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?
Malaysia's International Shariah Research Academy for Islamic Finance is working with its Middle Eastern counterpart on guidelines to address the number of boards on which scholars can sit to reduce conflicts of interest.
From Ghana in the west, to Ethiopia in the east, to Mozambique in the south, Africa's economies are growing, and even faster than those in almost any other region of the world.
Although severe income disparities persist on the continent, a middle class is emerging. According to Standard Bank, which operates across Africa, 60 million African households have annual incomes greater than $3,000 at market exchange rates. African countries are shifting away from being aid-dependant to increasing trade and investment ties with the world. The Economist reports that trade between Africa and the world has increased by 200 per cent. China's trade with Africa reached $166.3 billion in 2011, according to Chinese statistics. The World Bank said in a report this year that “Africa could be on the brink of an economic take-off, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago”. With Africa's population set to double to 2 billion in 40 years, huge opportunity exists in Africa.
When Goldman Sachs announced last October that it planned to issue an Islamic bond, debate ignited over whether conventional banks in the West should be allowed to engage in Islamic finance.
The investment bank said it planned to issue a sukuk worth as much as $2 billion based on murabaha, a structure that instead of interest (which is banned by Islamic principles) uses a cost-plus-profit arrangement to pay investors. Some Islamic finance analysts however, questioned whether the underlying structure of the sukuk was really murabaha.
When Facebook went public on May 18, for the handful of venture capitalists, Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital, who have been with the company since its early days, it was a massive financial payoff. With the IPO also came fame and reputation. At a closing price of $38.23, Facebook's market value is nearly $105 billion, creating huge paper gains for scores of early insiders and hundreds of employees.
Venture capitalist Accel Partners, which initially invested $12.7 million in Facebook at a $98 million valuation back in 2005, the year after it was founded, is clearly the big winner. With the IPO, the current stake of Accel and its affiliates will be worth $6.3 billion, assuming a mid-point stock price of $31.50.
The Muslim world is in a difficult phase. Even though its people comprise more than a fifth of the world's population, and its regions are resource-rich, it produces only around eight per cent of the purchasing power adjusted gross national product of the world. It is plagued by illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, social sterility and macro-economic imbalances.
We know from history, that this was not always the situation in the Muslim world. We know Muslims enjoyed a glorious past stretching over several centuries. They say history is our best teacher, and I believe very important lessons can be learnt and applied from the economic miracle that occurred in the reign of Caliph Harun al-Rashid from 786 to 809 (170 - 193 A.H.).
Islamic banking and financial services have been enjoying a major resurgence in recent years. A survey released in 2009 by The Banker magazine found that assets held by Sharia-compliant banks rose 28.6 per cent in 2009 to $822 billion, while assets held by conventional banks grew only 6.8 per cent. However, Islamic finance still accounts for only about 1 per cent of the global financial-services market, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Analysts predict that the Islamic mortgage market in the West will grow substantially over the next five years. In the United Kingdom, Islamic mortgages were identified as an important emerging niche sector. Two large multinational banks, United National Bank and HSBC, joined the Ahli United Bank in offering Islamic mortgage products.
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.
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.
Islamic finance and banking have enjoyed success in common law jurisdictions such as England, New Zealand, Australia and India. In fact, Islamic banks willingly submit themselves to common law courts to enforce shariah-compliant commercial contracts.
Islamic banks in the UK have in their murabahah (Islamic financing) agreements a governing law clause that states: "Subject to the principles of the Glorious Shariah, this Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England".