If one gives a loan to another, it must be re-paid in the same manner and equally (mithl). This is a ruling agreed upon by all the scholars.
The question arises here that, what is meant by ‘Mithl’? Does being equal mean: similarity in weight, measurement and quantity or in value and worth?
By looking into the evidences of the Qur’an, Sunnah and discussions of the great jurists of Islam, it becomes clear that the similarity which is required here is in quantity and magnitude, not in value.
There are many evidences for this. Some are mentioned below:
1) Sayyiduna Abu Sa’id al-Khudri and Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with them) narrate that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) appointed a person as a governor of Khaybar. This governor brought to the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) high quality dates of Khaybar. The Messenger of Allah (Allah be pleased with them) asked: “Are all the dates of Khaybar like this?” He replied: “By Allah, no, O Messenger of Allah! We barter one measures (sa`) of this type of dates for two measures (sa`) of our own (normal & inferior quality) dates, and two measures (sa`)’s for three of ours. The Messenger of Allah said: “Do not do so (as this will be considered usury). Rather, sell the dates of inferior quality, and then buy the good quality dates with that money.” (Recorded by Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim)
Both the fuqaha and Hadith commentators have explained that the above narration is clear evidence on the fact that when dealing in usurious goods, the similarity which is required is in quantity and not value.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did not differentiate between the two types of dates and did not permit for them to be exchanged unless if they were equal in weight, despite the fact that one was of a better quality than the other.
2) The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Do not sell gold for gold unless equal in weight and do not sell silver for silver unless equal in weight. Whosoever gives or demands more, then this is interest.” (Recorded by al-Bukhari, Muslim and others)
This and many other similar narrations imply that, when exchanging, there should be total equality in quantity and measurement. If it is a loan, then this becomes more necessary.
3) If a person was to give one kilo of wheat as a loan, the value of which was, for example: two pounds. Now at the time of repaying this loan, the price of one kilo wheat fell to one pound. In this case all the fuqaha (jurists) are unanimous that he will still give one kilo back and not half kilo due to the fall and decreasing in the value of wheat. (Ibn Hazm, al-Muhalla, 6.347; Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni, 4.207; Dardir, al-Sharh al-Saghir; 3.290-291; Haskafi, al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 5.161)
The above and other evidences prove that when a loan is paid back, then the rate of inflation is not considered according to Shariah. One can only claim back exactly the amount which was given as loan. Anything other than that will be considered Riba, thus unlawful (Haram) and sinful.
It is akin to the situation where one places his money in a safe or money box and thereafter takes the money out after few years. It is obvious that the money which he will take out will be exactly the same as he put in. It will not increase or decrease due to inflation or deflation!
So what about inflation?
As far as the using of the term ‘inflation’ is concerned, it should be noted that there is a principle in Islamic Jurisprudence which says:
“Consideration is given to the substance of the transaction and not the terms used.” (See: al-Kasani, Bada’i` al-Sana’i` 5.3; Marghinani, al-Hidaya, [with Ibn al-Humam’s Fath al-Qadir], 7.132; Zayla`i, Tabyin al-Haqa’iq, 4.112; Majallat al-Ahkam al-`Adliyya, item #3 [explained in detail by Ali Haydar in Durrar al-Hukkam Sharh Majallat al-Ahkam, 1.21]
Whether we call it inflation or something else, the reality is that it is exchanging money for money with more from one side which is Riba and unlawful.
And Allah Knows Best
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK