Given that many ethical funds have similar characteristics as Islamic funds, it is important for ethical investors attracted by the appeal of Islamic principles as well as the performance of Islamic investments to understand that there are additional prohibitions that must be applied on the products offered.
These restrictions which are essentially self-imposed based on belief and conviction act a moral compass; the monitoring of the prohibitions by a Religious (Shari’ah) Supervisory Board may have prevented Islamic financial institutions to deviate from a faith-based system and absorb the shocks within the conventional financial system.
The important principles for Islamic financial instruments for participation and investments that require strict adherence, while providing good returns, are:
*Investments must be free of interest, speculation and gambling, all are considered as forms of exploitation
*Investments are made in permissible activities
*Investments must be separately approved by an independent Shari’ah supervisory board to ensure Shari’ah principles are strictly adhered to and deviations and wayward business practice penalised, for example in Islamic finance requires penalties to be paid to charity
“The ethical principles on which Islamic finance is based may bring banks closer to their clients and to the true spirit which should mark every financial service,” the Vatican’s official newspaper Osservatore Romano said in an article its latest March 2009 issue.
Shaikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo, Islamic scholar, position is that unless a financial product or service can be certified as Shari’ah compliant by a competent Shari’ah supervisory board, that product’s authenticity is dubious. At that point, it will be the responsibility of the individual investor or consumer to determine on his or her own that the product complies with the principles and precepts of the Shari’ah.
Shari’ah supervisory board (Religious Board)
Islamic financial institutions must adhere to the best practices of corporate governance however they have one extra layer of supervision in the form of religious boards. The religious boards have both supervisory and consultative functions. Since the Shari’h scholars on the religious boards carry great responsibility, it is important that only high calibre scholars are appointed to the religious boards.
Islamic financial institutions that offer products and services conforming to Islamic principles must, therefore, be governed by a religious board that acts as an independent Shari’ah Supervisory Board comprising of at least three Shari’ah scholars with specialised knowledge of the Islamic laws for transacting, fiqh al mu‘amalat, in addition to knowledge of modern business, finance and economics.
They are responsible primarily to give approval that banking and other financial products and services offered comply with the Shari’ah and subsequent verification that of the operations and activities of the financial institutions have complied with the Shari’ah principles (a form of post Shari’ah audit). The Shari’ah Supervisory Board is required to issue independently a certificate of Shari’ah compliance.
The day-to-day application of Shari’ah by the Shari’ah Supervisory Boards is two-fold. First, in the increasingly complex and sophisticated world of modern finance they endeavours to answer the question on whether or not proposals for new transactions or products conform to the Shari’ah. Second, they act to a large extent in an investigatory role in reviewing the operations of the financial institution to ensure that they comply with the Shari’ah.
The concept of collective decision-making, in other words, decisions made by more than one scholar, is especially important. Shari’ah Supervisory Boards function is to ensure that decisions are not unilateral, and that difficult issues of finance receive adequate consideration by a number of qualified people.
Source: Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance (IIBI)