Question:: I am currently working for a bank and have been told many conflicting stories about this act being allowed or prohibited in Islam and am really confused over the issue as this job is also the my main source of income?
Answer: Answered by Sheikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo
The same question was asked of Shaykh Muhammad al Ghazali, may Allah bless his soul, in my presence over twenty years ago. The answer he gave was the answer given by his teacher, Shaykh Hasan al Banna, to someone who had asked the same question.
Allow me to attempt to answer your question by reproducing a summary of that answer. The Shaykh began by explaining that the message of Islam is one that was sent to liberate humanity at the level of both the individual and society, and on the material as well as the spiritual plane. This is clear to anyone who reads the Qur'an and ponders its meanings.
Now, banking and finance are key elements in modern economic life; and economics are at the heart of social justice. Every Muslim understands the importance of justice, and certainly social justice and the equitable distribution of weath are very much a part of the liberating message of Islam. The actual situation of the Muslim Ummah today, however, is far removed from the ideal envisioned for society by Islam.
Obviously, the improvement of the economic situation of Muslims will go a long way toward bettering conditions in general, and toward bringing about the social justice that is emphasized in the Qur'an. Then, it is crucial that Muslims that make every effort to improve their economic situations, in every Muslim country, and in every Muslim minority community as well.
The only way that this can be accomplished is through education, and then through specialized training, and then through years of hard work and dedication all of that in the name of Allah. Obviously, when the sector in need of improvement is the economy, then Muslims will have to learn everything about it before they can become effective in it. The same is true of every sector in which the Ummah is lagging.
Now, in regard to the economic sector, the Ummah requires people to understand it at the theoretical level and the philosophical, and others to understand and work with it at the practical level. If the economic system is malfunctioning, then we need people to tell us why. And then we need people to help in correcting it, and bringing it into compliance with our religious ideals and principles.
That being the case or, in other words, in view of the Ummah's need for expertise in the fields of finance, economics, accounting, and banking, no Muslim should hesitate to pursue studies in those fields, or a career, for the reason that the system is presently flawed, or sullied by the element of riba. On the contrary, if a Muslim is concerned, then s/he should undertake to lend a helping hand in bringing about the necessary improvements.
Under the circumstances at present, it would appear to be a fard kifayah, or the sort of obligation that must be borne by the Ummah as a collectivity; such that if some of its members engage in it, then the others will be freed of the responsibility. Therefore, you may certainly follow a career in banking. In doing so, however, there are several important things for you to remember.
- Firstly, you must remember to keep your intentions pure, i.e., you must work for the sake of Allah, and for the improvement of conditions in the Ummah.
- Secondly, you must work with the intention of learning as much as you possibly can about your profession.
- Thirdly, you must work with the intention of becoming an expert in your field, so that you may share your knowledge and ideas with other Muslims.
- And finally, you must continue to study and learn about the Shari`ah perspective on the operations that you are involved in at the bank. This is so that one day you will be able to contribute to bringing about Shari`ah-based solutions to the financial problems of the Ummah.
Now that, briefly, was what the Shaykh told the questioner.
Over the past twenty years we have been fortunate to have many Muslims excel in the fields of economics and finance, and increasingly, Muslim economists and bankers have been able to outline and then implement Shari`ah compliant models and institutions. Islamic banking has proliferated and prospered, and continues to do so. And now we are witnessing the rise of an Islamic investment sector.
But, obviously, there is still much to be accomplished. The situation in nearly every Muslim country is that the conventional banks and financial institutions are the most important ones. Islamic banking is still in its infancy, and it needs the support of a new generation of educated and motivated workers at every level. Therefore, it is all the more important that you learn everything that you can about the field you have chosen for yourself.
And it is Allah that prospers and assists!