However, I was wondering how the average wage earner could ever afford to buy either a new car or a house, which would be beyond the reach of nearly everyone if payment had to be made in full up front? Â Is there a provision either in the Qu'ran or by traditional practice that allows for this reality?
There are other approaches that make such things possible. Leasing, for example with cars, or various transaction fees. With homes, a rent-to-own programme. There are some Islamic banks in the US that have such programmes, although the names escape me right now. Also, there's nothing wrong with installment-plan payments, even if the total amount paid is higher if one pays over time. For example, a car could sell for US$20k if paid up front, or US$25k if paid off within two years, etc.
Also, are Muslims allowed to benefit from interest?
No. Bonds aren't allowed in general. (There are some exceptions, but I must admit a degree of ignorance on this matter, too.) Neither I nor anyone in my family has ever held an interest-bearing bank account, to my knowledge.
Finally, what sect do you belong to?
I'm not an especially religous man, and indeed I feel guilty writing about religion right now because of the wine I had not too long ago. I guess you could say that the only pillar of Islam that I take deadly seriously is Zakat, or a small (2.2%) annual tax on fixed assets (savings, property, etc) payable to the less fortunate. I also don't fast, drink alcohol, or get it on during Ramadan. But inasmuch as I'm religious, I'm a mainline (Hanafi) Sunni. This branch of Islam, which is the most common type in West Africa, practiced by the Hashemite family (directly decended from Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him), and also very common in South Asia, is much more tolerant and accepting than the Wahabi or Shia varieties. Also, I would appreciate you not to refer to the divisions within Islam as "sects". Unless you likewise refer to Catholicism, Southern Baptism, Methodism, etc. as sects of Christianity, then you're being consistent and I won't complain. That, along with the use of "tribe" for families of African or Arab heritage, really bugs me. (Why write about the Quereshi tribe but the de Medici family, for instance?)
Do all branches of Islam adhere to this admonition against usury?
To my knowledge, yes. Except for maybe Ismaelis, who are basically the Unitarians of Islam. Lots of Muslims don't "accept" them as Muslims, but I'd be willing to bet that Mullah Ashcroft and his cofanatics aren't terribly accepting of Unitarians as Christians, either. In general, I'm sorry if my answer wasn't as thorough as you were expecting. Religion in and of itself is not something that I'm especially knowledgeable of. I'm more interested in the political workings within religions and the interactions between them, and how such things play out vis-a-vis globalisation, etc. Still, I do expect I'll someday sell my gold watch and all of my silk ties, because Muslim men aren't supposed to wear either material. (Thankfully, cashmere is totally halal
) Giving up Merlot will be much harder... Peace, JG