Recently someone presented to me the opinion or the assumption that it’s not forbidden to pay interest, it’s only forbidden to take interest claiming that there’s nothing in the Quran. That would indicate that it’s forbidden to pay interest. I wanted to take a moment and address this issue because I think it’s something that all of you should be concerned about.
There are several texts in the Quran, as well as in the Sunna that indicate that it is forbidden to both pay as well as take interest. So it is forbidden to be a creditor at interest, and it is forbidden to be a debtor at interest, it’s forbidden to take a loan with interest, and it’s forbidden to issue a loan with interest.
Why is that? Because essentially when you loan out money, you are being rewarded for something that you have no liability for. And that is the underlying economic activity. So you’re actually making money off of economic activity that you have not participated in, in any way, shape or form.
Does the Quran Forbid Paying Interest
The Quran actually addresses this in two places. The first instance is where Allah the Most High says,
يا أيُّها الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وذَرُوا ما بَقِيَ مِنَ الرِّبا
“O you who believe be mindful of Allah and leave off whatever is left of Riba.”
Surat al-Baqara, verse 278.
This was addressed to both the creditors and the debtors that happened to live in Mecca and the surrounding areas that were involved in loaning each other money. Showcasing this, the demand to repay reached the extent that when some of the creditors came to the tribe of Beni Al-Mughīra and demanded they pay the interest that they owed us. They said, We swear by Allah, “we won’t pay any Riba as long as long as Allah has absolved the believers from that.”1
So first and foremost, this verse includes both creditors and debtors. Secondly, the claim that the Quran only speaks or does not speak about giving interest is methodologically problematic in that Islam is not only based on the texts of the Quran. Why am I mentioning this very important point?
The second verse, is where Allah the Most High says,
وَمَا آتَيْتُمْ مِنْ رِبًا لِيَرْبُوَ فِي أَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ فَلا يَرْبُو عِنْدَ اللَّهِ
“Whatever you give of Riba to increase amongst other people’s wealth,
then it does not increase with Allah.”
Surat al-Rum , verse 39.
Now there are two positions amongst classical scholars about this verse. The majority of scholars saying that this was actually speaking about gifts and awards that people were giving to gain favor from one another. So to this group of scholars, the verse actually doesn’t have to do with debt that’s being charged on gains or money being taken from defaulted or issued debt. So it’s not an issue of taking an interest rate on debt, it’s that I’ve given money to someone hoping to gain favor with them, and I’m really not doing that for the sake of Allah.
The second approach, however, is that yes, this actually does pertain to giving Riba, to paying Riba to other people. Al-Baghawi, al-Qurtubi, and others mention this in their tafsir. 2
The reason for highlighting this point is: if you take a Quran-only approach to trying to explain the rules of Riba, then you cannot explain away this verse. Anytime you apply a context to it that fits your interpretation, you need to justify that context.
Linguistically the verse includes both gifts that are given to gain favor as well as forbidden interest paid back on a loan. Linguistically there’s no, if, ands, or buts about it, it includes both. So if you, a person who only takes from the Quran, want us to believe you then you have to show us in the Quran where this verse is negated or where the generality of the verse – which includes both types – is actually negated. And quite frankly, you can’t.
The Prohibition of Paying Interest from the Sunna
Additionally from the Sunnah, there is the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ which is found in Sahīh Muslim from Jabir that he said,
عَنْ جَابِرٍ قَالَ لَعَنَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم- آكِلَ الرِّبَا وَمُوكِلَهُ وَكَاتِبَهُ وَشَاهِدَيْهِ وَقَالَ هُمْ سَوَاءٌ
“Allah has cursed the one who devours Riba, the one who feeds it to him, the one who transcribes it as well as the two who witness it.”3
Despite the clarity of this Hadith, there are some who come and say, “Actually that doesn’t mean the person who feeds it, it means the person who’s an agent.”
This reinterpretation of this phrase “those that feed it” to mean an agent is belied by the other wording of this Hadith. Ahmad collected in his Musnad from Ali and Abdullah ibn Masoud the same Hadith with the phrase,
آكل الربا، ومطعمه
“The eater of Riba and the feeder of it.”
The same is narrated in Mursal form from Ibrahim al-Nakha’i in Abu Yusuf’s al-Āthār.
Another important point that shows the incorrectness of this reinterpretation can be gleaned from the Hadith of Abdullah in Nasai and Musnad Ahmad:
عن عبد الله، قال: «لعن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الواشمة والموتشمة، والواصلة والموصولة، وآكل الربا وموكله، والمحلل والمحلل له»
From Abdullah who said “God’s Messenger cursed the tattooer and the tattooed, the brow plucker and the plucked, the eater of Riba and it’s feeder, the one performing Tahlīl and the one its being performed for.”
In another Hadith in Ibn Hibban from Abu Hurayra,
لعن الله الراشي والمرتشي.
“God curses the one asking for a bribe and the one that pays it.”
In another narration from Thawban in AlTabarani he adds الرائش، meaning the one that facilitates it between them. This further exhibits that the counterparties to an illicit transaction are culpable for their actions, and the one who acts as an agent is as well. The one that pays a bribe is not absolved simply because a bribe was asked of him.
A constant is noticable here. In each instance of a Haram act being performed, the one performing that act as well as the one willfully participating in it is denounced. To exclude the one paying Riba in light of all of these other acts would require a definitive proof that such an exception exists, otherwise we take the norm of the Sharia to be denouncing both willful participants in a forbidden act.
This quite frankly is quite farfetched. Even if we didn’t have this Hadith, we have two other Hadith that are quite clear about the counterparties involved in a Riba based transactions. We have two clear hadith that actually denounce both parties.
In the hadith of Abu Saeed Al-Khudri r.a. in the Musnad of Imam Ahmed, the Prophet ﷺ said
لا تبيعوا الذهب بالذهب إلا مثلا بمثل، ولا تشفوا بعضها على بعض…
“Do not sell gold for gold, except like amounts for like amounts and do not increase over that.”4
Now, why is this Hadith important? Because in any buy, sell transaction, You have whom you have a buyer and a seller, you have a counterparty to another counterparty. You have a creditor and a debtor. You have one who is going to be enriched and one who is going to be disenfranchised. Therefore, if you’re doing money for money, and you’re saying that it’s haram for me to issue a debt for $10,000 and take back $15,000, but it’s not haram for me to pay it. You’re going against the meaning of this Hadith as the Prophet ﷺ said I’m explicitly states that currency values have to be on par, they have to be exchanged on par. Therefore the prohibition here of doing anything that’s not on par applies to both those who take it as well as those who pay it.
Additionally, there’s the hadith of Abu Hurayra also found in Sahih Muslim, that the Prophet ﷺ said:
الذهب بالذهب وزنا بوزن، مثلا بمثل، والفضة بالفضة وزنا بوزن، مثلا بمثل، فمن زاد أو استزاد فهو ربا
“Gold for gold, like for like silver, for silver, like for like, so whoever increases or seeks an increase, then that is Riba.”5
So therefore the one who gives a loan and asks for an increase then he is included in this hadith and whoever takes it and gives an increase is included in this hadith.
So the summary is that the texts of the Quran, even if we only read the Quran, prohibit both paying as well as taking Riba and the texts of the pure Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ also invalidate this very ungracious assumption on the part of those who claim it.
1 – See for example the Tafsirs of al-Baghawi. Al-Tha’labi, and Ibn ‘Adil on the verse in question.
2- Both opinions are mentioned in the Tafsirs of al-Baghawi and al-Qurtubi. The latter mentions it from al-Suddi, saying it was revealed about the people of Thaqif.
3- Sahih Muslim, no. 4177.
4- Musnad Ahmed, no. 11585.
5- Sahih Muslim, no. 4152.
Photo by Abdulmeilk Aldawsari: