Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – There have been numerous occasions when I have faced great difficulties in gaining access to information related to Islamic banking whether regarding figures, statistics, Shariaa committees and their members or other data such as Islamic investment funds or Islamic banks throughout the world, Takaful [Islamic insurance] companies and other financial institutions that fall under the banner of Islamic banking.
Moreover, figures that relate to this industry lack credibility since they differ from one report to another depending on the department that issues the report. There are hardly any reports that correspond with others; even the growth rate of this industry that is estimated somewhere between 15% and 20% cannot be verified.
Some information that has been published in periodicals or magazines regarding this industry has been completely incorrect for example the claim that the banking sector in Saudi Arabia only offers Shariaa-compliant services.
I have also read a published report that stated that the banking sector in Turkey is one hundred percent Islamic. I was surprised at the gravity of this mistake since such basic, and accurate information, can be accessed via the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s official website. However, it is the dependence upon transmitting non-accurate information that indicates the weakness of these reports and consequently a lack of trust in them.
Perhaps the deficiency of information about this industry and the contradiction in figures are due to the absence of an established information center devoted to this industry.
Such centers and institutions that exist today are not up to the standards of an information centre. Moreover, the Islamic banking industry in some countries suffers from a lack of transparency.
In a country like Saudi Arabia where Islamic banking transactions constitute 64% of its total banking transactions, no data or information regarding this industry is issued by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), which is authorized to supervise the banking and insurance sector.
Consequently, all reports issued on the volume and growth rate of this industry in Saudi Arabia contain numbers that cannot be verified and those who have access to data do not disclose it.
The collection of data and its availability forms an industry that yields large profits in this age since those who have access to accurate information are able to make sound decisions. As a result, everybody seeks to obtain this kind of information and does not hesitate to pay for it. Therefore, the establishment of an information center that specializes in Islamic banking has become a pressing matter due to a desperate need for it and the certainty of the economic benefits that it would have. I believe that the center should be concerned with providing the following:
– Data related to Islamic financial and traditional institutions that have Islamic outlets or offer Islamic [banking] services.
– Information about members of Shariaa committees and experts of Islamic banking.
– Information on Islamic investment funds including names, directors, capital, unit value, growth rate and online investment funds, in addition to the possibility of comparing various funds.
– Data about Islamic bonds throughout the world in light of sources, places of issue, inclusion, volumes, types, book value and current value.
– Information on all Islamic banking services throughout the world such as credit cards, finance and derivatives.
– Data on supportive Islamic banking institutions such as the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) and other institutions.
– Information on academic institutions that offer programs related to this industry such as Harvard [Business School], University of North Carolina and other academic institutions.
– Dissertations, reports, and studies related to the Islamic banking industry.
– Religious rulings and jurisprudential decrees that are issued by various Shariah committees and jurist academies related to this industry.
– Books, periodicals and magazines related to this industry.
– Recordings of television programs, news reports and conferences related to this industry.
– Data on international Islamic banking conferences.
– Issuing quarterly reports on the Islamic banking industry as a whole and on each country that is active in this field.