O believers! Do not devour one another’s wealth by evil
means except through trading by mutual consent. (4:29)
This verse prohibits a person from devouring other
people’s wealth through means which are against justice, honesty, fairness and
good conventions. It is this directive of the Qur’ān which forms the basis of
all prohibitions in Islam that pertain to economic matters. Obtaining money
through theft, usurpation, lying, co-operation with evil, embezzlement,
misappropriation, consuming unclaimed items without publicising them, all come
under it. These evils require no further discussion since they are universally
acknowledged sins in every society and every religion. Transactions and
activities which become a source of deceit or damage for the parties involved
are also corollaries of this directive. Their various forms which the Prophet
forbade (sws) in his own times are:
Selling fish which are as yet in water.
Selling the offspring of an animal prior to their birth
while they are in the foetal stage.
Selling milk while it is in an animal’s udders except if
its quantity is ascertained.
Selling the spoils of war before they are distributed.
Selling something before its possession is taken.
Selling run-away slaves.
Selling grain bought in mounds before bringing it to the
place where it is sold.
Selling and purchasing done by a city dweller for a
Increasing one’s bid in an auction only to deceive others.
Bargaining when some one else is bargaining.
Darbah al-Ghā’is: Deals in which a sea-diver is told that
whatever he gathers in a dive will be bought from him for a certain amount of
Exploiting others in sale and purchase.
Muhāqalah: Selling crop when it is still in the spikes.
Muzābanah: Selling the dates which are on a date tree in
exchange for plucked dates.
Mu‘āwamah: Selling the fruits of trees for many years.
Thaniyā: Leaving an unspecified exception in a bargain.
One of its forms, for example was that the seller would say: “I sell my grain to
you, but I will take something out of it”.
Mulāmasah: Deal in which a person, without thinking, just
touches the other person’s cloth and a deal is made in this manner.
Munābazah: Deal in which people throw something towards
one another and, in this way, a bargain is made.
Bay‘ al-‘urbān: Deal in which money given in advance
becomes the right of the seller if the deal does not ultimately take place.
Bay ’ilā habl al-hablah: Deal in which people sell camels
by saying: “Whatever offspring this camel gives birth to and when that offspring
gets pregnant, whatever it gives birth to, then the [last] offspring is bought
Bay‘ al-Hisāh: (Deal of pebbles). In pre-Islamic times,
such a bargain existed generally in two forms: (1) people would make a deal
about a piece of land and then the buyer would throw a pebble; the distance
covered by the pebble would be regarded as the length of the sold land, (2)
people would throw a pebble and say that whatever thing it touched would be
considered as sold.
Selling fruits of a tree before their quality and
characteristics becomes evident.
Selling spikes before they turn white and become safe from
Selling wool while it is still on an animal’s body.
Selling butter oil before it is extracted from milk.
Selling a commodity which is defective, except when the
buyer is informed of its defects.
Holding the milk of camels and goats in their udders
before selling it.
Intercepting tradesmen and buying their merchandise before
they reach the markets.
Making a deal by giving money in advance such that a
person obtains the item after it is ready except if this transaction is carried
out for a fixed measure, a specified weight and a definite period of time.
Mukhābarah: Adopting the methods of crop-sharing
(Mudār‘aat) in which the profit of the landlord is fixed before hand.
Adopting methods of crop-sharing (Mudāra‘at) in which the
production of a particular area of land is regarded as the right of the
Selling jointly owned properties without giving the
shareholders a chance to buy them except if the ownership divisions are
determined and the paths are separated.
Selling property which lies on a pathway that is common
with a neighbour’s house without giving him the chance to purchase it.
Storing commodities of general use to create a shortage
and thereby increase their prices in the market. The Prophet (sws) utterly
forbade this and is reported to have said:
He who hoarded edibles for forty days should know that he
has no relationship with the Almighty, nor does the Almighty have any
relationship with him. (Musnad Ahmad Bin Hambal, Vol 2, p. 33)
On another occasion, he remarked:
He who interfered in any way to increase the rates in the
markets of the Muslims, the Almighty has the right to make his abode in a great
fire on the Day of Judgement. (Musnad Ahmad Bin Hambal, Vol 5, p. 27)
These are the various forms of sale and purchase and
crop-sharing which the Prophet (sws) prohibited in his times. Since all the
above mentioned directives are based on the underlying bases of deceit and
damage, the directive of prohibition will stand dissolved in circumstances in
which these bases no longer exists, just as if as a result of evolution of
societies these bases emerge in some new economic activity, then those charged
with authority can prohibit that activity.
Bribery, gambling and interest also belong to this
category of devouring wealth through evil means. This writer will now venture to
elaborate the view of the Qur’ān on these three horrendous crimes.
The Qur’ān says:
Do not devour one another’s wealth by evil means and do
not use it as a means to reach the authorities in order that you may devour
other people’s wealth even though you know that it is a sin. (2:188)
In the words of Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, this verse sheds
light on the various aspects of bribery as follows:
Firstly, it is the greatest means of usurping the rights
of others. Consequently, it is mentioned right after devouring one another’s
wealth through evil means in the above quoted verse. The reason for this is that
the real utility of the law in being the custodian of people’s rights is totally
dependent on the honesty and righteousness of the law enforcing authorities.
They are the ones who protect the law in reality. So, if they are made corrupt
through some means, then this only means that rights of people can now be sold
and purchased. Anyone having money can buy them. This makes bribery the most
effective way to make the authorities dishonest and unfair in their dealings.
Secondly, the greatest factor which promotes bribery is
the society itself. When the tendency of usurping others’ rights manifests
itself in people, they adopt bribery to quench their evil thirst and illegally
gratify the authorities. The authorities, as a result, get so used to taking
bribes that they do not give people their legal rights unless they are given
bribes. It is because of this reason that Islam at the very outset directed the
society to refrain from this /evil, as this evil will turn their own custodians
into their worst enemies. It is evident from certain Ahādīth that as a
precautionary measure, Islam even discourages people from giving gifts and
presents to government officials and similarly it discourages the officials from
accepting them as this might open the door to bribery.
Thirdly, the fact that bribery is a universally
acknowledged sin. Sense and reason, human nature and intuition, conventions and
customs of a society all regard it so. All the religions of the world
unanimously prohibit it. Consequently, the closing part of the verse is: “and
you know this”. (Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, Vol 1, p. 465)
It is on account of these aspects of bribery that the
Prophet (sws) severely condemned people who are involved in it. To quote Abū
The Prophet has cursed the person who gives bribes and the
one who accepts bribes. (Kitāb al-Aqdīyyah)
Gambling, everyone knows, is merely chancing one’s luck.
The Qur’ān has called it rijsun min ‘amal al-shaytān (from among the filthy
works of Satan). Obviously, this is because it gives rise to moral misconduct in
a person which gradually encompasses his personality. The reason is that if an
economic activity is based on rights and services and rational decisions, it
produces a high moral character, and if an economic activity is based on mere
chance, fortune and fortuity, it produces an attitude which is based on
avoidance of hard work and service. This gives rise to such mean qualities as
cowardice and faint-heartedness which subsequently eliminate the innate
qualities of honour, integrity, sincerity and self-respect. As a result, a
person becomes unmindful to the remembrance of the Almighty and to the prayer,
and instead of having love and affection for his fellow beings, he has nothing
but enmity and hatred left for them. The Qur’ān says:
O ye who believe: this liquor and gambling and idols and
these divining arrows are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them that you may
succeed. Satan seeks to stir up enmity and hatred among you by means of liquor
and gambling and to keep you from the remembrance of Allah and from the prayer.
Will you not then abstain from them? (5:90-91)
An important point to note is that gambling in pre-Islamic
times was a means through which the rich showed their generosity and helped the
poor and needy. In winters, when cold winds blew in and caused conditions akin
to drought, the courageous would gather at various places, drink liquor and in
their state of inebriation slaughter any camels they could get hold of. They
would pay the owner of the camels whatever price he demanded. They would then
gamble on the meat of the slaughtered camels. Whatever parts of meat a person
won in this gambling, he would generously distribute them among the poor who
would gather around them on such occasions. In the pre-Islamic Arabia, this was
a matter of great honour and people who took part in this activity would be
considered very philanthropic and generous. The poets would narrate the accounts
of their benevolence in their odes. On the other hand, people who stayed away
from this activity would be called “Barm” (stingy).
It was this very utility of liquor and gambling which
prompted people to inquiry when they were regarded as prohibited items. The
Qur’ān asserted in its reply that in spite of possessing this benefit, they were
instrumental in producing moral misconduct in an individual, which in no case
can be allowed:
They ask you about liquor and gambling. Tell them: there
is great sin in them and some profits as well for people. But their sin is
greater than their profit. (2:219)
Interest is also a similar sin that morally pollutes a
person as well as the institutions involved in its transactions. Those who lend
on interest totally safeguard their capital by not risking it in any way and
extort profit from the poor borrower. In Arabic, it is called ribā and the
Qur’ān has used this very word for it. Everyone who understands Arabic, knows
that it implies a fixed increase which a lender demands from the borrower just
because he has given him the permission to use his money for a certain period.
The Qur’ān has vehemently prohibited it in the following words:
Those who devour interest will rise up on the Day of
Judgement like the man whom Satan has driven to madness by his touch because
they claim that trading is like interest and how strange it is that Allah has
permitted trading and forbidden interest. Consequently, he who received this
warning from the Almighty and desisted [in obedience thereto], then whatever he
has taken in the past belongs to him and his fate is in the hands of Allah. And
those who repeat [the offence] will be companions of the Fire and will abide
therein forever. (2:275)
O you who believe! Fear Allah and give up what remains of
your demand for interest. If you do it not, beware of war from Allah and His
Prophet. And if you repent, then you can have your principle amount. Neither
will you be allowed to deal unjustly nor will you be dealt with unjustly.
The reason why devourers of interest will be raised up on
the Day of Judgement as madmen is their expression of amazement on the fact that
the Almighty has not prohibited trading while He has prohibited interest,
whereas there is no difference between the two. They maintain that if a trader
can demand profit on his capital, why can’t a lender on interest demand profit
on his capital. According to the Qur’ān, only a madman can give such an insane
statement and such insanity demands that its reward be no different than
insanity itself. So in accordance with the law of similarity between the act and
its reward, such people would be raised up as madmen on the Day of Judgement.
Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, while commenting on this
expression of amazement of the interest devourers remarks in his exegesis
It is evident from the objection raised by the interest
devourers that the breed of people who regard interest and trading as analogous
to one another is not very rare after all. It was found even in the olden times.
The Qur’ān has not even commented on this foolish objection since its
baselessness is self evident and only sheds light on the insanity of those who
have raised it. A trader invests his capital in a trade which is in demand from
the people. He makes his merchandise available to people through hard work and
by taking a lot of risk. These people, in the first place, were not in a
position to produce this merchandise themselves, and if at all they had been
able to do this then they would have given a given a heavy cost for it.
Moreover, a trader spews his capital in the open market for competition and his
profit is determined by the low and high trends of the market itself. He may end
up losing all his money due to these trends and he may be able to make some
profit. So his hands are tied in this enterprise as he cannot earn a
single penny of profit in selling his merchandise until once again his invested
capital enters the market after being exposed to the risks and fluctuations of
the market forces and after once again providing service to the society.
So how can the enterprise of a trader who takes risk and
provides service to the society when he invests his capital be compared to that
of an interest devourer whose enterprise is mean, callous, cowardly and hostile
to humanity in its nature. He is a person who is not willing to take the
slightest risk with his capital but is very eager to extort profit. (Vol 1, p.
It is because of this fiendish nature of interest that the
Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
So great a sin is interest that if it is divided into
seventy parts, then lightest of these parts is equal in its extent to
fornication with one’s mother. (Ibn Mājah, Kitāb al-Tijārāt)
Although the Qur’ān has prohibited only the taking of
interest, yet an essential corollary of this is that without any genuine plea a
person who gives interest or writes down its transaction or bears witness to it
be regarded as equal criminals on the principle of Ta‘āwun ‘alā al-ithm
(co-operation with evil). Consequently, it is narrated by Jābir (rta):
The Prophet has severely condemned the devourer of
interest and the one who pays interest and those who write an agreement [for
such lending] and the two who are the witnesses to this document and has said:
All of them are equal. (Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘)
The Prophet (sws) has emphatically directed people to
refrain from the slightest possible trace of interest while borrowing in barter
If you lend gold, then take back the same type and the
same amount of gold; and if you lend silver, then take back the same type and
the same amount of silver; for he who gave more or desired more, then this is
precisely what is interest. (Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘)
If you lend gold in exchange for silver, then there is a
possibility of interest in this.
Similarly, for wheat in exchange for another type of wheat,
barley in exchange for another type of barley, date for another type of date.
Indeed if the exchange is done on the spot, then there is no harm. (Muslim,
This is the correct meaning of the above quoted Ahādīth.
If all the Ahādīth on this topic had remained intact, the scholars of our Ummah
would not have faltered in interpreting them. However, owing to the
misinterpretation of the narrators in some chains of narration, the words “on
the spot” or those of similar meaning of the second Hadīth were incorporated in
the first one; similarly, the words “gold in exchange for gold” of the first
Hadīth were put in place of the words “silver in exchange for gold” of the
second. It is because of this intermingling of words that our jurists have
erroneously derived the concept of Ribā al-Fadl from such Ahādīth. Whereas the
correct concept in this regard is what the following words of the Prophet (sws)
say: “Ribā is only in transactions of loan.” (Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘)
It should be borne in mind that interest pertains only to
those transactions in which a commodity is borrowed for the purpose of ‘using it
up’ whereby the borrower would be burdened to recreate it in order to return it
to the lender. If any additional amount is demanded over and above it, then this
no doubt is injustice as affirmed both by reason and revelation. On the
contrary, transactions in which the commodities and items in question are ‘used’
rather than being ‘used up’ relate to lease, and the money demanded by the owner
on providing this service, which is termed as rent, can in no way be objected
Similarly, it should also remain clear that whether a loan
is acquired for personal or business or welfare purposes, the real meaning of
Ribā is not ascertained on these bases. It is an indisputable fact that in the
Arabic language the word Ribā, irrespective of the aim of the lender and the
condition of the borrower, just implies a predetermined increase acquired on a
loan. Consequently, the Qur’ān itself has clarified this fact: during its own
period of revelation lending on interest for business purposes was quite rampant
and these loans were given that they might increase manifold by prospering in
the wealth of others:
That which you give as loan on interest that it may
increase on [other] people’s wealth has no increase with Allah; but that which
you give as Zakāt, seeking Allah’s countenance, it is these people who shall get
manifold [in the Hereafter] of what they gave. (30:39)
The expression “…that it may increase on [other] people’s
wealth” is not only inappropriate for application to interest based loans given
to the poor for their personal use, but is also clearly indicative of the fact
that interest based loans were generally given for business purposes and in this
way they “increased on other people’s wealth” according to the Qur’ān.
It is to this fact that the following verse also points:
If the borrower is in difficulty grant him respite until
it is easy for him to repay and if you write off [the debt], it is better for
you, if you only knew. (2:280)
Imām Amīn Ahsān Islāhī comments on this verse in the
Today some naive people claim that the type of interest
which prevailed in Arabia before the advent of Islam was usury. The poor and the
destitute had no option but to borrow money from a few rich money-lenders to
fulfil their personal needs. These money-lenders exploited the poor and used to
lend them money at high interest rates. It is only this type of interest which
the Qur’ān has termed as Ribā and forbidden. As far as commercial interest is
concerned, it neither existed at that time nor did the Qur’ān prohibit it.
The verse categorically refutes this ‘allegation’. When
the Qur’ān says that if the borrower is in difficulty, he should be given
respite until he is able to pay back his debt, it clearly points out that in
those times even the rich used to acquire loans. In fact, if the style and
stress of the verse are correctly understood, it becomes clear that it was
mostly the rich who used to procure loans. Indeed, there was a strong chance
that the borrower would find himself in difficulty even to pay the original
amount. The money-lender, therefore, is directed to give him more time and if he
forgoes the original amount it would be better for him. The words of this verse
strongly indicate this meaning. The actual Arabic words of the verse are: wa in
kāna dhū ‘usratin fa naziratun ilā maysarah. The particle of condition in (if)
is not used for general circumstances, but, in fact, is used for rare and
unusual circumstances. For general circumstances the particle idhā is used. In
the light of this, it is clear that the borrower in those times were generally
affluent (dhū maysarah) but in some cases they were poor or had become poor
after acquiring the loan and in that case, the Qur’ān has directed the
money-lenders to give them a time rebate. (Tadabbur-i- Qur’ān, Vol 1, p.
He has concluded this discussion by saying:
Obviously, the affluent would have turned to the
money-lenders not to fulfil their personal needs, but, of course, their business
needs. So what is the difference between these loans and the commercial loans of
today? (Tadabbur-i- Qur’ān, Vol I, p. 639)
Since the prohibition of interest totally eliminates any
incentive of profit in lending money, as an obvious outcome, no institution
which provides capital to investors on loan can be established. The Qur’ān by
prohibiting interest therefore, does not merely prohibit a type of fiscal
transaction, it actually razes down this pillar of capitalism -- the institution
of Banking. Of course, it can only be left intact if the spirit of the law which
prohibits interest is violated without actually violating the law.
Now as far as the question of organizing national savings
is concerned, it can be resolved in the following manner in the opinion of this
Firstly, on the principle of “.. lest wealth should only
circulate in the rich among you (59:7)”, national savings should not be allowed
to be organised in the private sector. All banks should be converted into
various branches of the Bayt al-Māl where people can deposit their savings.
These branches should provide protection, exchange, short term loans and other
similar facilities. In return for this service, the government should be allowed
to invest the deposited funds to establish a broad-based public sector according
to the requirements of the country, upon the precondition that without being
given any profit on the original amount, a depositor would be returned his money
Secondly, the industrial enterprises and units so created
in the public sector should be run by the government, and, wherever it is
required, the private sector should also be called upon to participate in their
running and management by buying a certain quantity of the shares of these
enterprises. Alternatively, by imposing Khirāj (tribute) on some of these
industrial ventures, the government may entrust their entire management to a
party of the private sector just as the Caliph ‘Umar (raa) had done with the
conquered lands of Syria and Iraq, which he had kept in state ownership and had
entrusted their management to their original owners, imposing a fixed tribute on
them according to their produce.
Thirdly, the stock market should be cleansed from gambling
and from transactions which may become a source of deceit or damage for either
party and be organised in such a transparent manner that people can become
shareholders without any hesitation in the various projects of the private and
It is the firm belief of this writer that if these three
measures are adopted, then the world can find itself blessed with an economy
that is the golden mean between the extremes of modern day economic ideologies –
an economy emancipated from the curse of capitalism and from the coercion of
(Translated from Ghamidi’s “Mīzān” by Shehzad Saleem)