Short of talent, Islamic finance taps women scholars
(Photo: Islamic Financial Centre booth at Malaysia’s Central Bank – High Level Conference 2009 in Kuala Lumpur February 10, 2009/Zainal Abd Halim)
When Malaysian Aida Othman signed up for the new law programme at the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, she did not expect to become one the few women with their hands on the levers of the world’s $1 trillion Islamic finance sector.
Rising global demand for scholars who can advise firms on compliance with Islamic legal principles called sharia is behind the quiet and almost accidental way in which women are growing into a small but powerful force in a male-dominated business.
“There are not many women involved my job,” Aida, who manages the sharia advisory practice at Malaysia’s biggest law firm, told Reuters. “I’m glad to be able to show to young graduates and young scholars in my field if you’re interested enough there is a way into sharia advisory,” the 41-year-old, who went on to study at Cambridge and Harvard, said.
As Islamic finance expands 15-20 percent a year and enters new markets from Australia to South Africa, so the need has grown for more sharia advisers who can structure financial transactions according to Islamic rules that crucially include a ban on interest. A small circle of men dominates the boards of Islamic banks but there are now about 10 women sharia advisers in Malaysia, home to the world’s largest market for sukuk, or Islamic bonds.