Islamic Finance Rides The Storm?

Yesterday, @deenworks sent me an interesting link on Twitter about how Islamic finance has been doing a lot better in these hard financial times.

I personally can’t claim that I have a full understanding of how Islamic finance works in detail, or how much difference there is between it and other financial systems; neither do I know if the difference is significant or not when it comes to the problems the financial world is facing these days; so I prefer not to analyze things from my side and just stick to sharing the article with you.

…Sharemarkets in London and New York are a third off their peaks. Dow Jones’s Islamic financials index, in contrast, rose 4.75 per cent in the most recent September quarter and lost a modest 7 per cent in the previous year.

Not only has the industry been resilient; it’s also on the cusp of serious expansion. It is growing faster than any other subset of world banking, at 15 to 20 per cent a year. The Economist estimates Islamic assets under management are worth $US700 billion ($1000 billion). This figure could hit $US1 trillion – about the Australian sharemarket’s current value – by 2010.

What’s more, all this growth has come from a model of lending that rejects interest payments and shuns speculation and heavy borrowing.

In short, Islamic finance bans some of the excess that has brought the West’s financial system to its knees, and is looking wise indeed, or at least lucky.

Islamic finance takes its guidance from sharia.

The biggest markets are in the Middle East and Muslim countries, but global banks have opened sharia-compliant branches. Locally, the Muslim Community Co-operative is one of a few lenders offering the service.

Justice, partnership and opposition to excessive risk are the main principles guiding Islamic banks. Outright speculation and dealing with any party that has a balance sheet more than a third of which is debt are forbidden, as are investments deemed unethical by Islamic scholars, such as casinos.

But if these rules sound tough, the biggest difference is a ban on interest.

Charging interest is immoral because it does not take into account how changes in the value of the loan’s security can affect the borrower, sharia says. Home owners who bought near the peak are now experiencing this harsh reality: interest gives banks a steady payment from the borrower, regardless of the property market’s state.

However, profit is fine, and Islamic banks have devised ways to make money from lending. Instead of demanding interest, they buy the asset outright on behalf of the borrower. The borrower pays off the loan (the principle) and a fee for using the asset (rent, for example) until the amount is repaid and ownership transfers to the borrower.

[Full Article: Business Day]

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