Employment At A Bank

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله

The judgment on employment with a usurious bank is founded on the lawfulness or otherwise of the general activity carried out by the bank itself. In other words, if we conclude that the activity of banks is altogether lawful and permitted, there is no doubt that working for them follows incidentally on such lawfulness and permissibility; and if we reach the opposite conclusion, namely, that such an activity is generally prohibited, how could work in it be other than forbidden?

This is something that should be taken as an unarguable given. If, on the other hand, we reach the conclusion that its activity is a mixture of the lawful and the unlawful, work for an establishment of that kind is reprehensible (makrūh), and its reprehensibility is exacerbated by the proportion of unlawfulness in it; income generated from such a source would then be tainted accordingly.

I do not think that any trustworthy savant asserts that the activities of banks are generally lawful, unless we pay regard to the statements of those alleging that interest is lawful because the attribute of usury is negated in its respect. It is, however, an anomalous view that deviates from the established Prophetic practices, the supporting evidences of which are transparently flimsy.

Once the first possibility (the general lawfulness of a bank’s activities) is discarded the judgment can only move between the other two possibilities.

The one I support is the first one (the general unlawfulness of a bank’s activities), even though we might conclusively state that some of the transactions or undertakings a bank carries out are not prohibited in themselves. They are, however, a paltry portion compared to the essential transactions performed by it, namely, trading in debts. That being the case, the general judgment is ancillary to the judgment of the primary essence, and the incidental aspects (albeit not prohibited in themselves) are given the same judgment as the essence and the judgment specific to them, which would have been different had they been separated from the rest, is shelved aside.

Accordingly, it cannot be cogently affirmed about the like of transactions undertaken by usurious banks that they are a blend of the lawful and the prohibited, so that the judgment cannot be tilted towards either extreme and takes from both of them. This kind of judgment can only validly apply to a composite mixture of realities where the constituent elements of each of them stands independently. As for a mixture where the minority aspect is subordinate to the predominant one, the judgment attaches to the latter.

If the question was posed as to what clarifies that the essential transactions engaged in by the banks consist in trading with debts, we would reply that the matter is clarified by the banks’ self-definition itself. In the dictionary Al-Mu`jam al-Wasīt we read: “A bank is an institution resting on credit transactions of lending and borrowing”. As for Al-Mawsū`ah al-‘Arabiyyah al-Muyassarah, we find under the entry masraf or bank: “This word is generally used for institutions that specialize in lending and borrowing money”. Dr. Muhammad Zakī Shāfi`ī said in his bookMuqaddimah fī an-Nuqūd wa al-Bunūk: “We may safely summarize the work of commercial banks in one phrase: Engagement in credit transactions or trading with debts”.

If the bulk of a bank’s work consists in lending and borrowing, or debt and credit, there is no doubt that it trades in debt. It in fact never lends money without charging interest, and never borrows money without paying interest. That is so in respect of term deposits. As for demand deposits, the client is not charged interest, because interest is inescapably linked to time, yet the bank benefits from such deposits in an unlawful manner, by relying upon them in order to find transactions involving interest-bearing loans [Besides levying a lot of ancillary charges].

Once we concede that, we can only conclude that the transactions of a usurious bank represent a prohibited activity altogether, since the permissible transactional units comprised by it are absorbed by the predominantly unlawful transactions, to which the judgment attaches.

Based on the foregoing, the worker in any department thereof, whether he drafts the contracts, receives and hands the financial instruments, is part of the accounting or administrative work, or acts as security guard, etc., is sinfully rebellious against Allah, inasmuch as by his work he assists in the unlawful payment or receipt of usury. The prohibition against his work is generally laid out in His statement, Mighty and Majestic is He: «Do not help each other to wrongdoing and enmity» (Sūrah al-Mā’idah: 2), as well as in the hadīth to the effect that the Messenger of Allah, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, cursed the devourer of usury, its payer, its scribe and its witnesses, saying: “They are the same.”

As for the remuneration he receives in return for his work, it might be the fruit of undiluted unlawfulness, that being the prevailing scenario, as quid pro quo for a sinful activity, similarly to a man giving a coin to another man for the latter to assist him with theft or the consumption of liquor; or it might be a mixed fruit of the lawful and the unlawful, some of it a consideration for assisting in lawful engagements performed by the bank, similarly to a person who works in a liquor store, and whose salary is neither entirely lawful nor entirely unlawful, the unlawful part being commensurate with his involvement in the sale of liquor itself and the ratio thereof to his involvement in the sale of other than liquor, so that, were he to avoid selling liquor altogether, his salary would be fully lawful. This is, however, a far-fetched scenario in our case, since we clarified that it applies to the context where the lawful portion of the work is neatly distinct from the prohibited part, and it occasionally merges with it without being connected to it.

Allah knows best where correctness lies. To Him is the ultimate destination”.

To all of that we should add the creation of money ex nihilo, the lease of a fungible as if a non-fungible, and the monopolistic control that enables such institutions to dictate the socio-political, economic and cultural direction of a nation, nay, the totality of contemporary nations.

Elsewhere in the book, Muhammad Sukhāl al-Majjājī was asked by the said Nabīl as to whether the same judgment applied in the event of compelling necessity, and he replied that in reality we cannot imagine the doors of earnings so shut in the face of a Muslim that he cannot work other than in a bank; and that only in such a preposterously extreme scenario would compelling necessity, the real one, not the one abused by some people nowadays, would legally operate.