It was a series of doubts that brought Sameer Azam to start the investment firm Absolute Wealth Management. After a few years of working in the financial sector, he started to question what he was really doing. He was offering investment solutions, helping people grow their wealth—but how about the details? What if some companies are selling alcohol, dealing in interest, damaging the environment, or harming the health of their workers? If he encourages clients to buy shares in companies that are doing impermissible or ethically questionable things, would their and his own income be halal?
One of the biggest challenges Muslims face when it comes to reconciling their faith with their finances is home ownership. With house prices starting in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, how is it possible to buy a house without borrowing money through an interest-based mortgage?
With the RRSP deadline on March 2nd, many Canadians are wondering and worrying about where to invest their hard-earned money. For Muslim Canadians, the challenge is two-fold, as not only are they looking for investments that are financially sound, they also need to ensure that their investments are religiously sound, or Shari’ah compliant or halal (Islamically permissible).
The financial system has played an active role in the accelerated development of the world economy, particularly since the Second World War. However in recent years the system has become plagued by persistent crises, one after the other, making it clear for all that a financial system based on interest, produces a debt-ridden society.
The world is drowning in debt: personal debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, national debt, sovereign debt. Our financial system finances the consumers, the businesses and the government, including local government institutions, by creating debt. In the U.S., federal debt is over $14.5 trillion and states like California are basically bankrupt. In Europe, Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy. And with Spain and Italy looking to refinance hundreds of billions worth of debt, the crisis appears to be far from over. For all we know, this may only be the beginning.
As a wave of change sweeps the Islamic world and Muslim countries are opening up to plurality and democracy, citizens of these countries now have the opportunity to play their role of a strong civil society. But for civil society to become sustainable, development in indigenous philanthropy is required. The heavy reliance on foreign donors was never an effective solution to local society as it promoted an orientation to the needs and perspectives of the donor, rather than the community served. A heavy or exclusive reliance on government funding is worse as it comes with a heavy hidden tag price. Fee-for-services and other forms of income have also proven to be unsustainable.
In the 2011 federal election, the Conservative Party ran with the promise to drastically lower corporate tax to 14 per cent by 2013. Since coming to power in 2006, the Harper government has already brought the corporate rate from 22.5 per cent to 16.5 per cent, with a further reduction to 15 per cent scheduled for 2012.
The Tories say that a corporate tax cut will stimulate the economy by boosting spending. Those who oppose them say that tax cuts only help the rich because they can lead to a reduction in government revenues that often translates in reduced government spending on important social services relied on by those earning lower incomes.
Recently the Ottawa Citizen reprinted published an article titled “Nobel winner Professor Yunus defies ouster call”. The article mentioned that supporters of Prof. Muhammad Yunus in the West were deeply concerned by what they saw as politicized attempt by the government of Bangladesh to remove him from Grameen Bank which he founded.
Islamic finance is not a recent invention. In medieval times, interest taking and undue financial speculation were considered both sinful and illegal and were duly avoided. Before the advent of Islam and for centuries thereafter, Muslims in the Arabian peninsula did business without taking or receiving interest. When needed, traders employed partnership (musharaka and mudaraba) contracts to finance their commerce. The absence of interest was never an impediment to the economic progress of Muslims.
It is only during the period of European colonization that Islamic commercial practices were eclipsed by capitalism. But Islamic finance was reborn with the independence of Muslim countries.