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Islamic finance has image problem in Christian-majority African states

By Reuters Staff
May 6, 2010
kenya shillings

A currency dealer counts Kenya shillings in Nairobi on October 23, 2008/Antony Njuguna

Africa’s Islamic finance industry needs to overcome negative perceptions among non-Muslims to successfully expand into predominantly Christian sub-Saharan Africa, an industry leader has said.

Northern Africa is largely Muslim and countries such as Egypt and Sudan have offered Islamic banking for decades.  Now some lenders are looking to expand into sub-Saharan nations, such as Uganda which is 80 per cent Christian.

Islamic banking operates on a small scale in a few sub-Saharan countries, such as Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Nigeria. Industry participants say Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia — which all have minority Muslim populations — would be next.

“This is a business and frankly we are indifferent to whether you are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, a non-believer or whatever,” said Suleiman Shahbal, chairman of Gulf African Bank, which was launched in 2008 and is one of Kenya’s two Islamic banks. “Some people are extremely hostile and they see a political agenda in Islamic banking. It is not political at all, we have no political agenda … Some even think we support al Qaeda, which is of course complete nonsense.”

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