How Christian can Islamic banking be?

 Strange happenings in the world of Christian banking, especially for the Vatican Bank. Read on and tell me if I am not taking crazy pills.

Today is the day that a men-in-black team called Moneyval gather to “discuss a report assessing the Holy See’s progress in preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, a crucial step toward international recognition as a financially responsible country”. People are wondering whether the Vatican Bank, or the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), will emerge an opaque, corrupt, money-laundering pathetic excuse of a financial institution or, rather, as a shining beacon of Christian financial principles to the glory of God and the amazement of a world still reeling from a global financial crisis caused by greed, corruption, a culture of debt and lack of financial accountability. Or somewhere in between.

This is part of the painful but necessary reformation of the church and I have spoken of it before:

“Blinded by their dollar bills and unable to hear God’s voice in all matters financial, the church turned into green sludge. So God began to raise up secular spokespeople and worldly organizations to bring the much needed reform in His church. This is where we are today.” Andrew Jones, KaChing in the KaChurch.

Muslims in the West, meanwhile, fight for the right to have interest-free banking, enabling them to avoid “Riba” [a  kind of usury] which is condemned in the Koran. Islamic banking has been suggested as a solution to the global financial crisis.


Image from Arab News: Is Islamic Banking missing its main chance?

In Nigeria last year, while Nigerian Christian leaders were making waves on the Forbes Top Richest list, a group Anglican bishops were trying to condemn Islamic banking, which inspired The Muslim Congress to quote the Bible to the Christians:

“We wonder if the Nigerian Clergymen are familiar with their religious history with regard to fight again interest and usurious dealings. With specific reference to Christianity and Judaism, there are several Biblical injunctions which prohibit the act of giving and collection of interest.  God instructed the Jews and Christians thus:
“Thou shall not lend to thy brother money to usury, nor corn, nor any other thing, but to the stranger. To thy brother thou shall lend that which he wanted, without usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all thy works in the land, which thou shall go into posses. (Deut 23:19-20)
. TMC Press Release

Islamic banking has since been declared illegal in Nigeria.

All this is very strange, especially considering that the Vatican suggested in 2009 that “the principles of Islamic Finance may represent a possible cure for ailing markets.” By Islamic Finance, I think they mean interest-free usury-avoiding banking in general, the kind that Christians used to practice and Muslims still do. 

“Riba is instrumental in concentrating wealth in the hands of a few, thus violating the principle of social justice, which underlies all economic activities in Islam.”  Islamic Banking in Australia [PDF]

“No wonder that the zinss contractors quickly become richer than other people . . . Emperor, kings, princes, and lords ought to watch over this matter, look after their lands and people, and help and rescue them from the gaping jaws of usury;”. Martin Luther, Sermon on Usury 

I should mention that some people suggest Luther’s teachings on this subject are of more historical than theoretical value, but still, there is no doubt that Christians today do not practice in their banking what they used to practice and Muslim banking practices might be closer to the ideals of the Christian Bible than what is presently on offer. Not always, but usually. 

Meanwhile, at a Gospel Coalition conference last month in USA, evangelicals were asking the question:

How Islamic can Christianity Be? “Can a Muslim who now follows Jesus fast during Ramadan? Can a Muslim who follows Jesus use the Islamic prayer stances? Where do we draw the line?”

I am tempted to change the question: How Christian can Islamic banking be? 

Can a Muslim who now follows Jesus better practice biblical principles of usury-free banking through their Islamic bank OR through a “Christian” bank that might have strayed from the principles of the Bible, and from the practices of the early church, and from the clear urgings of Martin Luther to avoid usury-like financial instruments [zinss]?

It’s a hot discussion right now, considering the Wycliffe Bible translation controversy. Too much to tackle in this short post, anyway.

In the meantime, I am waiting to hear the results about the Vatican Bank. I am thinking of shifting my vast fortunes over to their coffers .  .  . NOT!

Related on TSK: Born again Muslim, Emerging Muslim followers of Jesus, Recession busting ideas, KaChing in the KaChurch

Hey, if you want to put another spin on this conversation . . .  change “banking” to “butchery” and ask why some Christians are choosing to get their meat from Halal butchers because the Muslim’s cruelty-free philosophy is closer to what they believe the Bible teaches on how we should treat the animals we eat. 


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


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