By ABDUR RAHIM
RIBA is an Arabic noun derived from the verb Raba meaning ‘to increase’, ‘to grow’, ‘to exceed’.
So why is it that many Muslims feel it is less problematic to engage with riba, to treat the issue lightly when it is just as significant, in fact more significant, than other of the major sins. You don’t find Muslims looking for concessions to make lawful the previously mentioned foods or drinks or making marriage to the previously mentioned people permissible (Halal).
In the Qur’an, Allah does not declare war on anyone except the people who deal in riba:
“O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remains from riba if you are true believers. And if you do not, then be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger…” [Qur’an, 2: 278-279]
“Those who devour riba will not stand (i.e. on the Day of Judgement) except like the standing of a person beaten by Satan leading to madness. That is because they say: ‘Trade is like riba,’ but Allah has permitted trade and forbidden riba. Those who after receiving direction from the Lord, cease, shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for Allah (to judge); but those who repeat (the offense) are the dwellers of the Fire. They will abide therein forever.” [Qur’an, 2: 275]
Allah promises prosperity in this world and the next to those who refrain from and cease this abominable practice:
“O you who believe, do not devour riba, doubled and multiplied but fear Allah; that you may really prosper.” [Qur’an, 3: 130]
Those who devour riba are the rejectors of faith:
“That they took riba although they were forbidden and that they devoured men’s property wrongfully. We have prepared for those among them who reject Faith a grievous punishment.” [Qur’an, 4: 161]
Everyone who has something to do with riba, whether he is one of the main parties involved or is a middleman or facilitator, has been cursed. The companion Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:
“The Messenger of Allah cursed the one who accepted riba, the one who paid it, the one who recorded it, and the two witnesses to it.” He said: “They are all alike.” (Sahih Muslim)
‘Aun ibn Hanifa reported from his father that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had condemned both the receiver of interest and its payer. (Bukhari)
Based on this, it is not permitted to do work that involves writing riba-based contracts and conditions, paying or receiving riba, depositing it or guarding it. Generally speaking, it is Haraam (prohibited) to be directly or indirectly involved with riba in any way, shape, or form.
It is also reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Avoid the seven sins that doom a person to Hell.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, what are they?” He said:
The ugliness of this major sin can also be seen in the following words of the Prophet (peace be upon him):
During the Israa’ (the ascension), the Prophet (peace be upon him) passed by a group of people, whose stomaches were like that of houses. In these houses were snakes that could be seen from the outside. So the prophet asked Jibreel (Angel Gabriel) about them at which he said: “They are the ones who deal with riba.” (Ahmad)
Why Islam Prohibits Riba
- Riba is a sure gain without any possibility of loss, hence all the risk is taken by the borrower, rather than sharing the risk and the profits.
- Riba retards economic growth and development.
- Riba is one of the major contributors of inflation.
- Riba negates the culture of brotherhood and sympathy.
- From a moral and spiritual point, riba is clearly based on greed, selfishness, parsimony, narrow-mindedness and hard-heartedness. It nurtures the same evils in the money lender.
Types of Riba
There are many prophetic traditions (hadith) of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that inform us of the types of riba practiced during his time. These practices are of two types – Riba Nasia and Riba al-Fadl.
1. Riba Nasia – Interest on Debt
This type of riba was quite widespread and well-known during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and was practiced in a variety of ways:
1. The creditor would lend money to a debtor for a fixed period of time. When the time had expired and the debtor was unable to pay the debt, he was allowed more time to repay it on the condition that he would repay more than the principal.
2. The creditor would lend a debtor money for a fixed period of time at a determined rate of interest to be paid monthly. When the time had elapsed the debtor returned the principal to the creditor.
3. The creditor would lend a borrower money for a fixed period of time at a determined rate of interest to be paid together with the principal on the expiration of the time.
Note how the first point is what many Muslims today fall for – the much-publicised “interest-free” offers. These offers are a pure form of riba nasai. If the full loan amount is not repaid within the specified term, interest is then charged on the full loan amount.
Late Fees and Credit Cards
Similarly, charging late fees for overdue payments falls under riba nasai. Therefore, it is prohibited (Haraam) to charge an excess fee for late payments. If a person knows that they will be forced to pay an extra amount of money for an overdue invoice, they should ensure prompt payment to avoid paying an amount which constitutes riba. Credit cards which allow for an interest free period falls in under this category.
What must be remembered is that the contract taken out for such loans remains an Islamically void contract, because of the stipulation of riba within it, and the ease through which interest will be paid, hence making the Muslim liable for the punishment for their heinous sin.
2. Riba Al-Fadl – Interest in Trade
This type of riba is the payment of an addition by the debtor to the creditor in the exchange of commodities of the same kind, such as money for money, flour for flour, rice for rice, etc. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Gold is to be paid by gold, silver by silver, wheat by wheat, barley by barley, dates by dates, and salt by salt, like by like, payment being made on the spot. If anyone gives more or asks for more, he has dealt in riba. The receiver and giver are equally guilty.” (Sahih Muslim)
An example of riba Al-Fadl is found in the hadith collected by Bukhari:
“Once Bilal brought Barni (a kind of dates) to the Prophet and the Prophet asked him,
‘From where have you brought these?’ Bilal replied, ‘I had some inferior type of dates and exchanged two Sa’s of it for one Sa’ of Barni dates in order to give it to the Prophet to eat.’ Thereupon the Prophet said, ‘Beware! Beware! This is definitely Riba (usury)! This is definitely Riba (Usury)! Don’t do so, but if you want to buy (a superior kind of dates) sell the inferior dates for money and then buy the superior kind of dates with that money.’”
Ruling on taking out a riba-based loan out of necessity
Some scholars have given an Islamic ruling (fatwa) that when a situation becomes too difficult and over-bearing, that a Muslim may engage in riba-based transaction when they enter into a state of “adversity” or “necessity” (Daroorah). However, this issue is very sensitive as many Muslims, out of their ignorance, mistreat this rule. For example they neglect the principle which says: “The state of necessity should be dealt with in proportion to its measure.” Therefore it is very important to mention the constraints and conditions under which the rule of necessity is applicable. Some of these are:
· That the level of harm associated with the unlawful action be less than that caused by the state of necessity.
· That the permissible degree or amount of the unlawful action he is allowed to commit be just enough to get him out of the state of necessity.
· That there is no other alternative in facing the state of necessity other than committing the unlawful act.
· That the duration of the concession be restricted to the duration of its cause.
· That the necessity is actually existing and not only anticipated or expected.
· When someone is faced by necessity and all its conditions and constraints are observed then the unlawful thing becomes lawful to him.
It is the duty of Muslims everywhere to strive to find lawful alternatives to alleviate the state of necessity (Daroorah) and save themselves from the need to adopt unlawful ways.
Of main concern here is Muslims acquiring home loans, citing the case of necessity. The case of necessity for purchasing a house does not exist in Australia, as a Muslim can find accommodation through renting, and cannot use personal fear of future events as an excuse. In this scenario, we could make all sins into cases of Daroorah. Furthermore, there is no definitive proof that we could use such an excuse in front of our Creator on the Day of Judgement, and avoid the horrific punishment mentioned earlier. Once a home loan is acquired, the heart becomes hard through disobedience to Allah’s commands, and it becomes easier to accept other forms of riba.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) narrated about a man undertaking a long and tedious journey. His hair is disheveled and his body is covered from head to foot with dust. He raises his hands towards the heavens and cries out in supplication saying: “O Lord! O Lord!” whilst his food, drink, clothing and nourishment has been brought upon what is prohibited. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “How can his prayer be granted when such is the case?”
“And whoever transgresses the set limits of Allah, then indeed he has wronged himself.” [Qur’an, 65: 1]
And Allah knows best.