Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Controversy and Islamic Banking | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- I read a press report that stated that prominent members in the field of Islamic banking in the Middle East have branded Sheikh Muhammed Taqi Usmani a conspirator against sukuk [Islamic bonds] and that Westerners did him justice in the wake of his comments that 80% of sukuk are non-Shariah compliant.

The truth is that despite following up on the repercussions of the Sheikh’s statements about Islamic bonds in newspapers, I have only found comments of this nature in some Western papers that branded Shariah committee members as having sold their religion in order to push Islamic banking to the fore. As for those who work in the field of Islamic banking, they have only issued warnings about the negative impact that this statement might have on the issuance of sukuk.

In this respect, I was amongst those who warned of these negative repercussions. Moreover, I have criticized the approach that was taken by the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) in dealing with the statement because it failed to clarify what was meant by Sheikh Taqi Usmani’s comments. However, not one Muslim can discredit Sheikh Taqi Usmani as a conspirator against sukuk for a number of reasons including the following:

Firstly, the Sheikh was simply carrying out a duty that God made compulsory upon scholars. The Quran states: “And remember Allah took a covenant from the People of the Book, to make it known and clear to mankind, and not to hide it; but they threw it away behind their backs, and purchased with it some miserable gain! And vile was the bargain they made! (Surat Al Imran: Verse 187). The Sheikh’s statement was one of truth, a manifestation of knowledge and a clarification of the rulings of Quran and Sunnah [Prophetic traditions].

Secondly, the Sheikh’s actions were based on propagating virtue and preventing vice, which is an obligation according to Shariah. Abu Said al Khudri (may God be satisfied with him) said that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said: “Whoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; if he cannot, then with his heart – and that is the weakest belief.”

There is no doubt that the method that the Sheikh prohibited is a vice that must be rejected and changed. The statement issued by the AAOIFI agreed with the Sheikh in rejecting these methods and the necessity to correct them. However, we disagree with the Sheikh on the way that this vice has been rejected in that we would have preferred this to have been done through scholarly debate with other sheikhs rather than via press reports. Perhaps the Sheikh believed that this method of his was more intense and would be more beneficial in rectifying the mistake.

Thirdly, the position of the Sheikh at the head of numerous Shariah committees of Islamic financial institutions and services related to this industry, atop of which is the AAOIFIs Shariah council, contradicts the accusation [that he is a conspirator against sukuk] as he is one of its most prominent ideologues and scholars.

Fourthly, the fact that the Sheikh has remained at the top of the Shariah committees of these institutions following his comments indicates that the press report that claims that those in charge of Islamic banking described him as a conspirator is incorrect. If this was the case then he would not remain at the head of these Shariah committees.

What Sheikh Taqi Usmani did clearly indicates that Shariah committee members fear God in everything they do and do not shy away from telling the truth or revealing evil acts. This strengthens the trust in them and in the Islamic financial institutions that they supervise and invalidates the claims of those who hint that these people receive payment for work that other people are doing.

I ask God to reward Sheikh Taqi Usmani for all that he has offered.

* Lahem al Nasser is an Islamic banking adviser.