riba/increase that is not a purifying exchange

30:39 says,

وَمَا آتَيْتُم مِّن رِّبًا لِّيَرْبُوَ فِي أَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ فَلَا يَرْبُو عِندَ اللَّهِ وَمَا آتَيْتُم مِّن زَكَاةٍ تُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَ اللَّهِ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُضْعِفُونَ

And whatever “extra/additional” you give so that it might increase through people’s possessions brings no increase with God whereas what you give of purification, seeking God’s countenance, it is they who get the increase.

As a human being, I am made in a way that I appreciate the benefit I get. My ability to appreciate, if I call it that, is my “possession/mal”, because it is for me to use not because I own it. I also find myself in possession of things that others appreciate receiving from me. For instance, I give people care, attention, love, sympathy and other things, material or otherwise, they need from me and appreciate getting. I enjoy being appreciated by others. Reality as I experience it is relational and full of exchanges where possessions change hands frequently. What is the meaning and purpose of this exchange? What is its truth? I ask this because this reality is troubling to me.

i) Others depend on me for appreciation and want more and more of it (often more than I can find in me) and so I fail often and it is terrifying and devastating and hurtful. As well, I seek appreciation from others and I take on heavy burdens and struggles to get it from people. When its not enough, it hurts and tortures. I want increase in love. I want to be loved and appreciated more and more. In order to accomplish this, I try to give others more and more love, hoping to receive more back from them. It is exhausting and yet my need for being loved sucks me deeper and deeper into this exhausting self-giving in search of finding self-worth through the love and affirmation and appreciation of other brings. When it is their loving face I seek, I must toil till my own face is bloodied. This need for evermore love and appreciation, if not directed to the Eternal and everlasting One, injures and harms and disappoints me and others around me.

ii) There is another more serious difficulty. Say someone was nice to me. They helped me. I appreciated the help and in return I helped them or did something for them. This would be an exchange of equal worth: help for help. This is a trade or exchange that is in line with my nature. What is the extra or additional that i could want from someone I helped that oppresses me and the other person? What is the extra or additional that someone could demand from me when they help me that would be oppressive to me and to them? gratitude and indebtedness! I find it humiliating to accept favors from people and I would oppress others if I asked them to recognize me as a benefactor to whom they should feel indebted, above and beyond anything they might do to reciprocate what I may have done for them. THIS gratitude, deference, indebtedness..this is the EXTRA, the RIBA that I demand from others IF I do not act in the name of my Maker. Why? Because the help, kindness, wealth etc that I shared with them is NOT in fact mine! It is not my possession in reality but only as a trust from the sustainer who asks me to convey it, in His name, to the intended recipient. Thanks and gratitude is not due to me for it. Yes, kind treatment is due to me when I offered kind treatment to another. This is justice and fairness. Kindness demands reciprocation. So does love etc. It is not me that can demand it for me. I am in the middle and employed as a means so I can witness the Giver, the Merciful, the sustainer so I can be sure who my Lord is. When I offer something not in my name but as a way of seeing God’s face, the face of Mercy, in the exchange, it purifies me of the false idea that the help/mercy came from me and I should be appreciated and thanked for it, as if I were the source. This idea i.e. the idea that I am the source of mercy is an impurity to me because I cannot benefit myself with eternal life and happiness with this mercy. I am not its source. When I claim I am, I expect from my mercy the things it cannot give me because I am a limited and passing being. I drag divine mercy into the mud by claiming it to be mine and thus falsely staining it with lack, limitedness and transience. To not do this and to see Him as the merciful one in the exchange of help, for instance, is to purify myself of this false and self-injuring claim. It is to free His mercy from lack and when I find Him and find Eternal Mercy, this is the real increase for me. I helped a friend and this help increased for me into a realization of Eternal Help IF I offered the help in the name of the Helper. This is zakat. This is the opposite or riba.

It is ludicrous to me that people think Riba is something banks give or that it is usury or interest. It is an “oppressive extra” wherever it may be. It is tragic that people do not realize how they harm themselves and others all the time by demanding “more than what they gave”. People do not see how they lose the face of the Merciful One when they give and take this “extra”, as a direct denial of the fundamental prophetic message of the unity of the Source, all the time in all their exchanges, monetary or otherwise. If we gave help in His name and accepted (and expected) help in His name, there would be trade, exchange, a fair exchange which has been made agreeable to me by my maker, where each party could see the face of God, the Helper, the Provider, the Merciful without the other party demanding a share in God’s mercy and demanding indebtedness and gratitude for itself in addition to one’s gratitude to God. People would be free from humiliation and feeling small etc in a world where so much is differently distributed by the maker and so much exchange must happen. People would not feel entitled to be appreciated by creatures because they would find the One who appreciates them in whatever appreciation and happiness the other would me made to feel by the One as a result of their receiving the help from Him through them. I witness that exchange is ordained and it is purifying when His face is sought through it and i witness that the extra/additional/increase I want from other people through that exchange is an oppression and a false claim of being the owner of what was exchanged and hence deserving of thanks for it.

There is also 2:276,

يَمْحَقُ اللّهُ الْرِّبَا وَيُرْبِي الصَّدَقَاتِ وَاللّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ كُلَّ كَفَّارٍ أَثِيمٍ

God deprives unjustly demanded/given “increases” of all blessing, whereas He increases what is truthfully given/taken. And God does not love anyone who is ingrate and does wrong [to himself..because all wrong, as I have discussed in a different blog, is a wrong to oneself].

Isn’t this interesting? What is truthfully given is what is given in God’s name because it is given in the name of the One who owns it. That is why it is truthful. That is why anyone who dies convinced that their life is not their own but belongs to the Life-Giver and is going back to Him is a Shaheed/martyr. All who die (to this world) this way live with the Living One. Martyrs are not people who die fighting. Martyr is the one who dies truthfully i.e. as a giving back to God what belonged to Him (life) instead of “losing” a life that, as if, was “his own”. Verses about Shaheed/martyr are guidance for me as to how I should think about life not about deciding who did or did not die a martyr. It’s not something one can or has to decide for others. Either I die a denier of truth or I die a martyr [in which case I go on living with the One in whose name I was living here]. I digress. But its interesting that riba is mentioned together with sadaqa and that the verse ends by claiming (a claim I have to confirm and witness to be guided by it) that God does not love the deniers and the wrongful. What I give or take truthfully reveals God, the eternal source to me. A piece of cloth I give or take reminds me of the One who provides and takes care of my needs. In the smallest act of mercy, I can find myself with Eternal Mercy. This is the increase that the Eternal One brings into my life and wants for me. To deny that the act of mercy was in His name is to be left with someone’s limited mercy (which is not their’s anyway) and to feel beholden to them for it (or to expect others to be beholden and indebted to oneself for the mercy one showed). This kind of exchange is deprived of blessing. I can experience and feel it. My heart does not like it.

Please don’t be the person who thinks about riba when taking out mortgages and loans or the evils of modernity etc etc. Be among the ones who experience increase. Be a person who gives and takes truthfully, in the name of the One who really owns whatever is given or taken (in human terms, and not animal/material terms, what is given or taken when “money” is given or taken is meaning – mercy, compassion etc, not the money itself. please read revelation addressed to your soul/humanity not to the body.) Revelation focuses on meaning. It asks for instance, “eat in the name of the Merciful” not “eat by the fork and spoon and plate of God”. It speaks at the level of meaning not at the level of objects. Objects are mentioned to point to their meaning for me to reflect about. Reflection is tied to meaning of things not their physicality. When I reflect about the olive or fig that revelation mentions, I am not reflecting on their chemical composition or Acid content. I am reflecting on the meaning they have for me and in the larger scheme of things and what meanings they carry to me. If you read revelation as if it as a banking code or a law book or chemistry or physics book, you are not reading revelation anymore. You are not bringing your human questions, questions of meaning, to it. The knowledge and mastery of the physical has already been put in human hands. Yes it unfolds gradually, as we know (we call it scientific/material progress and development) but meaning is always either is mine (I personally found that misguided and unsatisfactory) or what my maker reveals to me (I am finding it in the Quran so far).

The post went from riba to other matters but hey…thats why I am not writing an article or a book. These are just thoughts on a page.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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