Volume 4: Surah Baqarah, Verses 275-281
Those who swallow down interest cannot stand except as one whom Satan has confounded with (his) touch does stand. That is because they say, trade is only like interest. And Allah has allowed trade and forbidden interest. To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, for him shall be what has already passed, and his affair rests with Allah; and whoever returns (to it) - these are the inmates of the fire; they shall abide in it (275). Allah effaces interest, and He causes charities to grow; and Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner (276). Surely they who believe and do good deeds and establish prayer and pay the poor-rate they shall have their reward with their Lord and they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve (277). 0 you who believe! fear Allah and forgo what remains (due) from interest, if you are believers (278). But if you do (it) not, then be apprised of war from Allah and His Apostle; and if you repent, then you shall have your capital; neither shall you deal unjustly, nor shall you be dealt with unjustly (279). And if (the debtor) is in straitened circumstances, then let there be respite until (he is in) ease; and that you remit (it) as alms is better for you, if you knew (280). And fear the day in which you shall be returned to Allah; then every soul shall be paid back in full what it has earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly (281).
*GENERAL COMMENT * These verses were revealed to emphasize the prohibition of interest and to put strong pressure on the interest takers; they are not the verses that originally legislated the prohibition of interest; their language is not that of legislation. The law forbidding interest was ordained most probably by the following verse of the third chapter
0 you who believe! do not devour interest, making it double and redouble, and fear Allah, that you may succeed (3:130).
Also look at one of the verses under discussion: “0 you who believe! fear Allah and forgo what remains (due) from interest, if you are believers”. It shows that the Muslims, even after the previous prohibition, sometimes took interest; and therefore Allah ordered them to desist from this practice and to remit that part of the interest which remained due from the debtors. With this background, the meaning of the following sentence becomes quite clear : “To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, for him shall be what has already passed, and his affair rests with Allah . . .”
Even long before the verse of the third chapter, a Meccan chapter (the 30th), had condemned the practice of taking interest: And whatever you lay out as interest, so that it may increase in the properties of men, it shall not increase with Allah; and whatever you give in charity, desiring Allah’s pleasure - it is these (persons) that shall get manifold (30:39).
It shows that interest was a thing abhorred since the early days of the Call, before the hijrah; then it was clearly forbidden in the third chapter; and finally it was most forcefully condemned and denounced in these seven verses (under discussion), the style of which clearly shows that interest was forbidden long before they were revealed. It also proves that these seven verses were revealed after the third chapter.
Moreover, interest was prohibited in Judaism, as Allah says about the Jews: And their (Jews’) taking interest, though indeed forbidden were they against it (4:161); and also He says quoting them: this is because they say: there is nothing upon us in the matter of the unlearned people (3:75). Add to it the fact that the Qur’an verified their book and did not abrogate this law. All of this together was enough to make the Muslims understand that interest was prohibited and forbidden in Islam.
These verses of interest have some connection with the preceding verses of spending in the way of Allah. And this connection has been clearly pointed out in these verses: for example, “Allah effaces interest and He causes charities to grow”; “and that you remit (it) as alms is better for you”. Likewise the verse of the thirtieth chapter contrasts it with alms; and that of the third chapter is followed by praise of spending, exhorting the believers to spend benevolently in the way of Allah.
Moreover, reason also recognizes the contrast and mutual opposition of interest and charity. Interest is taking without giving anything in exchange; charity is giving without taking anything in exchange. The evils emanating from interest are poles apart from the good effects of charity. Charity spreads mercy and love, strengthens the morale of the poor members of society, increases wealth, maintains good social order, and then as a result of mutual love and respect, peace reigns over the land. The evils resulting from interest are exactly opposite to these good effects.
Allah has, in these verses, condemned interest in the most emphatic words. No other deed has been condemned in such a harsh tone. The only exception is befriending the enemies of religion, which also has been execrated with equal force. All other major sins have been condemned emphatically in the Qur’an, but the level of their condemnation is far below that used for these two evils. Not only fornication, liquor and gambling, but even more grievous sins like murder and creating mischief in the earth seem milder than these two - interest and making friends with the enemies of religion. Why? The reason is very clear. The bad effects of the above-mentioned sins remain mostly confined to individuals, one or more; further, they impair only some particular psychological traits of the doer.
But these two evils bring such destruction in their wake that religion is uprooted and even its signs are obliterated; the life-line of human social order is severed; human nature is overpowered by their harmful intoxication, and it loses all its control over the people’s thinking and action.
History has shown why the Qur’an had spoken so forcefully against befriending the enemies of religion and against interest. Look at the pitiable condition of the Muslim countries. They started adulating the enemies of Islam, making friends with them and adoring them. They inclined psychologically towards them. And now we see the result: they have fallen down into the pit of perdition; they are plundered and pillaged by the same “beloved” enemies; they have no control over their own destiny; they have lost their wealth, their honor and even their identity; they deserve neither death nor life; they are not allowed to die, and they are not given any breathing space to enjoy the bounties of life. Religion has departed from there, and virtue abandoned them long ago.
As for interest, it caused the treasures of the earth to be concentrated in few select houses, and the wealth to be hoarded by the takers of interest. The money gave them power over other less fortunate human beings. It was the real cause of the world wars. It divided mankind into two opposing groups: the wealthy who enjoy all the blessings of life, and the poor who find it difficult to meet their barest necessities. The grouping has already appeared. It is a calamity which has shaken the earth and leveled the mountains. It is threatening humanity with downfall and the world with destruction. Then evil was the end of those who did evil (30:10).
You will see that what Allah described about interest and making friends with the enemies of religion was a forecast of the carnage which has now come true.
*COMMENTARY * QUR'AN: Those who swallow down interest cannot stand except as one whom Satan has confounded with (his) touch does stand:
"al-Khabt" means to walk unevenly; to grope about awkwardly. They say: khabata 'l-ba`ir (the camel became disorientated in its walk).
Man has a straight path for his life, from which he normally does not deviate. He acts according to the norms of the society in which he lives; those norms are based on reasonable ideas, and man tries to fit his individual and social activities to them. He eats when he is hungry, drinks when thirsty, desires rest when tired, and looks for shelter when staying somewhere, and so on. He feels happy with some things, and becomes annoyed with others. When he wants some task done, he produces its cause, and when he needs an effect, he brings about its necessary ingredients.
This, in short, is man's normal way of life - the actions related to the ideas, in a well-balanced relationship. Man was guided to this straight path by a power ingrained in his nature, the power that discriminates between good and bad, differentiates between beneficial and harmful, and distinguishes virtue from evil.
But a man whose discriminating power is confounded sees no difference between good and bad, between beneficial and harmful and between virtue and evil. He treats every thing like its opposite. It is not because he has forgotten the meaning of good and bad - after all, he is a human being who has his own freewill and choice, and a man can only do a man’s deeds. Rather, it happens because he believes evil to be virtue, and virtue to be evil. He is, in short, confused and confounded; he applies the rules in completely wrong places, and does not know which demands which.
It is not that he always treats the normal as abnormal and vice versa. If it were so, he would have at least been consistent in his misjudgments. We could have said that he had some organized way of thinking, although he applied his judgments in a wrong way. But he has not even this consistency. Good and bad, virtue and evil, normal and abnormal, all are equal in his eyes. Whatever he wants at a given moment is to be done and obtained - like a camel that has become disorientated; he starts walking forward, no matter which direction he happens to face at that time; he has lost his bearing, and normal and abnormal are the same to him.
This is, then, the condition of the interest-taker.
What do we mean by interest? It is giving a thing and later taking back a similar thing plus an increase. Social life is based on a sound principle. Let us say that Zayd has a property in excess of his needs, and he needs something else which Bakr has got. Now Zayd may give his excess property to Bakr and take in exchange Bakr’s property (which, incidentally, is in excess of Bakr’s requirements). It is trade and it is the dictate of human nature.
But giving a property and taking back a similar thing with some increase nullifies the demands of nature and destroys the basis of the economy. The property is snatched from the hands of the debtor, and accumulates in the coffers of the interest taker. The interest-taker’s wealth grows and grows; but the growth is achieved by adding another man’s wealth. Thus wealth goes on decreasing and diminishing, on the one side, and increasing and accumulating on the other.
The debtor who has to pay interest is burdened with that much extra expenditure; as the days pass, he goes on paying interest, without getting anything in exchange; his need of more and more money increases and he is caught in a vicious circle - he must borrow ever more to fulfill his normal needs as well as to pay the ever-increasing expense of interest. Thus his life is ruined.
Interest is, therefore, diametrically opposed to the balance and equilibrium of society; it destroys that system which man had created with the guidance of the Divine Creation.
So, this is the interest-taker, confounded like the one touched by Satan. Taking interest makes his reason topsy-turvy; he sees no difference between normal and abnormal, between trade and interest. When he is told to leave interest and stick to trade, he says: “Trade is only like interest; it has no superiority over interest; why should I leave interest and stick to trade?” That is why Allah showed his confusion by quoting his reply, “trade is only like interest”.
From the above discourse, the following matters become quite clear
First: The word “standing” in the phrase, “cannot stand except as one whom Satan has confounded with (his) touch does stand”, means “managing” one’s life and “looking after” one’s livelihood. It is one of the meanings of “standing” which people generally use in their speech. Allah says: . . . so that men may stand with justice (57:25); . . . the heavens and the earth stand by His command (30:25); . . . and that you should stand for the orphans with justice (4:127). This word has not been used here with the meaning of “standing up” (i.e., as opposed to “sitting”), because such an interpretation would not fit the topic, and the meaning of the verse would not be correct.
Second: “Confoundedness of the touched one in standing” does not refer to the involuntary movements of an epileptic during or after an attack of epilepsy, as some commentators have written. Such a meaning would have no relevance to the topic at hand. Allah has given us the simile of the interest-taker who does not differentiate between trade and interest, and who acts according to that idea. This is done by his own choice and will - the choice that is based on his confused thinking. There is nothing in it like the involuntary convulsions of an epileptic. This phrase, in short, means that the interest-taker manages the affairs of his life and livelihood as does the one whom Satan has confounded with his touch.
Third: There is a fine point in saying “they say, trade is only like interest” instead of saying “interest is only like trade”. The reason for choosing the former expression may be understood from the above explanations. For an interest-taker, normal and abnormal are both alike. We shall explain it in detail later on.
Fourth: The similitude, that is, “as one whom Satan has confounded with (his) touch”, gives a hint that this may happen sometimes in cases of lunacy. The verse does not say that every madness is caused by the touch of Satan; but it indicates that some cases of lunacy are the result of Satan’s touch. Further, the verse does not say that this touching is done by Iblis himself, because Satan means the evil one; this word (Satan) is used for Iblis as well as for other evil ones among the jinn and human beings. And Iblis is from the jinn. What looks certain from this Qur’anic hint is that the jinn are instrumental in the madness of some persons, if not of all.
Some commentators have opined that this simile is not based on any fact. People in those days believed that lunacy was caused by the touch of the jinn; and Allah used that belief of their’s for this similitude; it is just talking to people in their own language. There is, of course, no harm in it, because it is just a similitude; it does not confirm that common belief. Such a comparison is not wrong just because the thing has no actual existence. What the verse, therefore, means is simply this: ‘These swallowers of interest are like a lunatic who is confounded by the touch of Satan.’ It is against belief in the Justice of Allah to say that madness could be caused by the touch of Satan. Allah is Just; He cannot give Satan authority to overpower the intellect of His servant, or to subdue His believing servant.
But this opinion has many flaws:
1) Allah is too Great to insert any vain or incorrect promise in His talk without, indicating its invalidity. Allah has said about His Book: and most surely it is a Mighty Book; falsehood shall not come to it from before it nor from behind it; a revelation from the Wise, the Praised One (41:41-42); Most surely it is a decisive word, and it is no joke (86:13-14).
2) He says that it is against belief in the Justice of Allah to say that Satan can manipulate and disturb the intellect of a person, and can turn him into a lunatic. Well, is it not against belief in the Justice of Allah to say that lunacy occurs because of natural causes? Are not the natural causes created by Allah? And yet they do disturb the mind of man.
The fact is that there is no problem in believing that Allah allows the mind of man to be disturbed - no matter through which agency it is done. Because Allah at once removes all responsibilities away from such man. Of course, there could be a problem if his thinking power were taken away and still the responsibilities of a sane person were imposed on that man. Also it would be against belief in the Justice of Allah to say that Satan can manipulate a sane man in such a way that, in spite of his sanity, he sees truth, falsehood and virtue as evil and vice versa.
But there would be no problem if a man’s intellect is disturbed or ceases to exist provided the responsibilities of sanity are also removed from him - no matter whether the disturbance occurred through natural causes or through Satan’s touch.
Moreover, when we attribute madness to the touch of Satan we do not mean that he confounds the intellect directly without any middle cause. Rather, we believe that natural causes, like nervous disorders and psychological disturbances are the near causes, and Satan is a cause beyond these causes. Likewise, many miracles are attributed to the angels, although there occur natural causes in between. An example of this may be seen in two verses both of which quote Ayyub (a.s.) beseeching his Lord after his affliction. In one verse he says: Satan has afflicted me with toil and torment (38:41); and in the other he says: Harm has afflicted me and Thou art the Most Merciful of the merciful (21:83). “Harm” here refers to his sickness; and sickness has its own natural causes. See how, in the first verse, he attributes his sickness, caused by natural causes, to Satan.
The root of the trouble is this: When the materialists hear us attributing events to Allah (or attributing some happenings to the spirit, to an angel or to Satan) they think that it amounts to a rejection of natural causes, and that it sets metaphysical agencies in the place of physical causes. They should be somehow made to understand that by such declarations we add one more (metaphysical) link at the farther end of the chain of (physical) causes. We do not replace the physical causes with metaphysical ones. (We have mentioned this fact in previous discussions several times.)
Fifth: Also, it is wrong to say, as some other exegetes have done, that the similitude aims at describing the state of interest-takers on the Day of Resurrection; and that they will rise from their graves on that day like an epileptic who is afflicted by madness.
Evidently, the verse does not support this meaning. The tradition which describes the condition of interest-takers is about the Day of Resurrection; it does not purport to explain the similitude of this verse.
It is written in al-Manar (Tafsir): “The similitude, that one who swallows interest stands like one who has been confounded by the touch of Satan, has been explained by Ibn ‘Atiyyah as follows: ‘The aim is to show the likeness of the interest-taker in this world to the one who is confounded and afflicted with epilepsy; as it is said about the man who is convulsed with various involuntary movements, that he has gone mad.’
“I say (the author of al-Manar): This is the meaning which comes into my mind on reading this verse. But a major group of commentators have gone against it. They have said: ‘The standing mentioned in the verse refers to the rising from the grave at the time of resurrection; that Allah has made it a sign of the interesttakers on the Day of Resurrection that they shall be raised like epileptics.’ They have narrated it from Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn Mas‘ud. and at-Tabarani has narrated a tradition of ‘Awf ibn Malik (which he has referred to the Prophet): ‘Beware of the sins that shall not be forgiven: embezzlement, so whoever embezzles anything, shall be brought with it on the Day of Resurrection; and interest, so whoever swallows interest shall be raised on the Day of Resurrection as a lunatic who gropes hither and thither aimlessly.’ “
(The author of al-Manar goes on saying:) “The commonly understood meaning is the one given by Ibn ‘Atiyyah, because when the word ‘standing’ is used, one generally understands it to mean managing some affairs; and there is no association to show that it refers to the rising from grave. So far as traditions are concerned none of them is free from one or another defect in the chains of narrators; and those traditions were not revealed together with the Qur’an, nor does the al-marfu’ (tradition raised to the Prophet) purport to interpret this verse. (It only talks about the condition of interest-takers on the Day of Resurrection, without mentioning this verse.) And had not this tradition been there no-one would have interpreted this verse except in the way Ibn ‘Atiyyah has done . . . And it was the custom of the forgers of traditions, when they were perplexed by the apparent meaning of a Qur’anic verse, to forge a tradition to explain it; and there are few exegetical traditions that are really correct.”
He is right when he exposes the mistake of the exegetes. But he himself has gone wrong when he tries to explain the meaning of this similitude. He says: “What Ibn ‘Atiyyah has said is quite clear. Those who are entangled in the love of wealth do become its slave. Their whole existence revolves around money; they want wealth for the sake of wealth. They have abandoned the natural means of earning, and have concentrated on earning money through money only. In this way, their souls deviate from the straight path of moderation on which most of the people are. This immoderation, this loss of equilibrium, shows itself in their movements and actions. Look at the speculators on the stock exchange or compulsive gamblers; the more they indulge in these activities the more they become entangled in it, until a time comes when their behavior becomes illogical, and their movements disorientated. It is this aspect which is the common factor between their activities and the movements of confounded lunatics. The Arabic word translated as “has confounded” is derived from al-khabt which means disorganized movement.”
The author’s comment: To say that the interest-takers’ movement become disorientated and disorganized is correct in itself. But interest-taking is not the only cause of such disorientation. This occurs when man forgets that he is a servant of his Creator and Master, and when material pleasure becomes his only goal - and this is the final reach of his knowledge! Then he loses self-control (which come through religion) and sobriety of demeanor. And he gets at once affected by every big or small worldly pleasure; and this results in a disorientation of his movements. It may be observed in any person who is immersed in worldly pleasure, and who has forgotten Allah, even if he has not taken a single penny as interest all his life.
Nor is that disorientation the purpose of this similitude. The proof, given in the verse, of their being confounded does not fit this supposed purpose of the similitude. Allah says that they are confounded in their standing, “because they say, trade is only like interest”. If that disorientation of their behavior was the purpose of the similitude, it would have been more appropriate to prove it by their disorganized actions and disorderly movements.
Obviously, what we have described in explanation of this simile and about its purpose, is the only reasonable interpretation.
QUR’AN: That is because they say, trade is only like interest:
We have already described why trade was likened to interest, and not interest to trade. A man confounded in his thinking and disorientated in his movements is in an abnormal condition. Good and bad, virtue and evil are both the same to him. If you tell him to leave the bad deed that he is doing and to do the good, he will reply to you - if he replies - that what you tell him to do is like that which you are forbidding him; that has no preference over this.
Now note the difference. If he had said, “what you forbid me to do is like that which you tell me to do”, he could not be said to be confounded or mad. At the most he would have been called a sane person who is mistaken in his view. Why? Because his reply would have shown that he knows that the thing ordered is good and should be done; but he mistakenly thinks that the forbidden thing also is good like the former. In other words, he knows and appreciates the superiority of good actions. He does
not think that nothing is good or bad, or that all are equal.
Interest-takers say that trade is like interest. It shows that they have lost their bearings; they do not accept that trade has any superiority over interest. If they had said “interest is like trade”, it would have meant that they were not confounded, they knew that trade was a good thing; but they thought that interest too was good like trade. In that case, they could have been called rejectors of the shari ‘ah and sinners against Allah, but not “confounded like the one touched by Satan”.
Ponder over the sentence, “That is because they say, trade is only like interest”. Apparently they had not spoken these words by their tongues; it was their state and behaviour which was crying out loudly about their thinking. This style of narrating the state as uttered speech is very common in every language.
Once it is understood, the error of the following two interpretations becomes self-evident
1) Some people have said: The interest-takers said that trade was like interest, because they treated both in a like manner. The reason why they reversed the simile and said, “trade is like interest” was to emphasize - it was as though interest was the main thing and trade a secondary matter which would become respectable if it was likened to interest.
All this is out of place. They did not utter this sentence in words, so that it should require all this explanation.
2) Someone else has said: Maybe the simile is not reversed. They thought that trade was allowed so that one might earn profit. And profit was a certain thing in interest and rather uncertain in other means of earning. Therefore, they gave primacy to interest and assigned a secondary place to trade.
The same comment applies here as was written about the first.
QUR’AN: And Allah has allowed trade and forbidden interest:
It is a new sentence. It is not in conjunction with the preceding sentence, and does not show the state of that sentence. In other words, it does not mean: “they say trade is only like interest, while Allah has allowed trade and forbidden interest”. If a sentence, beginning with a verb in the past tense, is inserted to denote the state of the preceding sentence, it invariably always begins with qad (a prefix, used before past and aorist tenses) for example, “Zayd came to me” wa qad daraba ‘Umar (when he had beaten ‘Umar). In this verse, the meaning of the preceding sentence does not allow one to say that this sentence is its ‘state’. The phrase denoting ‘state’ restricts the main sentence to the time and state denoted. If we treat this sentence as a phrase of state, it would mean: “The interest-takers’ confoundedness (because of their saying that trade is only like interest) is confined to the time when Allah allowed trade, and forbade interest”. But the fact is otherwise. They were confounded before this legislation as much as they were after it.
Therefore, this is an independent sentence, and not a phrase of state. Also, this sentence is not the original legislation forbidding interest. As mentioned in the beginning, these verses evidently show that interest was already prohibited before they were revealed. They explain and emphasize what was legislated by the following verse of the third chapter: 0 you who believe! do not devour interest making it double and redouble, and fear Allah, that you may succeed (3:130).
Therefore, the sentence, “And Allah has allowed trade. . .” does not ordain a new law; it just refers to a previously given order, and paves the way for the next sentence, “To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, he shall have what has already passed . . .” This is the apparent meaning of the verse.
Someone has said: The words, “And Allah has allowed trade and forbidden interest” are meant to refute the interest-takers’ assertion, “trade is only like interest”. If their claim were correct, the legal position of trade and interest would not have been different from each other in divine legislation, while the fact is that Allah has allowed one and forbidden the other.
Reply: The argument mentioned above is correct in itself: but it is not in conformity with the wording of the verse. It could be correct only if this sentence were a phrase of state. But it is not so
Someone else has written another explanation: The sentence.
“And Allah has allowed...", means that the increase of wealth through trade is not like its increase through interest, because “I have allowed trade and forbidden interest; and order is My order, and creatures are My creatures; I ordain about them as I wish, and make them obey My command in any manner, I please; none among them has any right to protest against My decision.”
Reply: This also is dependent on the wrong theory that this sentence is a phrase of state. Moreover, it is based on a denial of any relationship of cause and effect between religious laws and their benefits. If you accept this interpretation, you will have to reject the relationship of cause and effect in the whole universe, and to attribute every action to Allah without apparent and middle causes. Evidently such an idea is wrong. Further, this explanation is against the Qur’anic style. The Qur’an often explains the reason for a given order, and mentions the general or special benefits emanating from a particular law. Even in the present instance, various sentences hint at the reason upon which this rule is based: “. . . and forego what remains (due) from interest if you are believers”; “neither shall you deal unjustly, nor shall you be dealt with unjustly”; “Those who swallow down interest . . . trade is only like interest”. All these hint at the reason why trade has been allowed: It is in conformity with nature’s demand; and why interest has been forbidden. First, it is a deviation from the straight path of life; second, it is not in conformity with belief in Allah; and third, it is injustice.
QUR’AN: To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, for him shall be what has already passed, and his affair rests with Allah; and whoever returns (to it) - these are the inmates of the fire; they shall abide in it:
These sentences branch out from the preceding sentence, “And Allah has allowed trade. . . “ The principle laid down in this statement is not restricted to interest; it is a general rule although it is mentioned in a particular context. The meaning, therefore, will be as follows: “What We have told you on the subject of interest, is an admonition; and to whomsoever the admonition comes from his Lord and he desists, for him shall be what has already passed and his affair rests with Allah; accordingly, if you now desist from interest, you shall have what you have already taken, and your affair rests with Allah”.
It is clear from the above explanation that “the admonition has come” means “the information of the law ordained by Allah has reached”; “then he desists” means “then he repents and desists from the forbidden action”; “for him shall be what has already passed” means “the ordained law shall not be applied retrospectively, rather it shall be enforced from the time the information has reached him”; “for him shall be what has already passed and his affair rests with Allah” means that he shall not be affected by the ever-lasting punishment mentioned in the next sentence (and whoever returns [to it] - these are the inmates of the fire; they shall abide in it). In this way, they shall be allowed the benefit of their previous action, still their affair is in the hands of Allah - He may leave them free in some matters, and may sometimes oblige them to make up for the past shortcomings.
This verse needs special attention. Beginning from the words “to whosoever then the admonition has come” up to the end of the verse, in spite of the given concession and the severe threatening, a basic principle is explained; it is a general law covering all mortal sins. Yet people have missed this clear point, and have interpreted it as though it were confined to the topic of interest only.
In view of the above-mentioned generality, the words, “for him shall be what has already passed, and his affair rests with Allah”, can be taken only as a general principle - its particulars depending on the nature of the sin concerned. Whoever desists from a sin after receiving the admonition from his Lord, shall be forgiven the sins committed in the past - no matter whether the transgression was against Allah or against the people. But it does not mean that he shall automatically be absolved from its other consequences. His affair is in the hands of Allah: He may prescribe for him some expiation or amendment - as, for example, if he neglects prayers, he should pray and make up the arrears; if he did not fast, he should fast the same number of other days; if he took any property unlawfully, he should return it to the lawful owner, and he should undergo the prescribed penal sentences in relevant cases - all this going hand in hand with repentance and desisting from that sin in the future; and thus the past sins are forgiven. Or, Allah may forgive the sin altogether, after repentance, without imposing any penalty or expiation - as, for example, when a polytheist repents and enters into Islam, or when a liquor drinker or a singer repents and desists from these sins. The words, “To whosoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists", are general; they cover all the believers and unbelievers of the Prophet’s time as well as all those who came later or shall come afterwards.
“And whoever returns (to it) - these are the inmates of the Fire; they shall abide in it”: The word, “returns” here is in contrast to the word, “desists", in the preceding sentence. Therefore, it means, “does not desist". Thus, it refers to the person who goes on committing that sin and does not accept the divine command. Such an attitude exposes the infidelity or apostasy that is hidden in his heart even if he does not utter a single word to show it. Whoever returns to a sin and does not desist from it, and does not even feel ashamed of it, has in fact not submitted to the command of Allah; and he shall never succeed. Thus the two sides mentioned in this verse are: (1) accepting and obeying the divine command which creates the resolve that one will not go against the law; (2) continuing in the sin which proves that one has not accepted that divine command, which, in its turn, makes one liable to remain in the Fire for ever.
The Mu’tazilites offer this verse as a proof of their belief that the one who commits a major sin shall remain in the Fire forever.
The author’s comment: No doubt that the verse shows that not only the one who commits a major sin, but anyone who commits any sin, shall remain in chastisement for ever. But it is conditional; it refers to only that sinner who commits a sin and does not accept the divine command. And such a person will admittedly abide in the Fire. But it is different from the view of the Mu’tazilites.
Other commentators have mentioned many possibilities and explanations about the words of Allah, “for him shall be what has already passed", “his affair rests with Allah”, and “whoever returns . . . “ But all those discussions are based on their erroneous understanding of the verse (as we have explained earlier). It is not worthwhile mentioning them here, since their very basis is wrong.
QUR’AN: Allah effaces interest, and causes charities to grow...:
"al-Mahq” is gradual decrease and deterioration leading to extinction; “al- irba‘” is to make grow; “al-athim” is the sinner. The verse contrasts the growing of charities with the effacement of interest. It has been described earlier how the growing and multiplication of charities is not confined to the hereafter; it is its general characteristic which is found in this world as well as in the hereafter. Therefore, effacement and obliteration of interest must also be common to this world and the hereafter.
It is the characteristic of charity that it grows and grows. necessarily and inevitably. It spreads love, propagates mercy. creates good accord, unites hearts and brings peace and security in society; it protects the psyche from evil thoughts and anger. The members of such a society never think to usurp other’s property, or to take it openly by force, or stealthily by theft. and so forth. Charity leads them to unity, cooperation and mutual help. As a result, most of the ways in which property can deteriorate become closed; and it helps in making property grow, and grow many times.
On the other hand, it is the characteristic of interest that it gradually obliterates and destroys wealth. It spreads hard heartedness and cruelty, creates enmity and distrust, destroys peace and security and incites the “have nots” to take revenge from the “haves" in any possible way - be it by talk or by action. be it directly or indirectly; in short, it leads towards disunity and discord. As a result, most of the ways of deterioration and destruction of the property are opened; and wealth becomes a target misfortune and calamity.
These two items - charity and interest - have a direct impact on the life of the poor section of society. Needless to say, poverty and need inflame their feelings, and they are provoked to defend their rights and are ready to confront the others, come what may. With this background, if society treats them with kindness and does good to them without asking for anything in exchange, their noble feelings are stirred and they welcome this generosity with goodwill and brotherly feelings; and it creates loving effects. If, on the other hand, they are treated with hard heartedness and greed, and are faced with danger to their property, honor and life, they stand up to take their revenge from their oppressors in any possible way. Those who have seen and heard about those who swallow interest know that such people seldom escape the evil effects of such confrontation. Often their properties are lost, their houses are ruined and their endeavors go in vain.
It is necessary to mention here two things:
First: The causes upon which social effects are based differ from physical and creative causes in one important aspect. While the perfect physical and creative causes can never fail to produce their effects, social factors and causes bring about the expected result in most, but not all, cases. We deal with someone in a certain manner and expect those results which appear in the wake of that behavior - in most cases.
If we ponder upon the Qur’anic verses which describe the benefits and harms of the given actions, we shall find that the Qur’an (when it shows the relation between actions and their causes, and between actions and their effects) has adopted this very system, and mentions a frequently recurring effect as an ever-recurring one.
Second: Society is like an individual in its various conditions and states. An individual is born, lives, dies, acts and leaves his footprints on the sand of life. Likewise, a society has its own birth, life, death, actions and effects. Allah says in the Qur’an: And never did We destroy a town but it had a fixed-term. No people can hasten on their doom nor can they postpone (it) (15:4-5)
But an individual’s life and death are different from a society’s, as are the effects of their respective activities. Now, if an individual’s characteristic spreads to the whole of society, the ways of its existence and extinction, as well as its effects will change considerably. Let us look, for example, at chastity and licentiousness. They have an effect on life, when they are found in an individual. People generally look down upon a profligate man, they do not like to set up marriage with him; his company is avoided and he is not trusted. It all happens when it remains an individual’s vice, and if society on the whole is free from this evil. But if this debauchery spreads in society, and people become used to it, the above-mentioned effects simply vanish away. Those effects were the product of general abhorrence and common distaste of this evil; when it spreads to the whole of society, that abhorrence and distaste give way to general acceptance. In this way, this effect of. an individual’s immorality ceases to exist when that immorality spreads to the whole of society. Yet its other evil effects will surely follow: venereal disease will spread, reproduction will be effected; and other undesirable social evils would increase - for example, natural affinities will be destroyed and relationships will be upset.
Also, the effects of a characteristic found in an individual are felt very soon, while those of the same characteristic found in a society take a longer time to appear.
Allah effaces interest and makes charities grow. But there is a difference between an individual taking interest and a society doing so. When an individual indulges in this sin, the interest almost always destroys him; few and far between are the cases in which an interest-taker, because of some other mitigating factors, escapes this punishment. But retaliation is not so swift in case of a society wallowing in interest. Look at today’s world: interest is a recognized institution of all societies and governments; the economy is founded, and laws are made, on the foundation of interest, and it is interest that is the corner-stone of banking. Now some of the evil effects mentioned above may not happen in this case, because society has adopted it and people never pause to think about its evils and wickedness. Yet, its natural results must follow: the accumulation of wealth on one side, and an all-pervasive need on the other. Complete separation of, and confrontation between, the two - the have and have-nots have already appeared; and its ill effects are already darkening the world’s atmosphere. This has taken longer to appear than in case of an individual; yet judging from the life-span of society it has appeared rather soon. The life of society is different from an individual’s; and a day for society may be equal to an eon in the eyes of an individual. Allah says: and We bring these days to men by turns (3:140). This “day” refers to the time when people stand against people, nations against nations, governments confronting governments, and states opposing states.
It is necessary that man’s bliss be always cared for, be it of an individual, of society or of the whole of humanity. The Qur’an looks after both types of bliss - of an individual as well as of the whole of mankind. It was sent down to manage the man’s affairs, and to safeguard the world’s happiness and felicity - of the individual as well as of the species, in the present day as well as in the time to come.
Let us now look at the words of Allah: “Allah effaces interest and He causes charities to grow”. These sentences describe the ultimate state of these two activities - whether done by individuals or by society. Effacement is the inseparable characteristic of interest, as growth is that of charity. Interest is effaced, although it is named ar-riba (growth) ; and charity continuously grows, although it is not called by any such name. And to this reality Allah draws our attention in these words: “Allah effaces interest, and He causes charities to grow”; thus He attributes “growth” to charities of all kinds, and describes interest ar-riba (literally, growth) in a word, effacement, which is its opposite in meaning.
After this explanation, the weakness of the following interpretations of other exegetes becomes obvious:
1) Someone has written: the effacement of interest does not mean that such money is lost or that such endeavors do not succeed. Because experience proves otherwise. What is actually meant by the sentence “Allah effaces interest” is that Allah deprives the interest-taker from the main objective of this activity. The interest-taker aims at hoarding wealth through interest so that he may enjoy a good life; but he never gets a chance to rejoice in his wealth, as he remains too busy in adding money to money. Then he has to remain on guard against defaulters; and ultimately he passes his days in disappointment when he finds that he has become unpopular and is especially hated by the poor.
The weakness of this interpretation is obvious.
2) Other exegetes have said: The frame of reference for this effacement is the life hereafter. The one who takes interest neglects many good deeds because of his involvement in interest and his many acts of worship are nullified because he uses money gained by interest in them.
The author’s comment: No doubt, this explanation gives examples of effacement. But effacement is not restricted to the life hereafter.
3) The Mu’tazilites attempt to prove from the words, “and whoever returns (to it) - these are the inmates of the Fire ; they shall abide in it", that one who commits a major sin shall remain in Hell for ever.
We have already shown the defect of this argument, and described the true import of this sentence.
QUR’AN: And Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner:
“alKaffar” translated here as “ungrateful” is on a paradigm which is used for emphasis. Thus, it means, “inveterately ungrateful”; “abstinately unbelieving”.
This sentence gives the main reason of the effacement of interest. The swallower of interest shows his obstinacy and ingratitude for the countless bounties of Allah. He puts obstructions in the natural path of human life, that is, in natural modes of dealing; he rejects a major part of the rules about worship and mutual dealings; he uses the unlawful money of interest for his food, drink, clothing and housing, and in this way nullifies most of his acts of worship. Also, by using that money in his commercial transactions, he invalidates most of his dealings and usurps others’ property, and the liability for such things remains on his own head. Further, he tramples ethical values under foot. remains immersed in greed and avarice, becomes hard-hearted and uses force and coercion to collect from his debtors what he thinks is his due. In this way, all his faculties and actions are submerged in disbelief and ingratitude. And also he is “athim” that is, sin is ingrained in his nature. And Allah does not love him, because He does not love anyone sunk in ingratitude, sin and disbelief.
QUR’AN: Surely they who believe . . . nor shall they grieve:
It is a general principle - those who believe and obey the divine law, “they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve “. This general rule fits those who spend in charities and desist from swallowing interest, which Allah has forbidden.
QUR’AN: 0 you who believe! fear Allah and forgo what remains (due) from interest, if you are believers:
The verse addresses them with their attribute of belief and faith, and then reminds them to fear Allah. It prepares the ground for the order which follows, “and forgo what remains (due) from interest”. It shows that when these verses were revealed, there were some believers who indulged in this sin and their debtors still owned them some interest payments. Therefore, Allah ordered them to forgo that amount. This order was followed by the threat “But if you do (it) not, then be apprised of war from Allah and His Apostle”.
It supports the tradition (to be quoted later) which gives the reason why these verses were revealed.
The verse ends on the words, “if you are believers”. This shows that desisting from interest is an inseparable characteristic of belief. It puts more emphasis on the preceding sentences: “and whoever returns (to it) - these are the inmates of the Fire. . . “, and “Allah does not love any ungrateful (unbeliever) sinner”.
QUR’AN: But if you do (it) not, then he apprised of war from Allah and His Apostle:
“al-Idhn” means to know. “Fa’dhanu” (be apprised, know) has also been recited as fa’adhinu (announce) imperative mood of al-‘idhan (to announce). The preposition “bi” in “bi harbin" (= of war) gives the meaning of certainty. The meaning thus shall be: Be sure of war from Allah and His Apostle. “War” is used as a common noun, to hint that it shall be a great war, or to refer to various kinds of war. The war is attributed to Allah and His Apostle because it is in connection with a law which was legislated by Allah and promulgated by His Apostle. Had it been connected with Allah only, it would have been a creative decree. So far as His Apostle is concerned, he is not independent of Allah in any affair; Allah says: you have no concern in the affair (3:128).
How do Allah and His Apostle wage war with one who does not obey a law? They fight with such a disobedient Muslim to compel him to submit to divine authority, as is declared in the Qur’an: . . . then fight that (party) which acts wrongfully until it returns to Allah’s command (49:9).
Moreover, Allah has another way of defending His laws; and that is fighting against the offenders through the agency of nature. He lets the masses flare up against them; and in this way their lands are devastated and their footprints obliterated. Allah says: And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction (17:16).
QUR’AN: And if (the debtor) is in straitened circumstances, then let there be respite until (he is in) ease:
“Kana” (is) in the beginning of the verse has not been used as an auxiliary verb: it is an independent verb and means “exists”; “an-nazirah “ is respite, a moratorium. “al-Maysarah” (is ease, affluence); it is the opposite of “al-‘usrah” (straitened circumstances).
The verse says: If there is one of your debtors who is at present unable to repay your loan, then give him respite until he is affluent enough to repay it.
The verse is general and not restricted to the loan given with interest, although it covers such cases also. They used to demand repayment when the stipulated time came; if the debtor was not in a position to pay, he asked for some more time, agreeing to pay more interest. The verse forbids this interest, and tells the creditor to give his debtor respite until he is in ease.
QUR’AN: and that you remit (it) as alms is better for you, if you knew:
If you forego the loan and remit it as charity, it shall be better for you; because by this remittance you will change into charity what you intended to increase through interest; in other words, you will change what was sure to be effaced with what is sure to grow many times.
QUR’AN: And fear the day . . . and they shall not be dealt with unjustly:
This is the epilogue of the preceding verses of interest; it reminds the believers of the Day of Resurrection, and mentions some of its aspects which are relevant to this topic. The verse prepares the audience to fear Allah and desist from the things forbidden by Allah, especially concerning the people’s rights upon which whole edifice of life is founded. It says that a day is coming in which you shall be returned to Allah and then every soul shall be paid back in full what it has earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.
What is the meaning of being returned to Allah while we are never far from Him? And what is this “paying back in full”? We shall explain it, God willing, in the sixth chapter (The Cattle).
It has been said that this verse was the last one to be revealed to the Apostle of Allah (s.a.w.a.). A tradition to this effect will be found in the following discussion.
*TRADITIONS * There is a tradition in at-Tafsir of al-Qummi, under the verse: “Those who swallow down interest...", that as-Sadiq (a.s.) said that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said : “When I was taken to the heavens, I saw such a group that if any of them wanted to stand up, he could not do so, because of the bulkiness of his stomach. I said: ‘Who are they, O Gabriel?’ He said: ‘These are they who swallow up interest; they cannot stand except as one whom Satan has confounded with (his) touch stands; and lo! they are on the path of the people of Pharaoh; they are exposed to the Fire in morning and at night, and they say: “Our Lord! when shall the Hour come?' " "
The author says: It is an illustrative example pertaining to the period between death and resurrection. It confirms the Prophet’s words: “As you live, so shall you die; and as you die, so shall you be raised.”
al-Isbahani has narrated, in his at-Targhib, from Anas (ibn Malik) that he said: “The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said: ‘The swallower of interest shall come on the Day of Resurrection, confounded, dragging both his sides.’ Saying it, he recited: they cannot stand except as one whom Satan has confounded with (his) touch stands." (ad-Durru ‘l-manthur)
The author says: There have come numerous traditions about the punishment for interest, both from Shi’ah and Sunni chains. Some of them say that interest is equal to seventy acts of incest the swallower of interest would have committed with his mother.
There is a tradition in at-Tahdhib, that ‘Umar ibn Yazid Bayya‘ as-Sabiri said: “I said to Abu ‘Abdillah (a.s.) : ‘May I be your ransom! Verily, people say that taking profit from a “needy” person is unlawful.’ He said: ‘Have you seen anyone, whether rich or poor, purchasing anything unless he “needs” it? 0 ‘Umar! Allah has allowed trade and forbidden interest. Therefore, take profit; but do not take interest.’ I said: ‘And what is interest?’ He said: ‘Dirhams by dirhams, two against one; and wheat by wheat, double (weight) against single (weight).’ "
‘Ubayd ibn Zurarah narrates from Abu ‘Abdillah (a.s.) that he said : “There is no interest except in that which is measured or weighed.” (Man la yahduruhu ‘l-faqih)
The author says: There is a difference of opinion as to which things are liable to interest. It is the madhhab of Ahlu ‘l-bayt (a.s.) that there is no interest except in gold and silver and those things which are measured or weighed. Further details are beyond the scope of this book, as the topic concerns Islamic jurisprudence.
There is a tradition in al-Kafi from one of the two Imams (al-Baqir or as-Sadiq - a.s.) and in at-Tafsir of al-‘Ayyashi from as-Sadiq (a.s.) about the words of Allah: To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, that he said: “The admonition is repentance.”
Muhammad ibn Muslim said: “There came to Abu ‘Abdillah (a.s.) a man from Khurasan who had dealt with interest till he had amassed a fortune. ‘He asked the scholars of jurisprudence, and they said: No deed of yours shall be accepted until you return it (the interest) to its owners.’ Then he came to Abu Ja’far (a.s.) and told him his story. Abu Ja’far (a.s.) said : ‘Your way out is the verse from the Book of Allah, Mighty and Great is He! To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, for him shall be what has already passed, and his affair rests with Allah’. Then he (the Imam) said: ‘Admonition is repentance.’ " (at-Tahdhib)
There is a tradition in al-Kafi and Man la yahduruhu ‘l-faqih that as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “Every interest which people swallowed because of ignorance, and then they repented, it shall be accepted from them when the repentance is known from them.” And he said : “If a man inherits a property from his father, and he knows that that property includes interest, but it is mixed up with (the money of) trade, then it is lawful for him; so let him consume it. And if he recognizes something of it (interest) then he should keep his principal and return the excess.”
A tradition is narrated in Man la yahduruhu ‘l-faqih and ‘Uyunu ‘l-akhbar from ar-Rida (a.s.) : “It (interest) is a major sin, after explanation.” And he said: “And to treat it as a small matter is to enter into disbelief.”
The Imam was asked about a man who consumes interest thinking that it is lawful. He said : “There is no harm for him in it until he takes it on purpose (i.e. knowing that it is unlawful). When he indulges in it on purpose, then he shall be (liable) to the place which Allah has mentioned.” (al-Kafi)
It is reported in al-Kafi and Man la yahduruhu ‘l-faqih that as-Sadiq (a.s.) was asked about the words of Allah: Allah effaces interest, and He causes charities to grow. . . , and was told (by the one who asked): “I have seen (many a man) who swallows interest and his wealth increases.” He (the Imam) said: “What effacement could be more effective than that of the dirham of interest? It obliterates religion; and if he repented, his wealth would go and he would become poor.”
The author says: The tradition, as you see, explains effacement in terms of religious obliteration - he does not become owner of that property and he is not allowed to use it. Charity is just its opposite in these respects. This tradition does not go against the general meaning of effacement which we have written earlier.
‘Ali (a.s.) said : “The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) has cursed five persons concerned with interest: the one who consumes (i.e. takes) it, the one who gives it to be consumed, its two witnesses and its writer.” (Majma’u ‘l-bayan)
The author says: The same thing has been narrated in ad-Durru ‘l-manthur from the Holy Prophet through several chains.
There is a tradition in at-Tafsir of al-‘Ayyashi from al-Baqir (a.s.) that he said: “Allah, High is He, has said: ‘I have given (some) authority to others (i.e. angels etc.) about things, except charity, because I take hold of it with My (own) hand. So much so that a man or a woman gives half a date in alms, and I nurture it for him as one of you nurtures his calf and colt; until I shall leave (i.e., return) it on the Day of Resurrection (and it shall be) bigger than the (mountain) of Uhud.’ "
The same book quotes ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn (peace be on them both) narrating from the Prophet that he said: “Verily, Allah nurtures the alms for one of you, as one of you brings up his child; until he (the alms-giver) shall find it on the Day of Resurrection, and it shall be like Uhud.”
The author says: The matter has been narrated also through a Sunni chain from many companions like Abu Hurayrah, ‘A'ishah, Ibn ‘Umar, Abu Barzah al-Aslami, all from the Prophet.
It is written in at-Tafsir of al-Qummi that when Allah sent down (the verse) : Those who swallow down interest. . ., Khalid ibn al-Walid stood up before the Messenger of Allah and said: “0 Messenger of Allah! My father lent (money) with interest in the (tribe of) Thaqif, and he told me at the time of his death to collect it. Thereupon Allah revealed: 0 you who believe! fear Allah and forgo what remains (due) from it. . .”
The author says: Nearly the same thing has been narrated in Majma‘u ‘l-bayan from al-Baqir (a.s.)
as-Suddi and ‘Ikrimah have said: (This verse) was revealed about the balance of interest due to al-‘Abbas and Khalid ibn al-Walid; they were partners in pre-Islamic days, they lent with interest to some people of Banu ‘Amr ibn ‘Umayr, a clan of the (tribe of) Thaqif. Then came Islam, and they had great riches in interest. Thereupon, Allah revealed this verse. So the Prophet said: “Now, surely every interest of the pre-Islamic days is waived, and the first interest which I waive is that of al-‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib; and all the blood of pre-Islamic days is waived, and the first blood which I waive is that of Rabi ‘ah ibn al-Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib.” (He was given to Banu Layth for suckling and was killed by Banu Hudhayl.) (Majma ‘u ‘l-bayan )
The author says: This has been narrated in ad-Durru ‘l-manthur from Ibn Jarir, Ibnu ‘l-Mundhir and Ibn Abi Hatim from as-Suddi. But there the name of Khalid is not mentioned openly. It says that it was revealed about al-‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib and a man from Banu al-Mughirah.
Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi (who has said that it is correct), an-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi Hatim and al-Bayhaqi (in his asSunan) have narrated from ‘Amr ibn al-Ahwas that he participated in the last pilgrimage with the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) ; so he (the Messenger of Allah) said: “Now surely every interest of the days of ignorance is waived, you shall have your capital, neither shall you deal unjustly, nor shall you be dealt with unjustly." (ad-Durru ‘l-manthur)
The author says: There are numerous traditions with a similar meaning. What is deduced from Shi’ah and Sunni traditions is that the verse was revealed about some interest money which Banu al-Mughirah had due from Thaqif; and they used to lend money to them with interest in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. When Islam came, Banu al-Mughirah demanded from Thaqif the balance which was due; they refused to pay (interest) because Islam had waived it. Their case was put before the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) ; then this verse was revealed.
It supports what we have mentioned in the General Comment that interest was prohibited in Islam long before these verses were revealed; and that the aim of these verses was to emphasize that prohibition.
With this background, those few traditions which say that the law prohibiting interest was revealed in the last days of the Apostle of Allah, and that he died before he could explain the rules concerning interest are not worthy of interest. Such traditions are reported in ad-Durru ‘l-manthur, through Ibn Jarir and Ibn Marduwayh from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab that he said in a lecture “Among the last verses to be revealed was that of interest; and the Apostle of Allah died and he had not explained it to us. Therefore, leave what seems doubtful to you for what is not doubtful to you.”
Moreover, it is the madhhab of the Imams of Ahlu ‘l-bayt that Allah did not give death to His Prophet until He had legislated all that was needed by people for their religious affairs, and until His Prophet had explained it all to his people.
It is reported in ad-Durru ‘l-manthur through several chains from Ibn ‘Abbas, as-Suddi, ‘Atiyyah al-‘Awfi, Abu Salih and Sa’id ibn Jubayr that the last verse to be revealed was: And fear the day in which . . . shall not be dealt with unjustly.
as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “Much stress was laid on the prohibition of interest so that people should not refrain from doing good through loan or charity.” (Majma’u ‘l-bayan)
The same book narrates from ‘Ali (a.s.): “When Allah intends to destroy a town, interest appears among them.”
The author says: The earlier comments make the meanings of these traditions clear.
The author of Majma’u ‘l-bayan writes under the verse, “And if (the debtor) is in straitened circumstances, then let there be respite until (he is in) ease”: “There is a difference of opinion regarding the definition of straitened circumstances. And it has been narrated from Abu ‘Abdillah (a.s.) that he said: ‘It is when he does not have anything in excess of his own sustenance and that of his dependants, in the sense of economics.’ . . . to give respite to a poor man is compulsory in every religion, as is narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas, ad-Dahhak and al-Hasan; and similar traditions have come from Abu Ja’far and Abu ‘Abdillah (peace be upon them both). al-Baqir (a.s.) said: ‘Until (he is in) ease’, means, until his report reaches the Imam; then the Imam shall repay (on his behalf) out of the share of ‘those in debt’, provided he had spent that loan on lawful expenses.”
as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “The Messenger of Allah ascended the pulpit one day; he thanked Allah and praised Him and asked for His blessings on His prophets, and then said: ‘O people! he who is present should convey (it) to him who is absent. Now, whoever gives respite to a poor person, Allah shall credit him every day with charity equal to his money (given in loan), until he recovers it.' " Then Abu ‘Abdillah (as-Sadiq - a.s.) said: “And if (the debtor) is in straitened circumstances, then let there be respite until (he is in) ease; and that you remit (it) as alms is better for you, if you knew that he is in straitened circumstances, then give him your money (principle) as alms, as it is better for you.” (al-Kafi)
The author says: This tradition explains the divine words “if you knew”; and its other meaning has been mentioned earlier. The tradition on this and related subjects are very numerous; and the reader is advised to refer to the chapters concerning loans in the books of Islamic jurisprudence.