Q: In today’s times, we see many conventional banks offering different types of reward programmes in order to attract customers and promote their business. Among the reward programmes are the following; eBucks, uCount, Absa Rewards and GreenBacks. Similarly, certain conventional banks offer other incentives such as free access to certain airport lounges. Is it permissible for one to benefit from these reward programmes offered by these conventional banks or do the rewards offered by the bank enter under the purview of riba due to which they will be impermissible?
The Islamic Method of Earning Wealth Compared to the Method of the Bank
We live in a day and age where almost every person has some degree of affiliation with the bank. It is thus imperative for one to understand how conventional banks operate so that one will be able to judge whether the wealth and benefits acquired from the bank are permissible or not. However, before delving into the issue of how conventional banks operate, it is of paramount importance for us to first understand the Islamic way of earning wealth as opposed to the way in which wealth is earned through the riba-based systems of the bank.
We hope that through engaging in a comparative study between the two and through scrutinising the workings of the banks, one will be in a better position to judge the status of the wealth and benefits acquired through the bank in the light of Shari’ah.
In Islam, the permissible and legitimate method of earning a halaal livelihood is Islamic trade and commerce (dealings of goods and services sanctioned by Shariah). Allah Ta`ala states:
وَ اَحَلَّ اللّٰہُ الۡبَیۡعَ وَ حَرَّمَ الرِّبٰوا (سورة البقرة: 275)
Allah Ta`ala has permitted trade (as a means of livelihood) and condemned interest dealings
In this verse of the Holy Qur’aan, Allah Ta`ala draws our attention towards the underlying principle that determines the earning of halaal and haraam. Allah Ta`ala has sanctioned the profit earned through a business transaction as halaal and declared the wealth earned through riba (interest dealings) as haraam.
Halaal wealth, in the eyes of Shariah, is that wealth which is acquired through effecting a business transaction. The transaction is effected between the purchaser and the seller through a proposal and acceptance. The outcome is that both parties acquire ownership of the respective commodities by means of the sale. Thus, in the Islamic method of earning wealth, the commodity is used as the essential means of acquiring profit. Apart from this, we observe that in a business transaction, both parties gain financially and are satisfied mentally. Since the risk of suffering a loss is equally borne by both parties, each party is given an equal chance to deal freely and to profit according to his personal choice.
On the other hand, opposed to the halaal system of acquiring wealth (which is effected through a business transaction), is wealth acquired through riba (interest dealings).
In an interest deal, one party gains while the other stands to lose. The transaction is effected by one party giving a loan to the other with the precondition that at the time of repaying the loan, the latter will pay extra, either in cash or kind. This inhumane system was in vogue in the pre-Islamic era. However, with the advent of Islam, all inhumane and barbaric practices and customs were abolished. It was in this regard that Allah Ta`ala revealed the following verse of the Holy Qur’aan.
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا تَاۡکُلُوا الرِّبٰۤوا اَضۡعَافًا مُّضٰعَفَۃً وَ اتَّقُوا اللّٰہَ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تُفۡلِحُوۡنَ (سورة آل عمران: ١٣٠)
O you who believe, do not consume interest multiplied manifold and fear Allah so that you may be successful.
Now consider the riba system of conventional banks and other such institutions in contrast to the Islamic system. One will find that the riba system diametrically opposes the principles of Islam. The conventional banks operate through accepting wealth from people and loaning it to others on interest. Hence, the primary medium utilized by the conventional banks to earn wealth is not a commodity which is sold for profit, as is the case in the Islamic system, but is rather dealing in money in exchange of money with interest.
Income of the Bank
The bank has many sources of income. Apart from the deposits of account holders, the income of the bank can be essentially distributed into three types:
1. Interest that is generated through financing, such as home loans, vehicle financing, import/export financing, asset (equipment) financing, etc.
2. Companies wherein the bank invests on interest.
3. Income acquired through bank charges e.g.
- Management fees (to open and manage the account)
- Statement fees
- SMS fees (sms sent to client to notify him of activities in the account)
- Deposit fees
- Withdrawal fees
- Point of sale fees (fees for using debit cards)
- Internet banking fees
- Cheque fees (fees for depositing cheques)
- Guaranteed cheques/bank cheques
- Credit card fees
- Loyalty fees (fees charged to join and participate in a loyalty programme)
- Forex fees
- Guarantor fees like L/C
- Commission on credit and debit cards from merchants
From all these various sources of income, the primary sources of the bank’s income are the first and second source i.e. interest that is generated through financing activities and interest-bearing investments of the bank. Hence, the majority of the bank’s income is earned from haraam.
As far as depositing one’s money in the bank is concerned, the ulama explain that if one does so with the intention of gaining the interest-returns which the bank distributes among its depositors, it will be totally impermissible. However, if one deposits his money in the bank with the intention of safekeeping and making payments through the bank without benefitting in any way from the bank’s interest, it will be permissible. The reason for the ulama allowing one to keep one’s money in the bank is that in current times, it is not possible for businesses to operate without dealing with the banks (securing one’s money in the bank, making payments, etc.). Hence, permission has been granted for one to deal with the banks to the point of need.
The Schemes Adopted by the Bank to Rope People into Riba
We should understand that the entire operation of conventional banks revolves around riba. These banks go all out to promote the business of interest and usury around the world. Hence, under some pretext or the other, in the effort to achieve this goal, they invent various schemes and afford incentives to the public in order to draw people into the accursed web of interest and usury.
When this is their agenda, and the catalyst behind all these incentives is to rope people into haraam and sin, a Muslim should be extremely vigilant and refrain from aiding and supporting them in their mission! The bank offers these ‘benefits’ so that one is lured towards taking interest-bearing loans. However, when he is unable to pay off the loan on time, it will increasingly accrue interest and he will find himself sinking deeper and deeper into the pit of riba. How many people become totally entrapped in the accursed web of riba due to not being able to pay off the loan within its allocated time! Hence, the sole aim of the bank, in offering these ‘benefits’ to the public is to gradually entrap them in riba.
Nabi (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) foretold the coming of such times where people will be unconcerned about whether their income is earned through halaal or haraam avenues:
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال يأتي على الناس زمان لا يبالي المرء ما أخذ منه أمن الحلال أم من الحرام (صحيح البخاري رقم 2059)
Hazrat Abu Hurairah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) reports that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) said, “A time will dawn upon the people (before qiyaamah) when a man will have no worry or concern as to whether his income is from a halaal source or a haraam source.”
eBucks, UCount Rewards, Airport lounge benefits – Permissible or not?
On account of the fact that the entire operation of the bank revolves around riba, the Ulama’ are unanimous that it is impermissible for one to accept the returns distributed by the bank to its clients (i.e. depositors) as this is earning money through money loaned to the bank and is thus riba.
Up to this point, there is no contention among the Ulama’. Instead, all agree that the amount given is interest as it is in exchange of the money which one has loaned to the bank in the form of deposits. However, eBucks, UCount Rewards, airport lounge benefits, and other similar ‘rewards’, bonuses and benefits given by banks have currently become a point of contention among some scholars.
In order to correctly ascertain the status of these bank-offered benefits in Shari’ah, it is necessary that the issue of interest be fully understood from every angle.
The Grave Sin of Interest
Interest is completely prohibited in the Qur’aan and Sunnah. Involvement in interest is such a severe crime that Allah Ta`ala has declared war upon those who consume interest. Interest is so greatly detested that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has invoked the curse of Allah Ta`ala upon the one who takes interest, the one who gives interest and even the scribes and witnesses of the interest transaction. The severity of interest can be gauged by the fact that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has declared it to be worse than fornicating thirty six times. These warning should be sufficient to impress upon us that interest is no light matter. It is among the worst crimes and the most reprehensible of sins.
When a believer understands and appreciates the severity of interest, then he will not only abstain from interest, but even from those things in which there is a doubt of interest. The statement of Hadhrat Umar (Radhiyallahu anhu) is explicit in this regard:
دعوا الربا والريبة (سنن ابن ماجة رقم 2276)
“Refrain from interest as well as what has the trace of interest in it.”
In one Hadith, Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has forbade the creditor from taking any gift or benefit from his debtor as this also constitutes interest.
Hazrat Anas (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) reports that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) said:
وعن أنس رضي الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال إذا أقرض الرجل الرجل فلا يأخذ هدية (رواه البخاري في تاريخه هكذا في المنتقى (مشكاة المصابيح رقم 2832))
“If any person has given someone a loan, he should not accept any gift from the debtor.”
The same prohibition of taking benefit from the debtor is mentioned in another Hadith in more detail. Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) is reported to have said:
وعن أنس رضي الله عنه قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا أقرض أحدكم قرضا فأهدي إليه أو حمله على الدابة فلا يركبه ولا يقبلها إلا أن يكون جرى بينه وبينه قبل ذلك (رواه ابن ماجه رقم 2432 ، والبيهقي في شعب الإيمان رقم 5144)
“If you have given a loan to some person and he (the debtor) wishes to give you a gift, or wishes to offer you a lift on his conveyance (due to being indebted to you), then do not accept his gift or his lift, except if the exchanging of gifts and giving lifts was a common practice between them prior to giving him the loan”
Due to the emphasis on not accepting any benefit from the debtor, the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) also exercised extreme caution in dealing with their debtors. Hazrat Abu Burdah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) relates, “When I came to Madinah Munawwarah, I met Hazrat Abdullah bin Salaam (radhiyallahu ‘anhu). He said to me, ‘You are living in a country (Syria) where dealing in interest is common. Therefore, if anyone who owes you money gives you a load of straw, wheat or grain as a gift (due to being indebted to you) then do not accept his gift, for certainly it is interest.’”
The crux of the above discussion is that every form of interest is extremely abhorrent and detestable in the sight of Shari’ah and hence has to be totally shunned. In order to fully comply with this extremely important injunction, it is imperative that the definition of interest be understood clearly.
The Shar’ee Definition of Interest
The author of Hidaayah as well as other Hanafi jurists have defined interest in the following words:
لأن الربا هو الفضل المستحق لأحد المتعاقدين في المعاوضة الخالي عن عوض شرط فيه 
Interest is that excess devoid of any compensation which either of the transacting parties is entitled to due to it being a pre-condition in that transaction.
For instance, Zaid has given a loan of R1000 to Bakr. They have mutually agreed that Bakr will pay back R1000 after one month and he will also allow Zaid to use his car for one day. In this example, the R1000 which will be paid back is in lieu of the R1000 received as a loan, while the benefit of using Bakr’s car is devoid of any compensation. However, due to it being a pre-condition in the loan transaction, it is interest and thus haraam.
Likewise, if the pre-condition was that together with the loan of R1000, Zaid will also allow Bakr the use of his (Zaid’s) car for one day, this too will be interest. While this may normally be a rare situation, where the creditor is giving an extra benefit to the debtor, it nevertheless falls within the purview of the shar’ee definition of interest. The shar’ee definition of interest is “any conditional excess devoid of any compensation which any of the transacting parties is entitled to receive in a loan transaction is interest”.
eBucks in the Light of Shari’ah
Let us now examine the position of eBucks points in the light of Shari’ah.
Firstly, what are eBucks? eBucks, in reality, is a promise from the bank to award gifts to registered eBucks members in accordance to the number of points accumulated.
eBucks points are awarded either by the bank directly, when one uses one’s credit card to pay for any purchase, or are awarded by affiliated eBucks partner stores when goods are purchased from them. One can redeem the accumulated points by purchasing goods from that store in lieu of the points.
In the case where the bank is directly awarding the eBucks, there are two possible situations: Either the bank is awarding points to the account holder due to the loan which he has given the bank, as in the case where one swipes his cheque card and earns points, or due to the bank giving him a loan, as in the case where one swipes his credit card and earns points.
In the case where one has money in his account, this money is actually a loan to the bank. Thus, the eBucks given to the client by the bank when the client swipes his cheque card is in lieu of the loan that he has given the bank. Hence, he is the creditor and the bank is the debtor for the amount he had loaned the bank. Since, this benefit of acquiring eBucks is over and above the loan, it is a benefit devoid of compensation and thus enters under the Shar’ee definition of riba. Therefore, this is impermissible. In this regard the hadeeth is explicit:
عن فضالة بن عبيد رضي الله عنه صاحب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال كل قرض جر منفعة فهو وجه من وجوه الربا (السنن الكبرى للبيهقي رقم 10933)
Hadhrat Fadhaalah bin Ubaid (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) said: “Every loan that becomes the means of extracting benefit (gifts, etc.) from the one to whom the money was loaned is a form of interest.”
The second case is where one is earning points on his credit card. In this case the bank is loaning the money to the card holder. The bank is the creditor and the client is the debtor for the amount loaned to him by the bank. Due to being a registered eBucks member, together with receiving the loan from the bank, one also becomes entitled to the eBucks benefit. The aforementioned definition of riba clearly states that interest is the pre-conditional benefit devoid of compensation which either of the transacting parties receives. In this case the creditor (the bank) has given an additional pre-conditional benefit to the debtor. Hence this too is interest.
Therefore, it is clear from the above discussion that receiving eBucks via the bank in either case, whether one has money in his account or not, is impermissible due to this type of transaction of the bank falling within the ambit of the definition of riba. Just as the interest which the bank gives is detested and haraam in the sight of Shariah, the eBucks and other benefits received from the bank are equally detested and haraam.
Accordingly, the above discussion also alleviates the need to delve into issues of whether the major portion of the bank’s wealth is acquired through interest and other haraam earnings or whether it is acquired through the deposits of people. In either case, it makes no difference to the shar`ee ruling, since the impermissibility is based on the eBucks being awarded by the bank falling within the purview of the definition of interest.
Is the Money Deposited in the Bank a Loan or an Amaanat?
From the above discussion, we have understood that the money deposited in the bank is a loan given to the bank. The fataawa of our ulama clearly mention that the money deposited in the bank is a loan given to the bank, as one knows that the operation of the bank entails the depositors’ money being used by the bank for giving interest-bearing loans.
Even if the money deposited is regarded as an amaanat, through the bank using it, it will become a loan and the laws of a loan will then apply. The Fuqahaa agree that when money kept as amaanat is used (whether with permission or not), it no longer remains an amaanat but rather becomes a loan.
Hence, the service charges of the bank are in lieu of justifiable services e.g. managing the account, making payments, receiving payments on behalf of the depositor, etc. and this will not contradict the fact that the money given to the bank is a loan. Hence, any benefit that is received from the bank will be deemed as a benefit received through a loan transaction.
Below is the Fatwa of Hazrat Moulana Ashraf Ali Thaanwi (rahimahullah) in this regard:
نیز دوسری جگہ فرماتے ہیں: اور بینکوں میں جو جمع کیا جاتا ہے گو عنوان اس کا ودیعت ہو لیکن ا س قواعد میں یہ امر یقینی اور معروف ہے کہ وہاں بعینہ یہ ودائع نہیں رکھی جاتی بلکہ ان سے کاروبار کیا جاتا ہےپس بقاعدہ المعروف کالمشروط اس تصرف کا مودع بکسر الدال کی جانب سے ماذون فیہ کیا جائیگا اور تصرف کا اذن دینا اقراض ہے (امداد الفتاوی 2/571)
Hazrat Moulana Ashraf Ali Thaanwi (rahimahullah) mentioned:
“Even though the money that is deposited in the bank is termed as an amaanat, it is certain and known to everyone – based on the manner in which the bank operates – that the bank does not keep each person’s money separately as an amaanat but rather uses the money to do business. Hence, based on the principle المعروف كالمشروط , the bank is actually using the money with the permission and consent of the depositor. When the depositor gives permission to the bank to use the money (amaanat), the money (amaanat) changes to being a loan.”
eBucks Awarded by Participating Stores
In the case where the eBucks are awarded by a participating store for goods purchased, it will be permissible for one to accept the points since one is not dealing with the bank and there is no loan involved in this situation.
For example, the eBucks member purchased goods to the value of R1000. The store awarded him points which entitled him to goods to the value of R10. The sum total of this is that the store has sold him all the items that he purchased together with the awarded item for R1000. This is the same as the promise of “Buy one, get one free.” The reality is that both items were included in the price he paid. This is deduced from the principle of the fuqahaa “العبرة للمعاني دون الألفاظ” (The shar`ee ruling is based on the outcome and not merely the words.)
uCount, Absa Rewards, GreenBacks, Airport Lounges
As far as uCount, Absa Rewards, GreenBacks, airport lounges and other similar benefits are concerned, since all these benefits are acquired through the bank, they are not permissible as they enter under the shar’ee definition of riba.
The principle of Shari’ah for one to remember and bear in mind is that any benefit which one receives through the bank is impermissible on account of the fact that it is a conditional benefit which is acquired via a loan transaction, over and above the loan. All the Fuqahaa are unanimous that any conditional excess, benefit, wealth or gift acquired via a loan transaction, over and above the loan, is not permissible.
And Allah Ta’ala (الله تعالى) knows best.
 فَاِنۡ لَّمۡ تَفۡعَلُوۡا فَاۡذَنُوۡا بِحَرۡبٍ مِّنَ اللّٰہِ وَ رَسُوۡلِہٖ ۚ وَاِنۡ تُبۡتُمۡ فَلَکُمۡ رُءُوۡسُ اَمۡوَالِکُمۡ ۚ لَا تَظۡلِمُوۡنَ وَ لَا تُظۡلَمُوۡنَ (سورة البقرة: 279)
 عن جابر رضي الله عنه قال لعن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم آكل الربا وموكله وكاتبه وشاهديه وقال هم سواء (صحيح مسلم رقم 1598)
 عن عبد الله بن حنظلة غسيل الملائكة رضي الله عنه قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم درهم ربا يأكله الرجل وهو يعلم أشد من ستة وثلاثين زنية ( مسند أحمد رقم 21957)
 وعن أبي بردة بن أبي موسى رضي الله عنه قال: قدمت المدينة فلقيت عبد الله بن سلام رضي الله عنه فقال: إنك بأرض فيها الربا فاش إذا كان لك على رجل حق فأهدى إليك حمل تبن أو حمل شعير أو حبل قت فلا تأخذه فإنه ربا (صحيح البخاري رقم 3814)
 الهداية 3 / 78
الربا فضل خال عن عوض شرط لأحد المتعاقدين في المعاوضة (فتح باب العناية بشرح النقاية 2/355)
باب الربا هو لغة: مطلق الزيادة وشرعا (فضل) … (خال عن عوض) … (بمعيار شرعي) … (مشروط) ذلك الفضل (لأحد المتعاقدين) أي بائع أو مشتر … (في المعاوضة) قال الشامي: (قوله أي بائع أو مشتر) أي مثلا فمثلهما المقرضان والراهنان قهستاني قال: ويدخل فيه ما إذا شرط الانتفاع بالرهن كالاستخدام والركوب والزراعة واللبس وشرب اللبن وأكل الثمر فإن الكل ربا حرام كما في الجواهر والنتف. (رد المحتار مع الدر المختار 5/168-170)
 المبسوط للإمام السرخسي 11/110-111، رد المحتار 5/668، حاشية الطحطاوي على الدر المختار 3/379، تاليفات رشيدية ص431
Mufti Zakaria Makada
Checked & Approved:
Mufti Ebrahim Salejee (Isipingo Beach)