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Home arrow Business & Finance arrow The art of RF (riba-free) Islamic banking and finance
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This section is thought to form an important foundation to one of the goals of this book, which is to offer a Judeo-Christian-Islamic solution to the problem of renting money at a price called interest rate. It is an introduction to Islam, with an emphasis on how Islam ties itself by the revelations of the Qur'aan to the teachings of Abraham and all his descendants, including Moses (pp) and Jesus (pp).

The basic foundation of faith in Islam is belief in God; in all of God's prophets, including Prophet Abraham (pp[1]) and his children Ishmael (pp) and Isaac (pp) and their descendants; and in subsequent appointed prophets, including Joseph (pp), Moses (pp), Jesus (pp), and Muhammad (pp). A Muslim is a person who submits his/her will to that of God. A Muslim believes that the “people of the book” (as the Qur'aan refers to them) are those brothers and sisters in Judaism and Christianity who received a book of guidance and discipline of living from God: the Torah in the Jewish Bible, the Gospel in the Christian Bible.

It is important to note that part of the creed of a Muslim is that he/she must believe in Moses (pp) and Jesus (pp). Moses (pp) liberated the Hebrews from the slavery practiced against them by the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and God spoke to him and gave him the Ten Commandments, which were further developed into the Jewish Bible. On that part of the experience of Moses (pp), the Qur'aan[2] reveals:

4:164 Of some apostles We have already told thee the story; of others We have not; and to Moses God spoke direct;

Jesus (pp) was later commissioned to revitalize, deepen, and expand on the teachings of Moses (pp). He taught the words of God and set the ultimate example of offering himself in sacrifice in order for the world to stay the course and for him to leave behind a shining example for all generations to come. This was recorded in the Qur'aan as follows:

3:45 Behold! The angels said: “O Mary! God gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God.

As the world grew, its resources diversified, and its people started traveling to chart new local and international trading routes (resulting in growth in trade and commerce), the Prophet Muhammad (pp) was commissioned by God to expand further on the teachings of Moses (pp) and Jesus (pp) and to offer the people of the world at large a universal working model and various disciplines on how to live, raise a family, build a community, govern, and conduct business with each other.

Prophet Muhammad (pp) was a revolutionary, like Moses (pp), leading a movement to free the slaves and remove slavery of the body and the soul from Arabia and the world. He worked hard to educate and liberate the pagans in Arabia and the rest of the world, to set them free by worshipping only one God. He also followed and built on the example of Jesus (pp) by intensifying people's commitment to God; by softening people's hearts toward those who are poor, deprived, underprivileged, and in need; and by standing up in righteousness to those who abused their riches and powers in the name of religion to take advantage of the helpless poor, the underprivileged and the needy. In doing so, he made it easier for people to live together in peace, with justice and fairness for all.

With the emergence of the Roman/Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire as the two leading superpowers during the time of Prophet Muhammad's (pp) mission, he was commissioned to offer the world, through the revelations of God's words in the Qur'aan and his living model (the Sunnah[3]) a detailed example of a living prophet who was a spiritual leader, the head of a state, and a businessman.

His actions and model of living were all fully documented because he was commissioned in the light of history brought on by the invention of paper and the printing press. He acted as a prophet and as a shepherd (like Jesus [pp] and Moses [pp]) and as a political leader and as head of the state defense forces. He expanded his responsibilities to offer a role model for being a successful merchant, an accomplished money manager, and an admired and trusted investor. Michael Hart, who was born in a Christian family,[4] states: “He [Prophet Muhammad (pp)] was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both religious and secular levels.” While studying the Qur'aan and the style of living (the Sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad (pp) depicted in the vastly researched, meticulously authenticated and documented body of his sayings (the Hadeeth[5]) and his traditions and story of his life (the Seerah[6]), we learn about similar models of living offered by Moses (pp) and Jesus (pp). Prophet Muhammad's life expanded on the examples of Moses (pp) and Jesus (pp) to demonstrate how to live in the more complex world of the sixth century. This new world included more sophisticated communication systems, transportation methods, and trading routes, as well as new businesses, more integrated markets, and expanded villages and cities — and a more sophisticated monetary and economic system. We read in the Qur'aan:

2:136 Say: We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been sent to Moses and Jesus; and that which has been sent to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them and it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.[7]

42:13 The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah — that which We have sent by inspiration to thee — and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

The religion of Islam as understood from the Qur'aan and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (pp) reinvigorated the basic religious concepts brought by Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Being a Muslim means to submit our will to the will of God by worshipping only Him and by abiding by His injunctions, which He revealed to all His prophets.

Conceptually, Islam can indeed be looked upon as part of an encompassing Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition that extends back to the father and patriarch of all prophets, Abraham (pp). One well-read American Muslim stated that he researched all religions and philosophies to find a faith to which he could adhere. He concluded that Islam was it for him because it did not take away from him Moses (pp) and his Jewish beliefs in the Old Testament or his Christian beliefs in Jesus (pp) and in the Bible. He said that Islam, to him, was the umbrella that covered all and included all God's prophets and messengers. He added that Islam was to him like a tent that brought under it, in one house, the teachings of Moses (pp) in Judaism and Jesus (pp) in Christianity; it did not discredit these teachings, but rather intensified, reinforced, and deepened them.[8] This concept is exactly what is meant in this book by the Judeo-Christian-Islamic lifestyle.

The original teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam prohibit lending money and charging interest/usury (the original word usury was used to mean paying a rent for the use of money; the meaning was changed to mean, in today's language, lending at an excessive interest rate), ribit (which means an increase over the original amount of debt, in the language of the Old Testament), and riba (which also means an increase, in the language of the Qur'aan). It is also interesting to note that charging interest is prohibited in Buddhism, Hinduism, and many other faiths and philosophies.[9] Muslims are taught that participating in the culture and practice of charging and/or paying interest (charging interest on lending money, borrowing with interest, and witnessing contracts that involve interest) is divinely prohibited (haram) and is one of the worst sins by the Islamic — that is, the Judeo-Christian- Islamic — laws (the term that will be used throughout this book for Judeo- Christian-Islamic law is Shari'aa, “the law”). The act of borrowing money with interest (riba) is not a socially and religiously acceptable behavior. In a typical Muslim society, borrowing money and paying interest is reserved only for meeting a dire need, and it is socially considered a shameful act.

Charging interest is also divinely prohibited in Judaism and Christianity. It is important to study, learn, and reflect upon the history of the prohibition of interest from the original teachings of Moses (pp) in the Torah (Jewish Bible) and the teachings of Jesus (pp) in the Christian Bible with an eye toward how these attitudes developed into the more relaxed practices involving the renting of money (interest/usury) of today.

It was felt that a more appropriate and credible approach to studying the charging of interest in Judaism and Christianity is to ask an adherent to each faith who is an expert in the field of finance and banking to summarize the position and the original teachings of his/her faith on the charging of interest, and then to discuss how these clear Judeo-Christian-lslamic injunctions that prohibited the charging of interest were modified and reconstructed to become the current acceptable practice of charging interest. In March 2002, the board of directors of LARIBA in Pasadena, California, invited a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic professor, and a Protestant professor to author and present papers on the subject. The following is a summary of their analysis. The next section starts with a summary of the foundations of what I call the Judeo-Christian-lslamic value system and beliefs, followed by an analysis of the prohibition of interest/usury in Judaism, Christianity, and in Islam.

  • [1] The abbreviation pp stands for “May God's Prayers and Peace be showered onto them.” In Arabic: “Sallaa Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam”—usually abbreviated as s. This is a standard idiom that is uttered by all Muslims after the mentioning or hearing any of God's prophets' names mentioned.
  • [2] Translations of the Qur'aan were obtained from and are from two sources: (1) The Meaning of the Holy Qur'aan, Eleventh Edition, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Beltsville, MD: Amana, 2009, and (2) The Qur'an, a translation by Muhammad Asad (Gibraltar: Andalus Press, 1980). The Islamic City website ( is acknowledged for its indexing and search engines of the Qur'aan in different forms, most important of which is the pioneering phonetic search engine.
  • [3] Sunnah is an Arabic word for the style, way of life, and tradition of the Prophet (pp).
  • [4] Michael Hart: The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History (New York: Citadel Press, 1978).
  • [5] Hadeeth is an Arabic word meaning the documented body of sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pp).
  • [6] Seerah is an Arabic word that means the documented full life story and autobiography of Prophet Muhammad (pp).
  • [7] The Qur'aan, 2:136.
  • [8] R. St John, Esq: Private communication.
  • [9] Wayne A. M. Visser and Alastair McIntosh, “A Short Review of the Historical Critique of Usury.” First published in Accounting, Business & Financial History, 8(2) (July 1998): 175-189.
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