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Interest earnings before repentance

Published: 24/08/2011 11:18:00 AM GMT
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If a person used to deal in interest and repents, what should he do with his accumulated interest earnings?

Answered by

Sheikh Sâmî al-Suwaylim, member of the Islamic Advisory Board of al-Rajhi Bank

The command to abandon interest is mentioned in two verses:

“To whomsoever 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 Allah.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 275]

“O you who believe! Be careful of (your duty to) Allah and relinquish what remains (due) from usury, if you are believers But if you do (it) not, then be apprised of war from Allah and His Messenger; and if you repent, then you shall have your capital; neither shall you make (the debtor) suffer loss, nor shall you be made to suffer loss.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 278-278]

There are two ways in which these verses can be understood together:

The first approach:

The first approach to understanding these verses is that Allah’s saying: “He shall have what has already passed” means what he possessed of usury (prior to his repentance) while Allah’s saying: “Then you shall have your capital” is with regard to debts that are still outstanding.

There is no problem in understanding the prohibition to be on the remaining interest. This is clear from Allah’s saying: “And relinquish what remains (due) from usury”.

The order for relinquishing is for what is left from usury and not what was already received.

Since the verse, “Then you shall have your capital” can carry two possible meanings – either with regard only to what remains of it or to what remains and what has passed – then this is clarified by the other verse which gives a definitive ruling on the prohibition being on what remains of interest.

By understanding the uncertain verse in the context of the decisive one, we come with the meaning: You shall have only your capital with respect to what remains, not with respect to what has passed.

The second approach:

The second approach to understanding these two verses is by considering that there are many levels to repentance. The lowest level is to refrain from the sin and avoid committing it in the future. By this, Allah will forgive the previous sins. Allah says: “Say to those who disbelieve, if they desist, that which is past shall be forgiven to them.” [Sûrah al-Anfâl: 38]

This means that by just turning away from disbelief and embracing Islam, a person’s previous sins will be erased. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Islam erases all sins that took place before it” [Sahîh Muslim (121)] If this is the case for unbelief – which is the gravest of all sins – then it is more applicable for lesser sins.

However, by merely abstaining from the sin, the perpetrator does not ensure that he will not be held accounted for those past transgressions if he falls into the same sin again in the future. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “If a person does good in Islam, he will not be accounted for what he had done before (during the state of ignorance), but he who does evil in Islam will be accounted for what he did before and after.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (6921) and Sahîh Muslim (120)]

He also said: “If a servant embraces Islam and does good, then Allah will right him every good deed he had done in the past and erase every bad deed he had perpetrated. After that, he will be rewarded for each good deed from ten times to seven hundred times and have each bad deed counted as one unless Allah forgives it.” [Related by al-Bukhârî in the Book of Belief without attribution to the Prophet (peace be upon him). It is directly attributed to the Prophet in Sunan al-Nasâ’î (4998)]

On a higher level there is true repentance which entails not only refraining from the sin, but also regret for it and a firm resolve never to do it again and doing what one can to redress injustices.

Whoever undertakes such full repentance will never again be held accountable for it, even if he falls in sins again. This is because of his true repentance.

Hence, repentance from consuming interest can take place on both of these levels.

The lowest level is to simply stop dealing in it. This is the one indicated by Allah’s saying “To whomsoever the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists…”

Allah does not say: “Repents”. By his desisting, Allah will forgive him from the previous sins, as we have mentioned. However, such forgiveness is contingent on his avoiding falling in interest again. That is why Allah says: “and his affair is in the hands of Allah”. This means – and Allah knows best – that it is contingent on his not falling into usury again. If he remains steadfast in abstaining from interest, his forgiveness remains. However, if he returns to the sin in the future, he will be held accounted for what he did beforehand as well.

The highest level of repentance is true repentance. This entails not only abstaining from interest, but also confining himself to his initial capital and rejecting all the interest that he has already earned. This level of repentance is not obligatory upon him. This is why we do not have it commanded of us, but merely alluded to in Allah’s saying: “then you shall have your capital”. There was no command for it. The command is only to relinquish was remains of usury.

Therefore, confining oneself to one’s initial capital is a virtue, but is not obligatory as long as the person relinquishes all that remains due to him of interest. The minimum repentance which is enjoined by the clear texts is to relinquish what remains of interest.


These are the two ways of understanding these verses together. Both approaches bring us to the same conclusion: What remains outstanding of interest is unlawful and should not be taken. However, it is permissible for the person to keep the money he had earned prior to his repentance, though it is preferable for him to rid himself of those earnings.

Source: Islam Today

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