A theological examination of the religious teaching on 'usury' within the three monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and its relevance for the world today
This thesis examines the teachings on 'usury' found within the holy scriptures of the three great monotheistic traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The definitions of the term 'usury' are examined within the three traditions, and the teachings that developed relating to it i.e. in the Talmudic interpretation of the Rabbis in the Judaic tradition; the early Church Fathers and Church Councils in the Christian tradition; and in the hadith literature and 'Schools of Law' in the Islamic tradition according to the consensus of the ulama. This thesis maintains that the religious teaching on 'usury' had a marked and different effect on the economic development within each of the three monotheistic communities. In Judaism, which always regarded as usurious any percentage taken as profit on a loan, an internal and external economic system developed which distinguished between the 'brother' and the 'other'. This evolved as a result of the Deuteronomic teaching which was intended to protect a vulnerable community about to enter its 'promised land'. It was a sign of God's covenantal relationship with his people who were to be protected from the idolatrous 'alien' they would encounter. In Christianity, the Church struggled with the 'horns of the Deuteronomic dilemma' in terms o the universalistic teaching found in the Gospel of Luke concerning love and attitudes to lending. The way the Church developed responses to these teachings is explored. Gradually the interpretation of 'usury', as exorbitant profit on a loan, or that which was added to the principal and supposedly forbidden, gave way to the idea of receiving compensation for the loss of gain, or risk-sharing partnerships. The Islamic teaching appears to steer a via media between capitalism and socialism with its prohibition against 'riba', and in the light of the Qur'anic teaching and the Sunnah, a system of Islamic banking has evolved which has as a principle the concept of interest-free lending. In each of these religious traditions, there evolved profit-and-loss-sharing and contractual partnerships, and it is with reference to these that interest-free financial systems are suggested as a way in which a fairer redistribution of wealth could help to alleviate the conditions of the poor, not in terms of charity but in terms of opportunity. Other interest-free or low cost credit schemes are also considered. This thesis, therefore, defines specific Judaic, Christian, and Islamic 'economic men' as the consequence of their respective religious teachings on 'usury', and asks if there is a model for 'seconomic man' i.e. secular economic man, which will incorporate both believer and non-believer, and offer a more just, interest-free, economic system for humankind as we approach the twenty-first century.