Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Riba

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Umm Yahya

Interest-RibaRiba or interest is the term that every sane adult living in this age is well-aware of; it is a significant matter of debate in the Islamic societies due to the fact that it has been prohibited strictly in the Quranic laws. It must be understood vividly that raison d’être of abolition of interest is not only the exploitation but actually the consequences brought about by this. Jurists of all times agree upon the definition of Riba as follows:

When a transaction occurs between two parties, and an asset that may include commodity, currency, or even shares of a company are traded with an asset of the same quality in different quantities, the inequality in quantities exchanged is taken as Riba, which is prohibited in the Quran.

The Quran mentions: “Those who eat Riba (usury) will not stand (on the Day of Resurrection) except like the standing of a person beaten by Shaitan (Satan) leading him to insanity. That is because they say: “Trading is only like Riba (usury),” whereas Allah has permitted trading and forbidden Riba (usury). So whosoever receives an admonition from his Lord and stops eating Riba (usury) shall not be punished for the past; his case is for Allah (to judge); but whoever returns [to Riba (usury)], such are the dwellers of the Fire – they will abide therein.” (Al-Baqarah 2:275)

“Allah will destroy Riba (usury) and will give increase for Sadaqat (deeds of charity, alms, etc.) And Allah likes not the disbelievers, sinners.” (Al-Baqarah 2:276)

“O you who believe! Eat not Riba (usury) doubled and multiplied, but fear Allah that you may be successful.” (Al-Imran 3:130)

“And their taking of Riba (usury) though they were forbidden from taking it and their devouring of men’s substance wrongfully (bribery, etc.). And We have prepared for the disbelievers among them a painful torment.” (An-Nisa 4:161)

History of Riba in Islamic Republic of Pakistan

The debate over whether interest is as same as Riba has been ongoing in Pakistan since 1969 when the State Bank of Pakistan led an enquiry; the  Islamic Advisory Council in its December 1969 session held in Dhaka ruled out the interest on bank loans and prize bonds as Riba. The council advised for a Committee to be formulated in order to work towards founding an interest-free economy. Later on, Article 37 of the constitution of Pakistan in 1973 stipulated interest-removal as the official responsibility of the Government. Further, intense research work was carried out under President Zia-ul-Haq by the Islamic Ideology Council to establish transactions which were free from interest.

Dr. Israr Ahmed began his campaigning for the ban on Riba in 1980. He attempted a great struggle to make the report formulated by Islamic Ideology Council appear in public. All the attempts from activists led the government to formulate the Federal Shariat Court but it was kept out of financial matters, deeming it useless in the matter. And as the alternatives to interest, mark-up schemes were introduced, which Ulema rightly termed as “old wine of interest being marketed in new.”

On November 14 1991, Federal Shariat Court equalized interest on bank loans as Riba and thus Pakistan became the first Islamic nation to declare bank loans as Riba. However quite ironically, this judgement was upheld by the Supreme Court for seven years and later nullified in the review carried out in 2002. The Court asked the Shariah Court to revisit this judgement, providing them with guidance and control. The passage of twelve years led to no concrete judgement being made by the Shariah Court.

Despite these historical affairs, it must be kept in mind that since Pakistan is still following the Constitution formulated in 1973, there cannot be any exception for the Article 38 that stated: “The State shall eliminate riba as early as possible”.

Current Decision Regarding Dealings of Riba

The crux of the matter is to discuss the absurd by-law passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on October 6th, 2015, where Justice Sarmad Jalal Usmani ruled out that those who are not willing to deal with interest shouldn’t deal with it, while the others dealing with it will be questioned by Allah.

This decision led to a public outcry in the country. The law is being ridiculed and denied openly on the social media. However, the most active party involved in the offense is Tanzeem-e-Islami which carried out a peaceful demonstration against the law. Shujjauddin Shaukh, a prominent member of the Tanzeem, has appealed to other Islamic political parties to support him in his mission to render this by-law inoperable.

He debates over the issue, quite rightly pointing out that Pakistan was supposed to be an Islamic state which makes it regulatory for the law-enforcers to stick adamantly upon the Islamic laws. The Objectives Resolution of 1949 promised to align all laws under the Quranic injunctions and no deviance towards the laws against will of Allah and His Prophet (sa).

Ironically, the Indian armies wait for a showdown at the borders dreaming to undervalue the Pakistan Army; the Muslim leaders in the Islamic state are preparing clever ploys to carry out a war with Allah and His Messenger (sa). Allah declares in the Quran:

“And if you do not do it, then take a notice of war from Allah and His Messenger but if you repent, you shall have your capital sums. Deal not unjustly (by asking more than your capital sums), and you shall not be dealt with unjustly (by receiving less than your capital sums).” (Al-Baqarah 2:279)

The deprived condition of Pakistan can hardly be revamped unless the affairs with the Divine Constitution are settled. Shujjauddin Shaikh earnestly asks the political leaders and Chief-of-Army-Staff to join their mission and abolish this preposterous law.

It is time for political leaders and religious scholars to stand united against un-constitutional elements disapproved inexorably by Allah and His Messenger (SA).

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