USURY, or interest, was common among the Arabs, as it was in the other communities of the world. Its most prevalent form was that people, in their need, borrowed money, and it was settled, at the time of the transaction, that they would return it with such-and-such an interest charge on its use, and within such-and-such a time. If the borrower failed to repay it within the stipulated period, he begged for an extension, and the interest charge was increased in proportion to it. The load of the poor borrowers would, thus, go on multiplying, and the greedy money-lenders would be sucking their blood like a leech. The practice, evidently, was opposed to the spirit of Islam. The teachings of Islam, on the contrary, require that help was given to the weak and the destitute, and care was taken of their needs, and that all this was done not for a worldly gain or advantage., but wholly for the sake of God and gaining the reward of the Hereafter. Just as in the Qur’an and the sayings of the holy Prophet, a gradual course was adopted towards the forbidding of alcoholic drinks and other intoxicants, the abolition of usury, too, was enforced by degrees. For a long time, in the beginning, stress was laid, in a positive way, on spending one’s wealth in the way of God and fulfilling the needs of the less fortunate brethren and bringing succour to them, and on cultivating the virtues of kindliness, compassion, generosity and self-denial. Slowly and steadily, it was instilled into the minds and hearts of the people that death was inevitable; they were bound to die one day, and their worldly possessions, too, were not everlasting. They should, therefore, take lesson from the dreadful end of the worshippers of wealth like Pharaoh, and try earnestly to make use of their riches as a means to earning the eternal joy and felicity of the world to come.
This guidance and corresponding action paved the way for the total abolition of the heartless practice of lending money at interest. The concluding verses of Surah Baqarah, i.e., from “Those who swallow usury cannot rise up save as he ariseth whom Devil hath prostrated by his touch up to And if the debtor is in straightened circumstances, then let there be postponement (to the time of ease); and that ye remit the debt as alms-giving would be better for you if ye but know,” (2: 275-80) were, consequently, revealed, proclaiming, in clearest terms, the forbidding of the lending and borrowing of money etc., at interest. In the above verses, it, also, is made clear that if, as a result of a previous transaction, interest on a loan is due to anyone, it will be treated as defunct and will not be payable or realisable after the commandment had been revealed. “Give up what remaineth due to you from usury.” The warning, further, is given, at the end, that if, after the revelation of these verses, people persisted in usury and transgressed against the law of God, they should consider themselves at war with Allah and His Messenger: “And if ye do not, then be warned of war (against you) from Allah and His Apostle.” Such a severe admonition has not been administered in the Qur’an in respect of any other major sin, such as, adultery, gambling, and murder. It denotes that usury is more repugnant in the sight of God and His Prophet than all the other, sins. As the Traditions given below will show, the Prophet has condemned usury as a sin of the highest order and spelt the curse of God not only on those who take or offer loan on usurious terms, but, also, on those who write the deed of it or act as witnesses to the transaction. In some narratives, usury, in fact, has been characterized as seventy times a greater sin than adultery and fornication.