Did Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas condone spending money acquired through interest?
Opponents of the Jamaat allege regarding a particular edict of the Promised Messiahas on interest, claiming it to be wrong and suggesting that under the guise of this edict, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam sought to seize control of money acquired through interest.
Before taking up the edict presented by the opponents, it is quite necessary to mention several other edicts of the Promised Messiahas regarding interest.
Once, the Promised Messiahas was asked whether in certain inevitable scenarios interest was permitted. The Promised Messiahas said:
“I cannot give an edict in favour of it [interest]. It is forbidden by all means. A type of interest is permissible in Islam and that is while lending money to someone, one does not place a precondition of any sort and the one in debt, acknowledging the favour, willingly gives an additional sum while returning the loan. This was the practice of the Holy Prophetsa. If he ever borrowed ten rupees, he would give up to hundred rupees while returning the loan (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Musakat). The only interest which is prohibited is the one in which an agreement is made and a condition is set in advance.” (Al Badr, 24 August 1904, p. 8)
The above-mentioned saying of the Promised Messiahas, in light of the Holy Quran, serves as a guiding principle.
Now we turn to the matter which was objectionable in the eyes of our opponents. The background of this edict is that owing to the influence of the British Government in the Indian subcontinent, the businessmen of that time were experiencing several difficulties, hence they sought an edict from the Promised Messiahas. So, enquiring about bank interest, one of his disciples, Sheikh Nur Ahmad Sahib asked him what should be done with that interest money which was given by banks unconditionally, without any demand.
Thus, the Promised Messiahas gave an edict in light of the following verse of the Holy Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا لَا تَأْكُلُوا الرِّبَا أَضْعَافًا مُّضَاعَفَةً
“O ye who believe! Devour not interest involving multiple additions” (Surah Al-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.131). It is quite clear from this verse that Allah the Almighty forbids mankind from consuming interest i.e. to use it for worldly needs and requirements.
The word “devour” does not mean that only consumption of food and drink from interest money is forbidden, while to purchase clothes and other such items is permissible, but in fact, it has been used metaphorically for those things that are a necessity for mankind.
The second thing which is evident from this verse is that Allah the Almighty forbids Muslims from utilising the money of interest for their personal benefits, while on the other hand, He does not forbid utilising this money for religious interest. Consequently, the Promised Messiahas states:
“This is indeed our belief and Allah the Almighty has guided me through divine inspiration that this [interest] money should be spent in the promulgation of religion. It is certainly true that interest is prohibited but this [prohibition] is for one’s own self. Anything that becomes part of Allah the Almighty’s possession can no longer remain unlawful because the concept of unlawfulness of things relates to mankind and does not concern Allah the Almighty. Interest is surely unlawful for one’s own self, family, associates, relatives and neighbours. However, if this money (of interest) is purely spent for the promulgation of religion, then there is no harm in that. Especially in the given circumstances when Islam is in a state of complete helplessness and when people unfortunately do not offer Zakat.
“I perceive that in the present times, there are two befalling calamities and two unlawful things are being considered lawful. Firstly, Zakat which was an obligation is not being offered and secondly, the taking of interest is being practiced even though it was prohibited. That is to say, the due portion of Allah the Almighty was not offered, while on the other hand, a share was taken which was not rightfully theirs. When such is the condition and Islam is in a state of terrifying weakness, I issue this verdict that the money of interest gained from the banks should at once be spent in the promulgation of religion.
“This edict which I have issued is not a general one because dealing of interest is unlawful, but in these times when Islam is in a state of helplessness, the means of economic progress have not been established and Muslims are not paying heed, spending this money for the cause of Islam is not unlawful.
“In accordance with the meaning of the Holy Quran, the unlawful thing is that the [interest] money is spent on one’s own self. One must take into account this fact that as interest is wrong for one’s own self, in the same way it is wrong to give interest to someone else as well. Surely, it is right to submit this money to the possession of Allah the Almighty and to dedicate this money only to be spent for the propagation of Islam.
“If Jihad, for instance, is being carried out and the ammunition happens to be in the possession of a transgressor and a wrongdoer, in these circumstances if one holds back [from Jihad], considering that ammunition to be unlawful, it is wrong. Instead, it would be appropriate to utilise that ammunition. At present, the Jihad of the sword has come to an end and Allah the Almighty has blessed us with a government that has granted us every kind of religious freedom. Now, Jihad of the pen remains. Therefore, it is permissible to spend [interest money] for the promulgation of Islam.” (Al Hakam, 24 September 1905, p. 9)
Before that in April 1898, in the same way, the Promised Messiahas issued an edict for his disciple, Hazrat Ghulam Nabi Seithi Sahib who was a merchant.
The Promised Messiahas stated:
“I am hopeful that considering your good intentions and fear of the Divine, Allah the Almighty shall Himself create a way out of this situation. Until that time, observe istighfar with patience and in my opinion, there is a more preferable way to manage the interest money, and that is, do not use the money gained from the interest in your business but instead set it aside and when you have to give interest, you can give it from that [interest] money. And if you feel that some additional money is piling up, then there is no harm to spend that money for a religious cause which does not involve someone’s personal benefit, but rather it only involves the promulgation of religion.
“I have previously issued this edict for the members of my Jamaat, that the interest which has been termed unlawful by Allah the Almighty is that which is used for the personal benefit of man. The unlawful way is that a person spends interest money to run their household or spend it on food, clothing and to maintain a roof over their head or lend it to someone else with the intention that they may spend it for food or clothing.
“On the other hand, by no means it is unlawful for one to spend the interest money, without taking an iota for the personal benefit, in the cause of Allah the Almighty for the promulgation of religion. The Holy Quran establishes this fact that Allah the Almighty is the Master of all things and everything that advances towards Him gets purified, except for that money which is taken without the consent of people i.e. by theft, stealth or ransacking, as these possessions are not in any way worthy of being spent for the cause of Allah and religion. But as for that money which is collected by mutual understanding, it may be spent in the way of Allah the Almighty’s religion. It is worth reflecting how much money is needed to contest that material which is being published by the opponents in refutation of our beliefs. It is as though a war is being carried out with them, so there is no harm to spend that [interest] money to aid this war. This is the edict that I have issued …
“By no means do I suggest here that for spending interest money for the promulgation of religion, someone should intentionally become part of such an occupation [which involves interest]. Instead, the idea is that if someone is compelled, as in your case, or inherits interest money by chance, only then may this money be spent in the way that I have explained. Moreover, [the person who spends interest money for the cause of religion in this manner] would be worthy of reward.” (Sirat-ul-Mahdi, Vol. 1, pp. 402-403)
Now, it becomes incumbent upon the opponents who level such allegations on these edicts that in light of the Holy Quran or traditions of the Holy Prophetsa, they present a single verse or a Hadith against these edicts.
The Promised Messiahas has further explained his edicts as well. When an individual sent a letter to the Promised Messiahas stating that Huzooras had given permission to take the interest money from the banks, keeping in view the compulsion of the present times and the condition of Islam. As the word “compulsion” bears broad connotations, the individual asked therefore, considering the possibility of compulsion in personal, national, international and commercial domains, whether the dealing of interest be permitted or not? Hence, the Promised Messiahas said:
“These are the ways in which people want to open the doors to that which is prohibited, so that they may do what they please. I have never said that it is permissible to receive interest money from the bank and to use it in desperate times. I only said that it was not prohibited to use it for the propagation of Islam and for other requirements of Islam. This will be so until money remains unavailable for the support of Islam and it continues to remain poor, because nothing is unlawful for Allah.
“As for personal, national or commercial requirements, it is outright forbidden to use interest for these things. The justification I have put forward is that, for instance, it is unlawful according to the Shariah to burn another living being (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad Wa Al-Siyar), but at the same time it is permissible for a Muslim to use a gun or a cannon when faced with war in this age, because the enemy too uses the same weapon.” (Al Badr, 6 February 1908, p. 7)
The above-mentioned edict of the Promised Messiahas was an exceptionally suitable edict for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent who were being ruled by a non-Muslim state and were inevitably bound by their banking system.
It should be noted here, the Promised Messiahas is not issuing a decree that the dealing of interest with a non-Muslim in case of compulsion is lawful, but instead he considers that dealing as interest. Moreover, Huzooras does not permit spending interest money gained from banks and other such sources for one’s own self or other Muslims as a charity.
Entirely owing to the given circumstances of the time, keeping in view the weakness and helplessness of Islam, for a short period of time (until the situation changed and there remained no compulsion), spending interest money for the promulgation of Islam was considered permissible.
This can be understood through an example, for instance if interest money of a Muslim is kept in a bank and they do not collect that money, but a non-Muslim collects his interest money and spends it to buy artillery and ammunition, ultimately waging a war against the Muslims, then letting that money go into the hands of non-Muslim would not be considered an act of wisdom.
Similarly, if a person’s father used to take interest money and utilising that money, leaves an inheritance in the form of personal property and real estate, then what can the offspring do with that inheritance? Should they throw it away, so that others may take it? Certainly, it would be better for them to give that money in the way of Allah without spending it on themselves or others.
(Research conducted by a panel of scholars at the Research Cell, Rabwah. Translated by Al Hakam)