Don’t get Burned – Financial Prohibitions in Islam

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Stocks, bonds, T-bills, money market accounts, certificates of deposits, variable-interest checking and saving accounts, as well as a plethora of other financial jargons that have now become a reality in the life of many among us, have made earning and saving our money much more complicated than it used to be.

With this ever-increasing deluge of financial options, we Muslims must constantly be on-guard to make sure that our money is earned in ways that are pleasing to Allah, and that it is safeguarded in the same way. If we become lax, and neglectful about how we earn, spend, and deal with our finances, we may find ourselves suffering the fate of those who came before us. “O my people! Worship Allah, you have no other god but Him, and give not short measure or weight, I see you in prosperity, and verily I fear for you the torment of a Day encompassing. And O my people! Give full measure and weight in justice and reduce not the things that are due to the people, and do not commit mischief in the land, causing corruption.” [11:84-85] That was the message of Prophet Shu’aib, alayhis salam, to his people, to worship Allah alone and to trade fairly. This specific message was sent to them because of the widespread financial disease that was afflicting his nation, and to show that Islam encompasses all aspects of life and is not confined to the ritual acts of worship. Their answer was, “O Shu’aib! Does your salah command that we leave off what our fathers used to worship, or that we leave off doing what we like with our property?” [11:87] Although Muslims often inquire about the rules of the Shar’iah concerning the many aspects of the deen, and apply themselves to observe them, the financial aspect remains a blind spot for many.

They are either ignorant of the rules and are not as eager to inquire about them, or worse yet, they feel that these rules do not apply to them. Allah, the All Merciful, has sent revelations in the Qur’an that are for all mankind, His rules reflect His infinite Wisdom, and are valid at all times, in all places. Therefore one should not be neglectful in applying them under the excuse that he is living in a different era, or in a non-Muslim country, etc. One should fear that the Wrath of Allah would befall him as it befell the people of Shu’aib. This article details some of the prohibitions taking lightly by people.

Indulging in Interest

Allah has declared war against people who deal in riba. Allah says, “O you who believe! Be afraid of Allah and give up what remains due to you from riba, if you are really believers. And if you do not do it, then take a notice of war from Allah and His Messenger.” [2:277-278] This verse is sufficient to show the atrocity of this crime in the sight of Allah. Anyone who notices what is happening to individuals and nations, can see the extent of harm incurred by dealing in riba. These include bankruptcy, depression, and deficit with a failure to pay their debts, along with economic paralysis, raising unemployment, and bankruptcy of many companies. All of this makes the outcome of the sweat of people and their daily hardship pour directly into the payment of the ever-increasing interest to the rich user of riba. This in turn contributes to the creation of distinct social classes, accumulating the monies into the hands of a few number of people. This may indeed be one of the types of wars that Allah warned those who deal in riba against.

All those who participate in the riba transaction, whether they are the principal parties, the intermediaries, or the facilitators, are cursed by Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wasallam. Jaber said, “The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, has cursed, ‘The one who takes riba, the one who writes it and the one who witnesses it,’ and he said, They are equal (in sin)’.” (Muslim)Therefore, it is not permitted to have a job as an underwriter of riba, or in the accounting or estimation of the interest, nor in its collection or deposition, or in guarding it. In general it is forbidden to participate in it in any way whatsoever.

The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, was eager to show the wickedness of this vice, saying, “Riba has seventy three gates, the least of them is like a man who fornicates with his mother. And verily, the worst of riba is the Muslim’s honor.” (al-Hakim) And he also said, “A dirham that a man spends knowing he gained it from riba is worst than thirty six instances of fornication.” (Ahmad) The prohibition of riba is general and is not specific to the one performed between the wealthy and the poor, as many people believe, but is rather general in any situation and for any person.

How many rich merchants and businessmen have lost their wealth because of riba? The least of its evils is that it wipes out the blessings upon the money, even if it seems abundant. For the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, said, “The outcome of the money gained in riba, even if its amount is big, is always paucity.” (al-Hakim) The unlawfulness of riba is not confined to what has a high interest, but to any amount of interest, no matter how small it is. The usurer will be resurrected in a state of insanity, as if the Satan is hitting him.

In spite of the atrocity of this crime, Allah accepts repentance from it, and informs and explains how to get out of it, saying to those who practice usury, “But if you repent, you shall have your capital sums. Deal not unjustly, and you shall not be dealt with unjustly.” [2:279] This is indeed the best justice.

The believer must guard against this crime, and realize its dreadfulness. Even if one is obliged to put his money in a bank that uses riba, for fear that it may be lost or stolen, he should feel that this is done out of a necessity (dharurah). His case is similar to the one who eats unlawful meat for fear of dying from starvation.

Therefore, he should seek forgiveness from Allah,  and be always in search of a lawful substitute for this situation. He should never ask for the interest on his money, but if this interest is added to his bank account, he should get rid of it by spending it in a lawful charity. He can not intend to give it as a sadaqah, but as a way of getting rid of it, because Allah accepts as sadaqah only what is pure, i.e., lawfully gained. In any case, he is not allowed to spend it or use it in any way for his own profit, such as to buy food, clothes, pay rent or buy provision for his wife, children or parents. Nor can he include it in the zakah due on him, or use it to pay taxes. He should only get rid of it, out of fear of Allah’s Punishment.