Credit Cards have become a common tool of modern economic activity. Naturally, because Muslims are prohibited from dealing with interest, dealing with credit cards is surrounded by many questions related to their permissibility. In this article, I will attempt to answer some of these questions.
I will start my analysis with an explanation of what a credit card is, why it is issued and why it is used.
Understanding Credit Cards
A credit card is a card that allows you to borrow money from a bank to make purchases. For the bank issuing the credit card, the motivation is two-fold:
1- When a merchant accepts a credit card payment, a percentage of the sale goes to the card’s issuing bank. This is commonly referred to as the interchange rate.
2 – In return for lending the customer money, the bank charges the customer interest on top of the amount they borrowed.
For customers, there are a number of reasons why they may want to use a credit card to make a purchase:
- To borrow money; perhaps the most obvious of reasons.
- Security. If your credit card information is stolen it is much easier to get the credit card company to cancel any transactions the thief makes with your card than it is to recover cash that was stolen from your checking account had your debit card information been stolen.
- Building credit. Having a credit card that you pay off regularly is a really useful tool for many people who don’t have credit and need to build up their credit score. For those who are unfamiliar, in the United States, a credit score is a measure that is often referenced in order to judge your financial health and tendency to pay your bills on time. Having good credit is necessary for many things including renting a home and even getting a job in some cases.
- Universal Acceptance. If you go to a hotel or try to rent a car, at least in the United States, they are going to want to keep your credit card on file so they can charge me for any incidental expenses or damages I may cause. In most cases, they will not accept a debit card because this will require them to seek your approval before they charge you.
Now that we know what a credit card is, why it is offered and why it is used, the question is: is it permissible for a Muslim to open a credit card?
Do Credit Cards Involve Riba?
To answer this question let’s remember the definition of Riba…
Riba is involved in any loan wherein the lender is contractually entitled to benefit from the loan.
To understand why we think this is the definition of prohibited riba in Islam, please watch my video: Islam’s view of debt and interest.
I should add, the prohibition of Riba in Islam isn’t limited to only the person charging interest:
The prophet peace be upon him cursed the person who charges riba, pays it, writes its contract and the riba contract’s two witnesses and said they are the same.”
Interest charged on debt perfectly fits the definition of Riba in Islam.
Accordingly, in a perfect world, opening a credit card which requires one to sign a contract wherein they are agreeing to pay interest under certain circumstances is Haram. Unfortunately, there are currently no Halal alternatives which can provide the advantages of credit cards, some of which are real necessities as we saw earlier.
The Argument of Necessity
The translation of what Allah (SWT) says in Surat Al-Baqara:
He has forbidden you from consuming dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”The Holy Quran, Surat Al-Baqara, Verse 173
Basically, Allah SWT is telling us in this verse that that which is prohibited can be consumed if the consumer is faced with a pressing need, has no alternatives and only deals with the prohibited matter to the extent which removes his/her need but not more.
So for instance, if you are dying of hunger, and the only thing available for you to eat is pork, then it is permissible for you to eat that pork to prevent yourself from dying. However, you shouldn’t indulge yourself in this pork and eat until you’re full. Only eat enough to remove the necessity that forced you to consume Pork in the first place.
Questions To Ask Before You Open a Credit Card
Do I have a pressing need, and no alternative solutions, that requires me to have a credit card?
If the answer is: No, you do not have a pressing need for a credit card, then you shouldn’t open a credit card. Even if you have no intention of paying interest.
To me, absent a pressing need, opening a credit card with the intention of not paying any interest is analogous to walking into a casino with the intention of not gambling. The bottom line is that you are taking footsteps in the wrong direction and bringing yourself unnecessarily closer to doing that which is prohibited.
The translation of what Allah SWT says in Surat Al-Nur:
O you who believe, do not follow the footsteps of Satan. And whoever follows the footsteps of Satan – indeed, he orders immorality and wrongdoing…”The Holy Quran, Surat Al-Nur, Verse 21
On the other hand, if the answer is: Yes, there exists a pressing need for you to have a credit card, then I think it is OK under these circumstances to open a credit card.
However, we should not forget the Quran’s instruction that in these cases one should only use that which is prohibited to the extent which removes the necessity but not more.
When is it Ok to use a credit card?
In my opinion, I think it is Ok to use your credit card if you already have the money you need to make the purchase and you pay off your credit card immediately. By doing this, you will not pay any interest since banks typically allow customers a 25-30 day “grace period” before they charge interest.
It’s important here to mention that I don’t think it’s permissible to make an unnecessary purchase with your credit card if you don’t have the money to cover your purchase even if you believe you will have the money to pay it off before any interest accrues. This is especially applicable for cards that offer 0% introductory rates for a set number of months after the customer opens their account.
If you’re surfing Amazon on Black Friday and you see a really good deal on headphones but you don’t have the money to pay for them, this is not a dire need! Do NOT buy those headphones with your credit card even if you think you will have the money to pay off those headphones before any interest is charged to you.
Life is unpredictable. Expenses can pile up quickly and your forecast of being able to pay off your debt in time may not materialize. Credit card companies prey on people who don’t have the discipline to wait until they have enough money to make the purchases they want. Don’t be one of these people! Don’t get caught in the debt trap! Remember, a primary reason why credit card companies offer %0 introductory rates is so people rack up large balances during this period which they are unable to pay off before the interest kicks in.
Speaking of which, if you live in the United States and need financing that can be used for basically anything (legal of course), your best option is the financing product I’ve pioneered through my company BFF Income Share Funding. Our financing has helped people pay off their credit card debt, buy cars, buy furniture, pay for Master’s classes and much more. Our financing, I contend, is supported in the Quran and is in full compliance with Islam’s prohibition on interest-bearing debt. Our product is not just different from interest-bearing debt in the terms it uses, it is different in the actual experience of the customer and is superior to interest-bearing debt in every way. We have proven that it works and we have the customers that can vouch for it. I encourage you to reach out if you need financing or have questions about how our financing product works.
Before you open a credit card ask yourself:
Is having access to a credit card a necessity for me?
If the answer is “No” then don’t open a credit card.
On the other hand, if having a credit card is a necessity, then you can open a credit card but I want you to ask yourself the following question before each and every purchase you make:
Do I have the money to pay for the item I am about to purchase?
If yes, then you can go ahead and make the purchase but make sure to pay off your credit card immediately.
Most banks will allow you to set up automatic payment of your credit card balance so you never pay interest.
If you don’t have the money, then don’t make the purchase!
I should add, if you find yourself lacking the required discipline to stick to the rules of credit card usage I mentioned, then you are probably better off not opening a credit card altogether.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!