Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Ever since the Islamic Banking system survived the global financial crisis it has become the focus of the financial world with regards to university and research studies to traditional media coverage. Islamic Banking is on the verge of being a perpetual item on the agenda of all financial summits and conferences, while Islamic financial departments have been established in many western and Arab universities, with reports and research being published on Islamic Banking daily by various major financial companies and consultants. Islamic Banking activity is also today being followed up by the major financial publications like the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, who produce media articles and reports on this subject. One of the world’s leading sources of financial information, Thompson Reuters, also sought to establish a special department to engage with the Islamic financial industry.
As a result of this, the Islamic Banking industry – and all those involved in this – is being as closely monitored as the lives of the celebrities, and so the fog that surrounded this industry has begun to lift, and the features of this industry are now more clear and transparent, as there is today no room to cover up or hide mistakes, and it is no longer sufficient to answer the questions that are being asked with generalities. These questions are being asked by professionals, therefore the answer must either be persuasive and scientific or these answers are viewed as being evasive and ambiguous; this had led to closer monitoring and a comprehensive examination [of the Islamic Banking system]. I am in no doubt that this monitoring will help the Islamic Banking industry to develop to the point that executives and those on the boards of directors [of Islamic financial institutes] are put under the microscope.
This observation and monitoring will infuriate many financial institutions and those who work for them because it reduces their ability to control the flow of information, although it will be useful to the working environment in general and to the financial institutions and investors, as it will grant them relative protection from the corruption that is eating away at some of the institutes within this industry. This will also lead to developing professionalism with regards to those operating in this industry; as everybody will be aware that their work is being monitored and that any mistakes will be recorded and cannot be covered up. This [observation and monitoring] will also develop the services offered by the Islamic Banking industry to rival the services offered by conventional banking institutes with regards to efficiency, speed, expense, and customer service.
I also believe that this observation and monitoring will result in the Islamic financial regulatory bodies being more careful and precise with regards to issuing fatwas and advisory opinion, so that decisions are not issued until they have been carefully studied and examined and are based upon evidence and reasoning, especially following the controversy surrounding the statement made by Sheikh Taqi al-Din Usmani over the issue of sukuk bonds, members of the regulatory Islamic financial regulatory bodies became more cautious with regards to the issuance of fatwas and advisory opinions. Some regulatory bodies reviewed their approval of financial services such as tawarruq, and began to press for this to be restricted to use as a local [financial] commodity, following a media campaign and the academic debate surrounding this issue.
However this fame and media attention that the Islamic Banking industry is enjoying today, despite the numerous positives that we mentioned above, also harms the industry to a certain extent, as it drew the attention of some radical movements in the west to the activities of this industry and the strength of its growth. These radical movements have endeavored to thwart and fight against the Islamic Banking industry for allegedly seeking to Islamize western society, and this has given rise to a number of radical movements in America including a group called “Stop the Islamization of America.”
Therefore it is up to those in the Islamic Banking industry to take this into account, and develop appropriate strategies to deal with movements such as this and seek the appropriate ways to dispel the fears that Islamic Banking raises in some communities, while dealing professionally with the media, and being careful not to fall into any trap laid by these radical movements who want to portray Islamic financial institutes as missionary or religious movements, rather than financial institutes. Therefore we must prepare members of Islamic financial regulatory bodies on the best way to deal with the media, and how best to present themselves at financial summits, by establishing special training courses on how to do this. This is because what is said in the media must be different from the manner that we discuss issues in the mosque or special scientific councils, even if the verdict is the same.