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Riba (Usury and Interest)

Defining the Problem

Riba (Usury) is of two major kinds:

Riba An-Nasia - Interest on lent money

Riba Al-Fadl - Taking a superior thing of the same kind of goods by giving more of the same kind of goods of inferior quality, eg.,dates of superior quality for dates of inferior quality in great amounts.

The definition of Interest, the literal meaning of interest or Al-Riba as it is used in the arabic language means to excess or increase. In the Islamic terminology interest means effortless profit or that profit which comes free from compensation or that extra earning obtained that is free of exchange. Riba has been described as a loan with the condition that the borrower will return to the lender more than and better than the quantity borrowed.

As muslims, our main concern when it comes to financial transactions is to avoid Riba in any of its forms, despite the fact that the basic foundation of the world economics and finance today is that of riba and dealing in usury.

The Prophet peace and blessings be upon him has foretold us of a time when the spread of riba would be so overwhelming that it would be extremely difficult for the muslim to avoid it. This situation calls for muslims to be extra cautious before deciding on what money payment of financial methods to use in any personal or business transaction.

To make sure that we are safe from Riba, we have to learn which transactions lead to it.

Interest in Pre-Islamic Times

HafizIbn hajr writes in his commentary of Sahih Bukhari (Fathul Bari), Vol. IV p.264:

Imam Malik reports on the authority of Zaid Ibn Aslam that in the period of ignorance (pre-Islamic times) interest was changed according to the following scheme. One person had a right to the property of another person. It may have been a general right because of the amount lent or the price of something purchased or in any other form. A time was set when the claim would be settled.When the appointed time arrived the creditor would ask the debtor if he wanted to settle the claim or pay interest with an extension of time. If the claim was settled then there was no increase in the payment. Otherwise the debtor would increase the amount payable and the creditor would extend the period further.

Textual Evidence

Hadith - Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, No. 299; Narrated ‘Aun bin Abu Juhaifah, r.a.

My father bought a slave who practised the profession of cupping, (My father broke the servants instruments of cupping). I asked my father why he had done so. He replied, "The Prophet forbade the acceptance of the price of a dog or blood, and also forbade the profession of tatooing, or getting tatooed and receiving or giving Riba (Usury), and cursed the picture makers."

Hadith - Sahih Bukhari, 2.468, Narrated Samura bin Jundab, r.a.

He speaks of in a dream related to the Prophet (SAW) that there is a river of blood and a man was in it, and another man was standing at its bank with stones in front of him,facing the man standing in the river. Whenever the man in the river wanted to come out , the other one threw a stone in his mouth and caused him to retreat back into his original position.The Prophet peace and blessings be upon him was told that these people in this river of blood were people who dealt in Riba (usury).

The Noble Qur'an - Al-Baqarah 275-281

275. Those who eat Ribâ (usury) will not stand (on the Day of Resurrection) except like the standing of a person beaten by Shaitân (Satan) leading him to insanity. That is because they say: "Trading is only like Ribâ (usury)," whereas Allâh has permitted trading and forbidden Ribâ (usury). So whosoever receives an admonition from his Lord and stops eating Ribâ (usury) shall not be punished for the past; his case is for Allâh (to judge); but whoever returns [to Ribâ (usury)], such are the dwellers of the Fire - they will abide therein.

276. Allâh will destroy Ribâ (usury) and will give increase for Sadaqât (deeds of charity, alms, etc.) And Allâh likes not the disbelievers, sinners.

277. Truly those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and perform As-Salât (Iqâmat-as-Salât), and give Zakât, they will have their reward with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

278. O you who believe! Be afraid of Allâh and give up what remains (due to you) from Ribâ (usury) (from now onward), if you are (really) believers.

279. And if you do not do it, then take a notice of war from Allâh and His Messenger but if you repent, you shall have your capital sums. Deal not unjustly (by asking more than your capital sums), and you shall not be dealt with unjustly (by receiving less than your capital sums).

280. And if the debtor is in a hard time (has no money), then grant him time till it is easy for him to repay, but if you remit it by way of charity, that is better for you if you did but know.

281. And be afraid of the Day when you shall be brought back to Allâh. Then every person shall be paid what he earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.

The Noble Qur'an - Al-Imran 3:130

O you who believe! Eat not Ribâ (usury) doubled and multiplied, but fear Allâh that you may be successful.

Hadith - Mishkat-ul-Masabih

The following three ahadith have been taken from Mishkat-ul-Masabih under the section of interest and the English translation has been taken from its English version written by Al Hajj Moulana Fazl Karim (218-227 vol.11)

Hazrat Jabir r.a. has reported that the Messenger of Allah peace and blessings be upon him cursed the devourer of usury, its payer, its scribe and its two witnesses. He also said that they were equal (in sin).

Hazrat Abu Hurairah r.a. reported that the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him said : A time will certainly come over the people when none will remain who will not devour usury. If he does not devour it, its vapour will overtake him. [Ahmed,Abu Dawood,Nisai,Ibn Majah]

Hazrat Abu Hurairah radiyallahu anhu reported that the Messenger of Allahpeace and blessings be upon him said: I came across some people in the night in which I was taken to the heavens.Their stomachs were like houses wherein there were serpents,which could be seen from the front of the stomachs. I asked :O Gabriel! Who are these people? He replied these are those who devoured usury. [Ahmed,Ibn Majah]

Hadith - ??

Hazrat Al-Khudri radiyallahu anhu reported that the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him said: Gold in exchange for gold, silver in exchange for silver, wheat in exchange for wheat, barley in exchange for barley,dates in exchange for dates, salt in exchange for salt is in the same category and (should be exchanged) hand to hand, so whoever adds or demands increase he has practised usury. The giver and taker are the same.

A. General

1. From Jabir : The Prophet, , may cursed the receiver and the payer of interest, the one who records it and the two witnesses to the transaction and said: "They are all alike [in guilt]." (Muslim, Kitab al-Musaqat, Bab la'ni akili al-ribawa mu'kilihi; also in Tirmidhi and Musnad Ahmad)

2.  Jabir ibn 'Abdallah , giving a report on the Prophet's Farewell Pilgrimage, said: The Prophet, , addressed the people and said "All of the riba of Jahiliyyah is annulled. The first riba that I annul is our riba, that accruing to 'Abbas ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib [the Prophet's uncle]; it is being cancelled completely." (Muslim, Kitab al-Hajj, Bab Hajjati al-Nabi, ; may also in Musnad Ahmad)

3. From 'Abdallah ibn Hanzalah : The Prophet, , said: "A dirham of riba which a man receives knowingly is worse than committing adultery thirty-six times" (Mishkat al-Masabih, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab al-riba, on the authority of Ahmad and Daraqutni). Bayhaqi has also reported the above hadith in Shu'ab al-iman with the addition that "Hell befits him whose flesh has been nourished by the unlawful."

4. From Abu Hurayrah : The Prophet, , said: "On the night of Ascension I came upon people whose stomachs were like houses with snakes visible from the outside. I asked Gabriel who they were. He replied that they were people who had received interest." (Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Tijarat, Bab al-taghlizi fi al-riba; also in Musnad Ahmad)

5. From Abu Hurayrah : The Prophet, , said: "Riba has seventy segments, the least serious being equivalent to a man committing adultery with his own mother." (Ibn Majah)

6. From Abu Hurayrah : The Prophet, , said: "There will certainly come a time for mankind when everyone will take riba and if he does not do so, its dust will reach him." (Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab fi ijtinabi al-shubuhat; also in Ibn Majah)

7. From Abu Hurayrah : The Prophet, , said: "God would be justified in not allowing four persons to enter paradise or to taste its blessings: he who drinks habitually, he who takes riba, he who usurps an orphan's property without right, and he who is undutiful to his parents." (Mustadrak al-Hakim, Kitab al-Buyu')

B. Riba an Nasiyah

1. From Usamah ibn Zayd : The Prophet, , said: "There is no riba except in Nasiyah [waiting]." (Bukhari, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab Bay' al-dinari bi al-dinar nasa'an; also Muslim and Musnad Ahmad) "There is no riba in hand-to-hand [spot] transactions." (Muslim, Kitab al-Musaqat, Bah bay'i al-ta'ami mithlan bi mithlin; also in Nasa'i)

2. From Ibn Mas'ud : The Prophet, , said: "Even when interest is much, it is bound to end up into paltriness." (Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Tijarat, Bab al-taghlizi fi al-riba; also in Musnad Ahmad)

3. From Anas ibn Malik : The Prophet, , said: "When one of you grants a loan and the borrower offers him a dish, he should not accept it; and if the borrower offers a ride on an animal, he should not ride, unless the two of them have been previously accustomed to exchanging such favours mutually." (Sunan al-Bayhaqi, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab kulli qardin jarra manfa'atan fa huwa riban)

4. From Anas ibn Malik : The Prophet, , said: "If a man extends a loan to someone he should not accept a gift." (Mishkat, on the authority of Bukhara's Tarikh and Ibn Taymiyyah's al-Muntaqa)

5. From Abu Burdah ibn Abi Musa : I came to Madinah and met 'Abdallah ibn Salam who said, "You live in a country where riba is rampant; hence if anyone owes you something and presents you with a load of hay, or a load of barley, or a rope of straw, do not accept it for it is riba." (Mishkat, reported on the authority of Bukhari)

6. Fadalah ibn 'Ubayd said that "The benefit derived from any loan is one of the different aspects of riba." (Sunan al-Bayhaqi) This hadith is mawquf implying that it is not necessarily from the Prophet; it could be an explanation provided by Fadalah himself, a companion of the Prophet, .

C. Riba al-FadI

1. From 'Umar ibn al-Khattab : The last verse to be revealed was on riba and the Prophet, , was taken without explaining it to us; so give up not only riba but also raibah [whatever raises doubts in the mind about its rightful-ness]. (Ibn Majah,)

2. The Prophet, , said, "Sell gold in exchange of equivalent gold, sell silver in exchange of equivalent silver, sell dates in exchange of equivalent dates, sell wheat in exchange of equivalent wheat, sell salt in exchange of equivalent salt, sell barley in exchange of equivalent barley, but if a person transacts in excess, it will be usury (riba). However, sell gold for silver anyway you please on the condition it is hand-to-hand (spot) and sell barley for date anyway you please on the condition it is hand-to-hand (spot)."

3. From Abu Sa'id al-Khudri : The Prophet, , said: "Do not sell gold for gold except when it is like for like, and do not increase one over the other; do not sell silver for silver except when it is like for like, and do not increase one over the other; and do not sell what is away [from among these] for what is ready." (Bukhari, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab bay'i al-fiddati bi al-fiddah; also Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasa'i and Musnad Ahmad)

4. From 'Ubada ibn al-Samit : The Prophet, , said: "Gold for gold, silver for silver, wheat for wheat, barley for barley, dates for dates, and salt for salt - like for like, equal for equal, and hand-to-hand; if the commodities differ, then you may sell as you wish, provided that the exchange is hand-to-hand." (Muslim, Kitab al-Musaqat, Bab al-sarfi wa bay'i al-dhahabi bi al-waraqi naqdan; also in Tirmidhi)

5. From Abu Sa'id al-Khudri : The Prophet, , said: "Gold for gold, silver for silver, wheat for wheat, barley for barley, dates for dates, and salt for salt - like for like, and hand-to-hand. Whoever pays more or takes more has indulged in riba. The taker and the giver are alike [in guilt]." (Muslim, ibid; and Musnad Ahmad)

6. From Abu Sa'id and Abu Hurayrah : A man employed by the Prophet, , in Khaybar brought for him janibs [dates of very fine quality]. Upon the Prophet's asking him whether all the dates of Khaybar were such, the man replied that this was not the case and added that "they exchanged a sa' [a measure] of this kind for two or three [of the other kind]". The Prophet, , replied, "Do not do so. Sell [the lower quality dates] for dirhams and then use the dirhams to buy janibs. [When dates are exchanged against dates] they should be equal in weight." (Bukhari, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab idha arada bay'a tamrin bi tamrin khayrun minhu; also Muslim and Nasa'i)

7. From Abu Sa'id : Bilal brought to the Prophet, , some barni [good quality] dates whereupon the Prophet asked him where these were from. Bilal replied, "I had some inferior dates which I exchanged for these - two sa's for a sa'." The Prophet said, "Oh no, this is exactly riba. Do not do so, but when you wish to buy, sell the inferior dates against something [cash] and then buy the better dates with the price you receive." (Muslim, Kitab al-Musaqat, Bab al-ta'ami mithlan bi mithlin; also Musnad Ahmad)

8. From Fadalah ibn 'Ubayd al-Ansari : On the day of Khaybar he bought a necklace of gold and pearls for twelve dinars. On separating the two, he found that the gold itself was equal to more than twelve dinars. So he mentioned this to the Prophet, , who replied, "It [jewellery] must not be sold until the contents have been valued separately." (Muslim, Kitab al-Musaqat, Bab bay'i al-qiladah fiha khara-zun wa dhahab; also in Tirmidhi and Nasa'i)

9. From Abu Umamah : The Prophet, , said: "Whoever makes a recommendation for his brother and accepts a gift offered by him has entered riba through one of its large gates." (Bulugh al-Maram, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab al-riba, reported on the authority of Ahmad and Abu Dawud)

10. From Anas ibn Malik : The Prophet, , said: "Deceiving a mustarsal [an unknowing entrant into the market] is riba." (Suyuti, al-Jami' al-Saghir, under the word ghabn; Kanz al-'Ummal, Kitab al-Buyu', al-Bab al-thani, al-fasl al-thani, on the authority of Sunan al-Bayhaqi)

11. From 'Abdallah ibn Abi Awfa : The Prophet, , said: "A najish [one who serves as an agent to bid up the price in an auction] is a cursed taker of riba." (Cited by Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani in his commentary on al-Bukhari called Fath al-Bari, Kitab al-Buyu', Bab al-najsh; also in SuyutT, al-Jami al-Saghir, under the word al-najish and Kanz al-'Ummal, op. cit., both on the authority of Tabarani's al-Kabir).


After reading the above, it is apparent to us that interest is haram (prohibited). How could anybody even take the time out to think about a matter in which Allah has declared war on the user and his Beloved Prophet peace and blessings be upon him has cursed him? As sensible people we can understand that what our Creator has chosen for us is for our own prosperity and benefit.

Islam has encouraged men to earn their own provision and provide for their families. The condition is that the earning has to be according to the Shari’ah. These rules can be found under the heading of trade in the books of jurisprudence. Interest is amongst those conditions which all dealings must be free from.

Imam Abu Hanifah has ruled that if the measurement system (volumetric or in compounds) is the same and the two items are in the same category, then they should be sold in the same amount and direct not in credit otherwise interest will be found.

Imam Shaf’ee says that if the items are valuable and could be considered food then there is the chance of interest.

Imam Malik says that if the items are valuable and are edible then interest is a subject.