Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Islamic Finance and the Application of Rulings | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – At a time when concepts and terms are being mixed up, it is the duty of scholars to fix this and to restore these terms and concepts to their original condition so that they carry out the aim for which they were intended and so that they are clear and persuasive. This is especially required in this age in which people are inclined towards upholding Islamic Sharia, making it a source [of reference] for whoever wants to merchandize a product, particularly financial institutions that base their slogans and identity on Islamic Sharia to the extent that their slogans become intrinsic to them. As a result, Islamic institutions benefited from the positive religious milieu in marketing themselves and their products.

Nevertheless, the fact that everybody should pay attention to is that these institutions vary in the way they apply Islamic Sharia; some adopt several Sharia rulings whilst others adopt only a few. A small number of these institutions apply the rulings of Sharia law in general, whilst the majority abide by adopting only the rules of Islamic jurisprudence regarding financial transactions. To distinguish between the two, I will define Islamic Sharia and the rules regarding Islamic financial transactions within the Islamic Sharia.

According to Imam Ibn Hazm, may God rest his soul, Islamic Sharia is “that which God legislated through the Prophet of His religion as well as through the prophets before him. The most recent of these rulings should abrogate preceding ones.” As for the definition of jurisprudence of Islamic financial transactions, according to Dr. Bashir Abdul-Aal “this means to be knowledgeable about [Islamic] Sharia’s practical rulings derived from the minute details of financial contracts and transactions.”

The definitions portray the difference between the rulings of Islamic Sharia as a broad, general and comprehensive banner that covers doctrines, [forms of] worship, morals and actions, aimed at people from all walks of life, whereas the jurisprudence of transactions is a subtitle that comes under the title of comprehensive Islamic Sharia. As a result, this explains the contradictory behaviour of some financial corporations that claim to base their slogan and identity on Islamic Sharia.

This is what motivated me to write this article as a few days ago I was shocked to see an advertisement by an Islamic financial institution in which made-up and unveiled women appeared in an inappropriate manner that was not suitable for advertising an Islamic financial institution. What is even worse is that the advertisement ended with the logo “we apply the rulings of Islamic Sharia.” What kind of Sharia is this institution talking about and how is it applying it? In fact, the issue is not limited to this advertisement alone in order for us to say that this advertisement was an exception and does not necessarily apply to other Islamic financial institutions or that it was a mistake. In fact, it has become a phenomenon in marketing Islamic financial products. This is something that I consider offensive and disrespectful to Islamic Sharia, which is being used to merchandize products. In addition, some Islamic financial institutions do not take into account the rulings of Islamic Sharia that regulate the work environment and the behaviour of personnel. In these corporations, one may find a blatant contradiction between the Islamic Sharia slogan that is being raised and the work environment and the behaviour of employees within these institutions. Out of my passion for the religion and my aim to protect it, I believe that it is an obligation for Sharia bodies to oblige such institutions to apply the rulings of Islamic Sharia to all its transactions and dealings in line with the slogan they raise.

For example, Sheikh Taquddin Othmani issued a fatwa in reference to the Dubai Bank stating that it should either make the female employees wear the hijab or make its religious slogan more specific; as a result, it changed its slogan to “we apply the jurisprudence rulings of Islamic financial transactions.” The new slogan is intended not to confuse the customers and those who deal with the bank, especially as some of the institutions that raise such slogans are in fact Western or based in the West.

The continuation of distinction between a slogan and its application is not in the best interest of the Islamic financial industry, as this would bring about criticism and cause it to be underestimated. It would also be labelled as fake and as an industry that practices deception and cheating and uses religion for its own benefit and one that fails to abide by its rulings. Moreover, by restricting Islamic Sharia to its financial transactions only, comprehensive Islamic Sharia would also be harmed.

By allowing the contradictory practices of financial institutions that raise the slogan of applying Islamic Sharia but go against it in their actions without supervisory Sharia bodies condemning this, Sharia bodies will be going against the covenant and pledge God almighty made with scholars. The Quran says, ‘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,’ (Surat al-E-Imran, Verse 187).

Ibn Kathir said, “This is a warning to scholars not to follow in their footsteps (referring to the Jews), otherwise they will end up suffering the same losses and sharing the same fate.”

The issue goes beyond the failure of Sharia bodies to make clear [the shortcomings in applying the rulings of Islamic Sharia] as this would imply approval, particularly if the advertisement itself has gained the seal of approval from the Sharia body.

This is a matter that we wish the people of virtue would avoid, and they should rectify the mistakes that they overlook so that they are not misjudged.