Riba or Usury: The Greatest Shackle of All Time
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
“O YOU WHO BELIEVE! EAT NOT RIBÂ (USURY) DOUBLED AND MULTIPLIED, BUT FEAR ALLÂH THAT YOU MAY BE SUCCESSFUL.”
RIBA’ or USURY is forbidden in Islam. When Islam was the supreme law in Muslim lands, this abominable practice was non-existent. Today, however, there is not one Muslim country that prohibits usurious establishment in its own soil. Banking, which is the forerunner of Riba, had been part of the modern Muslim world since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.
Riba’ can be considered the greatest shackle around the neck of the Muslim Ummah today. It is all around us, and it governs almost all financial transactions on the surface of the earth. The world in general had come under the rule of Riba’ Empire, including the so-called ‘Superpowers’. Truly, “those who devour usury will not stand except as stand one whom the Evil one by his touch hath driven to madness (Qur’an 2:275).
Muslims have committed an act of Riba’ knowingly, unknowingly and through unavoidable circumstances so to say. The first is abominable, the second is equally blameworthy and the third is hard to prove. But all are still involved in the transaction “cursed” by no less than the Messenger of Allah (saw). So if you find yourself cursing the banks or loan sharks that feed on your misery, you are not alone, the Prophet of Islam is with you, except that you too disobeyed him. A well-known hadith taught us that the Prophet (saw) “cursed the devourer of usury, its payer, its scribe and its two witnesses” (narrated by Hazrat Jabir r.a.).
Moreover, Riba’ is not just a mere prohibition in Islam so that we will not become slaves to it. It is actually a declaration of war against Allah and His Messenger. Knowingly committing Riba’ therefore is knowingly accepting the “notice of war from Allah“, unknowingly getting involved in Riba is unknowingly accepting the “notice of war from Allah”, while committing it because of ‘emergency’ is still getting into the place that has challenged the “notice of war from Allah.” This is because the Qur’an clearly stated that “if you do not give up Riba’, then take notice of war from Allah and His Messenger (Qur’an 2:279). May Allah free us from Riba’.
Islam is basically anti- Riba’ and this is one of its main incompatibilities with other ideologies. However, Islam is not alone in condemning Riba. In ancient Vedan text, usury is considered worse than slaying the Brahman (Vasishtha 2: 40-51), while the Bible is replete with its condemnations. How Jesus Christ “overthrew the tables of the moneychangers” inside the temple is a well-known subject (Matthew 21:12). Today, those who came under the mercy of the banks not only consider Jesus Christ an anti-usury figure but also the originator of “Occupy Wall Street” (Jackson 2011). Alas, the world has betrayed him once again.
Furthermore, Ezekiel is full of attacks against usury likening it to the worst abominable crimes. While in Exodus 22:25, it says, “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.” Interestingly, we find a kind of twist in Deuteronomy 23:20, it says “You may charge interest to foreigners, but you may not charge interest to Israelites, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you do in the land you are about to enter and occupy.”
Many ancient western thinkers too like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, among others, had spoken against usury. It was even made completely illegal in the Republic of Rome in the year 340 B.C. (McIntosh & Visser, 1998). In his book entitled Politics, Book I Part X, Aristotle calls it “most hated, a breeding of money and most unnatural”(Faux Capitalist 2010).
In the 19th Century, the most remarkable warning against usury and banking was the one made by Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), the Third President of the United States. He was quoted as saying: “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” (sovereignfellowship.com,2007). How prophetic! Today, we are all witnesses to the accuracy of this statement from the great president.
We can also find an extensive renunciation of usury written by a well-known German priest who started the Christian Reformation, Martin Luther (1483 –1546). It is sad to note that even during his time, he admitted that the evil of usury “had gone too far to be checked by his writing” (truecovenanter.com, 2008).
True enough, in today’s world, we get horrendous problems regarding this prohibited transaction. There is hardly any modern man today who is free from the stain of Riba’. For as long as we use the banking system, we get involved in Riba’, although we may never intended to commit it, if we may add. Clearly, when we get loans, we commit Riba’. What is even more unfortunate is that even if we don’t, our money in the banks or in lending agencies that collect money from its members are still loaned out. And worst, whenever we use paper money (who does not?), we are effectively using Riba’ money. That is because all paper money practically exist due to Riba transactions, agreements and contracts between banks, between nations, between corporations and between us and the lender or the bank. Such is our predicament!
What can we do now?
- We may avoid using money by bartering goods but this is a communal effort. It takes a lot of efforts too from your end. But this is doable with conviction.
- We may also opt to finally live a self-sufficient life in the farm or in an island where we could simply plant our food, catch our meal and fetch free water. In fact, this is the common trend in the minds of city-dwellers although not necessarily tied to the numerous loans they accumulated. Yes, being free of water bills, electric bills, phone bills, and other bills has never been a luxury. We have to salute those folks in rural areas and protect their settlements.
- And/or use gold and silver money which hopefully will materialize in the near future. This is problematic though on bigger transactions, or money transfer, not to mention the amount of safety precautions required to carry it or keep it safe. But security is another issue which can be addressed separately. Securing ourselves first from Riba is unquestionably more than a priority.
Obviously, the alternatives are quite hard. For one, we can’t easily leave Google, Yahoo, Blogger, WordPress, Twitter and Facebook. Secondly, embracing today’s realities is the way to move on; also most of us have no other place to go except survive in the city. Thirdly, even gold, silver and diamond deposits and mines are generally owned or controlled by the same entities who own the paper money industry. In fact, the entire world has come under the rule of the banking empire. So is there no way out?
What about facing the system of Riba’ squarely on our own terms? Sounds feasible, but how? This now brings us to the system called Islamic banking. Yes, we have this financial system that enables us not just to face other banks squarely but also to topple them in the same playing field. It has been operational in many Muslim countries for several decades now. This Islamic banking system has been catering to the needs of observant Muslims worldwide, but as usual, its Islamic parameters are still unacceptable to other sectors in Muslim society. Their reasons though hold water.
Nevertheless, if we base its existence on the Islamic principle of ‘Darura’ or overriding necessity, like our situation now, there may be grounds to use Islamic banking despite oppositions towards it. It may also be argued that with the onset of globalization, digital transactions, frequency of travel and speed of money transfer from all corners of the world, Muslims will once again find themselves in a bind without the said principle and the system of Islamic banking in place.
In recent years, the popularity of Islamic banking broke into the awareness of the modern world when big western banks collapsed one after the other, bringing down into the abyss of economic crisis many of the rich nations that used to be its success stories. This has led many people, even non-Muslims, to appreciate and support Islamic banking. In fact, many international banks today have windows for Islamic banking transactions.
Despite the promise of Islamic banking however, it still cannot stand independently of other conventional banks. Meaning, the present system we have still deals with Riba money, still supports Riba system and is supported by Riba’ system. In short, “it is still subject to laws governing conventional banks” (Khan and Mirakhor 1990). The only breath of fresh air perhaps is that transactions with its Muslim clients are at least carried out as Islamic as it can be.
Many Muslim scholars have spoken for and against Islamic banking, and debates on this important topic are an on-going subject. On an individual level, considering the strong words of Allah against Riba’ coupled with the curse of the Prophet (saw) against those involved in Riba, it is only natural for Muslims not to take the case of Riba’ lightly. May Allah forgive us, guide us and have mercy on us.
The danger of Riba’ or usury cannot be overstated. We are already living the time ” when everyone will take riba and if he does not do so, its dust will reach him” as foretold by the Prophet (saw). Therefore, any effort towards saving mankind from the curse of Riba is more than just a relief. It means freedom for all of us.
In this light, we express our gratitude to the scholars and leaders who enlightened us about the banking system, and who tirelessly campaign for the re-establishment of the Shari’ah compliant gold and silver money. Worth mentioning are the Murabitun Movement under the leadership and guidance of Sheikh Abdalqadir As-Sufi; Sheikh Imran Hosein for his invaluable lectures on the subject; Dr. Umar Vadillo, for pioneering the Dinar’s reintroduction; the leadership and the people of the State of Kelantan, Malaysia for launching the use of Dinar and Dirham on the 12th of August 2010 (DinarMas.com 2012); the Federal State of Malaysia for allowing the use of Dirham coins in the streets of Malaysia (dinarwakala.com 2009); the leadership and staff of the Sulu Darul Islam for their struggle to bring the Tausug people out of the shackle of Riba’ and historical injustice (muslimsofnorwich.org.uk 2012), as well as the many Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals who all contributed to the awakening of mankind to the evil of usury.
May Allah grant more power to those who strive to free mankind from the greatest shackle of all time.——-calliter—— 10 February 2012
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