Usury and How to Avoid It
Take a few moments to ponder your family's monthly bills, or those of a typical family. Today, many Muslims are paying interest – on house loans, car loans, school loans, and credit cards. Interest does more than increase the total amount you pay and how long you pay.
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said: "The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) has cursed one who accepts interest, one who pays interest, one who buys interest, one who sells interest, one who writes the contract of interest, and one who is the witness of this transaction." (Wasa'il al-Shia)
The sad reality of modern life throughout much of the world is that usury is so pervasive and fundamental to the fabric of the economy and society that few think of it as anything but ordinary and necessary. In fact, it is an evil invention and the great economic and spiritual downfall of capitalist society.
Take a few moments to ponder your family's monthly bills, or those of a typical family. Today, many Muslims are paying interest – on house loans, car loans, school loans, and credit cards. Interest does more than increase the total amount you pay and how long you pay. In many cases, it makes the total amount of your debt unknown and changeable depending on numerous circumstances, many of which you may have to be an expert in contract law to be aware of.
Furthermore, loans, especially those involving usury, make you dependent on and obligated to some person or organization that most likely does not care about true Islam. One of the aims of following Islam is to make oneself free, dependent only on God himself and not on His creation. Being in debt, especially debt involving interest, can damage us spiritually, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
A little research on the history of just one aspect of modern usury, the credit card, shows how harmful it is to the economy and to the consumer. See for example, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/credit/. Credit card companies consider people who pay off their balance each month as "deadbeats", and so they do everything they can to find ways to charge more interest and to get people not to pay off their balance each month. They purposely drive consumers to take on more and more debt at interest rates they cannot manage. Their aim is to trap consumers in a lifetime of growing debt. The credit card is ultimately about greed, not about convenience.
Typically, young college students on their own for the first time gradually find themselves overspending, and then when they begin to take on larger purchases like cars, homes, and paying off their college educations, they suddenly find themselves trapped in overwhelming debt. The truly prosperous and happy people are those who live within their means and do not take on what they cannot pay without a loan.
The Islamic economic model and the capitalist, usury-based model are very different. Islam is indeed a complete way of life for every individual and every society that, if followed, would not burden millions upon millions of people with crushing debt and endless interest payments. In the current economic downturn, more people are feeling the negative consequences of usury and materialism. Imagine how different things would be today if we all just refused to have anything to do with interest, just as Imam Ali advised.
Whatever your current situation, there are things you can do to heed his advice. If you are in debt, make a careful budget and stick to it, and pay off your debts as quickly as possible. Try to avoid purchases involving interest – instead, delay the purchase until you can save the money, seek alternative financing options, or settle for something less that you can afford. You may be able to help educate others about personal finance or provide funds for interest-free loans or Sadaqa to help people secure education, transportation, and housing without taking on interest.
There are Du'as and Qur'anic verses that can be recited to aid repayment of debts and increasing sustenance. See http://www.duas.org/rizq.htm for details.