APROPOS of Iftikhar Malik’s letter ‘Riba or interest: where the problem lies (Feb 14), the writer has very rightly called upon economists to make detailed analyses of this issue as all debates on this vital issue have been inconclusive so far.
Riba has peculiar meanings. It is neither interest nor profit. The fittest English term for this is usury. It literally means an excess or addition.
English dictionaries define the word as lending money, especially, at a rate of ‘interest’ considered to be ‘too high’.
In other words it is something higher than simple interest, if not exactly the same.
A person may take a loan to meet a certain emergent situation, like paying for the expenditure incurred on his daughter’s marriage or for his own surgery in an emergency.
Similarly one may take a loan for industrial purposes where ‘labour’ is involved.
Riba has been defined in the Holy Quran: “O you, who believe, devour not usury, doubling and redoubling” (3:129). Hence, usury which engenders love of wealth is forbidden.
The Quran draws a clear distinction between profit and usury as well. It imposes no restriction on the rate of profit.
However, the higher rate of profit is not desirable. The spirit of Sharia does not allow sweeping profits. In modern terminology such a practice is called profiteering and black marketing.
The Quran makes it clear: “Allah has allowed trading and forbidden usury” (2:275).
In the struggle between capital and labour, Islam sides with labour. If labour does not bring profit, the capitalist should also suffer along with the labour.
While keeping this in mind, here comes another relevant issue. It is the rent of property; be it for the agricultural land or a residential or commercial building.
In case of cultivable land on contract or ‘mustajiri’, the one who puts in labour suffers the loss if the crop suffers natural calamities while the land owner gets the fixed amount of money only for his ownership.
In the case of divisible pool of agricultural produce under the ‘batai’ system, the landowner earns money without putting in his labour and just because of his ownership. In both the cases, the landowner is the beneficiary.
Suppose, A gives loan to B in cash and gets the over and above money (interest), that is said to be ‘not permissible’. But, if the same person purchases land or a building for the same amount of money and gives it on rent, that is ‘permissible’.
In view of the above-stated intricacies, it is incumbent upon Islamic jurists, scholars and Muslin economists all over the world to get down and interpret Quranic injunctions in the present-day scenario and find a way out for these lingering controversies.
Most importantly, they are expected to suggest practicable alternatives so that Muslim society could order itself in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. MEHNAZ SIDDIQUI Islamabad