Riba as described in the Qur'an and Sunnah

One of the areas of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) in which you will find most, if not all, scholars unanimous is regarding the prohibition of Riba. Muslim scholars have always understood Riba, which is prohibited in the Qur'an, to mean any increment in a lending contract, regardless of its size or rate. Despite the fact that money is indispensable to use in our daily affairs and the obvious importance of Riba in the books of Islam, very little i sknown about Riba.

Riba as described in the Qur'an

Prohibitions often come in the revealed Text in stages and the prohibition of Riba  is one of such. First, comes building moral resentment against taking Riba. Allaah says the Riba that you practice hoping to increase your wealth does not really increase in His consideration:

"Whatever you lend out as Riba to gain value through other people's wealth will not Increase in Allah's eyes, but whatever you give in charity, desiring Allah's pleasure, will earn multiple rewards." (Q30[Rum}:39)

Interestingly, this verse is Makkan and came several years before the actual prohibition of Riba. Second, comes the condemnation of Riba as a type of disobedience and a reason to earn the anger and punishment of Allaah:

"Because of oppression the Jews inflicted We made unlawful for them certain good and wholesome (foods) which had been lawful for them, 'and because of their hindering many (people) from the way of God, And of their taking Rlba though indeed they were forbidden it ... "(Q4[Nisaa}: 160-161).

The actual prohibition of Riba was only revealed in the third year of Hijra, after the defeat in the battle of Uhud. Defeated in the battle, there was a talk in Madina that the Makkans raised a lot of money through their Riba practtces to finance the revengeful l battle. The Verse that contains the prohibition of Riba is Q3: 130. It came within the context of uplifting the spirits of the defeated and putting their lives back together, offering them alternative means to raise funds for future

preparation.

"0 you who believe! Devour not. Riba, doubled and multiplied, and be careful of (your duty to) Allaah that you may prosper,"

Those who are familiar with the styles of Arabic rhetoric can tell that "doubled and multiplied" is a description of Riba, not a distinction between low and high 'usurious' rates forthe prohibition.

Finally, Allaah declares Riba res one of the gravest sins in Islaam and defines in clear terms what it means to abolish Riba practices from the society. However, the Verses that condemn Riba in the strongest terms are those of (Q2 [Baqarah]:275 - 280) To summarise take only the relevant sections of these Verses, they read:

"Those who devour Riba will not stand except as stands one whom the Evil one by his touch Hath driven to madness; That is because they say: "trade is just like Riba;" But Allaah has permitted trade and forbidden Riba."(Q2[Baqarah}: 175)

And;

"0 you who believe! Be careful of (your duty to) Allaah, and quit what remains of your practice of Riba, if you are indeed believers." (Q2[Baqarah}:278)

and;

"And if you do it not, take notice of war from Allaah and His Messenger." (Q2[Baqarah}:279)

Finally, the verse Q2:282 refers to an' alternative financing approach (deferred-payment sale that creates indebtedness):

"0 you who believe, if you deal with each other in transactions involving debt ... "(Q2 [Baqarah}:2 82)

The rationale behind the prohibition of interest in Islam suggests an economic system where all forms of exploitation ("neither wrong or be wronged") are eliminated. In particular, it condemns and denounce Riba practices calling them oppressive and unjust. The gravity of the sinfulness of Riba could not be clearer given that this is the only mention in the Qur'an of a 'notice of war from Allaah and His Messenger'. The Verses also clearly establish that any excess over principal is Riba  with an uncompromising position against rescheduling for an increment. Lastly, the Verses point to the deferred payment sale as Riba as described in the Hadeeth There are about 55 authentic ahaadeeth on the issue of Riba most of them reflecting.the meaningsgiven in the Qur'an. For the pyrpose of this article, y..eselect only a few ahaadeeth on the Riba of debts (Riba al-nasi'ah), the "Riba of the Qur'an".

The most popular report is the Hadeeth of the Farewell Speech given to the largest gathering ever in the life of the Prophet, (sallahu alayhi  wa sallam), during His farewell pilgrimage. He said:

" ... And every Riba of Jahiliyyah is abolished.Neither shall you make (the debtor) suffer injustice (loss), nor shall you be made to suffer injustice, But the Riba of al Abbas son of Abdul Muttalib, it is discarded, all ...

The next two ahaadeeth emphasizethe gravity of the sin of dealing in Riba: In the hadeeth of "the seven most devastating Sins", the Prophet, (salallahu alayhi wa sallam), counted:

"believing in partnership with God, murder .... and eating Riba ... " (Bukhari, Muslim) He also said:

"A Dirham of Riba, one knowingly eats, is more grave than thirty-six adulteries." (Ahmad)

Given the clarity and severity of the Qur'anic and Sunnah injunctions against Riba, it is surprising that, as an Ummah, we pay so little attention to it. One can hardly think of any other activity that portends such dire consequences from Allaah and His Messenger.

As always in Islaam, we are not just told what not to do, but are given the alternative. We are advised to employ financial structures that encourage ownership, risk and profit sharing. The deferred payment sale known as murabaha is one such example. Modern secular economics is debt-based using risk transfer whilst the Islamic approach is asset-based using risk sharing, thus creating owners rather then lenders and a fairer and more productive economic system. 

Duaa: "Oh Allaah! Let Your lawful sustenance suffice me against Your unlawful sustenance, and make me, by Your grace, dependent on none save Yourself"

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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