Usury Between Christianity and Islam

usury, is prohibited by all heavenly laws in their true and pristine forms. It is , forbidden due to the gross exploitation of the need of others. This article aims to explore the distinction between the Islamic and Christian legislations on usury and its aspects. They may be summarized as follows:

First: comprehensiveness and methodology

In contrary to the Christian legislation, which is devoid of rulings regarding usury, except the statement of the inviolability of usury, the Islamic legislation comprehensively characterizes usury and its rulings in terms of thoroughness and meticulous methodology as regards to its root, types and details of each type

“Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite”. (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)


According to Islam, it is forbidden lend with interest (usury) whether with a Muslim or non-Muslim. Allah Almighty says,

“O you who have believed, do not consume usury, doubled and multiplied, but fear Allah that you may be successful..” (3: 130)

He also – Almighty -says:

“O you who have believed, fear Allah and give up what remains [due to you] of interest, if you should be believers. And if you do not, then be informed of a war [against you] from Allah and His Messenger. But if you repent, you may have your principal – [thus] you do no wrong, nor are you wronged.” (2: 278-279)

It divides usury into two types: riba al-Fadl and riba al-Naseeah.

Riba al-Fadl (unequal compensation) represents a dollar for two dollars, or one kg of wheat for half. This type of usury is authentically prohibited by the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Do not sell gold for gold except in full scale,” Recorded by al-Bukhari.

The second type: is al-Nasee’ah usury : like one dollar for other to be repaid later on or one Kg of wheat for one Kg of barley (wheat) to be repaid later, or gold for silver, without receipt. In the Sunnah:

“Do not sell gold with gold except in full scale, and do not sell one of them it for the other which is absent .”

The Sunnah gives much details on the items in which usury occurs:

Malik bin Aus said,

“I was in need of change for one-hundred Dinars. Talha bin ‘Ubaidullah called me and we discussed the matter, and he agreed to change (my Dinars). He took the gold pieces in his hands and fidgeted with them, and then said, “Wait till my storekeeper comes from the forest.” `Umar was listening to that and said, “By Allah! You should not separate from Talha till you get the money from him, for Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, ‘The selling of gold for gold is Riba (usury) except if the exchange is from hand to hand and equal in amount, and similarly, the selling of wheat for wheat is Riba (usury) unless it is from hand to hand and equal in amount, and the selling of barley for barley is usury unless it is from hand to hand and equal in amount, and dates for dates, is usury unless it is from hand to hand and equal in amount”.

Abd al-Rabman b. Abia Bakra reported on the authority of his father that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) forbade the sale of gold for gold, and silver for silver except equal for equal, and commanded us to buy silver for gold as we desired and buy gold for silver as we desired. A person asked him (about the nature of payment), whereupon he said: It is to be made on the spot. This is what I heard (from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him).” 

Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “Most of the companions of the Prophet, the followers to them and the four well-known Imams agreed that the following things: gold, silver, wheat, barley, dates and raisins should not be sold except in equal scales”.

Based on analogy on the basis of the prohibition of these things, the scholars of Islam have forbidden and legalized the prohibition of other things which share them the same underlying reason of prohibition and may be considered as an act of usury.

As regard to the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are many texts tackling only the prohibition of usury.

“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate”. (Exodus 22:25-27).

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit”.( The Leviticus, 25:35-37)

“Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess”. (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)

Some Christian commentators claimed that these texts came in a gradual manner and were abrogated by the New Testament verse (Matthew 42: 5) “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you”, which abrogates the Jewish legislation of permitting usury with non-Jewish people. He has invalidated Jewish law in permitting riba with non-brothers. commenting on Deuteronomy (23:20):

“You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess”,

Father Antonius says,”It was in a primitive spiritual stage in which they had to lend their brothers without interest which should not be the case with  foreigners i.e. pagans. God taught them benevolence gradually through prohibiting usury among themselves and permitting it with foreigners so that they may love each other. Later on usury may be forbidden even with foreigners as the New Testament law states, “love your enemies, bless your cursers …” which was not to be acceptable by common people at such early time. In addition,  such legislation distinguishing between the Jewish and non-Jewish was to discourage pagans from paganism (Matthew 42: 5, 12: 7 and Luke 35: 6). This is the law of the New Testament, in which people are brought up in a spiritual life i.e. (love for all).

However, this contradicts Jesus’ saying, “I have not come to abolish the Law but to complete it.”  Therefore,  with such two different laws, Christians have no choice except that they reject the saying of Jesus or accept the Jewish legislation that legalizes usury with foreigners only. Replying to this contradiction, some of the commentators resorted to interpreting the texts for usury legalized with “non-brothers” to mean pagans .

Secondly: Tolerance and facilitation

On the other hand,  we see the tolerance of Islam in the prohibition of dealing with usury in all its forms and with all human beings and forbade Islam to usurp other’s properties or rights even if they are non-Muslims. , The Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

“Safwan reported from a number of Companions of the Messenger of Allah(PBUH) on the authority of their fathers who were relatives of each other. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: Beware, if anyone wrongs a contracting man, or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment..” As a comprehensive religion, Islam even forbids the means to usury It is

Jabir said that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) cursed the receiver of interest and its payer, and one who records it, and the two witnesses, and he said: They are all equal.

Christianity and Usury today

The Christian position on usury today has changed today. Many churches nowadays legalizes usury due to modern circumstances, despite the general provisions that prohibit it in the Bible. Justifying usury a Christian thinker claims that, “Usury was prohibited in the past  on due to the great number of the poor and the needy and the creditors were the rich. Nowadays, the matter has changed. Not only the poor are in need to loans with interest, but also the rich, the wealthy and foundations, banks, major traders, insurance companies and large and small countries in pursuit of production and investment. In this regard, various rules and regulations have been enacted to deal with money and lending, to get certain interests on loans. Many people nowadays are dealing with banks to deposit money for certain benefits. We do not believe that this kind of usury or interest is forbidden according to the Church. It should be noted that there are different opinions of many religious clerics on this subject. To sum up, we reiterate that dealing with the interest or the gross interest  with brothers or friends who have to be indebted to others due  to destitution is undesirable”.

There is no doubt that this trend is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the human instinct which entail the prohibition of everything that leads to the exploitation of the need of others, as sanctioned by the eternal religion of Islam along with its immortal teachings and laws.

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