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Focus Article: The Issue of Riba in Islamic Faith and Law

by Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina

Perhaps one of the most difficult issues in Islamic concern for fairness in business dealings is its prohibition of business transactions that call for charging riba (usury and interest). Riba, in its Qur’anic meaning, means paying money for the use of money. Muslims have struggled with the problem ever since the Qur’an categorically denounced riba. From the Islamic perspective, with its bias towards fair distribution of wealth and social justice, the Qur’an’s strictures against riba have implications for international political economy. The issue also confronts devout Muslim business people as they struggle to make their investments religiously and morally legitimate.

This essay will analyze the controversy around riba as a prime example of how Muslims engage in ethical reasoning about business practice. It will show that ethical judgements in Islam amalgamate cultural elements derived from the particular experience of Muslims living in a specific place and time, as verified by the timeless universal norms derived from the scriptural sources like the Qur’an and the Tradition (Sunna), which themselves possess common elements applicable to all humans as humans.

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