- One group of scholars forbid such cooperatives. This group includes Sh. Abdulaziz Al Sheikh the Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sh. Saleh Al-Fawzan, a Saudi scholar, and some members of the Saudi Council of Major Scholars
- The majority (جمهور العلماء) opinion among contemporary scholars is permissibility of this practice. This was the opinion of the late Sh. Bin Baz, the late Sh. bin `Uthaymin, Sh. Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid, Sh. ibn Jibrin, Dr. Abdulla Al-Faqih, and other scholars, including the majority of the Saudi Council of Major Scholars who thus adopted this majority opinion as its official position in opinion #164 dated 26/2/1410 H, during the 34th round presided upon by the late Sh. Abdulaziz bin Baz...
Grounds for disagreement
The reason for differences in opinion regarding this practice is how it is classified juristically. Some viewed it as a loan that is beneficial to the lender, and thus forbade it, and others saw it otherwise and permitted it.
The reason that some saw it as a beneficial loan is that participants extend a loan with a stipulated condition of another later loan, which is beneficial. Thus, those who adopted this position cited the Prophetic Traditions: "every loan that is beneficial to the lender is [forbidden] riba" and "if one of you makes a loan and then receives a gift or a favor to ride the borrower's animal, then he should neither ride nor accept the gift, unless such courtesy had occurred before" (reported by Ibn Majah).
Those who permitted the practice argued that the benefit that accrues to the lender does not result from any financial loss to the borrower. On the contrary, they argued, the benefits were mutual and virtually equal. Thus, both the lender and the borrower are beneficiaries, without any harm imposed on either party or any benefit at the expense of the other. In this regard, the benefit that is forbidden in loans is the type that accrues only to the lender. However, mutually beneficial loans that benefit both lender and borrower are permissible...
Those who permitted the practice also argued that the default ruling for financial transactions is permissibility. Therefore, prohibition requires proof, and there was no valid proof for prohibition in this case. On the contrary, they argued, this is classified under mutual assistance, good charity, and assistance of fellow Muslims.
In addition, the "proof" of prohibition is based on the Tradition "every beneficial loan is [forbidden] riba", which is a weak tradition with faulty chain of narration. The scholar of Tradition ibn Hajar said that its chain of narration is weak. In this regard, the weak tradition was admittedly accepted as a juristic rule, but not every benefit in a loan is deemed forbidden. The other tradition ostensibly presented as proof for forbidding the practice is categofically invalid, as Al-Haythami said in Al-Zawa'id: "it contains `Utba ibn Hamid Al-Dabi, whose narrations are rejected by Ahmad and Abu Hatim.
Therefore, all proofs of prohibition are weak. In contrast, the proofs of the majority who permitted the practice is much stronger...
In this regard, the great scholar ibn Taymiya listed examples of permissible mutual benefit when he said: "There is no harm for a farmer to say to another: `help me to do my work and I will help you to do yours; you work with me today, and I work with you tomorrow'."
In summary, "financial cooperatives" (الجمعيات المالية) are permissible Islamically, and it is best to use collateral or guaranty (ضمانات) for participation, to minimize disputes, and to document the mutual debts for all participants in a manner that guarantees each party's rights.
(My emphasis at the end, because this is rarely done in a systematic way: which is the opportunity for microfinancial improvement)