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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 38 (Verses 274 to 281)



Section/Ruku 38 [Verses 274 to 281]: Usury prohibited:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

274 Those who spend their wealth by night and day, privately and publicly, their reward is with their Lord; and they have no fear, nor shall they grieve.

275 Those who swallow usury cannot arise except as he arises whom the devil prostrates by (his) touch.a That is because they say, Trading is only like usury. And Allah has allowed trading and forbidden usury.b To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, and he desists, he shall have what has already passed.c And his affair is in the hands of Allah. And whoever returns (to it) — these are the companions of the Fire: therein they will abide.

276 Allah will blot out usury, and He causes charity to prosper. And Allah loves not any ungrateful sinner.a

277 Those who believe and do good deeds and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate — their reward is with their Lord; and they have no fear, nor shall they grieve.

278 O you who believe, keep your duty to Allah and relinquish what remains (due) from usury, if you are believers.a

279 But if you do (it) not, then be apprised of war from Allah and His Messenger;a and if you repent, then you shall have your capital. Wrong not, and you shall not be wronged.b

280 And if (the debtor) is in straitness, let there be postponement till (he is in) ease. And that you remit (it) as alms is better for you, if you only knew.a

281 And guard yourselves against a day in which you will be returned to Allah. Then every soul will be paid in full what it has earned, and they will not be wronged.

 2. Commentary:

274a. It is a prophetic assurance to the Muslims that if they made sacrifices for the national welfare, the fear of annihilation under which the Muslim community then lived would be dispelled, and they would not grieve for what they spent, as it would yield abundant fruit. This is, in fact, a prophecy of their final triumph over their enemies, for the party that is victorious in a struggle does not grieve for the sacrifices that it makes while the vanquished party does. [Back to verse 274]

275a. Riba (literally, an excess or addition) means an addition over and above the principal sum that is lent (R, T, LL), and includes usury as well as interest. The subject is introduced here very appropriately, for as charity is the broad basis of human sympathy, usury annihilates all sympathetic affection and leads to the extreme of miserliness. Thus from one point of view the subject of usury stands in contrast with that of charity, while from another point of view the connection between these two subjects is, as pointed out in the two preceding sections and the verse with which this section opens, that, while the Muslims were promised great wealth and prosperity, they were warned against an inordinate desire for amassing wealth, to which usury would certainly have led them. Hence, those who devour usury are compared with those prostrated by the touch of the devil, which in this case stands for Mammon. The prohibition of usury in Islam is a very wide subject, and cannot be discussed within the limits of a footnote. But it may be noted in passing that Islam adopts the golden mean in all cases. It does not go to the extreme of the socialistic idea which aims at the annihilation of all distinction of property rights, but it establishes institutions which give the poor a certain proportion of the riches of the wealthier members of society. Such is the institution of zakat, according to which one-fortieth of the amassed wealth of every member of society is taken yearly to be distributed among the poor. Hence zakat is particularly spoken of in connection with this subject in v. 277. In perfect accordance with that institution, Islam refused to allow the rich to grow richer by reducing the poor to still greater poverty, which is the real aim of usury. Usury, moreover, promotes habits of idleness; but its worst effect is on morals, as it causes man to be obsessed by love of wealth and selfishness; and this is, in fact, what is meant by the devil prostrating a devourer of usury.

It may also be mentioned in this connection that while Islam enjoins acts of sacrifice to carry on the struggle for national existence, it prohibits usurious dealings which are the basis of modern warfare. All wars are now carried on with the help of loans, interest on which ultimately is a source of ruin to both the conquerors and the conquered. A just war, a war in self-defence, would always lead a community to acts of sacrifice to which they would be impelled in the interest of their own existence, while an aggressive war can only be carried on by heavy loans whose burden is not felt at the time but which ultimately crush the community. [Back to verse 275]

275b. The Qur’an draws a distinction between trading and usury. In trade the capitalist takes the risk of loss along with the hope of profit, but in lending money on usury the whole of the loss is suffered by the man who uses his labour, while the capitalist may count upon his profit even in the case of loss in the actual concern. Hence trading stands on quite a different footing from usury. It may be added that in the great struggle between capital and labour, Islam sides with labour. If labour does not bring profit, the capitalist should suffer along with the labourer. [Back to verse 275]

275c. Here is a prohibition to receive any interest on money lent, but if anyone had actually received any interest before the prohibition he was not required to pay it back. [Back to verse 275]

276a. Mahaqa signifies he took away the blessing thereof or he diminished it (R). It also signifies the blotting out or annihilating of a thing. Usury is here condemned, while charitable deeds are commended as being the real source of the prosperity of a nation or of humanity in general. It is a prophetic reference to the general tendency in the growth of civilisation to lessening rates of interest, so much so that usurious dealings, in the proper sense of the word, are becoming almost extinct, while the tendency for public charity or personal sacrifice in the interests of a community, or even humanity in general, is daily gaining ground. [Back to verse 276]

278a. The balance of interest which might be due at the time when the prohibition was made known must be given up. [Back to verse 278]

279a. Going directly against the commandments of Allah is here described as a war with Allah and His Messenger. The money received as bank interest may be spent in the cause of Allah and His Messenger or for the propagation of Islam, and thus from a war with Allah and His Messenger it would be converted into a war for Allah and His Messenger. In fact the Divine purpose in the prohibition of interest is fulfilled if interest is changed into charity. [Back to verse 279]

279b. The meaning is that the debtor shall not be made to pay more than the sum lent. [Back to verse 279]

280a. This indicates the kind of sympathy Islam demands. The poor man is not to be prosecuted and thrown into prison, and payment of debt must be postponed till the debtor is able to pay, or, better still, the whole may be remitted as charity. [Back to verse 280]



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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 38 (Verses 274 to 281)

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