Guidance for the Traveler (2 of 3) 

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Guidance for the Traveler (2 of 3)

(continued from the previous week (

4) If one places one’s money in banks, it should only be in a non-interest-bearing checking account. If one has interest from a regular savings account, before one converts one’s account to a non-interest-bearing account, the interest should be given anonymously to a non-Islamic charity, such as the American Cancer Society. As for the argument that any money in banks should be left in interest-bearing accounts indefinitely in order to make charitable contributions, this practice should be avoided.

5) As for insurance, nothing has changed since Reliance of the Traveller was written: insurance is still haram because it is usurious. A policy is taken out to pay back far more than one pays into it. This suffices for its unlawfulness, but in the words of the Reliance:

In addition to the fact that they are usurious, buying and selling insurance policies are unlawful because of the Prophet’s prohibition (Allah bless him and give him peace) of sales in which there is a chance or risk (gharar). Muslim relates from Abu Hurayra that “the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) prohibited sales of ‘whatever a pebble thrown by the seller hits,’ and sales in which there is a chance or risk (gharar)” (Muslim[74], 3.1153: 1513. s). Gharar is “chance or risk, meaning it is not known whether it will come to be or not, such as selling fish in the water or birds on the wing. . . . It includes transactions of unknown things, the particulars of which are not fully comprehended by the buyer and seller” (al Mughrib[76], 2.100).

Urging the permissibility of insurance, one Muslim modernist has written that the very precise statistical data possessed by insurance companies concerning the probabilities of various eventualities makes what they are selling determinately known (ma‘lum). This argument fails when one realizes that statistical data from a group of events yields probability figures that, properly speaking, are a description of the group as a whole, and are only analogically applied to the individual events within it. When generalized to similar groups of events in the future, such probabilities yield commercially useful knowledge about the likelihood of a particular outcome for these future groups. But they cannot and do not tell what the outcome will be for any particular member of the group, in this case the particular insurance policy. Thus, a “17 percent probability” that circumstances will enable one to collect such and such an amount on a policy is a mere description of the whole group of previous policyholders in similar circumstances,  which does not tell whether one will collect the amount or not. One may collect a certain amount or may not collect it, which is precisely the gharar that is unlawful.

(continued next week)

Guidance for the Traveler (1 of 3) (

Reprinted with permission from “Sea Without Shore — A Manual of the Sufi Path” by Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, from chapter 12: Life, Work and Wealth — Riba (Usury)


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