A Commentary on Ghamidi’s Views on Interest
I have extracted below [shaded portion in purple font] the section on ‘Interest’ from Javed Ahmad Ghamidi’s book Islam - A Comprehensive Introduction. And I have given my own comments, either to explain any point or express my disagreement with Ghamidi’s views, at relevant places within the extract.
Interest is also a similar sin [similar to gambling] 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 riba and the Qur’an 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.
Riba literally means gain, increase or growth. What the Qur’aan prohibits is obviously not every kind of such gain, but a particular kind which it has distinguished by prefixing the Arabic article Al to that word. So, Al-Riba (pronounced Ar-Riba) – and not just Riba – it is that the Qur’aan prohibits in Verse 2:275. It has been grossly mistranslated as Interest. Unlike what is suggested by Ghamidi here, the Qur’aan has itself defined the term unequivocally. The Qur’aanic definition, as may be seen from my further comments below, is far more comprehensive and definitive than the misleading man-made one given by Ghamidi above.
The Qur’an 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) [the underlined words are interpolations inserted by the translator]
It is further stated:
Believers! Fear Allah and give up what remains of your demand for interest [‘interest’ is man-made interpretation of the word Ar-Riba in the original Arabic text]. If you do it not, beware of war from Allah and His Prophet. And if you repent, then you can have your principal amount. Neither will you be allowed to deal unjustly nor will you be dealt with unjustly. (2:278-279)
The reason why devourers of interest will be raised up on the Day of Judgement as madmen owes itself to 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’an, 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 deed and its reward, such people would be raised up as madmen on the Day of Judgment.
‘On the Day of Judgement’, as I have already pointed out, is an interpolation in the divine Verse 2:275. The Verse in its plain meaning speaks of those who indulge in Ar-Riba standing not but as ones badly affected by the Satanic touch. It is speaking of such people’s odd behaviour here in this world, and not in the Hereafter!
It is also noteworthy that those under Satanic spell are quoted in this Verse [2:275] as saying, ‘the trade/business is like Ar-Riba’, and not ‘Ar-Riba is like the trade/business’! IfAr-Riba merely meant ‘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’ as Ghamidi would like us to believe, those (under Satanic spell) would have naturally uttered the latter (‘Ar-Riba is like the trade/business’) quote. I reserve my comments on why they use the earlier quote for later.
Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, while commenting on this expression of amazement of interest-devourers, remarks:
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 olden times. The Qur’an has … not even commented on this foolish inference since its baseless nature is self-evident and only sheds light on the insanity of those who raise 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 procure this merchandise themselves, and if they were able to then it was only at a heavy cost. 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 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 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 very nature. He is a person who is not willing to take the slightest risk with his capital but is very eager to extort profit.
Money is purchasing power. It is with this power that any individual, or a group of individuals, can purchase things required. It is thus a necessity like any commodity (cereals, vehicles, houses etc.) necessary for sustenance of human life. And, just like a trader, a manufacturer, or a builder provides cereals, vehicles or houses for human consumption/use, banks provide the money to purchase/hire those things. Often, individuals/companies need more money than what they themselves earn. And, in such situations, the banks provide them the additional money required. People approach banks rather than individual money-lenders. Banks also maintain due accounts of all the moneys earned by individuals/companies and deposited with them for safe custody. This is the normal practice in today’s world. The banks lend the money thus accumulated with them for construction of big factories producing industrial goods needed by Society, and for many other societal purposes.
The banks, which are the modern money-lenders, thus render a very useful service to Society. To call their enterprise ‘mean, callous, cowardly and hostile to humanity in its very nature’ is clearly wrong, unjust and preposterous. Banking business is a legitimate business divinely permitted under Verse 2:275. The interest they charge is nothing but the sum of their proportionate overhead expenses plus legitimate profit margin any business is entitled to claiming. Calling such legitimate business as Ar-Riba is what is derided in that Verse. At the time the Qur’aan was revealed, there were no such banks, but the Holy Book being valid for all times till the Last Day, the Qur’aanic derision applies to all later generation people who say banking business is like Ar-Riba! That even erudite people should hold Allah-permitted business as prohibited is astonishing! Like trading or any other business, banking business too is subject to market forces and good banks do make provision to write off bad debts as stipulated in Verse 2:280.
Here it should be kept in mind that the Qur’an has prohibited only the charging of interest; it has not prohibited the paying of interest. However, as a natural consequence of this prohibition, a person who, without any genuine reason, acts as an agent of an interest-devourer or writes down its transaction or bears witness to it, must be regarded as an equal criminal on the Qur’anic principle of tAAaun AAlal ithm (co-operation with evil). It is narrated by Wahb ibn ‘Abdullah (rta): Arabic text meaning ‘The Prophet has severely condemned the devourer of interest (these agents can be the ones who work for professional money-lenders or work in the institutions set up by them) and the one who acts as an agent of the interest-devourer. [Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-s_ah_ih_, 955, (no. 5347).]
Thus the wrong interpretation of Ar-Riba as ‘interest’ potentially deprives gullible Muslims of jobs in the vast field of banking business. This is one of the reasons for financial backwardness of the Muslim community. No wonder, the Qur’aan condemns the wrong-interpreters as those behaving irrationally under Satanic influence!
The Prophet (sws) has emphatically directed people to refrain from the slightest possible trace of interest while borrowing in barter as well:
Arabic text meaning ‘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 interest is.’ [Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-s_ah_ih_, 693, (no. 4068).]
Arabic text meaning, ‘If you lend gold in exchange for silver, then there is a possibility of interest in this. (This directive is meant to put a stop, at the very outset, to ways which lead to the door of interest. Since dissimilar commodities are given on credit, there is all the probability of some increase or decrease in such barter transactions; the Prophet (sws) therefore prohibited them.) Similarly, for wheat in exchange for another type of wheat, [this translation is in accordance with the copulative relation of this sentence to the previous one. The words alwaraqu bizzahab (if you lend silver in exchange for gold) in which two different commodities are mentioned entail that the wheat mentioned in this expression be of two different categories also] 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, Al-Jami‘ al-s_ah_ih_, 692, (no. 4059).]
This is the correct meaning of the above quoted Ah_adith. If all the Ah_adith 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 haaa wa haaa (on the spot), or similar words in the second H_adith quoted above, were incorporated in the first one; similarly, the wordazzahbu bizzahabi(gold in exchange for gold) of the H_adith quoted first were put in place of alwaraqu bizzahabi (if you lend 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 riba al-fad_l from such Ah_adith, whereas the correct concept in this regard is what the following words of the Prophet (sws) say, Arabic text meaning ‘riba is only in transactions of loan.’ [Ibid., 697, (nos. 4089, 4091).]
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 to.
The author has brought to our notice above one among many contradictions/errors in even ‘authentic’ Books ofAhaadeeth. These Books cannot therefore be considered divine in view of Verse 4:82. And how could the sayings be authentic when these were recorded in writing centuries after the death of the Prophet (peace on him)!? Allah Almighty has guaranteed the authenticity of only the Qur’aan (Verse 15:9) and not of the Ahaadeeth! And the Qur’aan, throughout, and particularly in Verses 5:101, 6:38, 7:3, 12:111, 18:54, 39:27, 41:3, leaves no room for any doubt that it contains all necessary directions for man to conduct his life successfully on this earth. And yet, even recognised Islamic scholars, like Ghamidi and Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, assert that the Qur’aan has not defined whatAr-Riba is and seek its definition/explanation in man-made and error-prone Ahaadeeth, as herein above! No wonder again that Verse 2:275 condemns such assertions as influenced by the Satan.
Similarly, it should also remain clear that whether a loan is acquired for personal, business or welfare purposes, the real meaning of riba is not ascertained on these bases. It is an indisputable fact that in the Arabic language the word riba, irrespective of the aim of the lender and the condition of the borrower, just implies a pre-determined increase acquired on a loan. Consequently, the Qur’an 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 with the intention of prospering through the wealth of others.
The Qur’an says:
And that which you give as loan on interest (‘on interest’ is the translator’s interpretation of the Arabic term ‘minr-riban’ in the original text, which interpretation the Qur’aan never supports) that it may increase on [other] people’s wealth, it has no increase with Allah; but that which you give as zakahseeking Allah’s countenance, then 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’an.
It is to this fact that the following verse also points:
And 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)
Imam Amin Ah_san Is_lah_i comments on this verse in the following words:
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 would lend them money at high interest rates. It is only this type of interest which the Qur’an has termed as riba and forbidden. As far as commercial interest is concerned, it neither existed at that time nor did the Qur’an prohibit it.
The verse categorically refutes this view. When the Qur’an 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 words of the verse are: Wa-in kana thoo AAusratin fanathiratun ila maysaratin 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 Itha (if) is used. In the light of this, it is clear that the borrowers in those times were generally the affluent (thoo maysaratin), but in some cases were poor or had become poor after acquiring the loan and in that case, the Qur’an has directed the money-lenders to give them a time rebate.
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.
Verse 30:39 quoted above is the first, in chronological order of revelation, of all the Qur’aanic Verses revealed on the Qur’aanic topic of Ar-Riba. In this first Verse, the word used is riban, and not Ar-Riba. Riban is used here in its ordinary meaning of increase, gain, growth or profit, and it is without the Arabic prefix al.
Obviously, it is not every gain, profit or increase that is despised by Allah in this verse. It is only a particular kind of it that is despised – the kind that is effected fee amwaalinnasi (i.e. in people’s amwaal). This particular gain that Allah abhors has been referred to in other Qur’aanic Verses as Ar-Riba [i.e. ‘the gain’ abhorred by Allah Ta’ala in Verse 30:39] and banned in the later-revealed Verse 2:275.
Verse 30:39 is therefore the defining Verse for Ar-Riba, which clear definition is most astonishingly missed by Islamic scholars, no doubt, under Satanic influence referred to in Verse 2:275. As per this divine definition, then, Ar-Riba is gain effected by usurping other people’s rights, rightful dues and possessions.
Now let us examine whether our modern money-lenders, the banks, are indulging in Ar-Riba when they lend money on interest. Let us consider only those banks that operate transparently without any underhand dealings.
The interest such banks charge on money lent constitutes their proportionate overhead expenses and legitimate profit. Overhead expenses are of course on office accommodation, office furniture and other required accessories, staff salaries etc. Like in any other legitimate business, the banks too are entitled to recover such expenses, which they incur through their own amwaal, from their customers. And like in any other business they are also entitled to legitimate profit. For, like any other legitimate business, banks too render very useful service to society, as I have already explained herein above. The interest recovered is therefore the banks’ own amwaal, and not others’! They are not indulging in Ar-Riba prohibited under Verse 2:275!! The Muslim community, under Satanic influence, are barking at the wrong tree!!! The real Ar-Riba may, meanwhile, be growing luxuriantly in their own backyards of some of them.
To learn more about the real Ar-Riba, please read ISLAM & INTEREST, or, at least the first chapter, What Is Ar-Riba, of the book. The book and its 1st chapter are both separately available free online.