A declaration of war?
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَذَرُوا مَا بَقِيَ مِنَ الرِّبَا إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ
فَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلُوا فَأْذَنُوا بِحَرْبٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ
O you who believe, beware of Allah: give up any outstanding dues from usury, if you are true believers
If you do not, then be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger
[Qur’ān 2: 278/279]
In his Tafsir, al-Suyuṭi summarises several important narratives regarding the interpretation of these verses. Of particular note is the narrative that is mentioned purportedly to be from Ibn ‘Abbās:
واخرج ابن جرير وابن منذر وابن ابي حاتم عن ابن عباس في قوله: فاذنوا بحرب قال من كان مقيماً على الربا لا ينزع عنه فحق على امام المسلمين ان يستتيبه فان نزع والا ضرب عنقه
As narrated by Ibn Jarir, Ibn Mundthir and Ibn Abi Ḥātim from Ibn ‘Abbās regarding His statement (in the verse): ‘be warned of war,’ he said: If someone insists on usury and does not desist, it is the lawful duty for the Imām of the Muslims to ask him to repent. If he does not desist, he strikes his neck.
Placing the reported opinion from Ibn ‘Abbās into modern legal language this could well become: ‘to be put on notice of a declaration of war,’ is a failure to desist from dealing in usury, which places this matter within the remit of capital punishment, that is within purview of the lawfully constituted Imām to undertake. As mentioned by al-Suyuṭi, other scholars of Tafsir have noted this view. Al-Ṭabari records the statement in full together with the isnād in is Tafsir of these verses from Surah al-Baqara:
حدثني المثنى قال حدثنا عبد الله بن صالح قال حدثني معاوية عن علي عن ابن عباس في قوله يا أيها الذين آمنوا اتقوا الله وذروا ما بقي من الربا إلى قوله فأذنوا بحرب من الله ورسوله فمن كان مقيماً على الربا لا ينزع عنه، فحق على إمام المسلمين أن يستتيبه، فإن نزع وإلا ضرب عنقه
al-Muthanna narrated to me he said Abdullah ibn Ṣāliḥ narrated to us he said Mu’āwiyah narrated to me from Ali from Ibn ‘Abbās regarding His statement: ‘O you who believe, beware of Allah: give up any outstanding dues from usury,’ until where He stated: ‘then be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger.’ (Ibn ‘Abbās said): If someone insists on usury and does not desist, it is the lawful duty for the Imām of the Muslims to ask him to repent. If he does not desist, he strikes his neck.
Al-Qurṭubi also cites the statement of Ibn ‘Abbās in his Tafsir, but without the isnād. He adds some additional commentary, including the interpretation of Qatādah:
هذا وعيد إن لم يذروا الربا، والحرب داعية القتل وروى ابن عباس أنه يقال يوم القيامة لآكل الربا خذ سلاحك للحرب
This is a threat to anyone who does not abandon usury. War calls for killing (and bloodshed). And it is narrated by Ibn ‘Abbās that he said that on the day of judgement it will be said to the practitioner of usury: ‘Take up your weapons for war.’
وقال قتادة أوعد الله أهل الربا بالقتل فجعلهم بهرجا أينما ثقفوا وقيل المعنى إن لم تنتهوا فأنتم حرب لله ولرسوله
And Qatādah said: ‘Allah threatened the people of usury with execution and made them lawful for such wherever they are found.’ It is said that the meaning is: ‘If you do not desist, you are at war with Allah and His Messenger,’ meaning you are their enemies.
وقال ابن خويز منداد ولو أن أهل بلد اصطلحوا على الربا استحلالا كانوا مرتدين، والحكم فيهم كالحكم في أهل الردة، وإن لم يكن ذلك منهم استحلالا جاز للامام محاربتهم، ألا ترى أن الله تعالى قد أذن في ذلك فقال فأذنوا بحرب من الله ورسوله
And Ibn Khuwayzimandād said: ‘If the people of a land think usury to be lawful, they are muradeed (apostates) and the ruling regarding them is the same as that of the people of rida (apostasy), and it is permitted for the ruler to fight them. Do you not see that Allah the Exalted has announced that when He says: ‘be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger’?
Al-Ṭabari records the statement of Qatādah via two isnād’s, the first with a slight variance of wording:
حدثنا بشر قال حدثنا يزيد قال حدثنا سعيد عن قتادة قوله وذروا ما بقي من الربا إن كنتم مؤمنين فإن لم تفعلوا فأذنوا بحرب من الله ورسوله أوعدهم الله بالقتل كما تسمعون، فجعلهم بهرجاً أينما ثقفوا
Bishr narrated to us he said Yazeed narrated to us he said Sa’eed narrated to us from Qatādah, regarding His statement: ‘give up any outstanding dues from usury, if you are true believers. If you do not, then be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger,’ [Qatādah said]: Allah promised the people of usury with execution with what has been heard, and made them lawful for such wherever they are found.
حدثني يعقوب بن إبراهيم قال حدثنا ابن علية عن سعيد بن أبي عروبة عن قتادة مثله
Ya’qub ibn Ibrāhim narrated to me he said Ibn ‘Aliyah narrated to us from Sa’eed ibn Abi ‘Aruba from Qatādah, with it similarly.
His follow-on comment is: ‘Abu Ja’far said: And all these reports are foreshadowing that which is outlined in His statement: ‘then be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger,’ a declaration of war unto them and killing from Allah the Almighty.’ Qatādah’s interpretation, like that of Ibn ‘Abbās, also places this matter within the remit of capital punishment, indicating that the ‘declaration of war’ being made in the verse leads to specific consequences in the present worldly life.
In his Tafsir al-Qurṭubi goes on to quote a tradition from the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him which states: ‘A time will come upon people when there will not be anyone left who does not consume usury, and even one who does not consume it will be touched by its dust.’ The narration appears in the Sunan collections of Abu Dāwud, al-Nasā’i and Ibn Mājah, as well as being cited by al-Ḥākim in his Mustadrak. There is disagreement about this though, particularly in relation to the higher portion of the isnād. For example, print versions of Sunan Ibn Mājah carry the sourcing as being ḍaef (weak), with a comment, referenced to al-Munthari in al-Targheeb, that the majority hold that al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri didn’t hear and receive ḥadith from Abu Hurayrah. The wording as reported by al-Nasā’i is:
أخبرنا قتيبة قال حدثنا ابن أبي عدي عن داود بن أبي هند عن سعيد بن أبي خيرة عن الحسن عن أبي هريرة قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يأتي على الناس زمان يأكلون الربا فمن لم يأكله أصابه من غباره
Qutayba reported to us he said Ibn ‘Adi narrated to us from Dāwud ibn Abi Hind from Sa’eed ibn Abi Khayra from al-Ḥasan from Abu Hurayrah, he said the Messenger of Allah peace and blessings be upon him said:
There will come a time when there will be no one left who does not consume usury, and whoever does not consume it will nevertheless be affected by its dust.
In a separate tradition of the (smaller) Sunan (book of marriage, chapter on ‘khul’), al-Nasā’i seems to also take this view, commenting thereafter as follows: ‘Abu Abdar-Raḥman (al-Nasā’i) said – al-Ḥasan didn’t hear anything from Abu Hurayrah.’ Al-Ḥākim records the same narration in al-Mustadrak connected via Dāwud ibn Abi Hind, thereafter, commenting as follows: ‘There is disagreement amongst the scholarly authorities as to whether al-Ḥasan heard from Abu Hurayrah. If (it is) authentically (established) that he did hear from him, then this ḥadith is Ṣaḥīḥ.’
That the consumption of usury is counted among the seven ‘deadly sins,’ – al-mubiqāt, is clearly established by many authentic traditions, a matter that is not in dispute. For example, as mentioned in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim:
حدثني هارون بن سعيد الأيلي حدثنا ابن وهب قال حدثني سليمان بن بلال عن ثور بن زيد عن أبي الغيث عن أبي هريرة أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال اجتنبوا السبع الموبقات، قيل يا رسول الله وما هن؟ قال الشرك بالله، والسحر، وقتل النفس التي حرم الله إلا بالحق، وأكل مال اليتيم، وأكل الربا، والتولي يوم الزحف، وقذف المحصنات المؤمنات
Hārun ibn Sa’eed al-Ayli narrated to me Ibn Wahb narrated to us he said Sulaymān ibn Bilāl narrated to me from Thawr ibn Zayd from Abi al-Ghayth from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:
Avoid the seven mubiqāt. It was said: What are they, O Messenger of Allah? He replied: Shirk with Allah, magic, the killing of one whom Allah has declared inviolate without a just cause, consuming the property of an orphan, consuming usury, turning back when the army advances, and slandering chaste women who are believers, but unwary.
Ibn Ḥazm refers to the verses of al-Baqara in al-Muḥalla when discussing the disputes that have arisen over the matter of muḥāraba (brigandage). He writes:
Abu Muḥammad said: If it is said – We do not accept that whoever is disobedient, other than kufr (disbelief) is not at war with Allah the Exalted and His Messenger peace be upon him. We say unto him, and with Allah the Exalted is all Tawfeeq, that Allah the Exalted has said: ‘O you who believe, beware of Allah: give up any outstanding dues from usury, if you are true believers. If you do not, then be warned of war from Allah and His Messenger.’
Indeed, it is correct that not every (individual) that is disobedient is (categorised) as a muḥārib (brigand), and not every muḥārib is a kāfir (disbeliever). Thereafter, we considered that (matter) also and we found that Allah the Exalted has made judgement in relation to the muḥārib, and we mentioned from that (the ruling of) execution, or crucifixion; cutting off the hands and feet from opposite sides, as well as exile from the land. All of which may be supplanted if repentance is made prior to that.
From what has been outlined by way of the Qur’ānic verses together with the accompanying Tafsir, several important but no less unsettling questions seem to arise. How is it that every ‘Muslim country,’ has usury within its banking system – whether those interest rates are utilised on loans, deposits, credit cards, the base-rate or even an inter-bank rate? These usurious rates are a matter of public knowledge, being easily obtained from open-source data. Given that the prohibition of usury is textually beyond dispute, coupled together with another verse in Surah al-Baqara [Qur’ān 2: 275] giving the explicit prohibition, how has this prohibition been ‘overturned,’ or even ‘overruled,’ by temporal worldly authorities? With the verse [2: 279] stating that there is a ‘notice of a declaration of war’ from Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), how is it that this subject does not seem to garner greater attention or even urgency to be addressed? Surely, with the verses being this explicit, should this matter not be placed on a higher grounding of attention or even anxious scrutiny?
Given the unequivocal textual evidences upon this matter, such questions deserve to be asked. Moreover, they deserve serious answers. It is not acceptable to talk of Islam in a piecemeal manner, with adherence to one portion of the text to the neglect of others. Tolerating a status quo that carries the potential of war, in this life and / or the hereafter from Allah, deserves immediate diligent attention.
 al-Durr al-Manthur, Vol. 1, p. 647
 Tafsir al-Ṭabari, Vol. 5, p. 52
 Tafsir al-Qurṭubi Vol. 4, p. 404
 Tafsir al-Qurṭubi Vol. 4, pp. 404/405
 Tafsir al-Ṭabari, Vol. 5, p. 53
 al-Mustadrak Vol. 2, no. 2210
 See: al-Muḥalla issue 2256, [Vol. 12, p. 277]. The judgement referred to in the latter portion of the quote relates to the Qur’ānic verses at 5: 33/34
 A useful starting point is the following: