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The Issue of Riba in Islamic Faith and Law

University of Virginia Perhaps one of the most difficult issues in Islamic concern for fairness in business dealings is its prohibition of business transactions that call for charging riba (usury and interest). Riba, in its Qur'anic meaning, means paying money for the use of money. Muslims have struggled with the problem ever since the Qur'an categorically denounced riba. From the Islamic perspective, with its bias towards fair distribution of wealth and social justice, the Qur'an's strictures against riba have implications for international political economy. The issue also confronts devout Muslim business people as they struggle to make their investments religiously and morally legitimate.

This essay will analyze the controversy around riba as a prime example of how Muslims engage in ethical reasoning about business practice. It will show that ethical judgments in Islam amalgamate cultural elements derived from the particular experience of Muslims living in a specific place and time, as verified by the timeless universal norms derived from the scriptural sources like the Qur'an and the Tradition (Sunna), which themselves possess common elements applicable to all humans as humans.

Although the business world today is moving towards globalization in which small businesses are going to be further marginalized, the paragon of business ethics in the Muslim world as well as the West remains a devout individual who exhibits unusual sense of ethical-religious responsibility towards the higher goals set by his/her religious teachings. To dismiss this dimension from discussions about the business world today is equivalent to saying that the highly technicalized business world is moving at a pace uncontrollable by human beings and that no human conscience is able to direct the moral consequences of wealth-generating enterprises, however exploitative or corruptive they might appear to morally conscious individual or group of individuals. The following case illustrates the ethical dilemma presented by the Qur'anic stricture against paying and charging interest in business dealings.

Adapted from the book: "The Issue of Riba in Islamic Faith and Law" by: "Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina"

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