Aspects Of Islamic Faith - 104:
Clarification On Usurious Transactions
Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals
Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi
BILAL ibn Rabah was one of the very early Muslims. He
was an Abyssinian slave owned by a prominent chief of
Makkah called Umayyah ibn Khalaf. When Bilal accepted
Islam, Umayyah subjected him to torture of the worst
type, trying to force him to renounce his faith. He
remained steadfast, showing great courage.
The torture increased, particularly in public to add
humiliation to physical abuse. However, Abu Bakr
bought Bilal and set him free to enjoy a peaceful
life. He remained close to Abu Bakr, the closest
companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him). When the
Muslims of Makkah immigrated to Madinah, Bilal was
very close to the Prophet. He was the one who
regularly called for the prayer, as he had a melodious
voice. He functioned in a way, which is equivalent to
his being the Prophet's personal assistant and
One day, Bilal looked at the dates the Prophet had but
did not like them. They were of low quality and he
thought that they were unsuitable. So he went to the
market and exchanged them, bringing a better type for
His action led to a clarification of important Islamic
rules concerning usurious transactions, as this is
clearly explained in the following Hadith reported by
Abu Saeed Al-Khudri: "Bilal brought the Prophet some
Barni dates. The Prophet asked him, 'Where has this
come from?' Bilal answered, 'We had low quality dates.
I sold two measures of that for one measure of this
type to give to the Prophet'. The Prophet said, 'Ow!
Ow! Absolute usury. Do not do that. If you want to buy
these dates, sell yours for something else and then
buy this with what you have received.'" (Related by
The rule that this Hadith sets is that a straight
exchange of two different quantities of the same type
of goods is usurious. As such, it is forbidden in
Islam, even though the difference in quantity is based
on the fact that they are of different quality.
When dates are exchanged for dates, or rice for rice,
or apples for apples, the two quantities must be the
same, e.g. one kilo for one kilo. It is not
permissible to exchange two measures of a low quality
product for a lesser measure of a higher quality type
of the same product.
The Barni dates Bilal brought the Prophet were of the
best quality. They were perhaps worth more than double
the price of the low quality ones he had. Yet the
Prophet insisted that such an exchange must be on the
basis of equal weight or measure. His displeasure was
expressed in terms of physical pain, 'Ow! Ow!'.
He described the transaction as 'absolute usury' to
indicate its prohibition, as all usury is forbidden in
Islam. He then instructed Bilal to return the dates
and take his original ones. He should sell them either
for cash or an exchange for something other than
dates. He could then buy the high quality dates for
cash or for what he received.
Al-Bukhari has listed this Hadith under the heading of
'Agent's Action', because the dates belonged to the
Prophet and Bilal was acting on his behalf.
Thus, the Hadith tells us that an agent, or a person
acting for another on the basis of a power of
attorney, cannot do a prohibited transaction.
If he does, the transaction is illegal and invalid.
The person on whose behalf it is undertaken is
entitled to return the goods and get a refund. This is
what the Prophet instructed Bilal to do.