Riba (Interest) in Islam and Other Major Religions
The Holy Qur'an did not give any definition for the term for the simple reason that it was well known to its immediate audience. It is like the prohibition of pork, liquor, gambling, adultery etc., which were imposed without giving any hard and fast definition because all these terms were well known and there was no ambiguity in their meaning. The case of riba was similar. It was not a term foreign to Arabs. They all used the term in their mutual transactions. Not only Arabs but all the previous societies used to practice it in their financial dealings and nobody had any confusion about its exact sense. In the verse of Surah An-Nisaa the Holy Qur'an has reproached the Jews for their taking riba whist it was prohibited for them. Here this practice is termed as riba in the same manner as it is termed in Surah Al-Imran or Surah Al-Baqarah. It means that the practice of riba prohibited for Muslims was the same as was prohibited for the Jews.
Riba in Different Languages
In Arabic – Riba
In Hebrew – Ribbit
In Portuguese and Spanish – Usura
In Greek – Tokos
In Urdu and Bangle – Sud
In English – Usury
In French – Usure
Usury in Hinduism and Buddhism
The oldest references to usury are found in religious manuscripts of India, dating back to 2000-1400 BC where the 'usurer' is associated with any interest lender.
In the Hindu Sutra (700-100 BC) as well as in the Buddhist Jatakas(600-400 BC) there are many references to the payment of interest, along with expressions of disdain for the practice.
Special law was made which forbade the higher class of Brahmans (Priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors) from lending at interest.
Usury in Christianity
The Old Testament mentions three types of verses that deal with usury.
1. One forbids usury in general, without reference to Jewish or non-Jewish
Do not ill-treat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan... If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a money lender, charge him no interest”(Exodus 22:21-25).
2. Another forbids Jews taking usury from poor non-Jews living with them
If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, do not take interest of any kind from him but fear your God that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit” (Leviticus, 25:35-37)
3. Third set of verses forbids the Jews to take usury from other Jews, but allow them to take usury from others such as: Deuteronomy 23:19-20
The New Testament shows that Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) not only prohibited interest, but asked his followers not to take back even the principal of the loan, and to lend not only to friends but even to enemies.
Under this prohibition any Christian who dealt in interest was considered as a heretic during the Middle-Ages and was punished by the Church by not allowing his body to be buried among the tombs of Christians.
Matthew 5:42 - "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
Luke 6:34-35 - "And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."
Luke 6:38 - "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. "
Deuteronomy 23:19 - “Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest.”
Leviticus 25:36 - “Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you.”
Exodus 22:25 - “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest”
Riba in Islam
The prohibition of riba covered in a number of verses in the Qur'an. The first verse in Surat Al-Room:39 reads:
That which you give in usury for increase through the property of (other) people, will have no increase with Allah: but which you give for charity, seeking the Countenance of Allah, (will increase): it is these who will get a recompense multiplied.”
In this verse the Qur’an does not prohibit riba explicitly, but implicitly mentions that riba cannot bring any increase and introduce it as useless.
The Second verse from Surah Nisa’:161 speak about the Jews who were instructed not to take usury but they did. The verse reads:
“…they took usury, though they were forbidden, and that they devoured men’s weal wrongfully;-We have prepared for those among them who reject faith a grievous punishment”.
Here the Qur’an shows how usury can result in sinful behaviour that deserves punishment.
The third verse from Surah Al-Imran:130 reads:
“O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubled and multiplied; but fear Allah. That you may (really) prosper.”
Here prohibition has been announced clearly for a kind of multiplied usury that was very popular in societies.
Finally, in the verses 275-277 of Surat Al-Baqarah, the strongest prohibition of usury has been announced:
“Those who devour usury will not stand except as stand one whom the Satan by his touch hath driven to madness. That is because they say: Trade is like usury, but Allah hath permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who after receiving direction from their Lord, desist, shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for Allah (to judge); but those who repeat (the offence) are companions of Fire: they will abide therein (for ever). Allah will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity; For He loved not any ungrateful and wicked. Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and establish regular prayers and regular charity, will have their reward with Lord: On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and give up what remains of your demand for usury, if ye are indeed believers. If ye do it not, take notice of war from Allah and His Messenger. But if ye repent, ye shall have your capital sums: Deal not unjustly, and ye shall not be dealt with unjustly.”
Different stages of Riba in the Qur’an
There are four stages of riba in the Qur'an:
First Stage (30:39)
- Compares riba with zakat & charity
- Praises zakat & charity and criticises the practice of riba
Second Stage (4:160-161)
- Consider the practice as an iniquity (zulm)
Third Stage (3:130)
- Prohibits the practice of charging double and multiple interest (riba)
Fourth Stage (2:275-281)
- Conclusively prohibits all forms of interest (riba)
- Define it as any excess over the principal of the loan