. it is the deviation of the sharia of allah and his methodology whenever and wherever. it is a sin affecting the feelings, morals and visions of life in a negative way. the effects of this sin (riba) affects the life of the community and the whole humanity, it affects the economic growth too. it is destructive, even though many are cheated by the publicity of usurers when they claim that it is the only foundation for economic progress.
regaining the capital of sums instead of taking extra interests is justice, because neither the creditor nor the debtor is wronged. as for profiting and investing, they can be done in other clean and straightforward ways. money can be invested individually or collectively by giving money to investors who practice financial speculation and trade to share them in the profits or losses. also, there is another mean when companies launch shares in the market, without initial bonds to take most of the profits, the company rather shares with the stockholders in the profits or losses. there is also another permitted way to invest your money without gaining riba by depositing capitals in banks without a constant interest, banks take the money and invest it in companies, industries and commerce directly and indirectly then based on a certain system they share with depositors in profits or losses. banks can take certain amount of money in return for managing the money. there are many other pure ways of investment that we cannot explain or display all of them in this article. they are possible and easy if hearts believe and if intentions seek goodness and purity, and avoid the impure sources of riba.
the context of the verses continues to display the rulings about debts in case of insolvency; it means the inability to pay one's debts as they fall due. the solution for this difficulty in payment is not to postpone the payment in return for extra interest. in case any person is under difficulty, then he should be given a respite till he pays, and if the creditor can donate his due money then it is better and more charitable for him. almighty allah says: “and in case any person is under difficulty, then he should (be granted) a respite to (the time of) ease; and that you donate (alms) is more charitable (i.e. more beneficial) for you, in case you know.”
the verse shows the benevolence of islam towards humanity. islam is the shade that the tired humanity seeks when it suffers selfishness, miserliness, greed, rushing against one another and the insatiable desire for wealth. islam offers mercy to the creditor, the debtor and the society that embraces them all.
we know that these words will not be “logic” for the greedy usurers who were brought up in the present materialistic jahiliyah. they will not prefer such fair technique in running and investing money, whether those usurers are individuals waiting for easy preys such as the indebted, poor and needy who face plights and difficulties of life as they need money for food, clothing, medicine and even to be able to bury their dead. they do not find in this greedy materialistic world any pure hand to help them, so they go perforce to the sharks. those debtors are easy preys that walk to the traps forced by need and pushed by necessity. whether those usurers are individuals, banks or financial houses, they are all the same even if they sit behind fancy disks and on comfortable seats. they are all the same, even if they are supported by a pile of economic theories, scientific writings, professors, institutes, colleges, legislations, police, courts and armies. all those supporters are just excuses to justify their crimes, protect them and capture anyone who faces difficulty and delays in paying the interest to their treasuries in the name of the law!!
we know that these words do not reach such hearts of stone, but we know they are words of righteousness. we are sure that the happiness of humanity is bound to listening to these words and following them: “and in case any person is under difficulty, then he should (be granted) a respite to (the time of) ease; and that you donate (alms) is more charitable (i.e. more beneficial) for you, in case you know.”
in islam, if the debtor is facing difficulty in paying the due debt, then he will not be pursued by the creditor, law or courts. rather, he should be granted some time till it is easier for him to pay. the muslim community does not let this debtor under difficulty; allah (awj) calls the creditor to donate this debt to the person in difficulty by forgiving him and consider this debt as charity. it is better for the creditor and better for the debtor. it is better for the community and all life, if we really know the goodness in this lenience.
annulment of riba will lose a lot of its wisdom if the creditor keeps pursuing and harassing the debtor to pay when he is under difficulty and cannot pay. hence comes the order in the form of a condition “and in case any person is under difficulty, then he should (be granted) a respite to (the time of) ease.” so, creditors should wait till debtors can pay the due debts, in addition to encouragement to donate the due debt and consider it charity or alms when they are under difficulty.
in other verses, the debtor has a share in zakat as he is an eligible zakat recipient to be able to pay his debt and continue his life with decency; almighty allah says: “as-sadaqat (here it means zakat) are only for the fuqara' (poor), and al-masakin (the poor) and those employed to collect (the funds); and for to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards islam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for allah's cause (i.e. for mujahidun - those fighting in the holy wars), and for the wayfarer (a traveler who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by allah. and allah is all-knower, all-wise.” (al-twabah: 60) the people in debt here are those who did not spend the money they borrowed on desires and luxuries. they are the ones who spent their debts for good reasons such as affording for their kid, and then they failed to pay due to the pressures of life. then comes the insightful suggestive comment that makes faithful souls shiver upon listening and they eventually hope to give up all their debts so that they are forgiven on the day of judgment: “and protect yourselves against a day in which you will be returned to allah. thereafter every self will be (paid) in full what it has earned, and they will not be done injustice.”
the day that they will return to allah to be paid for what each soul earned in the present life. this day has such reverence and fear in the hearts of the believer; he always thinks of him and prepares himself for that day. standing in front of allah on that day is a situation that shakes the conscience of the believer and agitates his soul.
the comment in the verse is also suitable with the environment of transactions, the environment of giving and taking or profiting and rewarding. it is the final judgment for all the actions of the past. it is the final account for all what happened between all parties. so, the believing heart is afraid and cautious of that day.
taqwah9 is the dwelling guard in the depths of the conscience. islam founds this guard in the heart and he cannot run or avoid it because it lives deep inside. it is the first judge to one’s actions before any worldly law or supervision.
it is islam… the strong system, the perfect dream represented on an earthly fact. it is the mercy for mankind and honor given by almighty allah to man. it is the goodness that humanity seeks but it is hit back and pushed away from such goodness by the enemies of allah and the enemies of humans!
(1) riba: usury (taking an interest more than your capital sums)
(2) awj: aza-wa-jal (glorified and sublime be he).
(3) swt: subhanahu wa ta'ala (glorified and exalted be he).
(4) jahiliyah: in islam, the period preceding the revelation of the qur'an to the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him).
(5) al-abbas ibn abd al-muttalib: was a paternal uncle and sahabi (companion) of the prophet muhammad (pbuh), just a few years older than his nephew. a wealthy merchant, during the early years of islam he protected the prophet muhammad (pbuh) while he was in makkah, but only became a convert after the battle of badr in 624 ce (2 ah).
(6) ra: radya allah anhu/anha (may allah be pleased with him/her).
(7) zakat: (the term means "that which purifies" or "alms"), one of the five pillars of islam, is the giving of a fixed portion of one's wealth to charity, generally to the poor and needy.
(8) sharia: ("way" or "path") is the code of conduct or religious law of islam. muslims believe sharia is derived from two primary sources of islamic law: the precepts set forth in the qur'an, and the example set by the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) in the sunnah.
(9) taqwa (piety): the muslim concept of fear of allah.