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The Teachings of Usury in Islam

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The term Usury is often used for interest based capitalism which can be defined as the system of loans with excessive interest rates. From the historic point of view, some cultures have regarded interest charging as sinful and some still adhere to it.

Condemnations can be found in religious teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Also various nations from ancient Rome, Greece and China have prohibited loans with interest.

According to business experts, when the money is lent on an agreed upon contract to receive back not only the principal amount but also with an increment as compensation for use during a specific time. Some call it interest others call it usury.

Usury in Islam

Following is a quotation from Quran which states:

“O you believers, you shall not acquire usury, compounded over and over. Observe God so that you may succeed” (Al-`Imran 3:130) (Ali 116)

According to the Islamic teachings, interest comes under the category of “riba” or usury. It is strictly prohibited in Islam to involve in any kind of usury. Muslims are encouraged to understand the seriousness of the matter as according to Quran, Allah has stated the consumption of usury as a war with Him.

The prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) has clearly stated that consuming interest is strictly forbidden according to the teachings of Islam he says:

“ The ones who consume usury, the ones who give it to others, the ones who witness it and the ones who write it down, all are same (in the eyes of God)” (Muslim 3/1219)

There have been various discussions on the issue of usury by the Muslim jurists and they have come up to the conclusion that usury occurs when you receive or give some surplus amount on the debt. If the borrower repays the lender even 1 penny more than the principal amount, it would be considered as usury. However, the surplus that is obtained from buying and selling goods is not considered as the part of usury and is lawful and legitimate for the Muslims.

Usury in Buddhism

The oldest references to usury can be found in ancient Indian religious manuscripts. The Vedict texts of ancient India (2000-1400 B.C), states that the one who involves in usury (called “kusidin”), can be any lender at interest.

According to the Buddhists’ Noble Eightfold Path every human should observe “right livelihood”. By right livelihood it is meant that one should not involve in earning livelihood by unfair means either by observing deceit, trickery, usury or treachery. According to Gautama Buddha in his sermon on the eight fold path:

“One should distinguish right livelihood as right livelihood and wrong livelihood as wrong livelihood. And what is wrong livelihood? Scheming, hinting, persuading, and charging interest. This is wrong livelihood” (Hanh 214)

It has also been stated that once Brahmin Ujjaya inquired Buddha for his advice on ways to gain happiness and prosperity by earning the right livelihood. Buddha explained the circumstances that would lead to prosperity and happiness in present and in future as follows:

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“Brahmin, these four conditions lead to happiness and benefit in the present. They are industriousness, watchfulness, good company and a balanced livelihood.” (Hanh 334)

According to the teachings of Buddha a person should support his family in a moderate way neither extravagantly nor thriftily. If a person has a small income but lives lavishly he would be considered as if he has consumed all his wealth like peanuts and if a person has a large income and he used it thriftily, he would not die happily.  Hence, moderation is required in supporting oneself and his family to earn a balanced livelihood.

Usury in Christianity

According to Eugene H. Merrill (Ed) (2004) there has been no denomination of any Christian church that has condoned usury, which can be defined as an exorbitant charging for the use of goods or money that has been lent. However, charging of interest cannot always be considered as usury in all circumstances.

There has been no direct condemnation of consuming usury according to the new testament, but the old testaments particularly King James version has clearly condemned the consumption of usury in the following words:

“If you lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as a usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.” (Exodus: 22:25) (American Bible Society 1245)

However, the new testaments references to the use of usury as follows:

“Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest” (Mathew 25:27) (Barclay 96)

Many Christians erroneously claim that the New Testament does not forbid interest based capitalization. But in fact, the New Testament has gone a step further by instructing us to lend with no intention of taking back anything at all.

“Forgive us our debts even as we forgive our debtors.” (Mathew 6:12)

Many schools of thought believe that usury is related to charging excessive rates of interest and that it is permissible to charge a reasonable amount of interest. But the bible says:

“You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food (or) anything that may be loaned at interest”.

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