اَلَّذِيْنَ يَاْكُلُوْنَ الرِّبٰوا لَا يَقُوْمُوْنَ اِلَّا كَمَا يَقُوْمُ الَّذِيْ يَتَخَبَّطُهُ الشَّيْطٰنُ مِنَ الْمَسِّ ذٰلِكَ بِاَنَّھُمْ قَالُوْٓا اِنَّمَا الْبَيْعُ مِثْلُ الرِّبٰوا ۘ وَاَحَلَّ اللّٰهُ الْبَيْعَ وَحَرَّمَ الرِّبٰوا ۭ فَمَنْ جَاۗءَهٗ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِّنْ رَّبِّهٖ فَانْتَهٰى فَلَهٗ مَا سَلَفَ ۭ وَاَمْرُهٗٓ اِلَى اللّٰهِ ۭ وَمَنْ عَادَ فَاُولٰۗىِٕكَ اَصْحٰبُ النَّارِ ۚ ھُمْ فِيْهَا خٰلِدُوْنَ ٢٧٥
يَمْحَقُ اللّٰهُ الرِّبٰوا وَيُرْبِي الصَّدَقٰتِ ۭ وَاللّٰهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ كَفَّارٍ اَثِيْمٍ ٢٧٦
اِنَّ الَّذِيْنَ اٰمَنُوْا وَعَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ وَاَقَامُوا الصَّلٰوةَ وَاٰتَوُا الزَّكٰوةَ لَھُمْ اَجْرُھُمْ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ ۚ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا ھُمْ يَحْزَنُوْنَ ٢٧٧
يٰٓاَيُّهَا الَّذِيْنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَذَرُوْا مَا بَقِيَ مِنَ الرِّبٰٓوا اِنْ كُنْتُمْ مُّؤْمِنِيْنَ ٢٧٨
فَاِنْ لَّمْ تَفْعَلُوْا فَاْذَنُوْا بِحَرْبٍ مِّنَ اللّٰهِ وَرَسُوْلِهٖ ۚ وَاِنْ تُبْتُمْ فَلَكُمْ رُءُوْسُ اَمْوَالِكُمْ ۚ لَا تَظْلِمُوْنَ وَلَا تُظْلَمُوْنَ ٢٧٩
وَاِنْ كَانَ ذُوْ عُسْرَةٍ فَنَظِرَةٌ اِلٰى مَيْسَرَةٍ ۭ وَاَنْ تَصَدَّقُوْا خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ اِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُوْنَ ٢٨٠
وَاتَّقُوْا يَوْمًا تُرْجَعُوْنَ فِيْهِ اِلَى اللّٰهِ ۼ ثُمَّ تُوَفّٰى كُلُّ نَفْسٍ مَّا كَسَبَتْ وَھُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُوْنَ ٢٨١ۧ
Those who gorge themselves on usury cannot rise up except as he may rise up whom Satan has confounded with his touch. That is because they say, ‘Trade is
just the same as usury;’ whereas God has made trade lawful and usury forbidden. He who receives an admonition from his Lord, and thereupon desists [from usury] may retain his past gains, and it will be for God to judge him. Those who revert to the practice [of usury] are indeed the inmates of the fire, wherein they shall abide. (275)
God blots out usury and causes charitable offerings. to grow and increase. God does not love confirmed unbelievers who persist in wrongdoing. (276)
Those that have faith and do good deeds, attend regularly to their prayers and pay
zakāt, shall have their reward with their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear, nor
shall they grieve. (277)
Believers, fear God and give up what remains outstanding of usury gains, if you
are true believers. (278)
If you do not, then war is declared against you by God and His Messenger. If you
repent, however, you shall remain entitledto your principal. Thus, you shall commit no wrong, nor suffer any wrong yourselves.(279)
If [the debtor] is in straitened circumstances, grant him a delay until a time of ease. And if you waive [the debt entirely] as a gift of charity, it will be better
for you, if you but knew it. (280)
Fear the day when you shall all return to God; when every soul shall be repaid in full for what it had earned, and none shall be
The preceding passage discussed the ethics of charity and its role in society; the present passage deals with the opposite, dark side of the circulation of money, namely, usury, or to use the Islamic term, ribā. While charity denotes giving, generosity, purification, growth, cooperation and mutual social welfare, usury signifies stinginess, greed and self-aggrandizement. Charity is giving of one’s wealth without any expectation of recompense or repayment, while usury is the exaction of a charge over and above money owed, which is usually paid for out of the sweat and blood of the borrower, regardless of whether he profits as a result of the loan or not. It is perhaps significant that the sūrah should discuss usury immediately after dealing with a pleasant subject such as charity, in order to highlight the sharp contrast between the two, and their effects on people and society. No other issue has been condemned and denounced so strongly in the Qur’ān as has usury; nor has any practice come in for stronger warnings, spelling out fearful doom. Infinite is God in His wisdom. For, although it was one of the most pervasive evils during the pre- Islamic Dark Ages, most of its destructive aspects have only become better known in our modern society. Only today, in the light of widespread human suffering, can we appreciate the reasons behind the Qur’ān’s determined onslaught on this evil practice. Today, we are better placed than even the people of pre-Islamic Arabia to understand God’s wisdom underlying these principles, and the suitability of Islam for the organization of human society. In today’s world, we have all the signs and evidence we need to explain and confirm the words of the Qur’ān.
We can see what havoc and what misery a usury-based financial system has brought
upon the world, as well as the insidious destruction it has caused to the morals,
religion, health and economic strength of modern society. As the Qur’ān says, we are
witnessing a divinely-inspired war against all individuals, groups, nations and states
that persist in defying God’s commands concerning the practice of usury in its
The passage discussed in Chapter 18 laid down the basic principles for giving to
charity, for the sake of God, as an important part of the Islamic social and economic
system God has chosen for the Muslim community. It serves as a model for the rest
of mankind to emulate and enjoy. It is presented as an alternative to a wicked and
inhumane system based on usury.
We, thus, have two contrasting socio-economic systems: the Islamic system and
the usury-based un-Islamic system. They are based on totally different value systems
and views of the world. They can never be reconciled, as each leads in a completely
opposite direction to the other and aims to achieve different ends.
The economic system Islam advocates, like its overall view of life, is based on the
fundamental concept that God is the Creator and the undisputed master of all that
exists. God has struck a deal with mankind and delegated to man certain duties and
responsibilities on earth. He provided him with the tools, the materials and the
means by which he can exercise his authority and freewill. The main proviso of
God’s covenant with man is that man should live and behave according to God’s
laws. Only actions, morals, dealings or religious activities conducted according to
God’s law will be sanctioned and valid. The imposition of such activities by duress is
rejected and condemned as injustice. God is the ultimate ruler and arbiter, and
temporal human authority is derived from adherence to His law and code of living,
to which human beings are bound by their covenant with Him.
Another provision of God’s covenant with man stipulates that believers must look
after one another’s welfare and share the benefits of what God has provided for all of
them. This does not mean common ownership in the Marxist sense, but responsible
and regulated private ownership. Those who have should share with those who have
not and all are equally required to seek work and earn their living according to their ability. No capable member of society should live off someone else or become a
burden on the community. To support this system of social welfare, Islam has set up
zakāt as a fixed obligation on the well- off and encouraged voluntary charity without
God has also advised man to seek moderation and avoid lavish spending and
extravagant living. This would ensure sensible employment of wealth and a surplus
of funds for the payment of zakāt and a contribution to charitable causes.
Muslims are required to invest their money and seek the growth and development
of their wealth, by scrupulous and legitimate means, without exploiting others or
encroaching on their rights. Besides, it is not allowed to try to pervert, in any way,
the fair and healthy circulation of capital and wealth in society. The Qur’ān stresses
that wealth “should not be left to circulate only among the rich of you.” (59:7)
God has also enjoined honesty of intention and action and the integrity of ends
and means. He has laid down rules and ethics that should be observed in the
investment and development of wealth so as not to compromise the conscience or
morals of the individual, or undermine the life and welfare of the community. These
principles are laid down in accordance with Islam’s overall philosophy of life and
worldview, and in line with the terms and conditions of God’s covenant with man
that governs the whole range of human actions and activities in this world.
Thus we can see that usury as an economic instrument conflicts directly with the
very basic concepts of Islam, because it is based on the total rejection of God’s role
and the dismissal of all the principles and aims on which the divine code of living is
A usurious or interest-based system assumes a total divorce between the divine
will and human life, leading to the conclusion that man is the absolute master of this
world, not bound by any responsibility towards God or any obligation to respect His
teachings or commands. It also implies that man is free as to how he accumulates,
enjoys and uses wealth, and that in this regard he has no obligation whatsoever
towards God or, indeed, any liability to others; it would not matter if thousands or
millions of people were to suffer in the process.
Of course man-made laws may occasionally intervene to curb this freedom by
setting the rates of usury or banning certain fraudulent and illegal practices, but this
is usually dictated by expediency and popular convention rather than by
considerations of the principle laid down by a higher divine authority.
A usury-based system is founded on the erroneous concept that the accumulation
and enjoyment of wealth, regardless of the means, is the ultimate objective of human
life, which explains the resulting reckless and vicious rush for money-making and
Such a system brings nothing but misery and suffering upon individuals, communities, and nations, while it benefits only a few moneylenders. It undermines the moral and psychological fabric of society and creates a detrimental imbalance in
the distribution of wealth and economic development, leading, as it is doing at
present, to the concentration of power and influence in the hands of a few greedy,
unscrupulous, and malevolent individuals and institutions, at national and
international level, that reap the highest benefits but have no respect or regard for
human values and human effort.
These powerful individuals and institutions not only control the world economy
and international wealth, but they also wield enormous influence in several other
walks of life with the aim of enhancing their role and position in the world. Since
they are unscrupulous and unprincipled and look with disdain on religion and
morality, it is to their advantage to undermine religious belief and encourage moral
degradation, promiscuity and excessive spending. They manipulate the world
economy for their own benefit, manufacturing and fuelling regular economic crises
in various parts of the world and diverting economic and industrial production away
from the common world interest to areas that will give them the greatest advantage
and control of international wealth.
This catastrophic situation has been further exacerbated by the success of these
powerful finance centres and groups, through their strong influence in the political,
economic, media and entertainment worlds, to create the universal popular myth
that usury is a good and natural aspect of the economy, without which there would
be no economic prosperity or growth. It has been alleged that an interest- based
economy is the one responsible for the tremendous achievements and progress of
modern Western civilization, and that those calling for the abolition of usury are
unrealistic dreamers and idealists motivated by moralistic and religious
considerations that are capable, if given the chance, of corrupting the whole modern
economic system. What is more is that those who criticize the interest- based
economic system on these grounds are ridiculed by people who are in reality victims
of this very system. Another victim of the system of usury is world economy which is
forcibly set on the wrong course by international usurers. Thus, it suffers periodic,
stage-managed crises to ensure that all its benefits are reaped by such usurers, rather
than by humanity as a whole.
Some Western economists have recognized the fact that a usurious system is a
threat, from the purely economic point of view. One leading critic of the system, Dr.
Schacht, a former Governor of the German Central Bank, in a speech given in 1953 in
Damascus, said that with an infinite mathematical operation it would be possible to
show that the total sum of all liquid money in the world ends up in the hands of a
few usurers, because a usurer-lender gains in every deal while the borrower is
equally liable to gain or lose. Logically, therefore, money will ultimately end up with
the one who always gains. The majority of capital today is under the real control of a
few thousand people; while landlords, industrialists, farmers and traders who
borrow from the banks, as well as workers and ordinary consumers, are no more
than labourers working for the benefit of those in possession and control of capital.
That is not all that is wrong with a usury-based economy. The relationship
between capitalists on the one hand, and those working in commerce and industry
on the other, is based on mistrust, strife and resentment. Moneylenders try to make
maximum gains by lending their money, and therefore favour a squeeze on the
money supply to cause a rise in the cost of borrowing. This eventually leads td a
slowdown in the economy, a rise in unemployment, and a fall in /the purchasing
power of the individual. This creates a fall in industrial loans which, in turn, forces
the moneylenders to reduce the cost of borrowing, and a new cycle of growth and
prosperity begins, only to lead to another recession and more misery for borrowers
and consumers. It is this vicious circle of boom and bust that brings about the regular international economic crises.
In such an economy, every consumer pays part of the price of goods to the
moneylenders albeit indirectly. Industrialists and traders take the extra cost of
borrowing out of consumers’ pockets by raising the prices of goods and services,
thus spreading the burden over the widest possible area. Government borrowing to
finance public projects is also met by ever-rising taxes imposed on the earning
sections of the population, spreading the cost again over large numbers of people.
This led to the rise of colonialism, and remains the root cause of war and conflict in
the world today.
When considering the Islamic attitude to usury, we must bear in mind a number
of essential facts.
The teachings and ethics of Islam, as we have seen, are in total conflict with a
usurious economy. All the rulings, issued by the official ‘clergy’ in Muslim countries,
and the arguments advanced to show that usury may be accommodated into the
Islamic system, are pure humbug aimed at deceiving the public.
The usury system is a curse on all humanity, not only ethically and religiously, but
also economically and practically. It is a system that creates unhappiness and
restricts the growth of harmony and stability in society, despite its deceptive promise
Moral and practical considerations are inextricably linked. In all his actions, man is
governed by the terms of God’s covenant; he is here with a mission and a
responsibility and will have to account for his actions in the hereafter. An Islamic
economic system must be built on moral and ethical principles. Such principles are
not a merely desirable addition that can be done without in people’s life.
A usury-based economic system is bound to undermine the moral and ethical
character of individuals, their feelings and their desire to help each other. It
encourages greed, selfishness, lechery and speculation. In the modern world, it has
opened the gates for the most sinister and corrupting forms of investment ever
known, such as the drug trade, pornography, prostitution, all in pursuit of
guaranteed astronomical profits. Borrowed money is not used in the service of
humanity but for maximizing profit, regardless of the nature of the trade or the
methods by which that profit is realized.
Islam is a comprehensive way of life. Its economic system completely discounts
the need for usury and organizes the social life of the community in such a way as to
eliminate usury altogether. At the same time it maintains the balance and progress of
economic, social and human development in society.
Under Islam, there is no need for the abolition or removal of existing economic
and financial institutions, such as banks and commercial companies, which play a
vital role in modern economic development. Islam can reform these institutions and
enable them to function along the sound and constructive rules and regulations it
Most importantly, Muslims must realize that it is a conceptual impossibility that
God Almighty should prohibit something that is vital for the perpetuation and
preservation of human life. By the same token, no practice that is inherently corrupt
could ever be essential for the organization and progress of human life. A Muslim
who truly believes in God as the creator, preserver and controller of life and the world cannot conceive that God would forbid anything that is vital, or prescribe
anything that is vile or obscene. The reasons for widespread belief in usury-based
economic and financial systems can be traced to ignorance and the obnoxious
propaganda systematically waged by capitalist and money lending lobbies and
institutions. These continue to exert their pervasive influence on governments,
international political organizations, and private and public media and information
The claim that the international economic and financial systems cannot exist or
function without usury is simply a myth and a monstrous lie sustained by big
business and international vested interests. Usury-free economies have existed and
performed very successfully. To revive them today requires determination and a
concerted, well-considered international effort by at least the Muslim countries of the
world, in order to revive some hope of future stability, prosperity, happiness and real
peace and justice in our world.
It is beyond the scope of this commentary to discuss in detail the practical
methods of implementing the Islamic system. We will only look more closely at how
Islam succeeded in the eradication of that abominable practice of usury.
The Horrific Image of Usury
Those who gorge themselves on usury cannot rise up except as he may rise up whom
Satan has confounded with his touch. That is because they say, ‘Trade is just the same
as usury;’ whereas God has made trade lawful and usury forbidden. He who receives
an admonition from his Lord, and thereupon desists [from usury] may retain his past
gains, and it will be for God to judge him. Those who revert to the practice [of usury]
are indeed the inmates of the fire, wherein they shall abide. God blots out usury and
causes charitable offerings to grow and increase. God does not love confirmed
unbelievers who persist in wrongdoing. (Verses 275-276)
It is a frightening image, far more effective than any threat or admonition. The
image of a person possessed by the devil is an evocative and terrifying one, most
effective in deterring usurers and in conveying the message to others. It shakes the
human conscience and brings home the horrible reality of the effects of usury on
individuals as well as society as a whole.
Most commentators have suggested that the sūrah refers to rising before God on
the Day of Judgement, but I am of the view that this is a metaphor for what actually
happens in life on this earth. This interpretation is supported by a later passage
warning usurers of an impending war against them by God and His Messenger
which, in my view, we can see going on in the world today. The whole world is
currently reeling under the dire consequences of a pervasive international usurybased
However, before we study the Qur’ānic text in detail, let us review the different
types of usury, or ribā, known at the time of revelation and how the Arabs of the pre-
Islamic jāhiliyyah, or Dark Ages, viewed the whole practice of usury. There were two
main types, known in Arabic as ribā al-nasī’āh, increase related to deferment, and ribā
al- fađl, increase based on difference in quality.
Ribā al-nasī’ah, according to Qatādah, applies to selling goods on credit for an
agreed term. When the term expires, and the buyer finds himself unable to settle, the
seller raises the price in lieu of extending the settlement term. According to Mujāhid, if a borrower fails to settle a debt, he agrees to make an additional payment, over the
original loan, to the lender in return for an extension of the settlement period.
According to Abū Bakr al-Jaşşāş, ribā al-nasī’ah was no more than a deferred loan
conditional on an implied premium, the deferment being granted in return for the
additional payment over the original amount.
In his commentary, Imām al-Rāzī says that ribā al-nasī’ah was the more widely
known in the pre-Islamic days. People would advance money for a fixed term in
return for an agreed monthly fee, keeping the original amount unchanged. At the
end of the fixed term, the borrower would either pay back the original loan in full or
be granted an extension with higher monthly payments.
Usāmah ibn Zayd quotes the Prophet as saying: “Ribā al-nasī’ah [i.e. increase
related to deferment] is the only real form of usury.” [Related by al-Bukhārī and
Ribā al fađl [i.e. increase based on difference in quality] applies to premiums on
spot transactions involving the exchange of quantities of the same commodity, with
something extra: gold for gold, silver for silver, wheat for wheat, and so on. Such
transactions are considered usurious because they bring exploitation, a feature
common to all types of usury. This fact will be of great importance in our discussion
of the contemporary situation.
Abū Sa`īd al-Khudrī quotes the Prophet as saying: “Gold for gold, silver for silver,
wheat for wheat, barley for barley, dates for dates and salt for salt; may be
exchanged, measure for measure, from hand to hand [on the spot] . If either party
gives or seeks an increase, both parties are equally guilty of usury.” [Related by al-
Bukhārī and Muslim]
Abū Sa`īd al-Khudrī also reports that when Bilāl, the Abyssinian Companion of
the Prophet, once brought the Prophet some dates of excellent quality, the Prophet
immediately asked where he had obtained them. Bilāl said he had received them in
exchange for some dates of lower quality that were in his possession, two measures
for one. The Prophet was extremely displeased and said: “This is stark usury! It is the
very thing! Do not ever do it. If you wish to buy good dates, sell your dates in some
other way and then buy the good ones with what you receive.” [Related by al-
Bukhārī and Muslim]
That ribā al-nasī’ah is usurious is self-explanatory: it involves an increased payment
and time extension, the two essential elements of usurious transactions. In ribā al-fađl
there have to be real differences in quality of the same commodity which give rise to
an increase in the quantity of one over the other. This is clear in Bilāl’s transaction,
condemned by the Prophet as usurious, since it assigned different values to the two
types of dates. Hence the Prophet ordered that one type of dates should be sold for
cash, which is then used by the seller to buy the other type, thus removing all
suspicion of usury.
The requirement to exchange traded goods simultaneously, “hand to hand”, is
important in order to avoid any difference in the two quantities due to a lapse in time
which could affect their respective values. It also indicates how sensitive the Prophet
was to any suspicion of usury, and how sagacious was his approach in uprooting it.
There are those today, overwhelmed by the triumph of Western capitalism, who
wish to limit the definition of usury to ribā al-nasī’ah only, basing their reasoning on the report by Usāmah and definitions of usury in pre-Islamic Arabia given by some
early scholars. Later and new forms of usury that do not precisely fit those
definitions are, according to these pundits, allowed by Islam.
This is a symptom of spiritual and intellectual defeatism, because Islamic rules are
not decided merely on technicalities but on sound and firm concepts and principles.
Islam did not condemn one particular form of usury, but stood against it entirely in
theory and practice. It went so far as to forbid ribā al fađl in order to eliminate all
semblance of usury from Islamic monetary and economic systems.
This could only mean that all usurious dealings are forbidden, whether similar to
those known in pre-Islamic Arabia or it has a new shape. Wherever the essential
elements of usury are present in a transaction, it becomes forbidden. Similarly, any
transaction tainted by extortion, greed or an element of gambling, or otherwise
driven by the evil desire to make a profit by any means, is strictly outlawed.
Divine Admonition Remains Unheeded
“Those who gorge themselves on usury cannot rise up except as he may rise up whom
Satan has confounded with his touch.” .” (Verse 275)
This is a reference not only to those
who take interest or charge a usurious gain, but also to society as a whole.
Jābir ibn `Abdullāh reports that the Prophet has cursed the person who charges
usury, the one who pays it, the two witnesses and the one who writes the contract,
saying: “They bear the same responsibility. [Related by Muslim, Aĥmad, Abū
Dāwūd and al-Tirmidhī]
These rules apply to private, one-to-one transactions, while the whole community
is condemned to the onslaught of God’s wrath in societies where usury forms the
basis for financial transactions. Such a society lives in turmoil and constant
insecurity; and if there were doubts about this fact during the early days of the
capitalist system, some four centuries ago, its record since then totally vindicates it.
The world we live in today is full of anxiety, instability and fear. Western leaders,
intellectuals and scientists themselves admit to the frightening spread of nervous and
psychological diseases in the West, despite its spectacular industrial, scientific and
economic success. The other frightening aspect of today’s Western-dominated world
is the spread of conflict and strife, and the imminent threat of global war and mass
As a result, a dark cloud of depression and despair hangs over this world of ours
which Western civilization, with all its achievements and capabilities and wealth
cannot remove. What, then, is the point of material progress if it does not bring
happiness, peace and security to individuals and societies?
It is a fact that no fair-minded person could ever deny: the majority of people in
the most affluent and materially advanced countries, such as the United States of
America or Sweden, lead the most miserable lives. Anxiety, depression and boredom
are eating into people’s lives who, despite their affluence and energy, are driven to a
culture of fads and mental and sexual perversions, and all kinds of anti-social
escapist behaviour that allows them no peace or security.
The fundamental cause of this pervasive unhappiness is the spiritual wilderness in
which Western societies are living today. For, in spite of the prosperity and material
well-being they enjoy, these societies lack the spiritual reassurance and faith that can
only come with belief in God and placing our full trust in Him. They no longer have any universal goals or aims to aspire to. They have lost faith in human life and man’s
mission and role in the world as defined in God’s covenant with mankind.
From that fundamental cause springs the curse of usury which undermines the
whole economic edifice of society in such a way that the economy inflates but never
seems to grow in a healthy and equitable manner or benefit all sections of the
community. A usury-based economy is a lopsided one, in which the faceless
privileged few prosper to the most obscene extent at the expense of the industrial
and commercial resources of the community. Financiers and moneylenders control
the flow of money into the market and thereby impose their wishes and interests
rather than seek to meet the needs of the people or serve the public interest. Their
aim is not to provide regular employment or long-term security of income, leading to
happiness and social stability, but to maximize their own profits, even if that means
the suffering and deprivation of millions, or the destruction of the security and
welfare of the rest of mankind.
Those with vested interests objected to the condemnation and abolition of usury,
claiming that “‘Trade is just the same as usury;’ whereas God has made trade lawful and
usury forbidden.” (Verse 275) Their argument rested on the false assumption that the
objective of both trading and usury was to secure gains, but trading is open to the
risk of loss as well as to making profit. It also requires real tangible input from the
trader. Usury transactions, on the other hand, are aimed at bringing guaranteed
gains for the lender in any case. That is the crucial difference between the two. Any
transactions involving a guaranteed return for the lender, under all circumstances,
are usurious and, hence, forbidden. There can be no argument on this point. God has
permitted trading for many reasons that make it beneficial for human life, and the
absence of guaranteed returns is first among them.
However, Islam faced the situation existing at the time with realism, averting any
kind of economic or social upheaval. It declared its new rules effective immediately
and turned a new page with respect to what had been going on previously: “He who
receives an admonition from his Lord, and thereupon desists [from usury] may retain his past
gains, and it will be for God to judge him.” (Verse 275)
It seems to suggest that exoneration for previous usurious activities would be left
to God’s grace, thereby providing individuals with a stronger incentive to desist and
seek to conduct their trade without usury. Nevertheless, it goes on to warn those
who go back to such practices that they “are indeed the inmates of the fire, wherein they
shall abide.” (Verse 275) It affirms with power and authority for the benefit of those
who might delude themselves that the hereafter was a long way away, that: “God
blots out usury and causes charitable offerings to grow and increase. God does not love
confirmed unbelievers who persist in wrongdoing.” (Verse 276)
God’s words have come true. There is evidence that no society has built its
economy on usury and seen real prosperity, peace, security or happiness. A society
may indeed be outwardly wealthy, productive and affluent, but these are not
necessarily the signs of a blessed and fortunate society. Social welfare, integrity and
cohesion are only found in societies constructed on altruism, charity, tolerance,
compassion and open-handedness, and in which people vie only for the pleasure and
grace of God Almighty.
There are, of course, those who refuse to see these facts, because they are either consumed by greed and self-interest or blinded by the falsehood and the propaganda
perpetrated by those who have a real vested interest in the promotion and spread of
the odious practice of usury and the whole system based on it.
“God does not love confirmed unbelievers who persist in wrongdoing.” (Verse 276) This
statement clearly indicates that those who persist with usury, after all that has been
said about it, are guilty of grave wrongdoing and condemned by God. Evidently,
those who legalize what God has forbidden are guilty and damned, even if they
assert their belief in Islam with all the power at their disposal.
Islam is not mere words one utters, but a comprehensive way and system of life.
To reject a part of it is to reject it all. In this case, there is riot the slightest doubt that
usury is totally forbidden. Hence, to legalize it and build the life of society on it is
tantamount to unbelief.
In Perfect Contrast with Usurers
In contrast to the preceding example of disbelief and wrongdoing, the sūrah
presents the case of faith and righteousness, highlighting the essential attributes of
the community of believers and the basis of the economic system which disavows
usury and has the firm foundation of the important institution of zakāt: “Those that
have faith and do good deeds, attend regularly to their prayers and pay zakāt, shall have their
reward with their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Verse 277)
The main element in this verse is that of zakāt which denotes giving willingly,
expecting nothing from any human being in return. The verse also introduces a
feature of the community of believers and one of its important pillars, before it goes
on to describe the total reassurance, tranquillity and happiness such a community
The institution of zakāt represents the foundation of a caring, sympathetic and
supportive society, which has no cause to resort to usury in any aspect of its life. The
image of zakāt has faded somewhat in the minds of those unfortunate generations of
Muslims who have had no experience of life under Islam. They have not seen Islamic
laws, ethics and principles shaping the daily lives of people, and creating a healthy,
virtuous, decent society. They have had no experience of how zakāt works in practical
terms to bring about economic growth and prosperity as a reward for individual
diligence and honest cooperation.
These generations have become accustomed to the odious effects of the materialist
usurious system, which promotes greed, unashamed self- interest and social
antagonism. They have come to accept that economic and commercial life cannot be
run without usury, although under this system, the transfer of wealth is often
accompanied by exploitation, while people who have no money have no security in
life, and industry and commerce become hostages to the moneylenders.
To contemporary eyes, zakāt appears as an outdated form of charity that does not
fit into modern economic or financial systems. Yet zakāt is paid out by people
educated by Islam to implement Islamic laws and regulations, and to establish a
system that can hardly be imagined by those who have never experienced it. Zakāt is
levied by Muslim authorities at the yearly rate of 2.5 per cent on liquid money (or 5-
10 per cent on crops, and 20 per cent on mineral resources), as an incumbent duty
rather than optional charity. The authorities then distribute the proceeds among
those in need in the community as widely as possible, in order for the beneficiaries to meet their basic necessities and alleviate their hardships. Debtors who are insolvent
are helped with zakāt money to settle their debts, whether these are personal or
commercial. Poor people are helped to find appropriate work that makes them selfsufficient.
The form in which such a system operates is of secondary importance: what is
important is the spirit in which the system and society come together and function as
a whole to bring about genuine care and effective social welfare.
God promises those who conduct themselves according to the ethics and
principles of faith, in submission to the divine will and in a spirit of cooperation, that
they “shall have their reward with their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they
grieve.” (Verse 277)
On the other hand, God threatens the advocates of usury that theft will live in fear,
confusion, and insecurity, and that their society were to disintegrate. History has
witnessed the benefits of the Islamic, non_ usury system and its results in human
society. It is today witnessing the disastrous and oppressive effects of the usurybased
system that forms the core of contemporary civilization. We Muslims only
wish we could make others see the force of our argument against the evils of usury,
but all we can do is present the facts and hope that people will listen and heed our
warnings and advice.
Total War against the Usurers
Having evoked an atmosphere of calm and peace, the sūrah makes a final
passionate appeal to the true believers to eradicate usury and rid their society of it
completely, or face a relentless war waged against them by none other than God
Almighty and His Messenger: “Believers, fear God and give up what remains outstanding
of usury gains, if you are true believers. If you do not, then war is declared against you by
God and His Messenger. If you repent, however, you shall remain entitled to your principal.
Thus, you shall commit no wrong, nor suffer any wrong yourselves.” (Verses 278-279)
This passage makes the rejection of usury a condition of true faith; Muslims shall
only become true believers when they fear God and reject any usury money they are
owed. No faith could be claimed, even as a mere form of words, without total
acceptance of, and submission to, God’s will and command. The Qur’ān is very
explicit on this point and leaves no room for confusion. There is no chance for
anyone wishing to declare their faith and belief in God verbally, only to adopt a way
of life that is the antithesis of His laws and teachings. Those who separate religious
belief from their daily affairs of life are deluding themselves if they think they are
true believers, no matter how much they insist they are, or how regularly they
observe religious rituals.
The sūrah exonerates Muslims of all previous dealings involving usury, making it
clear that there would be no appropriation of property previously gained or acquired
through usurious transactions. Islam has laid down an important rule that
everything is permissible unless it is specifically declared otherwise, and no rules
may be retroactively applied. Everything done previously would be suspended and
left to God to judge and assess. Thus Islam ensured that the transition to a usury-free
system was smooth and with little, if any, social or economic difficulty. Only very
recently has this approach been incorporated into modern laws. Islamic legislation
deals with practical human situations, while always aiming at purifying society and
directing and promoting human progress and prosperity.
God also makes it a condition that Muslims, in order to be true believers, should
accept this legislation and implement it in their daily life as soon as they become
aware of it. The sūrah also stresses that fear of God and consciousness of Him are a
necessary corollary to following His teachings and implementing His laws. This fear
of God is an important safeguard for the enforcement of the laws and regulations,
reinforcing the guarantees inherent in them. Thus, Islamic laws have a far better
chance of being obeyed and adhered to than man-made laws. The enforcement of the
latter is solely contingent upon the force of external authority which is easily evaded
and circumvented in the absence of the inner incentives and convictions of a vigilant
The alternative is far more gloomy. “If you do not, then war is declared against you by
God and His Messenger. If you repent, however, you shall remain entitled to your principal.
Thus, you shall commit no wrong, nor suffer any wrong yourselves.” (Verse 279) What a
terrifying prospect! How could the frail and powerless humans even contemplate
going to war against God and His Messenger; the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Following the revelation of these verses, the Prophet instructed his governor in
Makkah to use force against the wealthy clan of al-Mughīrah if they refused to cease
dealing with usury. In his farewell speech in `Arafāt, about three months before his
death, the Prophet also declared that all usury originating in pre-Islamic times, and
still due at the time, is written off, starting with that of his own uncle al- `Abbās. This
crucial step in the transition into a fully-fledged, mature Islamic life came only many
years after the start of the Islamic mission, when the ideological and ethical
foundations of the society were firmly established.
In that speech, the Prophet said: “Every usury gain accrued according to the un-
Islamic practices of jāhiliyyah is under my feet, and I start with that of al-`Abbās.” He
did not, however, order repayment of any gains made during the pre-Islamic era.
Every Muslim ruler is required to combat usury and those who pursue it, even if
they declare themselves to be Muslims. The Prophet’s successor, Abū Bakr, used
force to crush groups of Muslims who, following the Prophet’s death, refused to pay
the zakāt they owed to the Muslim treasury, without renouncing any other precepts
or obligations of Islam. A person who refuses to implement God’s law, in daily life is
certainly not a Muslim.
The war that God and His Messenger are ready to wage against the perpetrators
of usury is much wider in concept than the use of armed force by a worldly ruler. It
is a warning of a total condemnation of all societies adopting usury as a basis for
their social and economic life. It is a war affecting the psychological, economic, and
emotional aspects of life. It is the social strife, acrimony and antagonism brought
about by the exploitative usurious system, as well as the regional and international
conflict and instability suffered in consequence by all humanity. It is a war instigated,
directly or indirectly, by moneylenders and international capitalists who, like sharks,
prey on corporations, businesses, industries, commerce, governments and states.
Their predatory activities are the root cause of runaway inflation, high taxation,
crippling international debts, recession and poverty, all of which are capable of
starting wars and fuelling bloodshed and destruction all over the world. The
outcome of this vicious circle of misery is economic deprivation, moral degradation,
social disintegration and the inevitable collapse of human civilization.
It is a relentless war that spares nothing, and it is currently eating into the very
fabric of human society as a result of the domination of the usury-based capitalist
system, even though this is registering astronomical levels of industrial production
and material consumption. This unprecedented industrial and material success
should have ensured man’s happiness, progress and well-being, but it has proved
suffocating and destructive for all mankind, except for the small section of privileged
financiers and capitalists, who are relatively unaffected by this misery and suffering.
Nevertheless, as it once called on that first community, Islam continues to call on
every generation of mankind to desist from the evil of usury and adopt clean and
wholesome monetary and commercial practices, assuring them that: “If you repent,
however, you shall remain entitled to your principal. Thus, you shall commit no wrong nor
suffer any wrong yourselves.” (Verse 279)
The objective of the persistent campaign against usury is to rid human society of
this universal evil and take life back to God’s pristine way, that humanity may be
spared the psychological, moral and social effects of the exploitation and injustice
that inevitably set in under a usury-based socio-economic system.
Recovery of the principal capital in commercial dealings cannot be said to be
unfair to either lender or borrower. There are countless legitimate ways and means
for investment, growth and development of capital, employing one’s own
entrepreneurial skills or by working in partnership with others, in which all parties
proportionately share in the loss and profit of the enterprise. These would include
many profitable and equitable forms of business such as trading in shares of
companies whose profits are fairly distributed among the shareholders, cooperative
banks that invest in commercial and industrial projects and share profits and losses
among depositors, rather than give a fixed rate return on deposits — such banks
would be entitled to charge appropriate service or management fees.
Kind Treatment of Insolvent Debtors
This passage dealing with lending and borrowing is concluded with advice on
how to deal with insolvent debtors. In such cases, the solution would not be to
impose further penalties in lieu of deferred payment, but the debtor should be
granted a reprieve until he is able to settle his debt, or the lender should be
magnanimous enough to write off the debt completely. “If [the debtor] is in straitened
circumstances, grant him a delay until a time of ease. And if you waive [the debt entirely] as a
gift of charity, it will be better for you, if you but knew it.” (Verse 280)
The words evoke an atmosphere of tolerance and benevolence. They provide a
respite from the harshness and severity of greed and selfishness. They call for
clemency and compassion on the part of creditor and borrower, as well as by society
as a whole.
These words may not make a great deal of sense to those ‘rationalists’ who apply
purely materialistic criteria. It makes even less sense to moneylenders, individuals as
well as faceless institutions, that justify their exploitative and extortionate practices
on utterly amoral and inhuman principles and considerations. These Qur’ānic
exhortations may never reach their hearts. But, as believing Muslims, we recognize
that these are words of truth that are certain to bring about happiness and security
for all mankind: “If [the debtor] is in straitened circumstances, grant him a delay until a
time of ease. And if you waive [the debt entirely] as a gift of charity, it will be better for you, if you but knew it.” (Verse 280)
Under Islam, a debtor is never put under duress by either the creditor or the law,
but is always given another chance to settle his debt. Furthermore, society at large
will not stand idly by when a borrower is suffering genuine hardship because of his
indebtedness. God calls on the creditor to willingly waive the debt, and if’ he does so
it will be good for him and for the debtor, and for the welfare and cohesion of the
community as a whole.
The abolition of usury would lose much of its purpose if the creditor were allowed
to harass and squeeze the debtor while he was not able to settle the debt. Thus the
sūrah urges that he should be given time to settle, and advises the creditor to waive
the debt, in full or in part. Other Qur’ānic statements (9: 60) specify that insolvent
debtors, who borrow money for legitimate purposes and are unable to pay it back,
qualify for help from zakāt funds to clear their liabilities and alleviate their situation,
provided that their debts were incurred for legitimate purposes.
Then, in a highly inspiring comment, the sūrah recalls the fearful Day of
Judgement when people shall stand defenceless before God to account for their
actions. These words cannot fail to move a thoughtful and conscientious person to
write off any money he might be owed by some helpless borrower. “Fear the day when
you shall all return to God; when every soul shall be repaid in full for what it had earned, and
none shall be wronged.” (Verse 281)
The day to be feared is awesome indeed. Believers’ hearts dread the events of that
day when all will be made to stand in front of God to face the reckoning of their
deeds. This verse serves as a fitting comment on a passage devoted to the liquidation
of past unfair dealings.
This fear is the powerful ‘voice within’ which Islam kindles in the deepest recesses
of people’s minds and hearts to act as a potent guiding force in life. Thus Islam
proves yet again how vigorous, well-integrated, practical and merciful it is, and
demonstrates that its overriding aim and objective is the happiness and well-being of
man as an individual, and of human society as a whole.
سورہء آل عمران
يٰٓاَيُّھَا الَّذِيْنَ اٰمَنُوْا لَا تَاْ كُلُوا الرِّبٰٓوا اَضْعَافًا مُّضٰعَفَةً ۠ وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُوْنَ ١٣٠ۚ
وَاتَّقُوا النَّارَ الَّتِىْٓ اُعِدَّتْ لِلْكٰفِرِيْنَ ١٣١ۚ
Believers, do not gorge yourselves on usury,
doubling [your money] again and again. Have
fear of God, so that you may prosper. (130)
Guard yourselves against the fire which has been
prepared for the unbelievers; (131)
Usury: The Way to Inevitable Ruin
Believers, do not gorge yourselves on usury, doubling (your money] again and again.
Have fear of God, so that you may prosper. Guard yourselves against the Fire which
has been prepared for the unbelievers; and obey God and the messenger, that you may
be graced with mercy. (Verses 130-2)
We have discussed the subject of usury in detail in our commentary on verses 275-
81 of sūrah 2, entitled al-Baqarah, or The Cow. Here we will only briefly comment on
the subject of multiplication of the principal sum of a loan. Some people in our modern times want to manipulate this verse in order to make lawful what God has forbidden. They say that the prohibition is limited only to excessive usury which leads to the multiplication of the principal amount of money time after time. They further claim that rates of interest of 4, 5, 7 or 9 per cent and similar rates do not lead to any such multiplication. Hence, they argue, they are not included in the prohibition of usury.
Let us begin by stating clearly that the reference to multiples is simply a description of something that was happening in life. It is not a condition for the prohibition to operate. The Qur’ānic statement in sūrah 2, The Cow, makes a clear prohibition of all usury. It addresses the believers and bids them “give up what remains outstanding of usury.” (2: 278) It applies to all that exceeds the principal amount, without qualification.
Now that we have established this principle, we have a word to say about its description. It is in fact not a description of the usurious transactions which took place in the Arabian peninsula at a particular point in history. It is a description of the horrid system of usury per se, regardless of the rate of interest. When a financial system is based on usury it makes the financial cycle revolve around it. We have to remember that usurious transactions are neither single, isolated transactions nor simple ones. They are both repetitive and compounded. When we add the element of time to these two aspects we find that they inevitably lead to the multiplication of the
principal amount time after time.
By its very nature, the usury system leads to such multiplication. The description here is not, therefore, limited to transactions known in Arabia at the time of the revelation of this verse. It is characteristic of this system at all times. This system inevitably leads to the corruption of the moral and psychological life of society inasmuch as it corrupts its financial and political life. It has, therefore, a definite and clear influence on the community and all its members.
As Islam began to mould the Muslim community, it was keen to ensure a pure psychological and moral life for it, as well as a sound and healthy financial and political basis. The effect of these elements on the battles fought by the Muslim community is well known. Hence, the inclusion of the prohibition of usury within the Qur’ānic commentary on the Battle of Uĥud is readily understood in the context of this complete system. This prohibition is also coupled with an order to fear God in the hope of achieving prosperity, and to guard against hell, the fire prepared for the unbelievers. This is again a most fitting comment. No one who fears God and fears
the fire prepared for the unbelievers will gorge himself on usury. No one who believes in God and removes himself from the ranks of unbelievers will ever think of making profit through usury. To believe in God is not simply a word we utter; it is a conscientious following of a system which God has devised in order to be a practical translation of our faith. Believing in God is simply the introduction for this implementation and for shaping the life of the community according to Islamic directives and commands.
It is impossible in any case for faith and usury to exist side by side. Wherever usury is adopted as a system the faith of Islam, as a whole, does not exist. There can only be the fire which has been prepared for the unbelievers. Any argument against this is simply futile. The fact that these verses combine the express prohibition of usury with calling on the believers to fear God and guard against the Fire is not a mere coincidence. It is made in order to establish this fact clearly in the minds of Muslims. It is also made in the hope of achieving prosperity through abandoning
usury and maintaining fear of God. For prosperity is the natural outcome of fearing God and implementing the Divine method in human life. We have already discussed the catastrophic effects of usury on human society. We have only to remind ourselves of these catastrophic effects in order to recognise the meaning of prosperity in this context, and the fact that it is made conditional on abandoning this hateful system. The final comment here is given in these words:
“… Obey God and the messenger,
that you may be graced with mercy” This is a general command to obey God and His Messenger which makes mercy conditional on this obedience. As it is given, however, in the form of a comment on the prohibition of usury, it acquires a special significance: God and His Messenger cannot be obeyed in any society which adopts a system of usury. No one who accepts usury in any shape or form is obedient to God and His Messenger. This comment, then, serves as further emphasis to the prohibition.
Moreover, this order is particularly relevant to the events of the battle in which the commands of the Prophet were disobeyed. It re-emphasises this obedience as the means to achieve prosperity and benefit by God’s mercy.
فَبِظُلْمٍ مِّنَ الَّذِيْنَ هَادُوْا حَرَّمْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ طَيِّبٰتٍ اُحِلَّتْ لَهُمْ وَبِصَدِّهِمْ عَنْ سَبِيْلِ اللّٰهِ كَثِيْرًا ١٦٠ۙ
وَّاَخْذِهِمُ الرِّبٰوا وَقَدْ نُھُوْا عَنْهُ وَاَ كْلِهِمْ اَمْوَالَ النَّاسِ بِالْبَاطِلِ ۭوَاَعْتَدْنَا لِلْكٰفِرِيْنَ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابًا اَلِـــيْمًا ١٦١
So, then, for the wrongdoing of the Jews did
We forbid them some of the good things of
life which had been formerly allowed to
them; and, indeed for their turning away
often from God’s path, (160)
and for their taking usury although it had
been forbidden to them, and their wrongful
devouring of other people’s property. We
have prepared for the unbelievers among
them grievous suffering. (161)
“So, then, for their wrongdoing of the Jews did We forbid them some of the good things of life which had been
formerly allowed to them; and, indeed for their turning away often from God’s path, and for
their taking usury although it had been forbidden to them, and their wrongful devouring of
other people’s property. We have prepared for the unbelievers among them grievous
suffering.” (Verse 160-161)
This statement adds to the list of evil deeds perpetrated by the Jews some very
serious ones which were not mentioned earlier. This includes wrongdoing, turning
away from God’s path, which they do all the time, and their accepting usury, not
because of lack of knowledge, for they have been forbidden all forms of usury, but
because they pay no heed to the instruction. The list also includes the fact that they devour other people’s property wrongfully, through usury and other methods. For
all these wrong deeds and the others mentioned earlier, many of the good things of
this world, which they have been permitted to enjoy, have subsequently been
forbidden them. God has also prepared grievous suffering for those who disbelieve.
Thus, the nature of the Jews and their history is revealed. Their thinly disguised
excuses for not responding favourably to the Prophet are laid bare. If they were
stubborn with the Prophet, they had been stiff and stubborn with their own Prophet,
leader and saviour. It is so easy for them to violate God’s laws and to speak ill of
prophets and righteous people and indeed to kill them and boast about their crimes.
By bringing all this into the open, the Qur’ān renders futile all their schemes and
plotting against the Muslims. The Muslim community learns about the nature of the
Jews, their methods and their opposition to the truth whether its advocates are
people from among them or from other nations. In all generations and with their
friends and enemies alike, they oppose the truth and its followers just as they oppose
Divine guidance and its advocates. Their hearts are hardened and they do not submit
to the power of the truth unless the sword is held over their heads.
It was not only for the benefit of the first Muslim community in Madinah that the
nature of this type of people was exposed. The Qur’ān is the book of the Muslim
community, serving as its source of guidance for the rest of time. When this nation
refers to the Qur’ān for advice and guidance about its enemies, it will certainly
provide that. It has given the Muslim community the advice and guidance it needs
concerning the Jews. Therefore, the Muslim community was able to bring them to
submission. But when the Muslims abandoned the Qur’ān, they had to submit to the
Jews. We have seen them gather together only to be defeated by a small force of Jews,
simply because they neglected their book of guidance, the Qur’ān, preferring to
follow different doctrines and creeds. They will continue to submit to the Jews and
suffer from their scheming until they turn back to the Qur’ān.
The sūrah, however, does not neglect to give credit to those few Jews who believe
and submit to the truth. It includes these among believers, states that they will be
well rewarded, and testifies to their being well versed in knowledge. It states that it is
their profound knowledge that led them to believe in the Divine faith as a whole,
including what was revealed to the Prophet and what was revealed before him:
وَمَآ اٰتَيْتُمْ مِّنْ رِّبًا لِّيَرْبُوَا۟ فِيْٓ اَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ فَلَا يَرْبُوْا عِنْدَ اللّٰهِ ۚ وَمَآ اٰتَيْتُمْ مِّنْ زَكٰوةٍ تُرِيْدُوْنَ وَجْهَ اللّٰهِ فَاُولٰۗىِٕكَ هُمُ الْمُضْعِفُوْنَ 39
Whatever you may give out in usury so
that it might increase through other
people’s property will bring no increase
with God, whereas all that you give out
in charity, seeking God’s countenance,
will bring you multiple increase.
At that time some people tried to increase their money by giving gifts to wealthy
individuals, hoping that they would receive better gifts in return. The sūrah tells
them that this is not the way to achieve true growth: “Whatever you may give out in
usury so that it might increase through other people’s property will bring no increase with God.” This is what some reports mention as the meaning of this statement, but it is a
general statement that applies to all methods people use to usuriously increase their
wealth.15 God also makes clear the way that ensures true growth: “Whereas all that
you give out in charity, seeking God’s countenance, will bring you multiple increase.” (Verse
This is the guaranteed way of increasing money: to give it freely, expecting no
favours from anyone, but seeking only God’s pleasure. Is He not the One who gives
sustenance in plenty or in small measure? Is He not the One who bestows or denies
favours? He, thus, gives in multiples to those who spend of their money for no
reason other than to please Him. He also takes away from the usurers who seek to
increase their wealth at other people’s expense. One method makes its calculation by
15 This method is not forbidden like other methods based on usury. However, it is neither a proper nor honourable way to increase wealth. Rhis world’s standards, while the other looks at the standards of the life to come, when rewards are given in multiples. This last method is the one that makes realprofits both in this life and in the life to come.