On the panel of Judges, delivering the Court Judgment, was Maulana Justice Muhammad Taqi Usmani, a prominent Islamic scholar of the Indian sun-continent.
In his section of the Judgment, the Maulana wrote:
"...The Holy Qur'an did not give any definition for the term for the simple reason that it was well known to its immediate audience. It is like the prohibition of pork, liquor, gambling, adultery etc, which were imposed without giving any hard and fast definition because all these terms were well known and there was no ambiguity in their meaning. Similar was the case of riba...."
I am quoting verbatim above, from paragraph 36 of the Maulana's judgment order. As Muslims, we should not get awed by the prominence enjoyed by any person and should not treat his writings as absolutely sacrosanct. Rather, we should check it with the Qur'aan, our Allah-given Criterion.
The Qur'aan was not revealed just for the people living at the time of its revelation. It was revealed for all the people living at all times till the Last Day. Therefore the scope of its verses cannot be restricted by the conditions prevailing at the time of revelation or by the circumstances under which those were revealed. And there has been no controversy at all as regards the meanings of the Arabic words for pork, liquor. gambling and adultery ever since the revelation of the Qur'aan. Therefore there was no need for giving any special definitions for these words.
But that is not the case with riba. This Arabic word literally means increase/growth/gain/profit. Obviously, Allah Ta'ala has not prohibited every imaginable kind of increase etc. It ought to be only a particular kind that is prohibited. There was therefore a crying need to define which kind. The Qur'aanic Verse 30.39 does just that. It is therefore unfortunate for the eminent Islamic scholar to hold that the 'Holy Qur'an did not give any definition for the term.'
Let us now examine how Verse 30.39 defines the Qur'aanic term Ar-Riba that is prohibited in the chronologically later revealed Verse 2.275, and also as to what that divine definition is.
The Arabic text of the Verse is:
This is the first verse, in order of revelation, in the matter of Ar-Riba, which later gets prohibited. As such, if the term needed any defining or explaining, this verse would be the most appropriate one wherein to give it.
In the original Arabic text, the verse begins with the words Wa maa aataytum. The plain literal translation of this phrase would be: 'And that which you give'. The Arabic words immediately following this phrase are min riban. The preposition min could have several meanings according to the context in which it is used. Here it is used in the context of, or as a preposition to, the word riban. The same preposition has been used again, in the latter part of the verse, in the context of the word zakaatin.
There is no controversy as regards zakaat. The universally accepted meaning of this word is 'charity'. The words min zakaatin may therefore naturally be translated as 'in charity', 'by way of charity' or 'for charity'. And since the Arabic preposition has been used in exactly the same fashion in the phrase Wa maa aataytum min riban, it (the phrase) may be translated as 'And that which you give in, by way of or for riba'.
It is to be noted that the word riba as used in this verse is without the Arabic definite article al. And, in Verses subsequently revealed, it is used with the article prefixed to it. It is also to be noted that it is Al-Riba (pronounced as Ar-Riba) - and not Riba as such - that gets specifically prohibited in verse 2.275.
In these circumstances, it is but natural to take the word riba used in verse 30.39 in its literal meaning of increase, growth, gain or profit. Allah Ta'ala, in His infinite wisdom, has helped us in understanding the meaning of the word thus by giving us its verb form yarbu undoubtedly meaning 'increase', later in the very same verse.
And the context of the verse suggests that the phrase Wa maa aataytum min riban may most appropriately be translated as 'And that which you give for profit'. The entire first part of the Verse may thus be translated as, 'And that which you give for profit so that it may increase in the wealth of the people, it does not increase with Allah.'
Here, in unmistakable terms, Allah Ta'ala specifies the kind of increase/profit that He abhors! He abhors - not all increases/profits, but - only that kind, which is sought to be made by unjustly usurping, during transactions, the wealth that should rightfully belong to other people. [As, for example, a factory owner cutting down his expenses by paying less to his workers in order to make huge profits for himself on products, the workers help him manufacture.]
And it is this kind of Riba (increase/profit) that Allah Ta'ala mentions as Ar-Riba (the Riba) in verses, revealed later, and specifically prohibits in verse 2.275!
To make us understand better that it is the definition He is giving here, Allah Ta'ala, in His grace, has given us the similitude of Zakaat in this very verse. The literal meaning of zakaat is purity, but it is given the special meaning of 'charity' here and defined as that given to others purely for the pleasure of Allah. Just as riba is used in this verse without Al, so is zakaat. Just as riba is used in other verses with that Arabic definite article prefixed to it, so is zakaat. Therefore just as Az-Zakaat stands defined here, so is Ar-Riba.
And Allah Ta'ala, in His infinite mercy, further helps our understanding of this definition of Ar-Riba by juxta-positioning it with the contrasting definition of Az-Zakaat. While the latter involves the giving away our own wealth/property/dues to others, the former involves usurping unjustly, for our own use, the wealth/property/dues rightfully belonging to others.
It's a pity that most of us are blind to this so elaborately, variously and clearly given devine definition of Ar-Riba.
The existence of this divine definition, definitely precludes our acceptance of the narrow, unjust and man-given definition, even if the latter has received the fatwa of acceptance from the Supreme Court of Pakistan. No Muslim can commit the unpardonable sin of shirk, by holding the Court - not equal to, but even - above, nauzubillah, Almighty Allah!
Mohammad Shafi Aga
Reference: ANALYSIS in Qur'aanic Light of a Judgment on Interest