Riba (Usury)

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Riba (ربا; lit. "increase") is a financial concept from pre-Islamic times adopted by Islamic law which is similar to usurious interest. Despite generally being understood by common Muslims as referring to any form of interest whatsoever, the exact nature of Riba is not clearly outlined in Islamic scriptures and is thus widely debated among traditional Islamic scholars. In addition to contrary indications as to the meaning of Riba in scripture, there exist no authentic hadith which attempts to define Riba in universally applicable terms, although examples are given for what constitutes Riba in the case of specific items (such as gold and wheat).[1] [2] Nonetheless, Riba is mentioned and prohibited in grave terms by the Quran several times. In a hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Umar is reported to have said, "I wish Allah's Apostle had not left us before he had given us definite verdicts concerning three matters." One of three matters, Umar says, is the "various types of Riba".[3]

The lack of clarity regarding the nature of Riba combined with the difficulty of conducting commerce and managing large-scale economies without the use of basic types of interest has created significant obstacles for the implementation of Islamic economic ideas in the world today.[2] In medieval times in Muslim as well as Christian lands, difficulties with the simultaneous prohibition on and need for interest-based loans sometimes led to the use of Jewish bankers as middlemen who were comfortable transacting in interest. These same difficulties led to the creation of technical legal loopholes whereby interest would effectively be permitted by certain schools (madhhabs) of Islamic law.[2]

In scripture

In the Quran


Theologians have struggled with verse 275 of Surah Baqarah for the reason that it apparently condemns practitioners of Riba to Hell for eternity without making an exception for Muslim practitioners of Riba, even though it is generally held that only unbelievers will be made to reside in Hell for eternity.[2]

Those who devour usury [riba] will not stand except as stand one whom the Evil one by his touch Hath driven to madness. That is because they say: "Trade is like usury," but Allah hath permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who after receiving direction from their Lord, desist, shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for Allah (to judge); but those who repeat (The offence) are companions of the Fire: They will abide therein (for ever).

In the hadith

Unexplained meaning

Narrated Ibn `Umar: `Umar delivered a sermon on the pulpit of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ), saying, "Alcoholic drinks were prohibited by Divine Order, and these drinks used to be prepared from five things, i.e., grapes, dates, wheat, barley and honey. Alcoholic drink is that, that disturbs the mind." `Umar added, "I wish Allah's Apostle had not left us before he had given us definite verdicts concerning three matters, i.e., how much a grandfather may inherit (of his grandson), the inheritance of Al-Kalala (the deceased person among whose heirs there is no father or son), and various types of Riba (usury)."
The last thing to be revealed was the verse on riba, but the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) passed away and did not discuss it with us. So give up riba and doubtful things.
Grade: Hasan (Darussalam)


Narrated Samura bin Jundab: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "This night I dreamt that two men came and took me to a Holy land whence we proceeded on till we reached a river of blood, where a man was standing, and on its bank was standing another man with stones in his hands. The man in the middle of the river tried to come out, but the other threw a stone in his mouth and forced him to go back to his original place. So, whenever he tried to come out, the other man would throw a stone in his mouth and force him to go back to his former place. I asked, 'Who is this?' I was told, 'The person in the river was a Riba-eater."

Competing interpretations


  1. Sahih Bukhari 3:34:382
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs et al., eds, (1995), "Riba", Encyclopaedia of Islam, 8 NED-SAM (New Edition [2nd] ed.), Leiden: E.J. Brill, pp. 491-493, ISBN 90 04 09834 8, 1995 
  3. Sahih Bukhari 7:69:493