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What is a Murabaha?

John Lister
Updated May 16, 2024
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Murabaha is a technique used to sell commodities without breaching Islamic rules that ban lenders from making money through interest. It involves the seller clearly and honestly stating his costs so the buyer knows what profit the seller is making. Although it is a more reliable and predictable method, other techniques may be preferred or even required as they share the risks more equitably.

The need for techniques such as Murabaha stems from sharia, which is seen as the supreme law by followers of Islam, in some cases ahead of national laws. The precise interpretation of sharia can vary across different branches of Islam. One of its rules is a ban on riba, an Arabic word for usury. It bars traders from increasing their capital without providing services that, depending on interpretation, can ban interest, profits or both.

In general trading, Murabaha is a simple way around these constraints. It simply means that the seller provides the prospective buyer with details of their costs and the amount of mark-up, or profit, that the seller will make. One of the requirements for using this technique is that the details provided must be accurate and honest.

In financing, the Murabaha technique can be used for loans. Such loans are not considered interest-bearing. Instead, they are technically considered a sale of the goods the borrower wants to pay with the loan money.

The lender will take legal ownership of the goods until the loan money has been repaid in full. Because the lender's profit must be agreed in advance, the lender can't receive any additional charges, such as late-payment penalties. Instead, any such penalties must be donated to charity.

The Murabaha should not be confused with two other types of financing under sharia. One is known as mudarabah and involves the lender and the borrower forming a partnership. The lender, known as rabb-ul-mal, provides all the money — in effect, the loan — while the borrower, known as the mudarib, provides the expertise, meaning the money is used for a business purpose. Any profits from the business are distributed between the two sides in an agreed ratio, which is usually how the lender gets his money back. Another method, the musharakah, works in the same way but the lender must put forward some of the money used in the project.

Banks generally will either prefer to use these latter two methods if it is possible, or may require doing so. To Western banks, this seems odd because it gives less security that the money will be returned or that the bank will make any cash. However, under sharia, these methods will be preferred or required, as they are seen as sharing the risks between the bank and the customer.

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John Lister
By John Lister
John Lister, an experienced freelance writer, excels in crafting compelling copy, web content, articles, and more. With a relevant degree, John brings a keen eye for detail, a strong understanding of content strategy, and an ability to adapt to different writing styles and formats to ensure that his work meets the highest standards.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On May 12, 2011

So, if I understand correctly, the very important aspect of this system is to clearly express the terms and total amount someone will pay, right?

I can see how this can be in the benefit of borrowers. I, for example, have student loans which came with a set interest rate. Although I was given an estimate of what I would pay after a certain number of years, I can never be given an exact number.

It might take me longer than expected to pay it, or I might pay more than expected each month which would effect the total amount.

In murabaha though, everything is clear. You know exactly how much you will pay. That's why I think this is a more honest and realistic way of lending and borrowing money.

By burcidi — On May 11, 2011

Actually, I think that Islamic leaders and banks have seen the dangers of using murabaha. That is why, as the article also mentioned, mudarabah and musharakah are preferred.

Plus, murabaha cannot be used in every situation. It can only be used for trade and still then, has to follow specific guidelines.

By serenesurface — On May 08, 2011

As a Muslim, I feel that murabaha is the banks way of getting around the barrier of not being able to charge interest in Islam.

What the bank does in murabaha is to buy some commodity that the customer needs and then sell it to the customer with a higher charge. It appears as though it is not charging interest. But I think that in actuality it is. Because if the customer had money, he would have bought that commodity for a lower price than what he paid to the bank.

John Lister
John Lister
John Lister, an experienced freelance writer, excels in crafting compelling copy, web content, articles, and more. With...
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