we know, Allah Almighty has forbidden the taking of usury (riba)
and in fact transactions involving usury in any way. The ayats in
the Qur'an and the various hadiths on the subject make it clear
that it is not only forbidden, but forbidden in the strongest terms.
It is referred to as 'war against Allah and the Messenger' and as
being '30 times worse than adultery.' Strong stuff! Now if Allah
makes something forbidden it is not, God forbid, just for the sake
of forbidding something. It is because there is harm in that thing
for human beings and the prohibition is in order that people should
not cause themselves or others harm and upset the balance of human
we have seen, usury has now penetrated every sphere of the society
we live in. It is the nature of usury to corrupt and poison everything
it touches and there is no doubt that usury is a root cause of all
the sicknesses with which our society is riddled. Wherever there
is a problem, if you trace it back, you find that usury is either
directly or indirectly at its root. So all we have to do to understand
why usury is forbidden to us is to look around us and see what its
unlimited practice has brought about.
all Muslims know that usury is forbidden in Islam. What most people
do not know is that it was also completely forbidden to Jews and
Christians as well. The question must then be asked that if this
is the case, how has the present situation been able to come about?
As Muslims living in this time, it is essential for us to know this
because until we understand the nature of the system we live in
and which governs ever part of the world, we will not be able to
replace it, and restore the limits of Allah which it is our responsibility
to do to the utmost extent that we are able.
we do look, an interesting picture emerges which as Muslims we would
in fact expect to see, and that is that the introduction of usury
has gone hand in hand with the destruction of belief and religious
values in society.
I said, usury, being against the law of Allah, was as forbidden
to the Jews and Christians as it is for the Muslims. There are specific
texts forbidding it in the Torah from the time of Moses and it was
among the things that the Christians accepted when they chopped
and changed the teaching of Jesus, peace be upon him. However, the
Jews found or invented a loophole and came up with a text permitting
them to practise usury as a weapon against their enemies, because
as can be seen from the situation today, usury is the way that a
very few people can get power over a great many. Anyway, throughout
the centuries Jews used it as a way of getting their own back against
the Christians, who persecuted them. However, in spite of the fact
that they did get very rich, they were hated and despised for it.
In the 12th century, the handful of English Jews were so rich that
they paid ) of the tax collected in the whole century, but shortly
afterwards it came back at them and those who were not killed by
the people were expelled from the country, not to return as we shall
later see for 350 years.
that was the situation as far as usury was concerned. There were
a few money lenders because people in difficult circumstances will
always need to borrow money, but it was on a very limited scale
and those who did it were hated and reviled because it was known
that what they did was cursed and against Divine Law. The worst
possible insult you could give anyone in that society was to call
them a usurer. Whereas now people might call one a terrorist or
even an Islamic fundamentalist, then they would call them a 'usurer'!
remained the situation until the 16th century when something took
place which completely changed the way usury was regarded and allowed
what has happened to happen. What occurred in known as the 'Reformation'.
Germany, Martin Luther decided, with some justification, that the
Roman Catholic Church had become totally corrupt. He felt that the
Church, rather than acting as a bridge between human beings and
God, prevented them having access to God, Accordingly he separated
himself from Rome and created the Protestant Church. However, by
doing this he threw out the baby with the bath water because by
doing it, he rejected canon law which was the way that what was
left of the Shari'ah in Christianity could take effect in society.
It is a bit like someone saying we must return to the pure sources
of the Kitab wa Sunnah and at the same time throwing out all the
fiqh which goes with them.
actual results of what he did was (1) that religion stopped being
something which involved every aspect of people's lives in a tangible
way and became a private matter between the individual and his Lord
and (2) that it was now possible for anyone to decide whether something
was right or wrong.
on from what Luther had done, Calvin founded a theocratic state
in Geneva and this brings us right back to usury. He, in the name
of religion, passed an edict which for the first time permitted
the practice of usury, arguing that the commercial situation was
so changed that it had become necessary. The fact that he hedged
it round with strict conditions made no difference. Unscrupulous
businessmen pounced on it with glee. Usury was now permissible and
would soon even be respectable. The issue now became not whether
usury was permitted or not, but how much? In one stroke, the whole
economic edifice was changed.
was, of course, considerable resistance and a valiant rearguard
action was fought which lasted for nearly a century, One Frenchman
called Brodin put the case very succinctly. He said, 'Those who
maintain under the cover of religion that moderate usury of 4 or
5% is just because the borrower gains as much as the lender go against
the law of God which forbids usury absolutely and cannot be revoked.'
However, he and those like him were unable to stem the flood which
has continued unchecked to the present day.
we have seen, it was a religious split which allowed usury to come
in and since religion as the guardian of Divine Law was the enemy
of usury, religion had to go or at least be made totally impotent
before the usurers would have their way completely.
was the arena where this process took place. Following the precedent
of of Luther and Calvin, although in his case it was purely out
of self-interest, and English King, Henry VIII, split with Rome
and founded the Church of England. Until this time religion had
constituted the final authority in all matters and everything else
was subordinate to it. Henry joined together religion and the state
in his own person amd by doing so put them on an equal footing.
I wanted to restore religion to the place of supremacy but when
he tried to do so, Oliver Cromwell fought him and the Civil War
took place. It was a war between the traditional order and the new
economic order represented by the middle classes. Cromwell defeated
the King, had him executed and established the Commonwealth which
was in fact the first secular state. In it religion was subservient
to the state, a department in it. Cromwell had financed himself
by loans from Dutch banks and one of the conditions was that the
Jews were to be allowed back after 350 years to live in England
again. Christianity and Judaism became for the first time equally
acceptable religions under the state.
monarchy was restored, but on a constitutional basis, and when was
resented by James II, the final blow was struck. The bankers put
in their own man and William of Orange was sent from Holland to
be king of England. The usurers were now in control of the state
which was in control of religion.
this time on religion became increasingly irrelevant. It no longer
wielded any real power at all. The usurers had won the day.
Muslims escaped this process as long as the border between Dar al-Islam
and Dar al-Kufr remained clear-cut and strongly defended.
when Napoleon entered Egypt, an open wound was created in the heart
of Islam and through it flowed the poison of usury into the bloodstream
of Islam. Students were sent to Europe, the Suez Canal was built,
and lo and behold a fatwah was issued making usury halal and the
first banks were opened. Now, of course, the situation is such that
the Muslims are as much in the power of the usurers as the Europeans
or even more so.
importance of this issue can be seen from the fact that the last
ayats to be revealed in the Qur'an were about usury and the Messenger
of Allah made a point of stressing it in the Final Khutbah on the
Farewell Hajj and ordered us to cut off from it.
have to see that just as Quraysh were the enemies of the first Muslims,
our enemies are the usurers and the economic system by which the
whole world is enslaved. We think we are responsible, freely deciding
people, but this is self delusion.
are in fact passive slaves to a destructive and corrupting system
set up in direct contravention to the law of Allah. No effort is
made to confront this and change it. It is as if we are praying
in a sewer. Our job is to establish Islam.
are responsible to Allah for upholding the limits of Allah and to
do this we have to confront the economic system and indeed many
of the other systems under which we live.