Riba in the Quran

Riba in the Quran

The Arabic word Riba (root: ر۔ ب ۔ و) has the following primary meanings:

-Increase, augmentation or growth (e.g. in money, wealth or property)

-{رَبَا المَالُ: The property increased}

-An excess or addition (however slight, over and above the principal sum that is lent)

[Ref. Hans Wehr; Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon; Steingass; AA Nadwi]

If one lends anything to anyone as a favour, one should keep in mind the following principle given in the Quran:

وَلَا تَمْنُن تَسْتَكْثِرُ

And do not bestow a favour in the expectation of receiving more in return;

Al-Quran 74/6

Different verses of the Quran related to Riba are given in the following:

1First Revelation (Sura Ar-Rum, verse 39)

The earliest revelation of the Quran related to Riba is preceded by a verse enjoining to give his right to the relative, the needy and the wayfarer, which clearly indicates the spirit of the Islamic Economic System. The basis of Riba is usually the surplus money that one lends out. Among different options, one of the options for someone with surplus money is to help the poor and the needy, and another is to lend it out to earn more money in the form of interest, and yet another is to use it for business or trade, and so on. It is clear that the Quran’s emphasis has always been on helping the poor ever since the earliest revelation about the Riba till banning it altogether in the later revelations.

فَآتِ ذَا الْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُ وَالْمِسْكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ لِّلَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَ اللَّهِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُون

وَمَا آتَيْتُم مِّن رِّبًا لِّيَرْبُوَ فِي أَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ فَلَا يَرْبُو عِندَ اللَّهِ وَمَا آتَيْتُم مِّن زَكَاةٍ تُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَ اللَّهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُضْعِفُونَ

So, give to the relative his Right, and to Al-Masakeen (the needy, whose business has stalled, or who has lost his job, or whose hard-earned income is insufficient to meet the basic needs), and Ibn-e-sabeel (the homeless son of the street or the needy traveler). This is best for those who seek Allah’s Approval, for, it is they who are the successful.

And whatever you give for Riba in order that it may increase in people’s wealth, it will not increase in the sight of Allah; and whatever you give for Zakat, seeking Allah’s pleasure, it is they who are the multipliers (to get manifold reward)

Al-Quran 30/38-39

The above given verse of Sura Ar-Rum is believed to be revealed in Makkah as the earliest reference to the term Riba in the Quran. This verse is not of prohibitive nature. However, it clearly shows that Riba is not favoured and rewarded by Allah.

2. Second Revelation (Surah an-Nisa’, verse 161)

The verse 161 of Sura An-Nisa alludes that Riba was prohibited for the Jews but they did not comply with the prohibition in their practical lives.

فَبِظُلْمٍ مِّنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا حَرَّمْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ طَيِّبَاتٍ أُحِلَّتْ لَهُمْ وَبِصَدِّهِمْ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ كَثِيرًا

وَأَخْذِهِمُ الرِّبَا وَقَدْ نُهُوا عَنْهُ وَأَكْلِهِمْ أَمْوَالَ النَّاسِ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَأَعْتَدْنَا لِلْكَافِرِينَ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا

So, because of the injustice committed by those who followed the Jewish faith did We deny unto them certain of the good things of life which [aforetime] had been allowed to them; and [We did this] for their having so often turned away from the path of God,

and [because of] their taking Riba although it had been forbidden to them, and their wrongful devouring of other people’s possessions. And for those from among them who [continue to] deny the truth We have readied grievous suffering.

Al-Quran 4/160-161

3. Third Revelation (Surah Ale ‘Imran, verses 130)

The following verse of Surah Ale-Imran contains a clear prohibition of Riba in express terms:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَأْكُلُوا الرِّبَا أَضْعَافًا مُّضَاعَفَةً وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O you who believe! (Do) not eat Riba doubled, re-doubled. And consciously revere Allah so that you may (be) successful.

Al-Quran 3/130

Just a couple of verses followed by the above verse (Ale-Imran 3/130), there is a strong exhortation for doing charity both in prosperity as well as in adversity. This again highlights the spirit behind the prohibition of Riba, which is helping the poor and needy rather than lending them money on interest.

وَسَارِعُوا إِلَىٰ مَغْفِرَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ أُعِدَّتْ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ


الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

And vie with one another to attain your Sustainer’s forgiveness and a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for Al-Muttaqeen,

those who spend (in charity), both in prosperity and adversity, who restrain their anger and are forgiving towards people. God loves those who do good works.

 Al-Quran 3/133-134

4. Fourth Revelation (Surah al-Baqarah, verses 275-81)

The fourth set of verses is contained in Surah Al-Baqarah where the severity of the prohibition of Riba has been elaborated in detail.

الَّذِينَ يَأْكُلُونَ الرِّبَا لَا يَقُومُونَ إِلَّا كَمَا يَقُومُ الَّذِي يَتَخَبَّطُهُ الشَّيْطَانُ مِنَ الْمَسِّ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا الْبَيْعُ مِثْلُ الرِّبَا وَأَحَلَّ اللَّهُ الْبَيْعَ وَحَرَّمَ الرِّبَا فَمَن جَاءَهُ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِ فَانتَهَىٰ فَلَهُ مَا سَلَفَ وَأَمْرُهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَمَنْ عَادَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ

The standing of those who eat Riba is like standing of the one who is confounded by Devil’s stroke – that’s because they say trade is just like Riba, whereas Allah has permitted trade and forbidden Riba. Hence those who have received the admonition from their Lord and desist, may keep their previous gains, their case being entrusted to Allah; but those who revert shall be the inhabitants of the fire and abide therein forever.

Al-Quran 2/275

In Al-Quran 2/275, the term Riba has been used in contrast with the term Bai’.

Bai’ (بیع) has the following meanings:

  • Sale {Hans Wehr Arabic Dictionary}
  • Exchanging or exchange of property; making an exchange with property; making a contract (of sale and purchase); baa’a (بَا عَ) mostly means “he sold” and sometimes means “he bought or purchased” {Lanes Lexicon}
  • Commercial transaction {Steingass}
  • Sale or purchase {Hava}
  • Interchange by sale; selling; merchandising; barter {Penrice}
  • Bargaining; selling and buying {AA Nadwi}

An example of Bai’ is that you purchase an item from person A for $10 and sell it to person B for $11. The extra $1 is a lawful profit. {Profit is lawful as long as it is reasonable}.

An example of Riba is that you lend a person A, $10 and say, after a period of one year get back $11. The extra $1 is unlawful Riba. In both examples, you get extra/addition/growth of $1 but in case of Bai’ , this extra $1 is lawful but in case of Riba, it is unlawful.

 يَمْحَقُ اللَّهُ الرِّبَا وَيُرْبِي الصَّدَقَاتِ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ كَفَّارٍ أَثِيمٍ

Allah deprives Riba of all blessing, whereas He blesses Sadaqaat (i.e. charities) with manifold increase.

And Allah does not love anyone who is stubbornly ingrate and persists in sinful ways.

Al-Quran 2/276

 إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

Those who believe, perform good deeds, establish the salat and pay the zakat, their reward is with their Lord; neither should they have any fear, nor shall they grieve.”

Al-Quran 2/277

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَذَرُوا مَا بَقِيَ مِنَ الرِّبَا إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

“0, believers, consciously revere Allah, and give up what is still due to you from the Riba, if you are true believers.”

Al-Quran 2/278

فَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلُوا فَأْذَنُوا بِحَرْبٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَإِن تُبْتُمْ فَلَكُمْ رُءُوسُ أَمْوَالِكُمْ لَا تَظْلِمُونَ وَلَا تُظْلَمُونَ

“If you do not do so, then take notice of war from Allah and His Messenger. But, if you repent, you can have your principal. Neither should you commit injustice nor should you be subjected to it.”

Al-Quran 2/279

In the following words, the preposition la (لَ) refers to, (one’s) right or that one deserves (استحقاق), and ruūsu amwālikum (رُءُوسُ أَمْوَالِكُمْ) means ‘Your Principal’. It implies that the lender is allowed to have only the Principal back, without any increase.

فَلَكُمْ رُءُوسُ أَمْوَالِكُمْ

In the inflationary system of paper money, the currency may lose value over time. Lending may be linked to price of a commodity having intrinsic value to account for inflation in the paper money so that neither the lender nor the debtor is at loss.

لَا تَظْلِمُونَ وَلَا تُظْلَمُونَ

Neither should you commit injustice nor should you be subjected to it.

وَإِن كَانَ ذُو عُسْرَةٍ فَنَظِرَةٌ إِلَىٰ مَيْسَرَةٍ وَأَن تَصَدَّقُوا خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

“If the debtor is in difficulty, let him have respite until it is easier, but if you forego/write-off (the debt) out of charity, it is better for you if you realize.”

Al-Quran 2/280

 وَاتَّقُوا يَوْمًا تُرْجَعُونَ فِيهِ إِلَى اللَّهِ ثُمَّ تُوَفَّىٰ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ مَّا كَسَبَتْ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

“And guard yourself against the Day when you shall be returned to the Lord and every soul shall be paid in full what it has earned and no one shall be wronged. “

Al-Quran 2/281

It is worth noticing that before mentioning the verses on Riba in Surah Al-Baqra, the Quran puts emphasis again and again on spending in charity. Pls see the following verses:

وَأَنفِقُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلَا تُلْقُوا بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى التَّهْلُكَةِ وَأَحْسِنُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

And spend in the way of Allah; and do not cast yourselves into destruction with your own hands; and do good work. Verily, Allah loves the good-doers.

[Al-Quran 2/195]

يَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلْ مَا أَنفَقْتُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍ فَلِلْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ وَمَا تَفْعَلُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ

They ask you, what they should spend. Say, “Whatever you spend of good is [to be] for (1) parents and (2) al-aqrabeen (i.e. family and relatives), (3) al-yataama (i.e. orphans, widows, and those who are left alone and helpless), (4) al-masaakeen (i.e. those whose hard earned income is insufficient to meet their basic needs, those whose businesses have stalled, and those who have lost their jobs), also (5) the ibn-e-sabeel (i.e. the needy wayfarer, the homeless son of the street, and the one who has come to your town in a destitute condition). And whatever you do of good – indeed, Allah is All-Knowing of it.”

[Al-Quran 2/215]

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْوَ

And they ask you what they should spend. Say, “the surplus beyond your needs”

[Al-Quran 2/219]

مَّثَلُ الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ حَبَّةٍ أَنبَتَتْ سَبْعَ سَنَابِلَ فِي كُلِّ سُنبُلَةٍ مِّائَةُ حَبَّةٍ وَاللَّهُ يُضَاعِفُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is like a seed [of grain] which grows seven spikes; in each spike is a hundred grains. And Allah multiplies [His reward] for whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.

[Al-Quran 2/261]

الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ لَا يُتْبِعُونَ مَا أَنفَقُوا مَنًّا وَلَا أَذًى لَّهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

Those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah and then do not follow up what they have spent with reminders [of generosity] or hurting [the feelings of the one who is given charity] will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.

[Al-Quran 2/262]

قَوْلٌ مَّعْرُوفٌ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِّن صَدَقَةٍ يَتْبَعُهَا أَذًى وَاللَّهُ غَنِيٌّ حَلِيمٌ

Kind speech and act of forgiveness are better than (such) charity (which is) followed by hurting (the feelings of the one who is given charity). And Allah is Free of any need and Forbearing.

[Al-Quran 2/263]

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُبْطِلُوا صَدَقَاتِكُم بِالْمَنِّ وَالْأَذَىٰ كَالَّذِي يُنفِقُ مَالَهُ رِئَاءَ النَّاسِ وَلَا يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَمَثَلُهُ كَمَثَلِ صَفْوَانٍ عَلَيْهِ تُرَابٌ فَأَصَابَهُ وَابِلٌ فَتَرَكَهُ صَلْدًا لَّا يَقْدِرُونَ عَلَىٰ شَيْءٍ مِّمَّا كَسَبُوا وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ

O you who have believed, do not invalidate your charities with reminders or hurting (the feelings of the one who is given charity) as does one who spends his wealth [only] to show-off to the people and does not believe in Allah and the Last Day. His example is like that of a [large] smooth stone upon which is dust and is hit by a downpour that leaves it bare. They are unable [to keep] anything of what they have earned. And Allah does not guide those who deny the truth.

[Al-Quran 2/264]

وَمَثَلُ الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمُ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِ اللَّهِ وَتَثْبِيتًا مِّنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ كَمَثَلِ جَنَّةٍ بِرَبْوَةٍ أَصَابَهَا وَابِلٌ فَآتَتْ أُكُلَهَا ضِعْفَيْنِ فَإِن لَّمْ يُصِبْهَا وَابِلٌ فَطَلٌّ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

And the example of those who spend their wealth seeking Allah’s pleasure and their spiritual strength is like a garden on high ground which is hit by a downpour – so it yields its fruits in double. And [even] if it is not hit by a downpour, then a drizzle [is sufficient]. And Allah is All-Seeing of whatever you do.

[Al-Quran 2/265]

أَيَوَدُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن تَكُونَ لَهُ جَنَّةٌ مِّن نَّخِيلٍ وَأَعْنَابٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ لَهُ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ الثَّمَرَاتِ وَأَصَابَهُ الْكِبَرُ وَلَهُ ذُرِّيَّةٌ ضُعَفَاءُ فَأَصَابَهَا إِعْصَارٌ فِيهِ نَارٌ فَاحْتَرَقَتْ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمُ الْآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَفَكَّرُونَ

Would one of you like to have a garden of palm trees and grapevines underneath which rivers flow in which he has from every fruit? But he is afflicted with old age and has weak offspring, and it is hit by a whirlwind containing fire and is burned. Thus does Allah make clear to you [His] verses that you might give thought.

[Al-Quran 2/266]

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَنفِقُوا مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا كَسَبْتُمْ وَمِمَّا أَخْرَجْنَا لَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ وَلَا تَيَمَّمُوا الْخَبِيثَ مِنْهُ تُنفِقُونَ وَلَسْتُم بِآخِذِيهِ إِلَّا أَن تُغْمِضُوا فِيهِ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِيٌّ حَمِيدٌ

O you who have believed, spend from the good things which you have earned and from that which We have produced for you from the earth. And do not aim toward the defective therefrom, spending [from that] while you would not take it [yourself] except with closed eyes. And know that Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy.

[Al-Quran 2/267]

الشَّيْطَانُ يَعِدُكُمُ الْفَقْرَ وَيَأْمُرُكُم بِالْفَحْشَاءِ وَاللَّهُ يَعِدُكُم مَّغْفِرَةً مِّنْهُ وَفَضْلًا وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

The Satan (i.e. the embodiment of all evil inclinations) threatens you of poverty (if you do charity) and prompts you to niggardliness, while Allah guarantees you protection (against poverty) from Him and bounty/abundance. And Allah is all-Encompassing and All-Knowing.

[Al-Quran 2/268]

وَمَا أَنفَقْتُم مِّن نَّفَقَةٍ أَوْ نَذَرْتُم مِّن نَّذْرٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُهُ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنصَارٍ

And whatever you spend of expenditures or whatever pledge you make – indeed, Allah knows of it. And for the wrongdoers there are no helpers.

[Al-Quran 2/270]

إِن تُبْدُوا الصَّدَقَاتِ فَنِعِمَّا هِيَ وَإِن تُخْفُوهَا وَتُؤْتُوهَا الْفُقَرَاءَ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ وَيُكَفِّرُ عَنكُم مِّن سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ

If you disclose your charitable expenditures, that’s are all right; but if you keep them secret and give them to the poor, it is even better for you, and that will remove imprints of some of your misdeeds from you [thereby]. And Allah, with what you do, is [fully] Aware.

[Al-Quran 2/271]

لَّيْسَ عَلَيْكَ هُدَاهُمْ وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَلِأَنفُسِكُمْ وَمَا تُنفِقُونَ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاءَ وَجْهِ اللَّهِ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تُظْلَمُونَ

Not upon you, [O Muhammad], is [responsibility for] their guidance, but Allah guides whom He wills. And whatever good you [believers] spend is for your own benefit, provided you spend seeking Allah’s pleasure. And whatever good you spend, (its reward) will be paid back to you in full and you shall not be treated unjustly.

 [Al-Quran 2/272]

لِلْفُقَرَاءِ الَّذِينَ أُحْصِرُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ ضَرْبًا فِي الْأَرْضِ يَحْسَبُهُمُ الْجَاهِلُ أَغْنِيَاءَ مِنَ التَّعَفُّفِ تَعْرِفُهُم بِسِيمَاهُمْ لَا يَسْأَلُونَ النَّاسَ إِلْحَافًا وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ

(Charity is also) for those in need, who, in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. You shall know them by their (characteristic) appearance: They beg not importunately from all the sundry. And whatever of good you give, be assured Allah knows it well.

[Al-Quran 2/273]

الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُم بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ سِرًّا وَعَلَانِيَةً فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

Those, who spend their wealth (in the way of Allah) during the night and the day, secretly as well as openly, shall have their reward with their Lord. They shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve!

[Al-Quran 2/274]

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