Chapter 11: Fundamentals of Islamic Economic System by Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry



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Fundamentals of Islamic Economic System

By Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry



  1. The Qur’an on Interest

  2. Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad on Interest

  3. Types of Riba at the Advent of Islam

  4. What is Riba?

  5. Interest and Trade

  6. Interest and Zakat

  7. Interest and Rent

  8. Why is Interest Prohibited?


I- The Qur’an on Interest

At the time of emergence of Islam, the institution of interest existed in the Arabian society both in the transactions of money loans and barter transactions of commodities. Since it was deeply rooted in the economic life of the people, the injunctions of the Holy Qur’an on its prohibitions were gradually revealed, like those regarding prohibition of wine, so that the economic life of the people may not be abruptly disrupted. Following are the verses of the Holy Qur’an which deal with interest :

1.   Those who swallow usury cannot rise up save as he ariseth whom the devil hath prostrated by (his) touch. That is because they say: Trade is just like usury; whereas Allah permitteth trading and forbiddeth usury. He unto whom an admonition from his Lord cometh, and (he) refraineth (in obedience thereto), he shall keep (the profits of) that which is past, and his affair (hence-forth) is with Allah. As for him who returneth (to usury) – such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein. Allah hath blighted usury and made almsgiving fruitful. Allah loveth not the impious and guilty.


2.   O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remaineth (due to you) from usury, if ye are (in truth) believers. And if ye do not, then be warned of war (against you) from Allah and His messenger. And if ye repent, then ye have your principal (without interest). Wrong not, and ye shall not be wronged.


3.   O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubling and quadrupling (the sum lent). Observe your duty to Allah, that ye may be successful.


4.   Because of the wrong-doing of the Jews, We forbade them good things which were (before) made lawful unto them and because of their much hindering from Allah’s way: And of their taking usury when they were forbidden it, and of their devouring people’s wealth by false pretences. We have prepared for those of them who disbelieve a painful doom.


5.   That which ye give in usury in order that it may increase on (other) people’s property hath no increase with Allah; but that which ye give in charity, seeking Allah’s countenance, hath increase manifold.


If put in the order of revelation, the above verses gradually prohibited interest. The first verse of the Holy Qur’an (30:39) which was revealed regarding interest compares it with Zakat and states that interest does not increase one’s wealth, in fact it decreases it, whereas Zakat increases it manifold. In the next verse (3:130), the believers are told not to devour compound usury doubling or quadrupling the sum of loan. In the next two verses (4:160-161), the Muslims are warned to obey the Qur’anic injunctions of prohibition of interest lest they suffer the fate of the Jews who infringed prohibition of interest and will meet a painful doom. Then comes the famous para of the revealed book of Islam (verses 275,276,278 and 279 of chapter 2) which finally prohibited interest. It distinguishes between trade (Bai) and interest (Riba). It condemns usury and the usurer and praises the fruitfulness of charity. It absolutely prohibits charging of usury and commands the believers to give it up and get back only their principal amounts of loans. Finally, it warns them to take notice of war from Allah and Allah’s Messenger if they violate prohibition and revert back to usury.

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II- Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on Interest

In this section we are reproducing some of the well-known Ahadith of the Prophet of Islam which show that the Prophet has not only condemned ‘Riba’ (interest) in possibly the most serverest terms but has also identified it in money as well as in commodity transactions in very clear words. These Ahadith facilitate our understanding of the Islamic concept of ‘Riba’ and bring into focus its various aspects for our guidance. The relevant Ahadith are:

1.   Abu Sayeed al-Khodri reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Gold for gold, silver for silver, wheat for wheat, barley for barley, date for date, salt for salt and like for like in hand to hand (transaction). Whoso gives more or takes more, then the taker and the giver are equal in taking interest therein.


2.   Abu Sayeed al-Khodri reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Don’t sell gold for gold unless like for like and don’t increase something of it upon something, and don’t sell silver for silver unless like for like and don’t increase something of it upon something, and don’t sell the absent therefrom for the present. Agreed upon it. In a narration: Sell not gold for gold, nor silver for silver unless like for like.

(Bukhari, Muslim)

3.   Abu Sayeed reported that Bilal came to the Holy Prophet with Barni dates. The Prophet asked him: whence is this? He replied. There were old dates with me and I sold out of them two sa’as for one. He said: Alas! Veritable interest! Don’t do (it), but when you intend to purchase, sell the dates for purchasing another kind, and then purchase therewith.

(Bukhari and Muslim)

4.   Osamah-b-Zaid reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Usury is in promise. And in another narration he said: There is no usury in what is hand to hand.

(Bukhari and Muslim)

5.       Omar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Gold for gold is interest unless in hand to hand (transaction); silver for silver is interest unless in hand to hand (transaction); wheat for wheat is interest unless in hand to hand (transaction), barley for barley is interest unless in hand to hand (transaction), and date for date is interest unless in hand to hand (transaction).

-(Bukhari, Muslim)

6.       Abu Sayeed and Abu Hurairah reported that the Holy Prophet engaged a man as a labourer at Khaiber. He came to him with best dates. So he enquired : Is every date of Khaiber like this? ‘No, by Allah’ he said, ‘O Prophet ! verily we take one sa’a of this for two sa’as, and two sa’as for three. He said: Don’t do (it), sell the whole for dirhams, and purchase the best dates for dirhams. He said: In weight also like that.

-(Bukhari, Muslim)

7.       According to Abu Saeed Khudri, the Holy Prophet said, “Sell not two ‘saa’ (measure) of dates for one ‘saa’ nor exchange two dirhams for one dirham (for it is ‘Riba’)”.


8.       It is related by Abu Bakr that the Holy Prophet said, “Sell not gold for gold and silver for silver but in equal quantity; but sell gold for silver or silver for gold as you please”.


9.       It is reported by Abu Saeed Khudri that the Holy Prophet said, “Sell not gold for gold and silver for silver but in equal quantity nor sell anything for the same thing in lesser quantity, nor sell anything present for that which is absent.”


10.   It is related by Abu Huraira that the Holy Prophet said, “Sell one dinar in exchange for one dinar and one dirham in exchange for one dirham and not for more”.


11.   ‘Uthman reported that the Holy Prophet said, “Sell not one dinar for two dinars, nor one dirham for two dirhams”.


12.   Abu Sayeed says that one day Bilal came to the Holy Prophet with green variety of dates. The Holy Prophet enquired, “Where from did you bring this?” Bilal replied, “We had dates of inferior quality; we therefore gave two ‘saa’ of that quality in exchange for one ‘saa’ of this (superior) quality with the object of presenting to the noble Prophet”. On hearing this the Holy Prophet exclaimed, “A Wa A Wa (expression of condemnation). This is clear interest. Do not do so (again), rather when you wish to acquire dates of superior quality, first sell the dates of inferior variety for money, and then purchase dates of superior quality”.      -(Bukhari)

13.   Sa’ad-bin-Abi Waqqas reported : I heard that the Holy Prophet was questioned about the purchase of dry dates for fresh ones. He asked: Shall the fresh dates be diminished when they become dry? ‘Yes’ said he. So he prohibited him from that.

-(Malek, Tirmizi, Abu Daud, Nisai, Ibn Majah)

14.   Samorah-b-Jundub reported that the Holy Prophet prohibited from selling animal for animal by way of promise.

-(Tirmizi, Abu Daud, Nisai)

15.   Jaber reported that the Holy Prophet prohibited selling of ‘subrah’ date of unknown measurement for a fixed measurement of dates.


16.   Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: I came across a people in the night in which I was taken to heaven. Their bellies are like houses wherein there are serpents which can be seen from outside their bellies. I asked : O Gabriel ! who are they? He said: These are those who devoured usury.

-(Ahmad, Ibn Majah)

17.   Omar-b-al-Khattab reported : The last of what was revealed was the verse of usury, and the Messenger of Allah expired while he did not explain it to us. So give up usury and doubt.

- (Ibn Majah, Darimi)

18.   Abdullah-b-Hanjalah (one washed by angels) reported that the Messenger of Allah said: A dirham of usury a man devours with knowledge is greater than 36 fornications.

-(Ahmad, Darqutni)

19.   Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Usury has got seventy divisions. The easiest division of them is a man’s marrying his mother.

-(Ibn Majah)

20.   Ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Though usury increases, its effect indeed turns towards decrease.

-(Ibn Majah)

21.   Jaber reported that the Messenger of Allah cursed the devourer of usury, its payer, its scribe, and its two witnesses. And he said that they are equal (in sin).


22.   It is reported that the Holy Prophet, on his last Pilgrimage and in his last address, said, “Every form of interest (‘Riba’) is cancelled; capital indeed is yours which you shall have, wrong not, and you shall not be wronged. God has given His injunctions that interest is totally forbidden. I first start with (the amount of) interest (which people owe) to ‘Abbas and declare it all cancelled”.

23.   Abu Hurairah reported that the Holy Prophet said: A time will certainly come over people when none will remain who will not devour usury. If he does not devour it, its vapour will overtake him.

-(Ahmad, Abu Daud, Nisai, Ibn Majah)

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III- Types of Riba at the Advent of Islam

On the basis of practice prevailing at the time of emergence of Islam and keeping in view the Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Muslim jurists have classified ‘Riba’ into two types, namely: Riba-an-Nasia and Riba-al-Fadl. The former is in cash loans whereas the latter is in barter transactions.

Riba-an-Nasia means interest charged on money loans. Some examples of Riba-an-Nasia are as follows:

1.        In times of ignorance, if a debtor owed some loan to his creditor, but had no means to repay it within the fixed time, he would request the creditor to extend time. The creditor stipulated certain increase or addition in his principal on the consideration of which he would agree to extend the time of payment        








P(0P PPPPPPdPüRüRüR84Sabia, ‘Riba’ was in this form : when a person owed some money to another person and the period of debt expired, the lender would demand his principal sum; if the debtor expressed his inability to pay, the lender would then grant him an extension on the condition that he would pay in excess of the capital. The period was then extended with an increased debt. The additional amount charged was called Riba.

The above mentioned transactions are typical examples of Riba-an-Nasia. Riba-an-Nasia, according to jurists, contains the following three elements:

(a)     Excess or surplus over and above the loan capital.

(b)     Determination of this surplus in relation to time; and

(c)     Bargain to be conditional on the payment of a predetermined surplus.

Riba-al-Fadl is the name of the interest which is charged in barter transactions of commodities. It lies in the payment of an addition by the debtor to the creditor in the exchange of commodities of the same kind i.e. wheat for wheat or barley for barley or dates for dates. etc.

Barter system for exchange of commodities was very common in Arabia at the time of emergence of Islam. People used to change goods for goods, especially the poor used to borrow some food items from the rich with a promise to repay more than the borrowed quantity after a certain specified time. This was exploitation of the poor by the rich and Islam eliminated it. As we have already seen that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) declared such transactions as usurious and, therefore, unlawful.

According to Ahadith reproduced in the relevant section, to sell wheat for wheat, dates for dates, barley for barley and like for like is ‘Riba’ except when sold from hand to hand and in equal quantity. According to jurists, elements of Riba-al-Fadl are as follows:

(a)     The two things of exchange between the parties must be homogeneous or of same kind, viz, gold for gold or corn for corn.

(b)     They must be unequal in measurement and weight. If gold is exchanged for gold of the same weight and quality in hand to hand transactions, it is not interest. If unequal, the excess must be interest.

(c)     They must not be in hand to hand transactions. If a guinea is given for 1½ guinea to be paid at a future date, the excess will be considered as interest.

Islam has abolished both types of Riba mentioned above.

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IV- What is Riba?

The Qur’an and Hadith have used the term ‘Riba’ which has been translated by the scholars as ‘usury’ or ‘interest’. We do not find definition of this term either in the Qur’an or in Ahadith of the Prophet of Islam. It would be, therefore, most appropriate if we reproduce the views of some renowned commentators of the Qur’an and the jurists of Islam who have explained the meaning and nature of ‘Riba’.

1.       According to Muhammad Asad : “In its general, linguistic sense, this term denotes an “addition” to or an “increase” of a thing over and above its original size or amount: in the terminology of the Qur’an, it signifies any unlawful addition, by way of interest, to a sum of money or goods lent by one person or body of persons to another. Considering the problem in terms of the economic conditions prevailing at or before their time, most of the early Muslim jurists identified this “unlawful addition” with profits obtained through any kind of interest-bearing loans irrespective of the rate of interest and the economic motivation involved. With all this-as is evidenced by the voluminous juridical literature on this subject – Islamic scholars have not yet been able to reach an absolute agreement on the definition of riba: a definition that is, which would cover all conceivable legal situations and positively respond to all the exigencies of a variable economic environment. In the words of Ibn Kathir (in his commentary on 2 ; 275), “the subject of riba is one of the most difficult subjects for many of the scholars (ahl-al-ilm)”. It should be borne in mind that the passage condemning and prohibiting riba in legal terms (2 : 275-281) was the last revelation received by the Prophet, who died a few days later hence, the Companions had no opportunity to ask him about the shar'i’ implications of the relevant injunction – so much so that even “Umar ibn al-Khattab is reliably reported to have said: “The last [of the Qur’an] that was revealed was the passage [lit., “the verse”] on riba; and, behold, the Apostle of God passed away without [lit., “before”] having explained its meaning to us “ (Ibn Hanbal, on the authority of sa’id ibn al-Musayyab) Nevertheless, the severity with which the Qur’an condemns riba and those who practice it furnishes – especially when viewed against the background of mankind’s economic experiences during the intervening centuries – a sufficiently clear indication of its nature and its social as well as moral implications. Roughly speaking, the opprobrium of riba (in the sense in which this term is used in the Qur’an and in many saying of the Prophet) attaches to profits obtained through interest- bearing loans involving an exploitation of the economically weak by the strong and resourceful: an exploitation characterized by the fact that the lender, while retaining full ownership of the capital loaned and having no legal concern with the purpose for which it is to be used or with the manner of its use remains contractually assured of gain irrespective of any losses which the borrower may suffer in consequence of this transaction”.[1]

2.      According to Syed Abul Ala Maududi, “The Arabic word riba literally means “increase in” or “addition to” anything. Technically it was applied to that additional sum which the creditor charged from the debtor at a fixed rate on the principal he lent, that is, interest. At the time of the revelations of the Quran, interest was charged in several ways. For instance, a person sold something and fixed a time-limit for the payment of its price, and if the buyer failed to pay it within the fixed period, he was allowed more time but had to pay an additional sum. Or a person lent a sum of money and asked the debtor to pay it back together with an agreed additional sum of money within a fixed period. Or a rate of interest was fixed for a specific period and if the principal along with the interest was not paid within that period, the rate of interest was enhanced for the extended period, and so on.”[2]

3.       Afzal-ur-Rahman explains the meaning of ‘Riba’ in detail in the light of the opinions of some classical jurists of Islam in the following words:

The Holy Qur’an has used the word ‘Riba’ for interest. The dictionary meaning of ‘Riba’ is excess or increase or surplus but, in economics, it refers to that surplus income, which the lender receives from the borrower, over and above the principal amount, as a reward for waiting or parting with the liquid part of his capital for a specified time.

      ‘Riba’,in Islam, particularly refers to that excess which is commanded in a particular way. Ibn Hajar ‘Askalani, talking of ‘Riba’ says, that “essence of ‘Riba’ is excess whether it is in the commodity (itself) or in money, as two dinars in exchange for one dinar. According to Allama Mahmud al-Hassan Taunki,’Riba’ means excess or increase; and when, in a contract of barter (exchange of goods for goods), more of one thing is demanded in exchange for exactly similar thing, it is called ‘Riba’.

      In the words of Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi, element of ‘Riba’ exists in the debt which is advanced on the condition that the borrower will pay more or better than what he has received from the lender. In the opinion of Abu Bakr Ibn al-Arabi, every excess is ‘Riba’ in return for which no reward is paid. Qatada says that pre-Islamic ‘Riba’ was this that one person sold goods to another person for a specified period, when the period expired and the buyer had not made the payment, then the seller would extend the time of payment along with increase in the purchasing price (to be paid back)”.

      According to Mujahid, element of ‘Riba’ existed in all the dealings of this nature in the pre-Islamic days: whenever a person contracted a loan from someone, he would ask the creditor to give him more time for payment, and that he would, in return, pay him a fixed amount in excess of the principal loan.

      The findings of Abu Bakr Jassas also show that whenever people in the pre-Islamic times contracted loans from one another, it was agreed upon between the parties concerned that so much amount of money (a definite sum) would be paid by the borrower in excess of loan after a certain specified time.

      In the opinion of Imam Razi this was the custom in the pre-Islamic times that they advanced a sum of money to a person for a specified time and received from him a fixed amount of money every month as interest; when the time expired, the borrower was asked to repay the debt, if he could not repay the debt, he was given extension in the time for repayment and the interest was increased”.

      Such forms of loan business were in vogue in Arabia in those times and were called by the name ‘Riba’. It is this surplus or excess over principal amount which is prohibited in Islam.[3]

After going through the verses of the Qur’an, Ahadith of the Prophet of Islam and views of the Muslim doctors, we can now understand the meaning of Islam’s concept of ‘Riba’.

The Verse No. 278 of chapter 2 of the Holy Qur’an commands to give up ‘Riba’ while the next verse numbering 279 allows the lenders to take back their principal amount of loan and nothing more. It means that ‘Riba’ is the amount which is charged by the lender from his debtor in addition to the capital lent by him. It is this amount which has been declared unlawful by the Qur’an. Thus, according to the Qur’an, every increase obtained in addition to the principal amount of loan is ‘riba’ irrespective of the fact how much rate of interest is charged and for what purpose the loan is advanced.

Prophet Muhammad, in his Ahadith, has explained and clarified that element of ‘Riba’ is found not only in cash loans or money transactions but also in all forms of barter transactions in which one person receives an excess over and above the commodity exchanged. From the address of the Prophet delivered during his last pilgrimage, we can easily derive the definition of riba. The Prophet is reported to have said: “Every form of ‘riba’ is cancelled; principal indeed is yours which ye shall have; wrong not and you shall not be wronged. God has given His injunctions that interest is totally forbidden. I first start with interest (which people owe) to Abbas and declare it all cancelled.” Thus every form of riba has been cancelled by the Prophet and the lenders are allowed to recover their principal amount of loan only, which means that every addition to principal amount lent is `riba’ without reference to rate of interest charged and without reference to the purpose for which loan is given.

Some libral scholars hold that Islam has prohibited usury only which is charged at exorbitant rate of interest by the money lenders from the poor on consumption loans contracted by the latter for their personal needs. However, this view is erroneous in the opinion of majority of the contemporary Muslim scholars who hold that ‘Riba’ covers all forms of usury and interest on loans irrespective of the purpose for which loan in contracted, irrespective of the parties to the loan and also irrespective of the rate of interest and the period involved.

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V- Interest and Trade

The Holy Quran says: “Those who swallow usury cannot rise up save as he ariseth whom the devil hath prostrated by (his) touch. That is because they say: Trade is just like usury; whereas Allah permitteth trading and forbiddeth usury…….”(2:275) Why does God permit trade and forbid usury?

It is because trade and usury are absolutely different. In trade one earns profit as a result of initiative, enterprise, efficiency and hard work. But the interest is not earned through hard work or any value creating process. It is not the reward of labour but is in fact unearned income. Moreover interest is fixed whereas profit fluctuates. In case of trade there is risk of loss also, but in case of interest the lender gets his fixed amount irrespective of the fact whether the debtor earns any profit or sustains loss. God has forbidden interest but has permitted trade.

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VI- Interest and Zakat

The Holy Qur’an states : “Allah hath blighted usury and made almsgiving fruitful. Allah loveth not the impious and guilty”. (2:276). In another verse, the Qur’an mentions the benefit of Zakat over usury in these words: “That which ye give in usury in order that it may increase on (other) people’s property hath no increase with Allah; but that which ye give in charity, seeking Allah’s countenance, hath increase manifold”. (30:39)

The above verses of the Holy Qur’an have inspired many scholars of Islam to compare interest with Zakat and underline the advantages of Zakat and disadvantages of interest. Commenting upon these verses Mr. Akram Khan writes: “The meaning of these verses have become abundantly apparent in this age. The conventional economic theory recognizes that interest discourages investment and causes unemployment thus adding to human misery. The physical and human resources remain idle for want of finance which does not become available except at a certain rate of interest. Since all proposals of investment cannot be as productive as to pay for the going rate of interest the human and physical resources cannot be deployed productively. This by itself leads to human misery. But in recent years the monster of public debt has engulfed the entire world. As a result, governments are facing huge fiscal deficits leading to inflation, high taxation, retardation of trade and poverty of the mankind as a whole. Another channel of human misery through interest is the net negative transfer of resources from the poor countries to the rich countries. It is a phenomenon which has been aptly called by Willy Brandt as “blood transfusion from the sick to the healthy”. Now large masses of the poor countries are toiling hard just to pay back the past debt along with interest. The cycle of wealth has been turned from the poor to the rich at a global scale. What else could be the evidence for interest being a source of human misery?” As compared to interest, charity leads to economic expansion. It attracts God’s blessings. One evidence of the charity being a blessing is the great boom which all Western economies experienced in the post-war period. All these economies introduced programs of social security. These programs provided the necessary purchasing power to the poor people so that the aggregate demand in the economy could be maintained at a desirable level.”[4]

Interest discourages economic growth and ruins national prosperity and also individual’s well-being by causing many distortions in national economy such as inflation, unemployment, uneven distribution of wealth and recession. Zakat, on the other hand, helps economic growth and national prosperity in two ways. Firstly it discourages hoarding of wealth and encourages its circulation. The hoarder of wealth knows that if he keeps his wealth idle then the Zakat would gradually consume it. So he would perforce bring his wealth into circulation by spending or investing it. Thus the investment and consumption both would have multiplier effect on the growth of national income. Secondly, Zakat is collected from the rich who are few and returned to the poor who are many, and this process ultimately increases aggregate demand of the consumer goods in the society as the poor people after having purchasing power in their hands start demanding more such goods. The industrialists would produce more in order to meet the increasing demand. Thus increase in demand and supply would lead to industrialization, business activity, expansion of employment and growth of national income.

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VII- Interest and Rent

Interest, as we have already discussed in detail, is charged by the creditor from the debtor on money loan or on exchange of commodities in barter transactions at pre-determined rate or prefixed amount with reference to time. Rent, on the other hand, is charged on the lease of land, building, plant and machinery, furniture and fixtures, motor vehicles or on use of other capital goods. Interest and rent are both different from each other in nature. Mr. Mannan has pointed out the following difference between the two:

Firstly, rent is the result of initiative, enterprise and efficiency. It results after a definite value creating process, because, the owner of the property or asset remains involved in and concerned with its use by the user throughout. But it is not so with interest, because the lender becomes unconcerned with the use of the loan after his loan is secured and interest thereon guaranteed.

Secondly, it follows that in case of rent productive effort is very necessary in the process of value creating, because economic endeavour is made by the owner of the capital by converting it into property or asset. Thus the element of entrepreneur remains as much patent and alive as in producing any goods and services but interest may even retard the value-creating process. Since the lender remains unconcerned with the use of the loan, the element of the entrepreneur is altogether missing.

Thirdly, in the case of rent the owner of capital himself determines the pattern, size and utility of the product. Therefore, it is restricted to definite and purposeful use, whereas in the case of interest the real owner does not seem to be interested in the economic use of his capital; therefore, capital is rendered liable to abuse.

Fourthly, in a sense rent does not enter into price. “Corn is not high because a rent is paid but rent is paid because corn is high.” But interest does enter into price, retards the process of production and poor consumers are hard hit.

Fifthly, since the element of loss is very much present in the case of rent, the use of capital by the owner for earning rent does not create any idle class in the society, whereas the element of loss is missing altogether in the case of interest which can make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Finally, it is true that “capital is converted and has the potentiality to be converted to any property or asset, but this potentiality of capital is left to the discretion of the user, viz the means or production are vested in the borrower; whereas in the other case the capital remains vested in the owner and not the user. The fact of the matter is that rent on a property or hire on an asset is more synonymous to wages and salary or the margin of gross profit determined by the manufacturer or trader on his good or ‘remuneration’ charged by any profession; and strictly unlike interest on capital”.[5]

As far as their permissibility in Islam is concerned, we have already seen that interest in every form has been prohibited by Islam whereas it is not the case with rent. Rent on building and lease of capital goods and other articles is justified by Muslim jurists like Syed Maududi on the ground that the owner of these things maintains them for the use of the tenant by spending his time, labour and money. Moreover, these things suffer wear and tear and also depreciation in value when under  the use of the tenant. Thus, charging of rent on such things is not only justified, according to them, but is also permitted by Islam.

Regarding lease of agricultural land on fixed cash or quantity of produce, the opinions of scholars widely differ. While majority of the scholars hold it lawful, some jurists such as Syed Maududi consider it similar to interest and hence prohibited in Islam.

Prohibition of interest, according to professor Smith, if taken seriously, would include the prohibition of land rent and of the whole landlord system and it would mean precisely the socialization of agriculture in the interests of those who labour on land. The reason given by him is briefly as under: “of course, where tenants are made to pay a fixed rent whether in case or in kind, it is morally identical with interest. Because, here, the landlord is to the same extent indifferent to the actual return from land as the banker is to the actual return from industry and commerce.”[6]

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VIII- Why is Interest Prohibited?

As we have already discussed, interest has not only been prohibited and declared unlawful by Islam but has also been strongly condemned as a criminal offence in this world and a major sin liable to punishment in the Hereafter. According to al-Qur’an, charging of interest amounts to declaration of war against God and God’s Messenger; while according to the Sunnah it is a criminal and sinful act worse than adultery. But no reason for its prohibition has been provided either in the Qur’an or by the Sunnah of the Prophet. This has left the scholars and jurists to find out reasons and explain as to why interest has been prohibited. Regarding reasons of prohibition of interest views differ widely. However, they are unanimous on one single point at least that the prohibition is due to moral, social and economic harms of interest.

Let us briefly underline some of the very harmful effects of interest and decide for ourselves why it has been prohibited.

1.       Riba or usury inculcates miserliness, selfishness, callousness, indifference, inhumanity, greed and worship of wealth. It destroys the spirit of sympathy, mutual help and cooperation, and thus effects adversely the feelings of love, brotherhood and unity among the community. We find around us that the usurers are generally miser, selfish and hard-hearted Shylocks, devoid of milk of human kindness, who exploit the misery of the poor and charge their pound of flesh without feeling any moral compunction for the sufferings of the borrowers.

2.       Interest breeds idleness and promotes unearned income. Instead of undertaking business ventures and using their business acumen, skill, knowledge and enterpreneurship, people having money start lending it on interest and thus living like parasites. Such easily gained money is generally wasted on vices like gambling, horse-racing, betting, drinking and adultery, and in expenditure on luxurious living, marriage ceremonies and festivities.

3.       Interest causes many economic evils as well. It leads to hoarding of money adversely effecting its circulation among larger sections of society. It also causes establishment of monopolies, cartels and concentration of wealth in few hands. Thus distribution of wealth in the community becomes uneven and gulf between the rich and the poor widens. The community is divided sharply into two camps-have and have-nots-whose conflicting interests badly effect peace and harmony in the society. Moreover, due to interest economic distortions like recession, depression, inflation, unemployment, etc. are also caused.

4.       Capital investment is withheld from those enterprises which cannot yield profit equal to the prevailing rate of interest, even though such projects may be very vital for the country and nation. The flow of all financial resources in the country turns in the direction of those enterprises which carry the prospect of a profit margin equal to or more than the current rate of interest, even though such enterprises may have little or no social value.

Interest charged on international loans has aggravated debt-servicing problem of the debtor countries. It has not only impeded the economic development of the poor nations, but has also resulted into transfer of resources from the poor to the rich nations. Moreover, it is adversely effecting the relations between the rich and the poor states and thus harming the cause of international security and peace.

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[1].      The Message of the Qur’an.

[2].      The Meaning of the Qur’an.

[3].      Economic Doctrines of Islam.

[4].      Economic Message of the Qur’an.

[5].      Islamic Economics: Theory and Practice.

[6].      Shaikh Mahmood Ahmad: Economics of Islam.

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