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Friday, 28 February 2014

Gradual Approach in Prohibiting Riba (P. I)

Among the proofs of the realistic approach of shari`ah is gradation in legislation. In the previous two articles of this series, I studied the gradual approach of shari`ah in prohibiting intoxicants and the abolishment of slavery that prevailed the whole world even before the advent of Islam. It was evidenced that it was not Islam who brought slavery into this world as unfairly alleged by some biased Orientalists as well as Westerners.

Here, I would study the case of the prohibition of riba(usury or interest) as a third example of gradation in legislation. 

Meaning of Riba

Lexically, the word riba means excess, increase, augmentation, expansion or growth.
Mawdudi defines riba as “a predetermined excess or surplus over and above the loan received by the creditor conditionally in relation to a specified period.”[1]

On the exact meaning as well as relation between riba and interest, Kahf states,

Riba is defined with regard to financial transactions as any contractual increment in a loan or debt due to the time element. This is exactly what we know today as interest. Both legally and financially, interest is defined as an increment paid by the debtor to the creditor for granting a loan or for extending the maturity of an existing debt.[2] 
Types of Riba
There are two distinguishable types of riba: [3]
1. Riba al-nasi’ah: It occurs when the specified increase is in return for the delay of, or waiting for, the payment.
2. Riba al-fadl: It occurs when the increase is mentioned irrespective of the postponement and is not offset by something in return.

Islamic Ruling on Riba
As far as Islamic shari`ah is concerned, riba is condemned and prohibited in the strongest possible terms. This prohibition cannot be questioned or undermined in any way.

Allah Almighty says in the Ever-Glorious Qur’an,
{… whereas Allah permits trading and forbids usury (riba)}. (Al-Baqarah 2:275) ,
{Allah has blighted usury …}. (Al-Baqarah 2: 276) and,
{O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remains (due to you) from usury, if you are (in truth) believers. And if you do not, then be warned of war (against you) from Allah and His messenger.}. (Al-Baqarah 2: 278-9)
Kahf comments on the last verse as saying, “No other sin is prohibited in the Qur’an with a notice of war from Allah and His Messenger!”[4] Surely, this shows how grave the sin of getting involved in usurious transactions is in the sight of Allah and His Messenger.
Ibn `Abbas said that, “{Then be warned of war (against you)} means, ‘Be sure of a war from Allah and His Messenger.’ He also said, “On the Day of Resurrection, those who eat riba will be told, ‘take up arms for war.’ He then recited, {And if you do not, then be warned of war (against you) from Allah and His messenger.}. (Al-Baqarah 2: 279)”[5]
In the same vein, the Prophet’s Sunnah is abundant in hadiths that declare riba as unlawful as well as abhorred. To cite a few:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The wrath of Allah is on the taker of riba, its giver, its writer, and its two witnesses.”[6]
On the day of Fat-h Makkah (i.e., the opening of Makkah) the Prophet said, “All forms of riba during the time of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic period of ignorance) is annulled and under my feet, and the first riba I annul is the riba of al-`Abbas (the Prophet’s uncle).”[7]
Ibn Majah reported that abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger lah (peace be upon him) said, “Riba is seventy types, the least of which is equal to one having sexual intercourse with his mother.”[8] 
Ibn Mas`ud narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “May Allah curse whoever consumes riba, whoever pays riba, the two who are witnesses to it, and the scribe who records it.”[9]
It is also worthy of note that the wisdom behind the prohibition of riba is the elimination of injustice and the call for human brotherhood and cooperation. This will be clearly shown throughout the following lines. 
Catastrophic Effects of Riba
No one can deny the atrocities and catastrophes riba has brought to humanity both in the past and at present. The latest global financial crisis is a good example on this as attested to by financial specialists and economists from different backgrounds. Some Western as well as other countries still feel the pressure of that crisis from which their economies have not yet fully recovered.
To use Daryabadi’s eloquent words, “The devastating propensities of usury are visible to every eye. The evils attendant on it are neither few nor far between – the callousness it engenders, the profligacy it lets loose, the greed it encourages, the jealousy it breeds, the misery it entails, the abjectness it inculcates, and so on.”[10]Part of the wisdom behind the prohibition of riba – as hinted to earlier – is to fight all these injustices and more.
Moreover, “In the language of modern socialism, interest is an unjustifiable tax on the laboring classes, the unpaid wage of the laborer.” Accordingly, those who have abundance lend money and that money returns to them to increase that abundance, the increase being the unpaid dues of labor, which are the only source of legitimate wealth – “the rich are thus made richer and the poor poorer, by every fresh act of taking interest, and the stability of the social organism is thus disturbed.”[11]
Therefore, Islam clearly and decisively declares riba as unlawful, absolutely and unconditionally.
Let us take a look at the ancient civilizations to see their stand on riba. Greece and Rome both groaned heavily under riba’s yoke, but none of their legislators, like the economists of modern Europe, thought of banning it altogether. In Greece, ‘the bulk of the population became gradually indebted to the rich to such an extent that they were practically slaves’, and ‘usury had given all the power of the state to a small plutocracy.’ The Romans were nothing but worse than the Greek. ‘The attempt to regulate the rate of interest utterly failed. In the course of two or three centuries the small free farmers were utterly destroyed. By the pressure of war and taxes they were all driven into debt, and debt ended practically, if not technically, in slavery.’[12] 
Daryabadi further continues,
With all these horrors experienced and patiently borne, nobody ventured to eradicate the evil root and branch. The utmost that a Solon[13] among the ancients or a Bacon[14] among the moderns could advise to ‘grind the tooth of usury, that it bite not too much, that is to say, to regulate its rate, without attaching the slightest moral taint to the usurer’.
The Bible went no doubt many steps further inasmuch as it forbade the advance of usurious loans to the Israelites (Ex. 22: 25: DT. 23: 19). But even the Biblical prohibition did not include usurious loans to non-Israelites. It is the Ever-Glorious Qur’an which, to its everlasting glory, has categorically forbidden usury in all its forms.[15]
Even the people of jahiliyyah understood the fact that Allah is Good and does not accept but what is good and thus upon rebuilding the Ka`bah before Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent as Prophet, one of them, namely Abu Wahb ibn `Amr said,
“O Quraysh! Do not let into this building anything but lawful gains; so no harlotry,riba, nor unjust practices [should be included].”[16]
(On Islam / 28 Feb 2014)
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