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Sunday, September 04, 2011
Revisiting the Islamicity of "Islamic" banking
The questions you have posed are very important. It is a good change from the numerous incoherent e-mails
received on the IBF Net.
Your questions are rephrased below:
One:"Is today's Islamic banking system structurally different from Conventional banking?"
Two:"Can it or Does it behave differently from Conventional banking system?"
my observation today's Islamic banking system is just a subset of
conventional super system and it cannot be any different from
conventional system in the long run, i.e. it has to converge."
To answer Question One:
don't think we have conceptualized the architecture of the Islamic
banking system. Our eminent practitioners have rushed into it (without a
thorough plan of action) to make money - they have managed to convince
our esteemed Ulema to give them fatwas to circumvent the Shariah on
issues (involving borderline ribawi contracts) - please see a further
To answer Questions Two and Three:
Let us consider the case of the classic Murabahah contract.
Why is it allowed in the Shari'ah?
Allah SWT says in His glorious book (ie., the Quran) that He SWT has forbidden riba but allowed trade (2:275).
has taken me a long time to realize that Allah SWT in His wisdom
allowed Murbahah as it enhances the demand for a product in the real
sector of the economy. There is a paper by an economist,
which states that credit sales typically help in the absence of
financial markets. The pricing of it is contingent on the price
elasticity of demand for the product. We all know that in the time of
the Prophet SAW the economy was bare subsistence and there was no
financial markets (ribawi or ghair ribawi).
let us take the same issue further to a banking Murabahah, which
involves a sale of goods in the financial sector of the economy (instead
of a real sector) [some of my colleagues would call it a fictitious sale constituting a "Shari'ah arbitrage"].
you work in the financial sector, which is highly integrated in the
current economy you are compelled to price the banking Murabahah using a
ribawi index - there is no choice. This is where I differ from the
Shari'ah scholars who espouse using a ribawi index - the rationale
behind employing this index is because arbitrage will force the two
returns to converge.
end result is very important - the current so called "Islamic" banking
system is not all Islamic (see Feisel Khan's 2010 critical paper in the
Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization distributed in this net
end result illustrates that we have really not understood the issue of
riba (especially riba an nasi'ah). If we had understood it, we would
never adopt the banking Murabahah [and for that matter the Tawaruq].
To answer Question Three:
the Islamic bank operates in the real sector of the economy then we
need not use a ribawi index. This is the focus of my current work. You
can ask me for a paper (Insha-Allah in about three months time and if i
am still alive and not incapacitated in any way (especially from the
ridiculing incoherent colleagues) - I will provide it to you.
Professor Dr. Muhammed-Shahid Ebrahim
Chair in Islamic Banking and Finance
Bangor Business School
Bangor (North Wales)
Gwynedd LL57 2DG