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Religious observance and market law in medieval Islam

The controversal application of the prohibition of usury according to some Ibâḍî sources
Ersilia Francesca
p. 191-203


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1The Ibâḍîs are a moderate branch – and today theonly survivors – of the Khawârij, the oldest Islamic sect which, in the eyes of Sunnî Muslims, is heretical. At present, they form the main part of the population in the oases of Mzab in Algeria, of Zawâra and Jebel Nefusa in Tripolitania, in the island of Jerba in Tunisia and in Oman. Small groups are also found on the island of Zanzibar.

2According to tradition, the sect appeared in 65/684-685 in Basra when Abd Allah b. Ibâḍ broke away from the Khârijî extremists over the attitude to be adopted towards other Muslims. During the first half of the eighth century, the Ibâḍî movement began to undergo profound change: from being part of the Khârijî sect, it became a movement with a defined membership, a doctrine and organised missionary activities (Wilkinson, 1982).

3The main authority for this period was Abû 'Ubayda who played an important role in formulating the first juridical theories for the movement and in organising a daʻwa for it. This involved finding and training persons who wouldpropagate Ibâḍî ideas and supervise the establishment of Ibâḍî states when the time was propitious. Their activity was successful in various Muslim regions such as in North Africa, the Hadramawt and in Oman where several Ibâḍî revolts broke out, constituting a great threat to the caliphate.

4The organisation of a daʻwa required proper financing. The main sources of income were Ibâḍî merchants who also contributed to the cause by taking advantage of their trade network for missionary activity.

The spread of Ibâḍism

5Towards the end of the eighth century, Basra declined as the spiritual centre of Ibâḍism and the community emigrated to Oman. Here, towards the middle of the ninth century, Ṣuḥâr prospered as a trade centre between Muslim regions and the monsoon areas (Wilkinson, 1979, ʻUbaydalî, 1990).

6The spread of Ibâḍiyya in North Africa was a direct consequence of the collapse of the movement in the central portions of the Umayyad empire. After being defeated by the Umayyads in Iraq and in central Arabia, the Ibâḍîs emigrated to North Africa where, in 776, they founded a stable community with its centre at Tâhert. Tâhert, whose prosperity was linked to long distance trade, reached its zenith during the ninth century. Western North African trade routes to bilâd al-Sudân existed largely thanks to the work of North African Ibâḍiyya. One of the earliest routes between Tâhert, Wargla and bilâd al-Sudân probably came into existence towards the end of the eighth or the beginning of the ninth century (Lewincky, 1962). At about the same time, the Tâdmekka, Wargla, Tozeur and Qayrawân route was probably in use while, by the eleventh century, a third route from Wargla to the Mzab and Wâdî Rîgh was an important aspect of the commercial infrastructure (Lewincky, 1964, ibid., 1979).

7Further east in Tripolitania where Ibâḍîs had already been trading with the peoples of the Lake Chad region, exchanges (mostly in slaves and horses) were integrated into the more western trade. Between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, Ibâḍî traders from Tripoli, Ghadames, the Jarîd (southern Tunisia) and Qastiliya were in regular commercial contact with the markets in Wargla, Zawîla, Tâdmekka and Awdaghost. Further west, reports likewise indicate the presence of commercial or missionary groups south of the Sahara. There were also Ibâḍî merchants in Gao, possibly from the latter part of the eighth century. Moreover, according to al-Zuhrî (eleventh century), large sections of the western Saharan population, from the Niger bend north to Tâdmekka and Wargla, west to Sijilmâsa and south to Zafun, were converted to the Ibâḍî doctrine during the eighth century (Cuoq, 1984: 10, 15-18, 22-24, 45-49, 57, 101). In his work, Sur la diffusion des formes d'architecture religieuse musulmane à travers le Sahara, J. Schacht demonstrated that it was, in fact, the Ibâḍîs of southern Tunisia, Wargla and Mzab who brought the characteristic features of Muslim religious architecture across the Sahara to the Hausa, the Kanuris and the Fulba(Schacht, 1954). It was also the Ibâḍîs who introduced Islam itself into part of sub-Saharan Africa: North African Ibâḍî sources provide a great deal of interesting and credible evidence about the activity of merchants and probably also about Ibâḍî missionaries in western and central Sudan from the eighth to the fourteenth century (Lewincky, 1960-1961: Cuoq, 1975,55-56, 123-124, 166-168, 171-175, 194-196).

Entrepreneurial success and jurisprudence

8The Ibâḍî communities, both from North Africa and Oman, combined outstanding entrepreneurial success with religious austerity. They believed that their religious ethics and ascetic living encouraged their commercial activities (Franceses, 1999). The Ibâḍîs considered themselves to be « the true Muslims » and their law as the true religion of Islam, regarding their school as the most representative of the Prophet's authentic teaching. Ethical principles which appeared in Ibâḍî law from the very beginning revealed a rigorous conception of life and faith. Sinful actions implied the loss of the state of purity and rendered the sinner unfit to participate in religious rites.

9The Ibâḍî who committed capital sins, who failed to obey divine law or who introduced innovations was a kâfir (unbeliever) and therefore banned from the community of the true believers. Indeed, according to the Ibâḍî doctrine, the community had a responsibility of friendliness towards individuals who carried out the precepts of religion in a satisfactory manner (walâya, association). Conversely, they were beholden to an attitude of hostility against those who did not deserve to be called believers (barâʼa, dissociation).

10Such religious observance influenced Ibâḍî jurisprudence in many ways (Ennâmi, 1972-1973: 193-220; Francesca, 1987). Rules concerning ribâ may be pointed out as evidence of this influence. They are also a focal point for the discussion of the controversial relationship between commercial practice in medieval Islam and market law as it was developed by different schools of law.

11Usury, as well as other unethical commercial practices, was severely censured in the Quran. The first statement in the Quran about ribâ is as follows:

  • 1 For the translations of Quranic verses, see The Holy Quran, Islamic European Cultural Centre, Rome, (...)

« And whatever you lay down as usury, so that it may increase in the property of man, it shall not increase with God; and whatever you give in charity desiring the pleasure of God, it is these persons that shall get manifold (30: 39). »1

12The above verse which comes from Sûrat al-Rûm, dates from the third Meccan period. The verse only conveys a moral condemnation of ribâ but it does not prohibit ribâ from a legal point of view. After the Prophet's migration to Medina, Islam became politically dominant and ribâ was strictly prohibited. Evidence of this prohibition can be found in the following verse from Sûrat Âl ‘Imrân:

« O you who believe, do not devour usury, making it double and redouble, and be careful of your duty to God, that you may be successful (3: 130). »

13The prohibition was later reasserted in Sûrat al-Baqara, die third and last revelation on ribâ before May 626:

« Those who swallow down usury cannot rise except as one whom Shaitan has prostrated by his touch does rise. That is because they say, trading is only like usury; and God has allowed trading and forbidden usury. To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, he shall have what has already passed, and his affair is in the hands of God; and whoever returns to it – these are the inmates of the fire; they shall abide in it (2: 275). »

  • 2 My analysis of the ribâ prohibition in the Ibâḍî tafsîrs is based on the following works: Ḥawwârî, (...)
  • 3 In general, the dogma and the politico-religious theories of die Ibâḍîs resemble, on certain main p (...)

14Ibâḍî law expresses a widespread condemnation of ribâ from a moral point of view. In the economic ethics envisaged by Ibâḍî authorities, ribâ is an atrocious sin and an execrable crime which deserves the most severe punishment both in this and the future life.2 Dealing with ribâ leads to the loss of the state of association (walâya) as it is a major sin (kabîrà) and a rebellion against God (maʻṣiya). According to a ḥadîth related by Hûd al-Hawwârî, ribâ is as abominable a sin as apostasy and murder (Hawwârî, 1990, 1, 373-375; Muslim, 1349/1930, îmân, bâb bay an al-kabâʼir). « God », says Muḥammad Aṭfayyash (1820-1914), « will consider every dirham taken as interest similar to incestuous intercourse with the mother (Aṭfayyash, 1981: I,451; Shammâkhî [d. 792/1389], 1304/1886:111, 12). Another tradition states as follows: God curses (laʻana) everyone who practises usury, delegates it, writes a contract involving usury or testifies for it » (Abu 1-Ḥawârî, 1394/1974: 115; Shammâkhî, 1304/1886: III, 12). In Sunnî ḥadîth collections, this statement is attributed to the Prophet (Muslim, 1349/1930, buyuʻ, bâb laʻn âkilal-ribâ; Abû Dâwûd, 1370/1951, buyuʻ, bâb laʻn âkilal-ribâ; Tirmidhî, 1384/1964, bâb mâjaʼa fi akl al-ribâ). The idea of an anathema from God is very significant because Ibâḍîs maintain the dogma of the immutability of divine punishments and rewards which is also prominent in Mu'tazilî theology.3

Ribâ in the Quran

15Ibâḍî commentators (Abu 1-Hawârî, 1394/1974: 114; Hawwârî, 1990: I, 254; also see Ṭabarî, 1373/1954: III, 101-104) quote the following passages of the Quran, arguing that people who practise usury will rise in the Day of Judgement like those who have gone mad (majnûn):

« Those who swallow down usury cannot rise except as one whom Shaitan has prostrated by his touch does rise [...] These are the inmates of the fire; they shall abide in it (wa-humfîhâ khâlidûri) (2: 275). »

16These verses gave rise to a dogmatic controversy about the threat of eternal punishment for those who consume ribâ since Islam assumes that punishment for the believers, except for those who apostatize, will be temporary. Muḥammad Aṭfayyash (1981, 450-451) did not acknowledge the validity of a literal interpretation and solved the controversy by relying on other verses which confirm the doctrine that Muslims who committed major sins will not be condemned to eternal punishment (56:17; 76:19).

17The Quran also states:

« O ye who believe ! protect yourselves from God and remit what is left of usury if ye be faithful (2: 278). »

18Relying on these verses, Ibâḍî commentators force the believers who repent to remit what they took as ribâ or give it to the poor (Ḥawwârî, 1990 I, 256; Abu 1-Ḥawârî, 1394/1974: 155; also see Ṭabarî, 1373/1954: IV, 90).

19It could hardly have been otherwise since Ibâḍism attached great importance to religious principles which stressed the responsibility of individual man such as the obligation of « promoting good and preventing evil » and the weight of works for the faith (Abu 1-Ḥawârî, 1394/1974: 99; Aṭfayyash, 1981:1,452; Jannâwunî, 1886: 49; Rubinacci, 1964: 561, 582).

20The Quran censured the practice of ribâ and denounced it in unprecedentedly strong terms, but it seems that, at some stage, the Quranic account of ribâ was held as inadequate in that just one form of ribâ was considered in the Quran. As a consequence, the need to extend the ban on ribâ to other forms of transactions was felt. In the course of time, a vast and expanding ḥadîth literature accumulated on the subject.

  • 4 Relying on the authority of Zayd b. Aslam, Malik's Muwatta' states: « In the pre-Islamic days (jâhi (...)

21What the Quran intended was to avoid the increase in capital obtained through continuous redoubling (aḍ'âfan muḍʻâfatan, 3: 130). The historical sources called this practice; ribâ al-jâhiliyya.4

Ribâ in Ḥadîth

22By a common development of doctrine, the schools of law extended the law of usury to all exchanges of gold, silver, wheat, barley, dates and salt. Additionally, they demanded not only the immediate delivery of the two lots which were being exchanged, but also absolute equality in quantity if the two lots belongedto the same kind of product. In a famous ḥadîth, the Companion Abu Sa'îd al-Khudrî reports the Prophet as saying:

  • 5 The ḥadîth is quoted in almost all juridical sources dealing with ribâ. See, for example, Sarakhsî, (...)

« Gold is to be paid for by gold, silver by silver, wheat by wheat, barley by barley, dates by dates, and salt by salt like for like (mithl bi-mithl), payment being made hand for hand (yadan bi-yad). If someone gives more or asks for more he has dealt in ribâ. »5

23In general, ribâ is thus any unjustified increase of capital for which no compensation or return is given. Prohibition is directed against speculation in food and against any transaction which is tantamount to giving or taking interest. The subjects of such an injunction are the essential commodities of basic needs which were in common use during the early period of Islam. Dates, barley and wheat formed the staple food of the people. In the barter trade of those days, these commodities were widely exchanged.

24The ribâ described above is known by the technical name of ribâ al-faḍl (ribâ of excess). Some eminent Companions of the Prophet, such as Usâma b. Zayd, Zayd b. Arqam, ʻAbd Allah b. ʻAbbâs, were unaware of this kind of ribâ and held that there could be no usury unless there was a time-lag in the transaction. This doctrine, formulated in die maxims, « there is no ribâ except on loans » and « diere is no ribâ when the payment is made on the spot », was ascribed to the Prophet.

25An early Ibâḍî source, the Aqwâl Qatâda b. Diʻâma (d. 117 or 119/735-736) records Ibn Abbâs as saying:

  • 6 Al-Sadûsî (d. 117 or 199/735-736), fol. 1-140, f. 117. The book is pan of al-Dîwân al-maʻrûd ʻalâ ʻ (...)

« Usâma b. Zayd and Zayd b. Arqam were making exchange transactions in which broken gold (al-tibr al-munkasar) was sold for an inferior quantity of gold bullion. Anas b. Malik disapproved of that. Then Usâma asked the Prophet whether this involved ribâ. The Prophet said: "Was the exchange from hand to hand (yadan bi-yad)? ». Usâma replied that this was the case and the Prophet authorised such exchange transactions. »6

26Another early Ibâḍî source, the Mudawwana of Abu Ghânim al-Khurâsânî (second half of the second century –early decades of the third century/approximately 767-820), reports that the Prophet had no objection to the exchange of one dinar for two, or of one dirham for two if both lots were delivered immediately. He only objected to it if the delivery of one lot was postponed. According to the Mudawwana of Abu Ghânim, Ibn ʻAbbâs said:

  • 7 Ibâḍî scholars pay great attention to the Mudawwana as it gives a clear account of the development (...)

« Usâma b. Zayd reported God's Messenger as saying: There is no objection to the exchange of gold and silver, two for one, because usury is on loans (Abu Ghânim, 1984: II, 182-183; Atfayyash, 1984: 246-247). »7

27The Ibâḍîs derived their doctrine from the tradition of Usâma b. Zayd that there is no ribâ in the simultaneous exchange of different quantities of gold, silver and other commodities. That the ancient Ibâḍîs supported this doctrine is confirmed by a Sunnî source, the Kitâb al-Mabsûṭ of al-Sarakhsî, where the doctrine is attributed to Jâbir b. Zayd (Sarakhsî, 1324/1906: XII, 111-112).

28The prohibition of giving an increased quantity of one commodity in exchange for another in transactions involving precious metals is unanimously agreed upon by Sunnî jurists. Nevertheless, they were aware of what was reported about Ibn 'Abbas who allowed increase in the exchange of gold and silver provided that they were exchanged simultaneously. The glaring contradiction between hadiths dealing with the « ribâ of excess » (ribâ al-faḍtl and those related to the « ribâ of credit » (ribâ al-nasîʼd) could not be overlooked. The early traditionists tried to solve it. A number of ḥadîths were put into circulation supporting the fact that Ibn ʻAbbâs had retracted from his opinion. But the manner by which Ibn Abbâs showed penitence is narrated in a contradictory way. Such contradictions assert the increasing strictness of jurisprudence in the law concerning ribâ. Moreover, some early sources did not relate his change of mind.

29According to the Musnad of al-Ṭayâlisî (d. 203/819), Abû Saʻîd al-Khudrî, who strongly opposed the conception that là ribâ illa fil-nasîʼa, met Ibn ʻAbbâs and asked him whether he had heard anything about it from the Prophet or whether it reflected his personal opinion (ray). Ibn Abbas replied: « I didn't hear it from the Prophet, but I see no objection if the exchange is from hand to hand » (Ṭayâlisî, 1952, II, 269; ʻAbd al-Razzâq, 1390-1392/1970-1972: VIII, 117-118, nr. 14546). The opposite teachings of Ibn ʻAbbâs and Abu Saʻîd al-Khudrî were set against each other in a tradition recorded by ʻAbd ar-Razzâq (d. 211/826).

« Ibn ʻAbbâs relates from Usâma b. Zayd that he heard the Prophet saying: «al-ribâ fi l-nasîʼa ». Abu Saʻîd replied that he heard from the Prophet: «Gold is to be paid for by gold, like for like (mithl bi-mithl), silver by silver, like for like (mithl bi-mithl)». »

30Other sources relate the ḥadîth in variant versions. Bukhârî records from Abu Sâlih:

« I heard Abu Saʻîd al-Khudrî saying: « Dinar be exchanged for dinar, dirham for dirham, like for like. One who gives an increase or seeks an increase earns ribâ. I told Abu Saʻîd that Ibn ʻAbbâs held the opposite view. Abu Saʻîd said that he had met Ibn ʻAbbâs and asked him whether he found anything in the Prophetic tradition or in the Quran in support of his opinion. Ibn ʻAbbâs replied that he had not heard it from the Prophet, nor had he found it in the Quran, but it had been related to him by Usâma b. Zayd who said that the Prophet declared that ribâwas in nasiʼa.»(Bukhârî, 1407/1986, buyuʻ, bâb al-dînâr bi-l-dînâr nasiʼatanʻ; Qastallanî, 1304-1305/1957, IV, 78; Tirmidhî, 1384/1964, buyuʻ, bâb ma jaʼa fi l-sarf; Nawawî, VII, 12; Bayhaqî, 1354-1356/1925-1927: V 280). »

31Furthermore, ‘Atâ’ b. Abî Rabâh relates that Ibn ʻAbbâs asserted that he had not found any evidence in the Quran and the ḥadîth about this. He added that, regarding the sayings of the Prophet, Abu Saʻîd was more knowledgeable than he. Usâma b. Zayd told him that the Prophet had said that ribâ was in nasîʼa (Muslim, 1349/1930, buyuʻ, bâb bayʻ al-taʻâm mithlan bi-mithl, Bayhaqî, 1312/1992,I,481).

32Other traditions claim that, in his later life, Ibn ʻAbbâs rejected the doctrine that there is no ribâ except on loans and accepted the general condemnation of the « ribâ of excess » (ʻAbd al-Razzâq, 1390-1392/1970-1972: VIII, 118, nr. 14548-14549). The growing strictness in the prohibition of ribâ al-nasîʼa is clearly stated in this sequence of ḥadîth.

33The full narration of the ḥadîth reported by Usâma b. Zayd is only preserved in Ibâḍî sources. The Sunnî sources contain just a part of it, relating in general terms that the Prophet was asked about bullion exchange (ṣarf) whereupon he said ʻal-ribâfi l-nasîʼaʼ or lâ ribâ illâ fi l-nasîʼa (Abu Ḥanîfa, 1382/1962: 158, nr. 329; Bayhaqî, 1354-1356/1925-1927: V, 281).

34The fact that, in early Islam, the word ṣarf meant both the exchange of gold for gold and silver for silver as well as the exchange of gold for silver, attributes some ambiguity to the ḥadîth. Therefore, some scholars suggested that the question pertained to the barter (mubâdald) of precious metals of different types. Thus, they overlooked the fact that it was unanimously accepted that the exchange of commodities of different species was not subject to the prohibition of ribâ al-faḍl but only to that of ribâ l-nasîʼa. In this case, the controversy between Ibn ʻAbbâs and Abu Saʻîd al-Khudrî would not have arisen.

35In the Sunan by al-Dâraquṭnî (d. 385/995), one can find a further way of interpreting the ḥadîth concerning « al-ribâfi l-nasî'a ».

« ʻAmr b. Dînâr heard Abu Minhâl saying that a companion of his sold dirham on credit. He disapproved of this practice but the other replied that he performed the transaction on the market and nobody disapproved. Abu Minhâl asked Barâʼ b. ʻÂzib who said: "The Prophet arrived as we were dealing in such a way and he said: 'Hand-to-hand exchange is valid, exchange on credit (nasî'a) is illegal" (Dâraqutnî, 1406/1986: III, 16-17; Bukhârî, 1407/1986, buyuʻ, bâb bayʻal-wariqbi-l-dhahab nasîʼatan). »

36The most famous and popular attempt to explain the ḥadîth of Usâma comes from al-Shâfiʻî who writes:

« It is possible that Usâma found that the people had questioned the Prophet regarding hand-to-hand exchange with excess of different commodities, for example, (in relation to) the exchange of gold with silver, of dates with wheat and other articles with those of a different kind. The Prophet replied, according to Usâma's report, that ribâ concerns an exchange of commodities on credit. It is also possible that the questioner may have explained this at the time when he put the question andhe received this reply from the Prophet. Then Usâma related only the reply but forgot to relate the question as well. It is also possible that he may have some doubts regarding this matter, because the hadîh related by him does not contain anything which is incompatible with these propositions (Shâfiʻî, 1388/1969,126; Sarakhsî, 1324/1906, XII, 111-112). »

37Thus, the inconsistency and contradiction between the ḥadîth of Usâma b. Zayd and all the others on the same subject could be resolved.

Ribâ in practice

  • 8 The theory that the prohibition of ribâ l-nasîʼa represents an earlier stage of the doctrine is be (...)

38Al-Shâfi‘î’s proposal brings up the problem about the authenticity of the tradition related by Usâma b. Zayd as reported in the Ibâḍî sources. But a careful study of the ancient juridical sources suggests that it represents an earlier stage with regard to the doctrine that prevailed in the Iraqi and Medinese schools (Francesca, 1994, 78-82, 165-168).8 In his Kitâb ikhtilâf Mâlik wa-l-Shâfiʻî, al-Shâfiʻî discusses the Medinese custom of allowing the exchange of unmanufactured gold for a smaller amount of coins of the same metal in order to cover minting expenses (Schacht, 1950, 67). This is a serious infringement, ascribed to Mâlik, Ibn al-Qâsim and Muʻâwiya, upon the general rules for the exchange of precious metals (Mâlik, 1373/1954, II, 633, nr. 31; Tabarî, 1320/1902, 62-64; Andalusî, 1332/1914: IV, 261-263; Ibn Rushd, 1949: 119; ʻAbd al-Razzâq, 1390-1392/1970-1972: VIII, 125-126, nr. 14574-14576).

39Schacht proved that this decision must be seen not as an exceptional concession, but rather as the original doctrine of the Medinese. According to him, the deliberate obliteration of these transactions from most of the old sources shows the growing strictness in the enforcement of the prohibition of usury. This strictness prevailed in the generation after Mâlik who died in 179/ 795 (Schacht, 1950: 67).

40Up into the Umayyad period, the prohibition on usury was avoided through the exchange of unmanufactured gold for the same amount of coins and by simultaneously paying a minting fee (Balâdhurî, 1956: 575).

41As parallel cases allowed in early Islam concerning the survival of old custom, there were exceptions to the rules concerning ribâ in relation to the exchange of objects which could be measured or weighed such as the sale of meat for meat, bread for bread, eggs for eggs, in equal quantities which were estimated without weighing. These transactions were called by Mâlik as « our generally agreed practice » (Schacht, 1950: 67).

42Rules concerning the exchange of food and its sale on credit, as they were developed by the ancient schools of law, are conflicting and contradictory: on one hand, the schools were careful to avoid any usurious transactions, but, on the other hand, they allowed for a number of legal devices to receive and give interest.

  • 9 Legal devices (ḥiyal, sing, ḥîla) were not confined to the prohibition of taking interest but cover (...)

43One consisted of a double sale of which there were many variants.9 For instance, the (prospective) debtor sells goods for cash to the (prospective) creditor and immediately buys diem back from him for a greater amount payable at a future date. In effect, this amounts to a loan with the goods as security; the difference between the two prices represents the interest.

44Another infringement on the general rules concerning the prohibition of usury and aleatory transaction was the re-sale of goods before taking possession, something which the ancient lawyers allowed since there was no direct risk of usury involved (Schacht, 1950: 108, 200 f, 296, 313).

45It seems likely that the acceptance by the Ibâḍîs of the maxim al-ribâ fil-nasîʼa when gold was sold for gold and silver for silver, represents the survival of an ancient custom born out of the logic of economics since it acknowledged the higher value of gold and silver coins in relation to unmanufactured metal. Sunnî ḥadîth collections testify a growing strictness in ribâ law which constitutes the result of jurists' efforts to bring extensive and complex spheres of economic life within the logic of die ribâ prohibition. Although the Ibâḍîs attached a strong moral censure to the practice of ribâ, they did not take the prohibition of usury to its extreme consequences, namely, including those transactions that they did not perceive as illegal. Thus, their behaviour was affected by the values of merchant capitalism and the accumulation of wealth which were clearly a part of the ethos of the Ibâḍîs.

46From the third century onward, the Ibâḍîs made a great effort to specify all illicit ribâwî transactions in loans and exchanges but, at the same time, they continued to consider the ḥadîth of Ibn ʻAbbâs from Usâma b. Zayd as authentic (thâbit). They even justified it theoretically by assuming that the Sunnîs had rejected it deliberately (Ibn Baraka, 1983: II, 320-321; Bisiyânî, 1304/1886: 119-120; IbnQays, 1403/1983: 132-133; Shammâkhî, 1304/1886:111, 13-19). It was only at the end of the 19th century that the eminent Ibâḍî scholar and reformist, Muḥammad Aṭfayyash (d. 1332/1914), recognised the inconsistency of this ḥadîth and replaced the Ibâḍî theory of ribâ l-nasîʼa with Sunnî reasoning, arguing that Ibn Abbâs had repented of his opinion in the latter part of his life. Moreover, the ḥadîth should be interpreted as referring to the exchange of commodities of different types (Atfayyash, 1392/1972: XI, 38-39, XII, 112).


47In dealing with the ribâ prohibition, one can point out a further incongruity in the Ibâḍî law. As stated above, money exchange and, in general, dealings in precious metals demanded immediate delivery of the two lots which had beenexchanged. This doctrine was generally accepted but, among the Ibâḍîs, the 'Umanî scholar, Ibn Baraka (middle of the fifth/eleventh century) stated that the exchange of gold for silver on credit is allowed: « The exchange on credit is valid (thâbit) if it is based on the individuals responsibility (dhimma) » (Ibn Baraka, 1983, II, 340).

  • 10 The Kufian traditionist, Abu al-FaḍlʻAmmâr b. Mûsâ al-Sâbâtî, was a companion of the Shi'ite imâm M (...)

48A corresponding doctrine, ascribed to imâm Abu ʻAbd Allah Jaʻfar al-Ṣâdiq (d. 148/765), was likewise put into circulation by ʻAmmâr b. Mûsâ al-Sabâtî among the Shiʻites around the end of the second/eighth century. Similar to the Ibâḍî doctrine of Ibn Baraka, that of Jaʻfar al-Ṣâdiq remained unsuccessful and did not become part of the school's teachings (Ṭûsî, 1375-1376/1956-1957, III, 2ndpart) 94.95; Abu al-Qâsim, 1403/1983, XII, 260-264; Kishshî, c. 1960,218, nr. 130).10

49This doctrine may be regarded as a survival of the original Medinese custom in that some traditions quoted by Muslim reported that, during the Prophet's lifetime, people in Medina used to exchange gold for silver on credit (Muslim, 1349/1930, I, 693). Although such a custom was overshadowed by the growing strictness in the enforcement of the prohibition of ribâ, transactions of precious metals on credit were still performed during the caliphate of ʻUmar b. al-Khaṭṭâb, causing the caliph's disapproval (Shâfiʻî, 1407/1987, III, 25).

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1 For the translations of Quranic verses, see The Holy Quran, Islamic European Cultural Centre, Rome, 1984.

2 My analysis of the ribâ prohibition in the Ibâḍî tafsîrs is based on the following works: Ḥawwârî, 1990; Darjînî, 1394/1974: II, 395-399; Shammâkhî, 1301/1883: 381; Motylinski, 1885: 23 nr. 49; Schacht, 1956: 379; Sezgin, 1967-1970: I, 41; Abû al-Ḥawwârî, 1394/1974; Sâlimî, 1350/1930: I, 342; Klein, 1938: 14, 36-37, 63; Kudamî, 1405/1985: I, 221; Van Ess, 1991-1995: II, 504.

3 In general, the dogma and the politico-religious theories of die Ibâḍîs resemble, on certain main points, those of the Mu'tazila. Unfortunately, the existing sources do not provide a clear outline of die historical process by which the Mu'tazilî elements mingled with the Ibâḍîs. See Cuperly, 1984: 84; Nal-lino, 1916-1918: 455-460; Goldziher, 1958: 163, 281.

4 Relying on the authority of Zayd b. Aslam, Malik's Muwatta' states: « In the pre-Islamic days (jâhiliyya), ribâ operated in this manner: if a man owed another a debt, at the time of its maturity, the creditor would ask the debtor: « Will you pay up or will you increase (am turbî) » If the latter paid up, the creditor received back the sum; otherwise, the principal was increased on the stipulation of a further term. » See Zurqânî, 1373/1954: III, 324; Tabarî, 1373/1954: VI, 22-24.

5 The ḥadîth is quoted in almost all juridical sources dealing with ribâ. See, for example, Sarakhsî, 1324/1906, XII, 110.

6 Al-Sadûsî (d. 117 or 199/735-736), fol. 1-140, f. 117. The book is pan of al-Dîwân al-maʻrûd ʻalâ ʻulamâʼ al-ihâdiyya, a collection of boob relating to Ibâḍî authorities concerning different topics of jurisprudence. The Awqâl Qatâda contains narrations from Jâbir b. Zayd, Rabîʻ b. Ḥabib, the chief scholars of the Ibâḍî sect, and mainly from the « successor » Qatâda b. Diʻâma, who was one of the best friends and teachers of Jâbir b. Zayd. See Van Ess, 1976: 31-32.

7 Ibâḍî scholars pay great attention to the Mudawwana as it gives a clear account of the development of Ibâḍî jurisprudence in its early times. A number of commentaries were written on it. The last of them was made by Muhammad Atfayyash and is known as al-Mudawwana al-kubrâ. The original work of Abu Ghânim is distinguished by the name, al-Mudawwana al-sughrâ.

8 The theory that the prohibition of ribâ l-nasîʼa represents an earlier stage of the doctrine is be tenable according to Haque, 1982.

9 Legal devices (ḥiyal, sing, ḥîla) were not confined to the prohibition of taking interest but covered other subject matters as well. The schools of law showed some differences of degree in die attitude towards ḥiyal. The Ḥanafîs were the most favourably inclined. See Shaybânî, 1930; Khassâf, 1923. The device of die double sale was permitted by the Ibâḍî scholar Jâbir b. Zayd: see Rabîʻ b. Ḥabib (died around the end oftlie second/eighth century), fol. 1-32, f. 12.

10 The Kufian traditionist, Abu al-FaḍlʻAmmâr b. Mûsâ al-Sâbâtî, was a companion of the Shi'ite imâm Mûsâ al-Kâzim(d. 183/788).

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Ersilia Francesca, « Religious observance and market law in medieval Islam », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 99-100 | novembre 2002, mis en ligne le 12 mai 2009, consulté le 20 septembre 2018. URL :

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