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“Ethica’s Handbook of Islamic Finance (2013 Edition)”…700 Pages of Practical, Usable Knowledge!

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“Ethica’s Handbook of Islamic Finance (2013 Edition)” is the industry’s first practical, user’s guide for implementing change. It may also be the only e-book in Islamic finance with a detailed and expansive subject index for your convenience. An indispensable desktop reference for practitioners and students alike, this book puts everything you need in one place.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
* We Believe: Ethica’s manifesto.
* Speech: Use this speech or the accompanying video at your conference, training session, bank or university.
* Petitions: Use these sample petitions to bring standardized Islamic finance into your community.
* Articles: Use these articles to inform yourself and others about the basics of Islamic finance.
* Meezan Bank’s Guide to Islamic Banking by Dr. Imran Usmani: Use this section for a more detailed understanding of the industry’s core products from one of its leading scholars.
* Islamic Finance Contracts: Use these sample contracts to educate yourself and your bank about various Islamic finance instruments.
* CIFE™ Study Notes: Use these study notes to help you prepare for Ethica’s Certified Islamic Finance Executive™ (CIFE™) program.
* Recommended Reading for Practitioners: Use this reading list to help develop your worldview on finance.
* Recommended Reading for Entrepreneurs: Use this reading list to help you jump start your Islamic finance idea.
* Islamic Finance Q&As: Use this database of 1,000+ scholar-approved answers to guide your commercial dealings.
* Glossary of Commonly Used Terminology: Use this section to understand the industry’s most commonly used terminology.
* About Ethica Institute of Islamic Finance
* About the Certified Islamic Finance Executive™ (CIFE™)
* Press Releases
* Contact Ethica
* Subject Index: Use this detailed index to quickly search the entire e-book.

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About Ethica Institute of Islamic Finance (www.EthicaInstitute.com)

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Winner of “Best Islamic Finance Qualification” at the Global Islamic Finance Awards, Ethica is chosen by more professionals and students for Islamic finance certification than any other organization in the world. With over 20,000 paying users in 44 countries, the Dubai-based institute serves banks, universities, and professionals across over 100 organizations with its 4-month Certified Islamic Finance Executive™ (CIFE™) program delivered 100% online. The CIFE™ is the only globally recognized certificate accredited by scholars to fully comply with AAOIFI, the world’s leading Islamic finance standard. To watch an Ethica training video click here.

MasterCard for Muslims points way to Mecca

MasterCard for Muslims points way to Mecca

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Source: http://bottomline.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/12/14372544-mastercard-for-muslims-points-way-to-mecca?lite

A Gulf state-owned bank has rolled out a new MasterCard that not only complies with Islamic laws banning loans with interest but also includes an embedded compass pointing the way to Mecca.

The new card from Al Hillal bank in United Arab Emirates is the latest in a growing array of banking products aimed at the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims that comply with Shariah, or Islamic law.

“We continue to see a growing demand, especially in the Middle East, for Islamic banking in general, and more specifically in our case, for cards that are Shariah-compliant in accordance with the tenets of the Islamic faith,” MasterCard spokesman James Issokson said.

Shariah forbids “riba” or the charging of interest on loans because it could enable the rich to exploit the poor, encourages risk, and creates social and economic disharmony, according to Abed Awad, an expert on Islamic law who teaches at Rutgers and Pace universities.

Scholars say Muslims can pay interest when there are no other options to get the funds they need. Credit card operators get around the prohibition by charging users fees instead of interest rates.

In addition to the electronic compass that helps users orient themselves toward for prayers five times day, the new MasterCard offers other benefits. Card users are eligible for travel vouchers that can be used to pay for the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, which Muslims are required to do at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it.

A percentage of the money spent using the card is donated to local charities, said Issokson.

Islamic banking is a huge industry with more than 500 Shariah-compliant funds around the world holding $1.5 trillion in assets, a third of which were launched in the past seven years, according to the Gulf Daily News, a publication based in Bahrain. Some of the products are available in the United States, where there are about 2.5 million Muslims.

Michigan-based University Bank offers Shariah compliant home financing, deposit products and commercial financing through its University Islamic Financial Corp business. Guidance Residential, which is based in Reston, Va., offers residential mortgages in more than a dozen states, according to its website.

Ethica publishes CIFE Study Notes

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Ethica’s award-winning Certified Islamic Finance Executive™ (CIFE™) program now comes with the “CIFE™ Study Notes,” an indispensable 100+ page guide exclusively available to CIFE™ students…now available for a limited time to EVERYONE.

Get your sneak peek into Ethica’s CIFE™ program, winner of the “Best Islamic Finance Qualification” at the Global Islamic Finance Awards. Get your copy of the CIFE™ Study Notes here: http://bit.ly/EthicaCIFEStudyNotes

With over 20,000 paying users in 44 countries and more than 100 banks and corporates, the Dubai-based institute is the most heavily enrolled Islamic finance certification institute in the world. Ethica’s 4-month Certified Islamic Finance Executive™(CIFE™) program is delivered 100% online.

Guest Post: Are Commodity Investments Shariah-Compliant?

Investors looking for new opportunities in today’s economic environment hear a lot about the idea of investing in tangible commodities, such as precious metals like gold and silver. This is certainly an interesting sort of alternative investment, and essentially has a whole different set of pros and cons from other types of investment. For the most part, people who invest in these sorts of commodities tend to do so more in the hopes of achieving financial stability, as opposed to monetary gain. The values and prices of precious metals do not often shift dramatically, and are not tied to any particular company or economy, so putting your money behind them can help you to avoid drops in the value of your money if it is kept in currency form. But, is investing in these sorts of commodities Shariah-compliant? Let’s see if it passes the three main requirements for a Shariah-compliant investment.

  • The first requirement is that Shariah prohibits the earning of interest via investment opportunity. This is not to say that people following Shariah are not allowed to profit, but that profit must be the result of production in the actual investment, as opposed to simple interest earned through lending. Tangible commodities like precious metals would seem to be fine under this rule, as the only gains that can be earned would be due to slight increases in the prices of such commodities between the time at which you purchase bullion and the time when you withdraw your investment.
  • The second requirement is that Shariah prevents investments in unethical industries (such as alcohol, pornography, tobacco, etc.). Most tangible commodities will certainly be permissible under Shariah as far as ethics go, and the specific idea of investing in precious metals is completely fine.
  • Finally, Shariah demands that a strict and all-inclusive contract be drawn up for any long-term investment. This is so that all of the details are down on paper in a single place, which can help prevent future disputes and complications. In fact, the actual clarity of this contract is also subject to the potential of being prevented by Shariah, if there is found to be any possibility of ambiguity or future disputes. So, in order to be certain that your commodity investment is Shariah-compliant, be sure to have a thorough and all-inclusive contract drawn up.

While these are indeed strict guidelines that prohibit many types of investments, most commodities seem to be fair game. And, fortunately, there are quick and convenient ways to invest in such things. For example, a quick visit to Bullion Vault will allow you the opportunity to place your money behind gold bullion, which is a fairly common commodity investment, particularly in times of economic uncertainty. Be sure to structure a careful contract, and you should be all set!

James Allen is a programmer and writer for numerous investment sites online. He has written on the subjects of commodity investment and new financial opportunities.

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/

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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.

Pakistan’s Meezan Bank launches ‘Laptop Financing’

Pakistan’s Meezan Bank launches ‘Laptop Financing

 

 

Meezan Bank has launched a new consumer financing product that will allow customers to purchase laptops on easy installments. The new product called Laptop Ease is being offered for repayment periods ranging from 3 months to 24 months. The bank will not charge any profit or return for customers who opt for the 3 month or 6 month installment plan. The product has been launched in collaboration with M/s. New Horizon and is available for only HP laptops. M/s. New Horizon will provide two years warranty with parts along with nationwide after sales services at the customers’ doorsteps.

 “Meezan Laptop Ease” through which customers can purchase Hewlett-Packard (HP) laptops, equipped with the latest features under a Halal financing scheme, is another step towards achieving Meezan Bank’s Vision of making Islamic banking the banking of first choice. Through this Riba-free facility, customers will be able to acquire laptops at easy installments for periods ranging from 3 to 24 months.

Laptop Finance is based on the concept of Musawamah which is a general and regular kind of sale in which price of the commodity to be traded is bargained between seller and the buyer without any reference to the price paid or cost incurred by the former. Thus, it is different from Murabaha in respect of pricing formula. Unlike Murabaha, seller in Musawamah is not obliged to reveal his cost. Both the parties negotiate on the price. All other conditions relevant to Murabaha are valid for Musawamah as well.

An MoU for this arrangement was signed between Meezan Bank and New Horizon at Meezan Bank’s Head Office.  Mr. Mohammad Raza, Head of Consumer Banking of Meezan Bank and Mr. Rahim Eqbal, COO of New Horizon signed the MoU.

 Speaking at the occasion, Mr. Raza said that Meezan Bank has an active focus on developing customer-friendly, Islamic alternatives to conventional banking products, in line with its Mission to offer a one-stop shop for innovative value-added products and services to the customers within the bounds of Shariah.

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.