An Open Letter to the Muslim Council of Britain

This open letter was occasioned by the action of the MCB in co-operating with leading British figures of the Jewish and Christian religions to denounce the ‘usury’ practised by banks as the RBS. See this report in the Guardian.

Dear Brothers,

As-salamu alaikum,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you for having restored the word usury in public discourse. Even though the entire earth is under a deluge of usury it is still regarded as a crime by Muslims, as it used to be by Christians and Jews, and it is well that the concept is in use pejoratively again. This is an important achievement.

However, press coverage of your work unfortunately perpetuated a falsehood originated by the Christians that there is a legitimate and acceptable rate of interest and that anything in excess of that is considered usury and, moreover, that it is up to us as human beings to decide for ourselves what that legitimate rate of interest is. I refer you to our “An Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury” of October 27th, 2008 in which we dealt at some length with this issue.

The truth is that for Muslims, and originally for Jews and Christians, ANY charge of interest no matter how miniscule is absolutely forbidden. But, the Christians have altered their position in a series of different rulings over the centuries that have ushered in the age of banking that we live in today. But, you may well have mentioned this and the media have failed to report it, or, if you did not, you may have been put in this position by your wish to work on some area of agreement with the Jews and Christians laying aside matters on which we differ. In principle we also agree with such initiatives, but nevertheless it is not acceptable for us to do so in any way which undermines the very basic foundations of the deen. To endorse interest even to the extent of a blade of grass is to strike a blow at the heart of the shariah.

As I am sure you know, the position of Islam on this matter is unequivocal. The Book of Allah, the Sunnah of His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the consensus (ijma‘) of the knowledgeable scholars of Islam make it absolutely clear that any charge of interest is usury and is haram and is, moreover, one of the mortal wrong actions. There is simply no way to overturn these matters by any kind of ijtihad. There is no room for any misconceived ‘Islamic reformation’.

Pragmatically speaking, pegging interest at 8% is certainly a less onerous burden on borrowers than an APR of 254% as is charged legally by some institutions in this country, or the various credit card rates of 20%-40% etc. Indeed, we have seen simple parking fines which if paid within two weeks rather than a week double in amount, thus effectively being interest payments of thousands of percent.

The danger in brushing over smaller interest rates is that it amounts to declaring 8% interest halal, and thus making halal what Allah has declared haram. And as you certainly know it is only for Allah and His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to make things halal or haram. The gravity of doing such a thing must surely be known to you, for it amounts to an act of disbelief, may Allah protect you and me from such a step.

This serious caveat unfortunately detracts from our wish to congratulate you on making public the opposition of Islam and the Muslims to usury. We urge you to clarify without delay the complete unacceptability of any interest payments whatsoever no matter how small.

Allah, exalted is He, orders us to co-operate for the sake of the good when He says:

“Help each other to goodness and taqwa.

Do not help each other to wrongdoing and enmity.” (Surat al-Ma’idah: 2)

It is clear how important it is for Muslims in the UK or in any other place to work together for the establishment of the deen.

The impulse that drove you to work with non-Muslims for our common good is something I also applaud. Indeed, we ourselves have undertaken similar initiatives, most obviously in this very same area the seminar “Usury: the root cause of the injustices of our time” held in Norwich in 1987, whose transcripts were recently republished with additional material as Banking: the root cause of the injustices of our time, by Diwan Press, London, UK 2009, and which was very much directed to non-Muslims in the Green and ecological movement.

We suggest that to preserve the advance made by your taking this stance and to undo the misleading idea that smaller interest payments are acceptable, you ought immediately to make the position of Islam clear: that Muslims cannot co-operate in a reform of the banking system that simply adjusts the rate of interest, but must work for the abolition of all interest charges and, as a necessary corollary, the banking system itself. It is obligatory for us to make this absolutely clear and no pragmatic considerations may be used to justify silence on this point.

In the spirit of future closer co-operation, I recommend strongly that you find out about our very detailed position on this because I say without boasting that the Norwich Muslim community, under the leadership of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi and Hajj Umar Ibrahim Vadillo, have been leaders in mapping out this terrain in terms of the illegality in Islam, and in the previously revealed religions, of financial transactions such as usury, undercutting, regrating, forestalling, monopolising and hoarding, and in documenting the history of the rise of usury both in the West and in the Muslim lands, as well as in restoring a complete picture of the halal economic transactions of Islam such as profit-sharing trade and partnerships etc., and finally outlining a way forward in terms of restoring genuine currencies of gold and silver, establishing open markets and a variety of other measures, which are dealt with in more detail in ‘Open Trade – A Call to Action’ in Banking: the root cause of the injustices of our time.

Then, I suggest that we make the establishment of a non-usurious economy in the UK for the benefit of Muslims and non-Muslims a central plank of the MCB programme. I can promise you that if you adopt this you will find an extraordinary amount of goodwill from non-Muslims of all sorts, as well as the gratitude of the Muslims for bringing clarity in an area over which they are not happy, for no one that I have met is really convinced by the so-called ‘fatwas’ that permit matters such as mortgages, banking and the mis-named ‘Islamic banking’.

As well as being a dangerous moment in history with the very real likelihood of a slide into an extremely deep recession and the quite serious possibility that capitalism will, as in the 30’s, try to extricate itself from that by war, a war whose preliminaries are already obvious to all of us today, there is still an extraordinary opportunity for us to articulate what we know clearly and to take the lead in establishing something wholesome for all sections of our society. If you are interested in such a thing, I would be more than happy to be involved in that and to help in any way I can insha’Allah.

As-salamu alaikum,

Abdassamad Clarke

Published by admin

Abdassamad Clarke is from Ulster and was formally educated at Edinburgh University in Mathematics and Physics. He accepted Islam at the hands of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi in 1973, and, at his suggestion, studied Arabic and tajwid and other Islamic sciences in Cairo for a period. In the 80s he was secretary to the imam of the Dublin Mosque, and in the early 90s one of the imams khatib of the Norwich Mosque, and again from 2002-2016. He has translated, edited and typeset a number of classical texts. He currently resides with his wife in Denmark and occasionally teaches there. 14 May, 2023 0:03

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  1. Has there been any response to this open letter? Is there really a possibility of working with the MCB? Or is this making a very important ‘line in the sand’ which we cannot cross, because it has been crossed repeatedly as you mentioned with ‘islamic banks’, etc., and surely the MCB condones those institutions. If they do cross the line is this particular matter then they cannot be considered by Muslims at least, as representatives of Islam or British Muslims.

  2. Salaam.

    Hajjissa, are you really labelling individuals as non-Muslims so flippantly? Simply due to what you’ve heard in the above letter!? Are you certain that by saying certain amounts of interest are halal (which the MCB did not say), one becomes a non-Muslim, or perhaps they become sinners? There is a big difference, remember the hadith of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) – when one of you accuses another of being a kafir, one of them surely is (meaning that to accuse a believer of kufr is a statement of kufr in and of itself) – may Allah protect us from that.

    Furthermore, the issue of internet in non-Muslim countries is nuanced and the scholars have various opinions. Did you know that the traditional Hanafi opinion is that in a non-Muslim land one can engage in interest as it is the norm (of course, seeking to establish alternative means when possible).

  3. Sidi AA,

    As-salamu alaikum,

    First, nothing Hajj Issa said could be construed as an accusation of kufr. That he said that “they cannot be considered by Muslims at least, as representatives of Islam or British Muslims” means that they cannot be considered to represent Islam and British Muslims. Neither does Abdassamad represent Islam or British Muslims, but then he doesn’t claim that and the MCB does.

    Indeed, nothing I wrote should be construed as an accusation of kufr, certainly not when my article is preceded by and followed by the greeting of peace, and that it is clearly addressed to my Muslim brothers. That I warn against an act that can be considered as kufr is another matter. I am certainly not qualified to pass a fatwa on the kufr of anyone.

    I do warn very clearly against declaring halal what Allah declares haram and declaring haram what Allah declares halal.

    Please do not float this old thing of the scholars having various opinions.

    It is not the “traditional Hanafi opinion that one can engage in interest in non-Muslim countries because it is the norm”; it is the Hanafi view that one can do so in Dar al-Harb. But the UK cannot be Dar al-Harb as people have emigrated here to work and pay their taxes here and acknowledge the government. We are not at war with the UK so the rules of Dar al-Harb do not apply here.

    If you say that usury is permissible because it is the norm, are you going to endorse all the other things that have becomes norms here?

    The Hanafi madhhab does not license paying or taking interest in the UK.

    And Allah knows best.

  4. Salaam Br Abdassamad Clarke

    Thank you for your open letter to the MCB posted above on this website on 25 August 2009. As the matters covered fall within the remit of the MCB’s Business & Economics Committee which I chair, I have been asked to reply. Please accept my apologies for the delay due to my other commitments.

    My reading of your letter is that you are making two main points.

    (A) The MCB should not have cooperated with the other bodies, including Jews and Christians, who are calling for a statutory interest rate cap in the UK.

    I understand your position to be that interest is prohibited in all circumstances, and that the MCB should distance itself from the call for an interest rate cap. It should instead call for the replacement of the present economic system by a system which prohibits the charging of interest.

    As you may be aware, the MCB has worked hard for many years to promote Islamic finance in Britain so that it is available to those Muslims, and non-Muslims, who do not wish to take part in conventional finance. This work has led to a situation today where the UK is the leading Western country in Islamic finance with five Islamic banks, one takaful company and many other Islamic financial institutions. The MCB’s work continues, and nobody can predict how far Islamic finance may one day be developed in Britain.

    However, we live in a country that is 96% non-Muslim. For the MCB to ignore the campaign for an interest rate cap and to instead sit on the sidelines calling for the abolition of the British banking system would be pointless. We would be giving up the reduction in harm that an interest rate cap may achieve, for no corresponding benefit to anybody.

    You are free to adopt that position if you wish. The MCB prefers to see what good can be achieved now, following the principle that if one is faced with two evils, one chooses the lesser one; here by arguing for lower interest rates to be charged to some of the most disadvantaged citizens in our society.

    At the same time, we continue to promote the development of Islamic finance in the UK. Furthermore, if a statutory interest rate cap can be enacted, there is then scope to argue for its further reduction.

    (B) You refer to “so-called fatwas” and “the mis-named Islamic banks”

    From your use of this phraseology, I conclude that you disagree with the views of those Muslims whose religious opinions underlie the operation of Islamic banks as they do business today in the UK and in Muslim majority countries. I am not clear whether your disagreement is with the operation of all Islamic banks everywhere, or whether there are some Islamic banks with whose mode of operation you actually agree. I assume that you disagree with all of them, but please correct me if I am wrong.

    The religious views on finance held by Muslims fall into three categories.

    Usage of conventional finance

    Contrary to the assertions in your letter, many Muslims do not have a fundamental objection to conventional finance, although they may object to some conventional financial practices on a case-by-case basis. For example in many countries such as Malaysia and Bahrain where Islamic banking is long established, about 70% of all banking is still conventional. While some of this will be banking by non-Muslims, especially in Malaysia, much of it will be banking by Muslims who do not share your view that all interest is prohibited in all circumstances.

    You are free to hold the views set out in your letter. However there are many sincere Muslims who are managers or customers of conventional banks in both Muslim majority countries and in the UK who do not agree with you.

    Usage of Islamic banking as practised today

    Some Muslims do regard conventional banking as impermissible but consider Islamic banking as practised today to be acceptable from an Islamic perspective.

    Since Islamic banks were first established over 40 years ago, the sector has grown strongly. Apart from Iran and the Sudan where banking must be Islamic by law, all of this growth has been achieved by Muslims exercising free choice as customers.

    Rejection of current Islamic banking practices

    Some Muslims consider that both conventional banking and Islamic banking as practised today are impermissible. From your comments, I assume that your views fall into this category, but please correct me if I am wrong.

    As stated above, the MCB is keen to promote the development of Islamic finance in Britain. If you have proposals for how an Islamic bank should operate to comply with your personal views, which are backed by a group of entrepreneurs who wish to operate a UK Islamic bank along those lines, the MCB would be pleased to hear from you. We would be very happy to share our expertise to discuss what tax and regulatory changes, if any, might be needed to allow such an Islamic bank to operate in the UK.

    However, we have limited resources and cannot engage in this exercise until there is a group of people with the necessary capital and banking expertise to set up an Islamic bank operating along lines that you would find acceptable.

    Finally, the voice of Muslims in Britain will be stronger if we act with greater unity. Accordingly, as I understand your organisation is not currently affiliated to the MCB, I would encourage you to apply for affiliation.

    Yours sincerely
    Mohammed Amin
    Chair of the MCB Business & Economics Committee

  5. “Since Islamic banks were first established over 40 years ago, the sector has grown strongly. Apart from Iran and the Sudan where banking must be Islamic by law, all of this growth has been achieved by Muslims exercising free choice as customers.”

    This makes no sense to me. What free choice? As a Muslim I am given the choice of going to a normal bank or going to a ‘islamic’ bank, both operate using fractional reserve banking, but the Islamic one pretends that it is ‘halal’ by using Islamic labels to describe unislamic transactions. This is not free choice, it is a swindle tricking Muslims into believing it is halal and worse than the non Islamic bank.

  6. “To endorse interest even to the extent of a blade of grass is to strike a blow at the heart of the shariah.” (Abdassamad Clarke)

    I AGREE 100%!

    Several years ago, I investigated the genuineness of the “Muslim Council of Britain” regarding certain Islamic and British political issues. I found out that the MCB was not genuine at all as I saw it endorsing almost everything that the Kuffar were trying to impose on Muslims and everybody else in Britain as well as in other parts of the world, including their bogus democracy, “sexual orientation”, “legitimate” usury rate, integration-assimilation programmes, bogus racial equality institutions that authorise racism rights for every “ethnic”, that is, non white groups, and was scared to denounce the power of the Jewish Lobby falsely claiming that it did not even exist, and all its actions were so glaringly geared towards pleasing the government, and seeking to be accepted by the powers who want total control over the Muslims.

    So, I denounced the MCB at every opportunity. Then, I got literally fed up as the few others I had investigated showed the same compromising trend, including the defunct Muslim Parliament, the former Majlis Al Shura fi Britaniya, that was under new leadership after the passing away of Dr Kalim Siddiqui. Here, I can even name two of the corruptors: Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and Dr Shazad Mahboob (British Muslims for Secular Democracy) with whom I had severe disagreements. Islamic “Secular Democracy”, what a grotesque farce!


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