Category Archives: Scholars

Depositor-controlled Shariah board mechanism suggested

Depositor-controlled Shariah board mechanism suggested

Source: http://arabiangazette.com/islamic-banking-reform/

A group of Islamic scholars have proposed that banks’ sharia boards create partnerships between the boards and Muslim depositors, to insulate the boards from pressure exerted by bank managements and counter allegations of conflicts of interest.

Sharia boards, composed of experts in Islamic financial law, supervise Islamic banks’ activities and products to make sure they conform to religious principles, such as bans on interest and pure monetary speculation.

Banks commonly appoint prestigious scholars to their sharia boards and pay them handsome fees and retainers. This has left the system vulnerable to charges of conflict of interest: the scholars are being paid by the institutions which they are supposed to be supervising impartially.

A group of scholars in South Africa, led by Durban-based Ebrahim Desai, a senior figure in the city’s Muslim community, proposed that Muslim depositors in each bank fund a sharia compliance body that would be created separately from the bank.

The body would then hire a Sharia board to supervise the bank. In this way, the scholars on the board would not be appointed by or report to the bank’s management, and would not have a direct financial relationship with the bank.

“We seek a neutral and balanced position,” Desai said by telephone, adding that freed of subjection to bank managements, sharia boards would be able to play more strategic and powerful roles in governance.

“This would be in line with the larger interest of the Muslim community in upholding sharia law by maintaining the ultra-independence of the sharia supervisory board.”

Emraan Vawda, a colleague of Desai, argued that by their nature, banks were ill-suited to policing their own Islamic activities. “Commercial concerns in the overwhelming majority of Islamic banks far outweigh genuine commitment to Islamic values and precepts,” he said.

The proposal is likely to meet with considerable scepticism in the Islamic finance industry. Desai said many institutions had approached him to discuss his proposal but he declined to name them, saying the talks needed to be kept confidential.

One potential issue is whether depositors would be willing to fund the sharia compliance bodies; to compensate for this expense, they might demand higher returns on their money placed with the bank, which the bank might not be willing to provide.

Banks themselves might be reluctant to give authority over their activities to a separate body, while highly paid Islamic scholars might prefer to continue working for bank managements rather than being subject to groups of depositors who could prove more awkward and demanding.

One sharia board member in Dubai, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the scholars in the South African group were not experienced in the financial world and were instead mostly community-based.

Such scholars can command great influence within their communities and give products informal endorsements to win mass appeal, but they cannot necessarily rule on the finer points of financial contracts, he said.

Desai and Vawda said they had served eight years on the sharia board of South Africa’s First National Bank (FNB), the retail arm of South Africa’s second-biggest bank FirstRand, where they provided their services at no cost to FNB.

By avoiding financial remuneration, the scholars hoped their decisions would be free of influence, and they rejected several offers to be on FNB’s payroll, Desai said. “We were not dictated by money but dictated by principle.”

However, working for free is unlikely to become a new model for the mass of Islamic scholars, given the lucrative fees available in the industry.

Desai, Vawda and the rest of FNB’s sharia board resigned in July, complaining that the bank had failed to consult with the board on several occasions, and hired a new head of its Islamic finance business without input from the board.

FNB said it aimed to appoint a new sharia board by the end of this year and would draft clear rules and roles for the board, which would not include approving appointments of senior personnel. It said the previous head of its Islamic finance business resigned after the bank conducted an investigation into “internal processes and practices of the businesses aligned to internal governance practice”.

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Unity in diversity? Shariah scholars and Islamic finance

Unity in diversity? Shariah scholars and Islamic finance
Source: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/business/article/rock-star-scholars-a-risk-for-islamic-finance/

Islamicfinance1

Decades of parsing turgid legal documents have not dampened the enthusiasm of octogenarian Islamic scholar Sheikh Hussein Hamed Hassan. He gets agitated as he searches for a paper among piles of documents strewn across his posh Dubai office.

Wearing a dark grey suit with no tie, the Egyptian-born academic talks to a visitor for almost two hours about Islamic banking, which he has been instrumental in developing over half a century of writing and lecturing.

“Listen to me. You have to understand the basics of sharia, what’s allowed and not allowed in Islam. If you get it, then you’ll write it. And the whole world will understand,” he says.

Sheikh Hussein is one of the world’s most sought-after scholars in applying sharia or Islamic law to finance, chairing no fewer than 22 of the boards which rule on whether products and practices in the industry obey religious principles.

One position in particular stands out. As chairman of the sharia advisory board of London- and Dubai-based consultants Dar Al Istithmar, he is having to answer some searching questions on behalf of one of its most high-profile clients, US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Last October Goldman announced it would issue as much as US$2 billion (RM6 billion) in sukuk or Islamic bonds, making it one of the first top Western banks to raise money in that way. But the plan has run into controversy among potential investors over whether it follows Islamic principles, as Dar Al Istithmar insists it does. There is also controversy over the fact that Goldman publicly named at least three Islamic scholars as potential advisers on the sukuk even though they had not even seen the prospectus.

“A copy of the Goldman Sachs sukuk prospectus was sent to these scholars for consultation but they never responded back,” Sheikh Hussein told Reuters. “They could be busy or did not approve the structure, but we didn’t hear from them. Their approval is not necessary anyway.”

The controversy over the Goldman sukuk illustrates some of the weaknesses of the Islamic finance industry. These are leading to growing pressure for reform of the scholar system, though the power of entrenched interests, and the difficulty of coordinating policy in an industry where authority is spread across the Middle East and Southeast Asia, may slow any change.

Scholars such as Sheikh Hussein command great influence but their opinions, lacking definitive legal sanction, are often challenged, creating an uncertain regulatory environment. And some scholars sit on scores of boards, leaving them open to charges of conflict of interest and making it hard for them to keep up with all areas of their work.

“The big problem is that there just aren’t enough of them,” said one Dubai-based banker in the industry, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s a bit like being a rock star. They are disproportionately recognised, with people saying: ‘I want that name in Malaysia, I want that name in Bahrain.’“

Capacity

Islamic finance, based on principles such as bans on interest and pure monetary speculation, has grown rapidly over the last several years because it draws on pools of investment money in the oil-rich Gulf and Asia that have been relatively untouched by the global financial crisis.

The industry’s global assets are expected to rise 33 per cent from 2010 levels to US$1.1 trillion by the end of 2012, according to consultants Ernst & Young. Islamic finance will remain far smaller than conventional finance, with its tens of trillions of dollars, but the gap may continue narrowing; Ernst & Young expects Islamic banking in the Middle East and North Africa to expand over the next five years at a compound annual rate of 20 per cent, versus less than nine per cent for conventional banks.

Sharia scholars, with expertise in both religious and conventional law, are key to this growth. Investors will not buy instruments without believing they are religiously acceptable, so most wholly Islamic financial firms have their own board of sharia scholars which certifies products and monitors the firm’s business. “Independent” sharia boards also exist, offering their services to financial firms for a price.

There are over 400 sharia scholars worldwide but only around 15 to 20 prominent and experienced ones, which creates demand for scholars to sit on multiple boards. The top 20 scholars hold 14 to 85 positions each, occupying a total of around 620 board positions or 55 per cent of the industry, data compiled by investment research firm Funds@Work show.

The shortage of scholars is a capacity constraint for the industry, said Sheikh Muddassir Siddiqui, a sharia scholar and Harvard-trained attorney at law firm SNR Denton. He is a member of the sharia standards committee of the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), a Bahrain-based body setting standards for the industry.

“If you engage a lawyer or a doctor you would naturally want someone with a big name and reputable,” said Siddiqui.

“But unlike a rock star who can entertain thousands of people at once, a sharia scholar’s role should be viewed more like a doctor’s — it is natural to ask how many surgeries a doctor can perform in one day. It is a question of capacity.”

The capacity problem is worsened by the fact there is no single, universally accepted interpretation of religious principles. So firms seek out the scholars who they think will carry the most weight with investors; in effect, a scholar’s reputation becomes a currency used in completing a deal.

“The reason the Islamic finance industry is still emerging is that governance standards are not as well established as in other industries,” said Murat Ünal, CEO of Funds@Work.

“It’s like a social network. People and their relationships play a very important role. If you have a prominent scholar on board, this increases trust and makes up for the lack of governance standards. Institutions sell their products via the reputation of the scholars, so you better make sure you have accepted scholars on board.”

And this leads to sky-high fees paid to the top scholars. A senior banker at an Islamic lender said some scholars could be paid US$1,000 to US$1,500 per hour of consultation — in addition to an annual bonus of between US$10,000 and US$20,000 per board seat.

Sheikh Hussein and other scholars strongly reject the idea that there is anything improper in the fee system.

“What’s wrong with getting paid for issuing a fatwa or reviewing the sharia compliancy of a financial instrument?” Sheikh Hussein said. “We’re just like auditors, lawyers. Each one of us has years and years of experience in sharia law. We do our job and get paid for it. Nobody is allowed to question our honour, integrity and truthfulness.”

Frustrations

Nevertheless, the system is open to accusations of conflict of interest because scholars head or sit on the boards of the industry’s standard-setting bodies, such as AAOIFI, at the same time as they are being paid handsomely by the firms which are being regulated.

In some ways the situation is similar to that of credit rating agencies in conventional financial markets. The agencies are paid by the companies they rate, which may have made them slow to downgrade debt before the global financial crisis, allowing imbalances to build up that triggered the crisis.

“Certainly there is a need for improvement in the way sharia supervisory boards play their role,” said Sheikh Siddiqui.

“There needs to be some sort of enforcement body that stipulates who is qualified, how to protect against the conflict of interest, and other reasonable conditions for the conduct of a sharia board.”

Sheikh Siddiqui also advocates separating some of the duties of sharia boards so that scholars, who may now effectively act simultaneously as lawyers, product developers and auditors for instruments, do not end up “judging their own work.”

The impact of individual scholars on the Islamic finance industry can be huge. In late 2007 and early 2008, sukuk issuance slowed after Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani, chairman of the board of scholars at AAOIFI, suggested that about 85 per cent of sukuk might not comply with Islamic law.

Haissam Arabi, chief executive of Gulfmena Investments, a Dubai-based asset management firm, says he has personally experienced the pitfalls of the scholar system: products have been approved for investment by his firm’s sharia board, only for their sale to be delayed by the boards of other firms.

“Here is a crack in the system which needs to be remedied,” he said. “When you can’t sell or distribute because your board is different from my board, you end up not being able to achieve scale and you’re left with a very expensive product. That’s what’s hindered the development of sharia asset management.”

Another area of frustration in the industry is the lack of transparency in the way that sharia boards reach their findings and communicate them, industry participants say.

“Sharia scholars’ opinions are not published and in some cases not even circulated,” said Oliver Agha, partner of Agha & Co, a sharia-compliant law firm in Dubai.

Mohammed Akram Laldin, executive director of Malaysia’s International Sharia Research Academy for Islamic Finance, said few boards disclosed their methodology. This is dangerous, he said, since as the industry grows and products become complex, investors need to be sure scholars understand the markets.

“Scholars are no doubt well-versed in Islamic law,” he said. “But sometimes they might not be as well-versed on the market side.” In other cases, he added, scholars may not even be fully informed of the ultimate purpose of a product — an important issue for them to consider when forming a judgment.

“They only see a half-cooked structure… Something is not being disclosed to the scholar, and some who have more disclosure might ask more questions.”

Reforms

There are signs that the industry is moving towards reform of the scholar system. The Goldman case is one impetus for reform, because it underlines the large amounts of new business that could be generated in the industry if Western financial institutions become heavily involved; they are likely to demand a more transparent and predictable environment.

The shortage of experienced scholars is unlikely to be remedied quickly, but proposals within the industry include setting minimum quotas for the number of young scholars on sharia boards, and introducing apprenticeships to give young scholars more experience. Some companies may begin adopting these measures even if the industry’s standards-setting bodies do not decide to recommend them universally.

“We do need more trained sharia scholars, but it’s beginning to happen because of demand pressures,” said Jasseem Ahmed, secretary-general of the Malaysia-based Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB), another industry body.

Scholars are likely to face stricter guidelines for their behaviour from bodies such as AAOIFI. The organisation’s assistant secretary-general Khairul Nizam said it was discussing internally proposed new standards for scholars; they are expected to be issued by the end of this year as part of a strategic review of AAOIFI standards, he said. A draft is likely to be distributed to the industry at mid-year for consultation.

The new standards will try to give more guidance on scholars’ responsibilities, their relationship with banks, the issue of confidentiality, and the terms of reference of sharia boards, which should be similar to those that govern bank boards in conventional finance, Nizam said.

Regulations imposed by Malaysia’s central bank could provide one model for the AAOIFI reforms. Among other rules, scholars in Malaysia cannot sit on the board of more than one bank; sharia board members must attend at least three-quarters of the board’s meetings each year, and two-thirds of a board’s members must be present for the board to meet.

Pressure is also growing for action to reduce the differences of opinion and conflicting judgments between the sharia boards at individual companies.

The central bank governor of the United Arab Emirates, Sultan Nasser al-Suweidi, is among those who have suggested the creation of a global body that would provide legal guidance to boards around the world.

“The solution here may lie in the establishment of a supervisory or a control body that would issue fatwas or rulings on the general policy of Islamic banking,” he told Reuters.

Once again, Malaysia could be a model; a Shariah Advisory Council (SAC) established by that country’s central bank acts as “the apex authority for the determination of Islamic law,” helping to resolve differences of interpretation between scholars or companies.

Obstacles

Globally, however, the Islamic finance industry is unlikely to achieve the strictness and consistency of regulation seen in Malaysia any time soon.

A source familiar with AAOIFI’s review of standards, who declined to be named, told Reuters that the review would probably not look at restricting the number of board positions that scholars could hold, or at setting up a global version of Malaysia’s SAC to iron out legal disputes.

“Such steps are years away,” the source said.

The industry is so diverse that without the intervention of central banks and governments, it may be unable to agree on strict regulation of itself. And outside Malaysia, most central banks and governments have hesitated to take on the responsibility of setting standards for the industry.

Many in the industry are wary of inviting official intervention, arguing that it could curb their freedom to innovate and slow the market’s growth.

“If you have a central sharia board the government will be more involved, and as we know bureaucracy kills growth,” said Mohamed Elgari, a prominent scholar. “Centralised government entities should be concerned about risks but should refrain from sharia issues.”

Others believe that an industry based on the interpretation of religious principles is never going to achieve the same consistency and predictability as conventional finance.

“On the whole there is some convergence that has taken place, but we can never aim at 100 per cent. It is just the nature of Islam — people have different approaches,” said the IFSB’s Ahmed.

Ethica Trains 100 American Imams in Islamic Finance

Ethica Trains 100 American Imams in Islamic Finance

Two Months of Rigorous, First Ever Islamic Finance Training Successfully Completed

 

 

What does it take to bring 7 million American Muslims Islamic finance? Maybe training only 100 prominent religious leaders as a small first step. That is what the founding members of the American Islamic Finance (AIF) Project have now successfully accomplished. Jointly founded by Ethica Institute of Islamic Finance, Guidance Financial, and the Islamic Society of North America, the AIF Project seeks to promote standards-based Islamic finance among Muslim communities in North America.

The training program began with an inaugural address by Mufti Taqi Usmani, chairman of AAOIFI (Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions), the world’s leading standard-setting body. Ethica’s spokesperson said, “Muslims in America rely on their imams for all kinds of information. By giving these community leaders direct training in the practical application of Islamic finance, Ethica now equips them with an understanding of global standards.”

Ethica’s two-month imam training program looks to become an annual event. The program was successfully completed this month after Ethica delivered a rigorous blend of e-learning, including case studies, exercises, and exams, in addition to intensive classroom instruction. With fewer banks and universities opting for face-to-face training, and more institutions adopting the increasingly popular e-learning option, Islamic finance is set to become more accessible to countries outside of the Gulf.

Ethica Institute of Islamic Finance

With over 20,000 paid users in more than 40 countries in 2011, Ethica (http://www.EthicaInstitute.com) is the world’s leading accredited Islamic finance training and certification institute, with more learners than any other Islamic finance organization in the world. Ethica remains the only institute in the world to deliver standardized certification based entirely on the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), the leading standard-setting body in the industry.

Guidance Residential

Guidance is the leading US provider of Sharia-compliant home financing with over $2 billion in home financings. It is a subsidiary of Guidance Financial Group, an international company dedicated to serving the market for Sharia-compliant financial products and services. Guidance Financial Group offers unique investment products to institutional investors and financial intermediaries worldwide, and provides financial services to its retail customer base in the United States.

Islamic Society of North America

ISNA is an association of Muslim organizations and individuals that provides a common platform for presenting Islam, supporting Muslim communities, developing educational, social and outreach programs and fostering good relations with other religious communities, and civic and service organizations.

For more information about this article, or to schedule an interview with Ethica Institute of Islamic Finance, please e-mailcontact@EthicaInstitute.com.

Dr. Hussein Hamid Hassan calls for supreme Shari’ah board

Dr. Hussein Hamid Hassan calls for supreme Shari’ah board

 

The call to institute a supreme Shari’ah board in the GCC has been taken up Dr. Hussein Hamid Hassan, a leading Shari’ah scholar.

Hassan made the call at a briefing session organized by Dubai’s Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance to publicize its launch of a policy brief on the corporate governance of Islamic financial institutions operating in Dubai.

Hassan said that he believed the industry needed a collaborative body encompassing the leading Shari’ah scholars from across the GCC, in order to streamline the process of issuing Fatwas and help speed up the development of products.

When Hassan was asked by The Islamic Globe, how he judges the Qatar Central Bank’s move to separate Islamic and conventional banking, he answered that this was: “A step in the right direction for more transparency,” as regulators should not be treating Islamic banks like conventional banks. Hassan also telegraphed that an Islamic Banking Academy was on the verge of being set up “in the near future” in Dubai.

Source: http://www.theislamicglobe.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=484:leading-scholar-calls-for-supreme-shariah-board&catid=16:article&Itemid=38

Malaysian Shariah Governance Framework can be blueprint for industry: Arabnews interview with Dr. M. Elgari

Malaysian Shariah Governance Framework can be blueprint for industry: Arabnews interview with Dr. M. Elgari
by Mushtak Parker| Arab News

At a time when the global Islamic finance industry is debating whether Shariah advisory should be regulated and scholars restricted to advising only a small number of institutions, Malaysia almost in passing adopted on Jan. 1 a new Shariah Governance Framework (SGF) for Islamic financial institutions (IFIs) that supersedes the Guidelines on the Governance of Shariah Committees of IFIs introduced by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), the central bank, in 2004.

According to the Malaysian central bank, the primary objective of the SGF is to enhance “the role of the board, the Shariah committee and the management in relation to Shariah matters, including enhancing the relevant key organs having the responsibility to execute the Shariah compliance and research functions aimed at the attainment of a Shariah-based operating environment.”

One prominent international Shariah advisory to the Islamic finance industry, Muhammed Elgari of Saudi Arabia, who sits on several Shariah committees of such organizations as the Bahrain-based Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), the Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes, and a number of banks, agrees that Malaysia’s Shariah Governance Framework for IFIs could become a blueprint for other countries to follow.

In an exclusive interview with the author, Elgari stressed that he can see the need for such a framework, which “most certainly” can be developed into a blueprint, even though he has yet to study the full details of the SGF.

Shariah advisory has been in the news in recent weeks following reports that the AAOIFI is in the process of drafting rules to regulate the shareholdings and the number of supervisory boards individual Shariah advisories can sit on. Market players have long been concerned by the small pool of experienced Shariah advisers serving the Islamic finance industry and that an elite few sit on multiple Shariah advisory boards, a practice which they claim could lead to conflicts of interest and is not consistent with best practice in terms of advisory.

Research by entities such as Funds@Work have added fuel to the fire, although the methodology of the research is not very detailed and transparent. According to Funds@Work, there are 1,141 overall Shariah advisory board positions available in 28 countries. The average board size is 3.33 scholars per board, across the entire universe. Perhaps more importantly, the Top 10 scholars hold 450 out of 1,141 board positions that are available and represent 39.44 percent of the universe. Two Shariah advisories sit on a staggering 85 boards while another on 79 boards.

Some of the top Shariah advisers, not surprisingly, have reportedly spoken out against any efforts to restrict their trade by restricting the number of boards on which they can sit.

“There is no justification in my mind to single out a profession to set rules that are not applied to any other. There is no dispute about the fact that a human being does have a limited capacity or let us say a finite one. But this can’t be measured by the number of boards. The real test is quality of work and ability to meet the expectations of the other party. It should be self evident that if one lacks both, it will not help him to have a limited number of boards,” said Elgari.

Elgari, who also has a doctorate in economics from the prestigious University of California in Berkeley, dismisses any suggestions that Shariah advisories “make too much money” and “they are monopolizing the trade” which he maintains are both lies and naive.

In his experience, none of the banks and organizations he serves as an advisory have expressed any concerns to him about the above issues. In fact, his relationship with his clients remains cordial and commands the utmost professionalism. As such, these supposed concerns are a smokescreen and are really serving the agenda of certain groups who are keen to get a slice of the Shariah advisory business in Islamic finance.

“What is being observed lately is that certain groups want to intermediate between banks and Shariah scholars. In other words they would like to ‘broker’ the Shariah advisory and they believe, correctly, that their negotiating power with the banks is much stronger than individual scholars. Hence they can extract much more from banks. They tell us why should you be concerned, you will not suffer any reduced income (negating the very argument that we make too much). But in principle we do not see it fitting to create an exchange where we sell our services to someone to sell them to a third party at a higher price,” he said.

Elgari, who is one of a very few number of foreign Shariah advisories registered with the Securities Commission Malaysia to give Shariah advisory to the Islamic finance industry in the south east Asian country, maintains that nobody is more concerned about bringing up the second generation of Shariah scholars in the global Islamic finance industry than the current scholars. As such, it is wrong to think that they are threatened by the thought of restrictions and regulation.

“On the contrary our nightmare is for Shariah boards to disappear when we cease to exist. We always request institutions to include in their Shariah board a younger scholar so that the next generation is brought up by the current generation. Recently, we met with the officials from the Waqf Fund (set up by Central Bank of Bahrain) to try to design a program that can be adopted by an academic institution for this purpose,” he said.

Some observers, including regulators, invoke the “conflict of interest” argument to support their desire to restrict the number of boards Shariah scholars can sit on. Elgari in fact believes this is a fair concern and in several instances he has emphasized that Shariah board members should be conscious of it and try to avoid it. He confirms that in several instances he was offered shares in companies he was giving Shariah advisory but he has always declined because he was always aware of a potential conflict of interest. He suggests greater transparency by fellow Shariah advisories, especially in showing their awareness of the issue of potential conflict of interest.

For Elgari, who has also been an economics don at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah for many years, the contemporary Islamic finance industry has witnessed over the last three decades the emergence the birth of a new discipline, which combines Shariah, economics and law. “Unless universities recognize this as a new discipline, not much will be done by them. If these professors themselves can’t do it, how can they teach it? The most effective way is apprenticeship, or a program for study designed by the current Shariah scholars,” he said.

The fact remains that the Shariah governance process in Islamic finance has been steadily evolving and gaining maturity. Last year, for instance, Elgari was the first prominent scholar to emphatically call for a scientific approach to Shariah compliance. This follows a similar call by another prominent Shariah scholar, Sheikh Esam Ishaq of Bahrain, that Shariah advisories serving the Islamic finance industry should be regulated.

Elgari then called on fellow Shariah advisories to adopt a scientific methodology in reaching their deliberations on Islamic finance. “To be respected,” said Elgari, “Shariah scholars should follow scientific methods to reach their conclusions. We have seen many mistakes where declarations have been issued. Only the correct resolutions will prevail. Shariah is not a group of infallible people. It is a science. It requires methodology, and resolutions require peer review and market consultation.”

He is also a big supporter of the codification of Fiqh Al-Muamalat, which could contribute immensely to clarifying the rubrics and the contentious issues relating to products and services in the nascent Islamic finance industry. Similarly, he believes that greater transparency in the Shariah governance process; more professional articulation of the resolutions and statements; and prior debate and consultation between scholars and other stakeholders in the industry, could go a long way in mitigating the misconceptions and confusion that has arisen as a result of some recent Shariah rulings.

Source: http://arabnews.com/economy/islamicfinance/article236465.ece

Female Shariah sholars in Islamic finance

Female Shariah sholars in Islamic finance

hijab

Asian Islamic financial institutions are attracting more female executives and scholars to fill a shortage of talent, setting a precedent for companies in the Middle East.

Malaysia’s Shariah Advisory Council appointed a second female scholar to its 11-member board in November. Indonesia has six women on its panel of 35 experts, Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the country’s National Shariah Council, said in an interview Dec. 30. Malaysia’s central bank and the securities commission are both headed by women, while Liza Mohd Noor is chief executive officer at RAM Rating Services Bhd., which provides ratings for Islamic bonds.

“Previously, it was difficult for women to enter the industry; now people have broken that boundary, especially in Malaysia,” Aznan Hasan, associate professor at the Kuala Lumpur-basedInternational Islamic University Malaysia, said in a Dec. 20 interview. “More women are coming in and this is good because we need people.”

Encouraging women to work in Islamic finance will help meet demand for experts in an industry the Islamic Financial Services Board estimates has been growing 20 percent annually since 2000, with assets exceeding $1 trillion. About 50,000 professionals will be needed globally over the next five to seven years to meet demand, Ishaq Bhatti, the director of Melbourne-basedLa Trobe University’s Islamic banking and finance program, said in a Dec. 10 interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Cultural Barriers

The lack of prominent female banking executives stems from “history, culture and perceptions of women,” said Nida Raza, senior vice president of capital markets at Unicorn Investment Bank BSC in Manama, Bahrain.

In Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim-majority country where women are required to have a male guardian, about 15 percent of the labor force was female in 2009, according to a report by the Geneva-based International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.

“Getting a visa to Saudi is really difficult, and even when I’m there I face various challenges,” Noripah Kamso, chief executive officer of Kuala Lumpur-based CIMB-Principal Asset Management Bhd., a unit of CIMB Group Holdings Bhd., the world’s biggest sukuk arranger, said in an interview on Dec. 23. “I was once chased by a Saudi police officer because I entered from the wrong door, and travelling without a male colleague is impossible.”

Global Sales

As interest in the industry grows, women, including those from the Middle East, are likely to play a greater role, said Engku Rabiah Adawiah Engku Ali, the first female appointee to Malaysia’s Shariah Advisory Council and an associate professor at the Ahmad Ibrahim Kuliyyah of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

Global sales of sukuk, which pay returns based on asset flows to comply with the religion’s ban on interest, fell 15 percent in 2010 to $17.1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Issuance reached a record $31 billion in 2007.

Shariah-compliant bonds returned 12.8 percent last year, the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index shows, compared with 19.8 percent the previous year. Debt in emerging markets gained 12.2 percent, from 29.8 percent in 2009, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global Diversified Index.

The difference between the average yield for sukuk in developing nations and the London interbank offered rate has narrowed 178 basis points, or 1.78 percentage point, to 290 last year, according to the HSBC/NASDAQ Dubai US Dollar Sukuk Index. Average yields dropped 252 basis points to 4.74 percent.

Male Scholars

The yield on Malaysia’s 3.928 percent dollar sukuk maturing in June 2015 rose seven basis points today to 2.99 percent and is 12 basis points higher than on Nov. 30, data compiled by Royal Bank of Scotland Plc show. The extra yield investors demand to hold Dubai’s government sukuk rather than Malaysia’s was at 338 basis points, down from 398 basis points at the end of November, according to the data.

A shortage of scholars increases the risk of conflicts of interest as many sit on various advisory boards at the same time, according to the Manama-based Accounting & Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions, an industry standards setting body.

Sheikh Nizam Yaquby of Bahrain and Syria’s Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah, who each serve on 85 boards of Islamic financial institutions, ranked first by the number of seats among the top 20 religious experts in an October report from Zawya, an online Middle East business news and directory, and Funds@Work AG, a Kronberg, Germany-based consulting company.

‘Talent Pool’

In Malaysia, regulations are aimed at limiting such conflicts of interest. Under Bank Negara Malaysia regulations, a Shariah scholar can sit on only one board for each type of Islamic financial institution, meaning an expert on the panel of an Islamic bank can only sit on the board of another non-bank entity such as an insurance company, or takaful.

The rule “enlarges the talent pool and gives more opportunities,” said Engku Rabiah, who was once appointed on the board of six to seven Islamic banks and takaful companies before the rule was passed in 2004.

Unicorn Investment Bank’s Raza said the shortage of women in Islamic finance is easing as more female Westerners enter the market.

“This will have a knock-on effect on” the Middle East, Raza said in an interview Dec. 30 fromNew York. That “may lead to a rise in women in the Islamic finance industry,” she said.

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-02/female-shariah-scholars-say-gender-gap-closing-on-growth-islamic-finance.html

To contact the reporters on this story: Suryani Omar in Jakarta at somar6@bloomberg.net; Soraya Permatasari in Kuala Lumpur at soraya@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sandy Hendry at shendry@bloomberg.net

Video: Understanding Shariah Compliance: UFANA Conference 2010, Toronto, Canada

Video: Understanding Shariah Compliance: UFANA Conference 2010, Toronto, Canada

Dr. Aznan Hasan, Sheikh Nizam Yaquby, Mufti Barkatulla and Ustadh Taha Abdul-Basser discuss Shariah compliance issues at the UFANA Conference 2010 in Toronto, Canada.