Some years ago I found myself in front of an unusual bank in Doha, Qatar. Just ahead of a long beach circling the bay, where a parade of families and men in long white tunics enjoyed the evening, surrounded by ultra-modern high-rise buildings that changed colors during the night, this bank looked just like any other in a business center. It was a white, clean, glass structure.
Yet a large advertizing piece proclaimed that bank as the first Islamic bank in the world. As I read it, I stopped to wonder: what would make a bank Islamic? What people wear? Stopping for prayer facing Mecca? Not serving snacks to clients during Ramadan? Being on Islamic soil? A visit to Wikipedia (though always with guilt, as old profs arise in my mind and accuse wiki-stuff as not proper research) solved my doubts: Islamic banking is banking according to Sharia law, avoiding interests and not investing in morally improper businesses.
I was surprised to see Islamic faith penetrating even the thickest of capitalism’s fortresses. Banks have been the supreme wielders of the common glue between our societies – money. They have sprawled, made record profits, and defied national borders. But now there are institutions which seek to go around traditional ways of charging interest fees in respect for a religion and its followers.
The practice of interest fees–the price of money over time–is also discussed in the Bible, under the term usury. Many Christian interpreters advocate that we should also abolish interests in all our economic practices. Others regard the Bible’s concerns about it circumscribed to personal relationships: a friend who charges interest for lending money to a friend in need lets the logic of money overcome, and probably ruin, the logic of friendship. He may finish with lot’s of money, but alone, and with people in need around him.
The application of usury in modern economics aside, this episode got me thinking about the intersection of spirituality and money. I would say we crave a spirituality of money. In a pricey and priced era, we long to remember that life’s most vital gifts are just that, they do not come at a price. They escape the logic of transactions: they are welcomed, they are received, they cannot be bought. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Life’s treasures come from someone who shed his riches for us, someone who does not charge interest if we can’t pay him back, nor looks at our portfolio before investing all that he has into us; someone who modeled an ambition centered not on private gain but on enriching people; someone who invites us, once filled with jewels and treasures and inheritance unto eternity, to a use of money that builds people up, and a self-giving to others beyond a price tag.
 II Corinthians 8:9