(Moulana Abdul Hamid Lachporia Saheb,Canada)
"Behold! You are of those invited to spend (your wealth) in Allah's way, but among you are some who are niggardly, and he who is niggardly is so at his own expense; and Allah is free of all wants while you are needy; if then you turn back (from the right path) He will substitute in your stead another people; who will not act like you." (Holy Qur'an - Surah Muhammad).
Zakat is the reverse of Ribaa (Usury). In origin, design, nature and purpose, the two are inimical to one another and the fruits they bear and the effects they produce, both for the individual and the society, are also widely different. While the fear of Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata'ala, the doing of one's duty to Him, the seeking of His good pleasure, the concern for His needy and destitute bondsmen and kindliness, caring, sharing, compassion and self-denial form the essence of Zakat, the entire system of Ribaa is reared upon defiance of Almighty Allah, callousness, excessive greed and heartless exploitation of the needs of others.
Consequently, Zakat leads to the promotion of Imaan and the development of the true spirit of Muhabbat, brotherhood and fellow-feeling. Visible signs of economic wellbeing become manifest in society, goods are visited with prosperity and love is generated in the hearts because of it. The practice of lending money on interest, conversely, breeds egotism, covetousness, parsimony and mistrust. It fosters the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
The money-lender is like a small tank into which all the wealth of the community ultimately flows or the mountain of magnet one reads about in the story of Sindbad the Sailor. It is said that when Sinbad's boat had lost its way, after being caught in a storm, the oarsmen began to cry that there was a mountain of magnet nearby which would draw out the nails of the boat and it would sink. In the same way, the usurers and money-lenders possess a magnet ( i.e. accumulated asset in cash and gold) which attracts the nails that hold together the boat of the society and its boards are cut loose from each other and the society falls prey to a hundred moral and economic ills.
Ribaa (usury) sustains and promotes conditions that give rise to class-hatred. The poor, destitute and the under-privileged masses are always at a loss. The society gets divided into two distinct groups of haves and have-nots. The Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an has, therefore, condemned usury in the strongest terms. It has used much greater force to denounce it than to extol charity. The Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an employs the same method in dealing with usury as it does in case of lewdness and other mortal sins. For instance, take verses 278 and 279 from Surah Al-Baqara:
"O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah and give up what remaineth (due to you) from usury, if you are (in truth) believers. And if ye do not, then be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger. And if ye repent then ye have your principal (without interest). Wrong not, and ye shall not be wronged."
The revolting picture of the usurer drawn by the Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an is enough to fill the heart of a Muslim with repugnance.
"Those who swallow usury cannot rise up save as he ariseth whom the Devil has prostrated by his touch. That is because they say: Trade is just like usury; whereas Allah permitteth trade and forbidden usury. He unto whom an admonition from his Creator cometh and he refraineth (in obedience thereto), he shall keep the profits of that which is past, and his affair henceforth is with Allah. As for him who returneth to usury - such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein." (Verse 275 Surah Al-Baqara).
The Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an has drawn the comparison between usury and alms-giving at a number of places and summed up the effects and consequences of both in verses which will take volumes to explain.
"Allah hath blighted usury and made alms-giving fruitful. Allah loveth not the impious and guilty."
(Verse 276 Surah Al-Baqara).
"That which ye give in usury in order that it may increase in (other) people's property hath no increase with Allah; but that which ye give in charity, seeking Allah's countenance, hath increase manifold."
(Verse 39 Surah Al-Rum).
Our Beloved Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam has praised charity and spoken of the blessedness and increase which attends the material possessions of Muslims through its moral and spiritual goodness. Besides, he has given the warning of immediate punishment and wretchedness in this world, too, to those who do not practice it. It is related that once our Beloved Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam said: "When a community stops paying Zakat, Almighty Allah Subhanahoo Wata'ala punishes it with drought and famine." In the same way, our Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam has warned those of severe chastisement in both the world's who lend money on interest. He has said: "When usury becomes prevalent among a people, Almighty Allah Subhanahoo Wata'ala afflicts it with famine, and when bribery becomes prevalent, Almighty Allah afflicts it with fear." Another of his tradition reads: "The curse of Almighty Allah Subhanahoo Wata'ala rests on him who offers a loan on usurous terms, and on him who receives, and on the writer who writes the deed thereof, and on him who does not spend in charity."
It is related by Hazrat Abu Huraira R.A. that our Beloved Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam said: "The night on which I was taken on the celestial journey I passed by a people whose bellies were like houses in which there were snakes that could be seen from the outside. I enquired about them from Hazrat Jibra'eel Amin Alayhis Salatu Wasallam and he said that they were the usurers. Our Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam again, is reported to have said:
"When Almighty Allah Subhanahoo Wata'ala seeks to destroy, He first spreads usury among them."
Anyone who examines the history of Islamic society, particularly its moral aspect, i.e. from the point of view of the enforcement of the Divine Commands, the sanctioning of what is allowed in Islam and the prevalence of blessedness and peace and prosperity which flowed from the enforcement of the Shariah, and compares it with the spectacle of backwardness, poverty and distress that the Muslim world presents today owing to the disregard of Islamic values and violation of duties prescribed by the Divine Law will be convinced of the truth of the of the Traditions we have just seen. Says the Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an in verse 97 of Surah Al-Nahl:
"Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to them will We give a new life, and life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions."
Faith, if sincere, means right conduct. When these two confirm each other, Almighty Allah's Grace transforms our life. Instead of being troubled and worried, we have peace and contentment: instead of being assailed at every turn by false alarms and the assaults of evil, we enjoy calm and attain purity. The transformation is visible in this life itself, but the "reward" in terms of the Aghirah (Hereafter) will be far beyond our comprehension.
And in verse 124 of Surah Ta Ha declares Almighty Allah Subhanahoo Wata'ala:
"But whosoever turns away from My Message, verily for him is a life narrowed down, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Judgement."
The consequences of the rejection of Almighty Allah's Guidance are here expressed more individually: a life narrowed down, and a blindness that will persist beyond this life. "A life narrowed down" has many implications: (1) it is a life from which all the beneficent influences of Almighty Allah's wide world are excluded; (2) it is a life for self, not for all; (3) in looking exclusively to the "good things" of this life, it misses the true reality.
Because Almighty Allah Subhanahoo Wata'ala gave him physical sight in this life for trial, he thinks he should be favoured in the real world, the world that matters! He misused the physical sight and made himself blind for the other world. "You were deliberately blind to Almighty Allah's Signs: now you will not see Allah's favours, and will be excluded from His Grace." Blindness in the world of enduring Reality is far worse than physical blindness in the world of probation.
It is therefore the foremost duty of every Muslim, man, woman and child - to read the Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an and understand it according to his or her own capacity. If any one of us attains to some knowledge or understanding of it by study, contemplation, and the test of life, both outward and inward, it is our duty, according to our capacity, to instruct others, and share with them the joy and peace which result from contact with the spiritual world.
The Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an has to be read, not only with the tongue, voice and eyes, but with the best light that our intellect can supply, and even more, with the truest and purest light which our heart and conscience can give us. In is in this spirit that we should approach the Most Holy and Glorious Qur'an.
Our honesty and upright conduct are not mere matters of policy or convenience: all our life in this world must be lived as in the presence of Almighty Allah Subhanahoo Wata'ala. The finest example of Faith we have in the life of our Beloved Nabee Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam; full of faith. Let us render willing obedience to Allah's Will. Our responsibility, though great, is not a burden greater than we can bear; let us pray for Allah's assistance, and Insha'Allah, He will help.
(Moulana Abdul Hamid Lachporia Saheb,Canada)