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In the Name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful


It is generally believed that Islam, the Religion of the Muslims, prohibits Interest - additional money charged for use of money borrowed, that is.

But does it?

That was the question that arose in my mind when I made a serious study, for the first time, of the relevant Qur'aanic verses. The Qur'aan is the fundamental religious book of Islam.

The Qur'aan, as a matter of fact, prohibits what it terms as Ar-Riba. It is an Arabic term and many Muslim scholars believe that it is synonymous with Interest. They believe that the Qur'aan itself does not define the term. They therefore, by a general consensus among them, consider the term to mean Interest.

The Qur'aan, however, is claimed to be a Divine Book. It should, as such, be free from human errors and shortcomings. The Book itself, moreover, asserts that its essence lies in its clear, explicit and unambiguous verses. Such verses have been further explained variously therein to make them understandable to mankind. The other verses, which are allegorical in nature, are only informative, for example, of life after death, Paradise, Hell etc.

Now by no stretch of imagination can the Qur'aanic verses on Ar-Riba be termed as allegorical. These verses contain specific instructions for mankind from its Creator. These have necessarily therefore to be part of the essence of the Book - clear and unambiguous.

The Muslim scholars' belief that the Qur'aan itself has not defined Ar-Riba, or made its meaning clear, contradicts the above Qur'aanic assertion. Such beliefs, therefore, deserve to be rejected outright by all believing Muslims.

What should the believing Muslims do then?

They should read the Qur'aan. This, in fact, was the very first commandment given by God to Prophet Muhammad [May peace and God's blessings be upon him]: 'Iqra', the Arabic word for 'Read' [See Q: 96.1; i.e., verse 1 in Chapter 96 of the Qur'aan].

But alas! Most Muslims nowadays follow this divine commandment only in letter, and not in spirit. They read, but they do not try to understand what they read. Had they tried, they would have known that further down in the Qur'aanic Chapter quoted above, God Almighty has explained the purpose of His said commandment. He commands mankind to read because it is through the written words that people learn what they do not know. How can they learn if they do not even try to understand what they read? How indeed!

To read the Qur'aan in order to understand it is therefore a duty enjoined on all Muslims. Being thus duty-bound, I studied the seven or so verses on Ar-Riba.

I found that the meaning of the word was made clear in the very first verse revealed on the subject matter! And the meaning was further explained, in its various aspects, in the rest of the verses on Ar-Riba subsequently revealed!! Just as asserted in the Qur'aan.

Yes, readers of the foregoing paragraph would be sceptical. A question would arise in their minds. How come, the scholars could not see the meaning, if it was so apparent there in the Qur'aan?

The same question arose in my mind - not once, but several times. Every time it arose, I went back to studying the Ar-Riba verses afresh. And every time I came back with fresh nuances in the meaning that only helped me in grasping the Qur'aanic Concept of Ar-Riba better. It made me marvel at the wisdom of prohibiting it (Ar-Riba) for mankind.

The more I studied, the more I wondered as to how could the scholars be so nave. How could they think that the All-Wise, All-Knowing God could not or would not make the meaning of such an important injunction of His, crystal clear? How could He thus leave mankind, His own creation, groping in the dark?

The answer that I could guess to all those questions lay in quite human a trait - that of stubbornness. This trait induces man to stick to his views on any matter, come what may. It makes difficult for him to perceive any fault, mistake, error or shortcoming therein. And, unfortunately, he sometimes goes to any extent to make his views appear correct.

That is why, I think, Muslims generally have come to adopt a narrow and apparently unjust interpretation of Ar-Riba in preference to the Qur'aanic Concept thereof. The Qur'aanic Concept, I find, is so elaborate that it encompasses all transactional injustices. In fact, the injunction against Ar-Riba along with the divine sanction accorded to Bai'a (honest and legal business) [Q: 2.275], is the basic Islamic Principle of Economics. Any nation, rigorously following this principle, should in due course find even its tottering economy becoming viable, vibrant and flourishing.

"How could you be so sure?" you may ask, "You could also be a victim of the same human trait you described a while ago." Yes, I could. But I could also be right. It is you, dear readers, who have to take the ultimate decision on this, for yourselves. It would be a very important decision, mind you. All I ask is that you be true to your conscience, which is also a source of God's guidance.

I have recorded my findings in a book with the title, ISLAM & INTEREST. Please click here to get further info about this book.

Mohammad Shafi

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