Is it permissible to work in a bank in a non-Muslim country?

Details of the Question

Some scholars say a Muslim cannot take and give interest in a non-Muslim country while others say he can take interest but he cannot give interest. What is your view about Muslims’ taking and giving interest in Christian countries?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

I know that there are two views regarding the issue. While some mujtahids say the Muslims living in Europe can take interest from the non-Muslim citizens of that country and give interest to them, others say they cannot take and give interest.

We can state the following by presenting the summary of both views:

According to Abu Hanifa and Imam Muhammad, in dar al-harb, buying and selling based on interest between a Muslim and a non-Muslim citizen of that country is permissible. That is a Muslim can receive credit based on a low rate of interest from non-Muslims and he can receive the interest given by the banks for his accounts in the banks. However, the only condition for receiving that interest is that it needs to be favorable for the Muslim. If it is not beneficial for the Muslim, it is not permissible for him to take and give interest.    

The view of Abu Hanifa and Imam Muhammad that it is permissible for a Muslim living in dar al-harb to receive interest from non-Muslims is based on the following hadith:  

“There is no interest between a Muslim and a non-Muslim in dar al-harb." (Zaylai, Nasb ar-Raya, IV/44; Ibn Humam, VII/39)

Sarakhsi (490), the famous Hanafi scholar, states the following in his book called al-Mabsut regarding the issue:

"When a Muslim enters dar al-harb with a passport, it means he promises to act in compliance with the contracts/deals he makes with them. He needs to keep his promise and act in compliance with the contracts/deals he makes with them. He must not fall into a position of an unreliable person. It is permissible for him to take their goods based on transactions with interest, which are permissible and legitimate for them. It is not contrary to his contracts/deals. However, these transactions with interest can be with non-Muslims. It is not permissible for the Muslims living there to buy and sell goods based on transactions with interest among them."

The view of Jafari madhhab regarding the issue is the same as that of Hanafi madhhab.

The view of Imam Shafi, Imam Malik, Hanbali madhhab and Abu Yusuf of Hanafi madhhab is as follows:

"It is not permissible for Muslims to take interest from non-Muslims in dar al-harb and to give them interest. What Islam prohibits in its own land is also prohibited in foreign countries. There is no discrimination of country in the prohibition of interest."

After analyzing both views in detail with their evidences, the theologian, Prof. Dr. Hamdi Döndüren, summarizes the conclusion he reached as follows in his book called "İslami Ölçülerle Ticaret Rehberi":

"In conclusion, the view of the majority in Hanafis is that it is permissible for a Muslim in dar al-harb to make a transaction based on interest. However, in the first basic resources, the discrimination of taking or giving is not made; therefore, an interest transaction or an illegitimate deal to be made must be ”in favor of the Muslim” in appearance and based on experiences. According to this rule of being favorable, the interest of the money deposited in the banks of non-Muslims in Europe can be received; it is doubtless that credits given to buy a house, to establish a business, to expand a business or to transfer that credit to one’s own country based on a very low rate of interest like three or five percent are in favor of Muslims in appearance and based on experiences. (It is possible to take credit based on a low rate of interest and make use of it.)"

"However, interest, which Islam regards haram and about which it imposes heavy sanctions, should not be regarded as a source of income. It is necessary for a Muslim to keep away from business activities like running a bank based on interest, a casino, producing and distributing alcoholic drinks, running pubs or establishing pig farms no matter in which country he lives. It does not matter whether they are run together with non-Muslims in the form of partnership or not."

"It should be noted that the first view that regards interest legitimate in a non-Muslim country is only a rukhsah (permission) that a believer can use in cases of compulsion and necessity."

"It is more appropriate to act in accordance with the view of the majority regarding the issue in terms of caution and taqwa."

It is understood from the explanations we quoted from the book mentioned above that a Muslim can use rukhsah related to interest transactions if they are beneficial for him. He can take housing credit based on low interest if he cannot own a house otherwise. He can take the smallest amount that he needs, not more. Besides, it is permissible to make use of rukhsah to the extent that one needs. To deal with interest transactions as a business is a way of earning money that does not give man peace.

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