The Concept of Jāhiliyya Usury (Ribā) as The Basis of Interest Prohibition in Islām Cover Image

İslâm’daki Faiz Yasağının Temeli Olarak Câhiliye Ribâsı Kavramı
The Concept of Jāhiliyya Usury (Ribā) as The Basis of Interest Prohibition in Islām

Author(s): Ali Rıza Gül
Subject(s): Economy, Theology and Religion, Islam studies, Religion and science
Published by: Cumhuriyet Üniversitesi İlahyat Fakültesi
Keywords: Shopping;Illegitimate earning;Debt;On loan;Interest;Jāhiliyya usury;

Summary/Abstract: The usury (ribā) known and applied during the jāhiliyya period (the pre-Islāmic period in Arabia) constitutes the basis of the interest ban in Islām. According to the majority of the commentators lived in the early period, the forbidden thing in the Qur'an is the jāhiliyya usury. The surplus that is stipulated in favor of one of the contracting parties in exchanging the same kind of goods with each other is defined as ribā in the hadith and it is also based on the reasoning that is observed when this ribā is banned. Likewise, the basis for the prohibition of bad or incorrect types of shopping and illegitimate ways of gain by the Prophet lies in the prohibition of the jāhiliyya ribā. Moreover, the meaning that Islāmic scholars attached to this ribā has a great influence on the form and clarification of their views on interest. In this article, we are handling such an important issue. Our primary goal is to determine the nature of this ribā by referring to the main sources and to identify its features and elements. We hope that the results we achieve will provide a fundamental contribution to the intellectual efforts of seeking solutions to the current interest problem in terms of Islām. Interest is an illegitimate treatment not based on reasonable and justified grounds and is an immoral gain. Because of this, it is forbidden in all the Semitic religions, criticized by the Ancient Greek Philosophers and seen as an inhuman treatment by the everyone who has mercy and conscience. However, understanding of interest had changed more or less gathering from one society to another and from one ages to another. The Jāhiliyya Arabs also have an understanding of interest that is formally universal, but also has a few local features. They were expressing this with the word of ribā (الربا) which means all three meanings of interest, interest operation and interest goods. In Arabic, this word and their derivatives generally mean the increase, the surplus, the proliferation of something in whatever form and direction. If this word is used specifically for goods and financial transactions, it means increasing through interest. The form of if‘āl for this word means to raise, to take / give interest or usury, to increase amount through interest, to increase something, to eat interest, to infect interest or usury, to get more than you give.It is known that interest is very common among the Jāhiliyya Arabs. The Prophet Muhammad has said in a sermon that he had made in the Farewell Pilgrimage in the tenth Hijri year: “The ribā of Jāhiliyya society has been abolished. The first interest I have abolished is our interest, that is, the ribā of Abbas b. Abdulmuttalib; it is now all abolished.” However, no information has been narrated from the Prophet and his Companions that explains the phrase of jāhiliyya ribā in this and similar hadiths. The first statements on this subject belong to the Successors. We can divide the narrations from them into four groups. In the first type of these narrations, an excess that a person who makes credit sale gets it from his customer when he can’t pay his overdue debts in addition to the main goods for a new term is called the ribā. The word of sale is replaced by the concept of debt (الديْن) in the second type of these narrations, the term of loan (القَرْض) in the third type of them and the word of right (الحقّ) in the fourth type of them. It is understood from analysis of narrations that the ribā contract in the Jāhiliyya period can be made synchronously with the loan contract in lending and borrowing transactions, whereas it is made during extending payment time of unpaid debts on time in another debt contracts.These narratives constitute a strong data field for determining the scope of jāhiliyya ribā. From these narratives we can determine the elements and characteristics of the ribā before Islām. As far as we know from these narratives, the parties of ribā contract in Jāhiliyya Period are real persons, the contract on which it is based is most often debt contract; ribā contract is made as a result of debt, becomes valid with the wills and acceptances of the parties and includes the condition of debtor’s payment more than the capital sums; the goods of ribā contract is rightful goods, the amount paid as a surplus corresponds to the expiry in loan and to the postponement in other debt contracts. Since there is no formal State system in the pre-Islāmic period, ribā has followed a rather uncontrolled, unstable, unbalanced, often high-rate and cruel process. Because of these features, the jāhiliyya ribā is formally similar to the contemporary interest, but it resembles usurer’s interest in terms of its implementation, operation and functions more than this.Islāmic scholars describe the jāhiliyya ribā from different perspectives. For example, Tahāwī describes it as “postponement [of payment] of current debt for the increase of the goods [given as debt]”. Abū Bakr al-Jassās describes it as “it is known that the jāhiliyya ribā has happened [in the end of] termed loan for a stipulated surplus and this surplus has corresponded to term”. We can say in the light of the information we have arrived that ribā is the real surplus that a person stipulated it in addition to his principal when he lend hıs goods to another person or delayed payment of a commodity that is his right and in someone else’s debit or determined the new term for his unpaid debt, and than took it.The ribā has been forbidden in the Qur’an in such a way as to leave no room for doubt. But it is argued that the concept of ribā in the verses whether means only the jāhiliyya ribā, or includes all kind of ribā that is also involves the other meanings added to it afterwards. The thing that takes place at the basis of the discussion is what function of the article of the concept of ribā (الـربا) in the Qur’an has. The majority of the commentators on the Qur’an claim that this article has the function of the meaning of the genus (الجنسية), and therefore the ribā in the related verses covers all kinds of interest everywhere and at all the times. But it is also a fact that there is no known any interest other than the jāhiliyya ribā in the Arab society while these verses are being revealed. In that case, it is a stronger possibility that this article has a function of pointing to a meaning that has been known for a long time (العهدية). Some commentators, taking this situation into account, said that the word of ribā in the verses means the jāhiliyya ribā. Especially, most of the first term commentators and of the commentators who have lived in the last a few decades have this opinion.However, we have to admit that the meanings added to the ribā afterwards by the Sunnah of the Prophet, and of the Islāmic scholars are also not completely irrelevant to the Qur’an. Yet, the way of establishing this relationship is not to include any kind of interest in the scope of the jāhiliyya ribā. In our opinion, there are two ways to establish this relationship. The first thing that needs to be done is to identify treatments that similar to the jāhiliyya ribā in terms of their shapes, purposes, functions, features, elements and results and to evaluate them within the scope of the ribā. What needs to be done after that is to determine the ways that cause the ribā forbidden in the Qur’an as the Prophet did when he ban the excess usury (ربا الفضل) and to forbid them as addendum to the ribā under preventive measures. Despite the fact that this is the main point of departure, the scope of the concept of ribā may differ in accordance with the method be followed in details and the current place and time. This will give the concept of ribā that is essentially static a dynamic structure that is constantly updatable at all times.

  • Issue Year: 21/2017
  • Issue No: 1
  • Page Range: 701-748
  • Page Count: 48
  • Language: Turkish