Khalid Zaheer
“I am convinced about the veracity of my opinions, but I do consider it likely that they may turn out to be incorrect. Likewise, I am convinced about the incorrectness of the views different from mine, but I do concede the possibility that they may turn out to be correct.” — Imam Shafa’i
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Is charging more on credit sales (Murabaha) permissible?

Question:
Is charging more on credit sales legally permissible in Islam? In my opinion it is taking advantage of the person who does not have ready cash. On the other hand if the trader resorts to cash sales and has a high turn over he can make more profit. Considering this fact he charges more for foregoing his profits and blocking his capital in a credit sale. The buyer pays for the opportunity cost foregone by the seller. Most of the time this is translated into the time value of money and the market interest rate for the time the payment is kept outstanding is loaded in the sale price of the product. In the above, the seller has to show benevolence in a credit sale for his Muslim brother by not charging more then the prevailing market price. Please elaborate the issue in the light of Quran and Ahadith since the Shariah Advisor's of Banks & financial institutions consider higher prices charged in a Murabaha transaction lawful and do not consider it as Riba. (Recently when I mentioned my reservations on the issue to Dr. Tahir who stopped over at Karachi on his way to Iran, he also ratified the opinion of so many scholars and told me that this is not an issue).

Response:
I have attempted to understand the point of view of these scholars, but have never been able to get convinced that inflated price in credit sale (Murabaha) is acceptable in Islam. The reasoning in this issue, as indeed in many other issues on Islam, could be understood either by giving technical or philosophical arguments. Technical arguments should positively present reasons from Qur'an and Sunnah to prove that despite the apparent similarity of Murabaha with Riba, the former has been allowed in Islam.

From whatever I have heard and read in the literature of the people who consider it legal, there is no technical argument at their disposal to make that claim. The Council of Islamic Ideology allowed Murabaha as a way of doing financial business only as a second best alternative. One can see a definite lack of conviction in their statement while proposing Murabaha. The Report says; "...it needs to be pointed out that these alternatives [i.e. Murabaha etc.] ... are no more than a second best solution from the viewpoint of an ideal Islamic system."

From the point of view of philosophical understanding of Murabaha's acceptability, we have to look into the reason why riba has been prohibited in Islam and find out whether Murabaha fares any better in that respect. The apparent reason why the Almighty has prohibited riba is that the lender demands from the borrower that he should pay back the principal amount to him plus a pre-determined interest even if he is in no position to do it. This is quite clearly showing lender's complete lack of concern for the plight of the borrower. If during the period of the loan, the borrower gets bankrupt, the lender would still demand not just the principal but interest as well. It is quite unimaginable how a humane soul can ever get into that kind of a financial arrangement.

In view of the above, when we look at the Murabaha arrangement, it appears to be completely the same. In case of Murabaha, the borrower, euphemistically the buyer, acquires an asset from the lender, the seller. Because the borrower/buyer cannot afford to purchase the asset on cash, he goes for this credit arrangement with inflated price. Call him by whatever name, the buyer/borrower is exactly in the same state of helplessness if the relevant asset gets destroyed. The lender/seller would demand from him the orgiinal spot price (principal) plus the mark up (interest/riba). His plight, like in the case of riba arrangement, would fall to deaf ears, because the 'pious' lender in this case has used the right terminology and has not given a riba-based loan but has entered into an Islamically legitimate Murabaha transaction. If your conscience is satisfied that this kind of an eye-wash is halal, please go ahead and support it. I, on my part, don't have the courage to do that.

The supporters of Murabaha present two conditions in it which they think distinguishes it, to them quite clearly, from riba. One condition they present is that unlike in the case of riba where cash or cash-like circulating asset is involved, in Murabaha a real commodity is involved. The other condition is that in Murabaha they don't allow mark-up on mark-up, where as, they believe, in riba interest on interest is also charged.

As for the condition of real asset, it really is inconsequential whether the commodity is real or unreal. The important thing is that if the commodity in question is destroyed while the borrower/buyer hasn't paid the amount, who is going to be responsible for the loss? The answer is obviously that it would be the borrower. How then is it different fro riba? What difference has the realness of the commodity caused to the transaction? What relief has been offered to the borrower/buyer?On the point that in Murabaha mark-up is charged only once and no further mark-up is charged even when the bowwower/buyer defaults, I would say that not committing a double sin doesn't make a single sin valid. It's like claiming that since General Pervez Musharraf has done many good things after assuming power therefore his military coup was legitimate. What is wrong is wrong and no amount of virtue following that wrong can make it right.

I would also like to point out that this policy of not charging mark-up on default is not even being practised by the institutions who are doing what they call Islamic banking. What they do is that they charge additional mark-up from the defaulters but don't add it to the revenues of their banks but give it on charity instead. In other words, they do charge what they themselves consider haram but give it somebody else. How could that be justified?

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