Islamic banking: Is it closer to Luther and Jesus than Christian banking?

Today is the day that a men-in-black team called Moneyval gather to “discuss a report assessing the Holy See’s progress in preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, a crucial step toward international recognition as a financially responsible country”. People are wondering whether the Vatican Bank, or the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), will emerge an opaque, corrupt, money-laundering pathetic excuse of a financial institution or, rather, as a shining beacon of Christian financial principles to the glory of God and the amazement of a world still reeling from a global financial crisis caused by greed, corruption, a culture of debt and lack of financial accountability. Or somewhere in between.

This is part of the painful but necessary reformation of the church and I have spoken of it before:

“Blinded by their dollar bills and unable to hear God’s voice in all matters financial, the church turned into green sludge. So God began to raise up secular spokespeople and worldly organizations to bring the much needed reform in His church. This is where we are today.” Andrew Jones, KaChing in the KaChurch.

Muslims in the West, meanwhile, fight for the right to have interest-free banking, enabling them to avoid “Riba” [a kind of usury] which is condemned in the Koran. Islamic banking has been suggested as a solution to the global financial crisis.

In Nigeria last year, while Nigerian Christian leaders were making waves on the Forbes Top Richest list, a group Anglican bishops were trying to condemn and Islamic banking, which inspired The Muslim Congress to quote the Bible to the Christians:

“We wonder if the Nigerian Clergymen are familiar with their religious history with regard to fight again interest and usurious dealings. With specific reference to Christianity and Judaism, there are several Biblical injunctions which prohibit the act of giving and collection of interest. God instructed the Jews and Christians thus:
“Thou shall not lend to thy brother money to usury, nor corn, nor any other thing, but to the stranger. To thy brother thou shall lend that which he wanted, without usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all thy works in the land, which thou shall go into posses. (Deut 23:19-20). TMC Press Release

Islamic banking has since been declared illegal in Nigeria.

All this is very strange, especially considering that the Vatican suggested in 2009 that “the principles of Islamic Finance may represent a possible cure for ailing markets.” By Islamic Finance, I think they mean interest-free usury-avoiding banking in general, the kind that Christians used to practice and Muslims still do.

“Riba is instrumental in concentrating wealth in the hands of a few, thus violating the principle of social justice, which underlies all economic activities in Islam.” Islamic Banking in Australia

“No wonder that the zinss contractors quickly become richer than other people . . . Emperor, kings, princes, and lords ought to watch over this matter, look after their lands and people, and help and rescue them from the gaping jaws of usury;”. Martin Luther, Sermon on Usury

I should mention that some people suggest Luther’s teachings on this subject are of more historical than theoretical value, but still, there is no doubt that Christians today do not practice in their banking what they used to practice and Muslim banking practices might be closer to the ideals of the Christian Bible than what is presently on offer. Not always, but usually.

Meanwhile, at a Gospel Coalition conference last month in USA, evangelicals were asking the question:

How Islamic can Christianity Be? “Can a Muslim who now follows Jesus fast during Ramadan? Can a Muslim who follows Jesus use the Islamic prayer stances? Where do we draw the line?”

I am tempted to change the question: How Christian can Islamic banking be?

Can a Muslim who now follows Jesus better practice biblical principles of usury-free banking through their Islamic bank OR through a “Christian” bank that might have strayed from the principles of the Bible, and from the practices of the early church, and from the clear urgings of Martin Luther to avoid usury-like financial instruments [zinss]?

It’s a hot discussion right now, considering the Wycliffe Bible translation controversy. Too much to tackle in this short post, anyway.

In the meantime, I am waiting to hear the results about the Vatican Bank. I am thinking of shifting my vast fortunes over to their coffers . . . NOT!


Hey, if you want to put another spin on this conversation . . . change “banking” to “butchery” and ask why some Christians are choosing to get their meat from Muslim Halal butchers because their cruelty-free philosophy is closer to what they believe the Bible teaches on how we should treat the animals we eat.

Another version of this article, with those wonderful things called hyper-text links, is available at

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  • Theophile

    Usury weakens the hand of the poor, particularly the instant gratification based credit card. These card schemes are wonderful for those who have plenty money, they get rewarded with extended warranties, spending rewards, pay no interest at all, because they pay the balance each month. 28% or more the poor publicly educated sucker that can’t pay the balance(principle) each month, get’s charged, so he/she pays the minimum payment not knowing it doesn’t quite cover the whole interest owed, and his/her balance grows. That Einstein was pretty smart, and he called this the 8th wonder of the world, compound interest…..In the bankers mind, this is quite funny magic, printing money and having people slave for it, ha ha. “Failure to strenthen the hand of the poor” was one of Sodom’s sins(Ezekiel 16:48-49), Bailing out these “big banks” that overcharge those that can’t afford it to begin with, for “loosing their shirt” gambling on wall street, because of rules laxed in the 90’s, has not only weakened our hand, but made US poor. Money is a wonderful servant, but a cruel master, usury is slavery.

  • In the March issue of Financial World, Warrick Lightfoot writes, in an article entitled Urbi et Orbi, about the Vatican’s recent attempt to critique the state of Finance in the world today.  In conclusion, he writes, “Islamic banks have weathered the credit crunch quite well and it is odd that the Catholic church has not reconsidered its tradition on usury,” and “…or even borrowed from contemporary Islamic scholars.” Indeed, those scholars have succeeded in establishing, from Islamic theological and  legal principles, all of the essential infrastructure for an alternative, interest-free, financial system. The Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes, followed by Standard & Poors, MSCI, Russell and others have set the benchmarks for investing without interest or sin, and Thomson Reuters launched the Islamic Interbank Benchmark Rate to replace LIBOR for Islamic banks. Today, a network of hundreds of Islamic banks and financial institutions spans the globe, controlling, at last count, over a trillion dollars in Islamic assets. Every major name in banking and asset management is doing business, even if as a tiny percentage of their total business,  in compliance with Islamic norms.  The point to be made here is that if Christians or other faith groups are serious about referencing their faith in relation to the world’s financial problems, they are welcome to build on, and take encouragement from, the ground work done by Islamic scholars and financial professionals over the past four decades.

  • Ron S

    First, I appreciate the honoring of Islamic attempts to do something good. Usury and predatory loans and … are all certainly far from anything Jesus did or does approve.

    I don’t think however that one can bring into the modern world the “no interest” quotations from the Torah any more than we should bring over the slavery or patriarchal or kingship quotations un-examined. As Hillel saw in his day, forbidding any interest in an increasingly urban and money economy would not help the poor, it would guarantee that there would be few of the needed loans available for the poor. We do not live in the agrarian and barter economy where “no interest” made sense as God’s way to help the poor. What is a just and workable way to protect the poor from exploitation today in the 21st century world of money and computer driven economies? That would be a good question for followers of Jesus to pray and wrestle with wouldn’t it?

  • Umm Abdullah

    You might be interested in this article:

    According to it, Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages considered usury ‘damnable’, and the papal prohibition of usury is still on the books.