FaithWorld

Islamic finance has image problem in Christian-majority African states

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.”

Ethics angle missing in financial crisis debate

traders

Worried Wall Street traders watch stocks fall on September 29, 2008/Brendan McDermid

In the ongoing financial crisis debate, many people think that unrestricted subprime loans, credit default swaps, astronomical bonuses, huge bank bailouts and other aspects of today’s economy are somehow unfair or wrong. This issue is not only economic or political, it’s also about ethics and morality, these people think. But that view doesn’t get traction in our political discourse. Asking the big question about what is right/fair or wrong/unfair is not really debated. Sure, there are contrary views on this and any debate would be long and lively. But it doesn’t really happen.

Some moral issues do get traction in politics. Look at abortion or same-sex marriage. The forces on both sides of this argument have considerable clout (at varying levels, depending on the country). They hold heated debates over ethical  principles such as the sanctity of human life, the freedom of individual choice or the principle of equality. But those are questions that are not primarily about the economy. When money gets thrown into the equation, there is much more of a tendency to let the market decide. What’s not illegal can’t be unethical, this view seems to argue.

Global economic crisis also a values crisis, Davos poll says

wefreportThe World Economic Forum, whose annual Davos summit opening today is a favourite gathering for the rich and powerful, has issued an opinion poll showing two-thirds of those surveyed believe the current economic crisis is also a crisis of values. Almost as many singled out business as the sector that should stress values more to foster a better world. “The poll results point to a trust deficit regarding values in the business world,” the Forum said in a statement.

The fact the Forum conducted this poll may come as a surprise to those who know Davos only from the “CEO in the snow” interviews that flood some cable TV financial broadcasts at this time of year. However, he Forum has widened its scope beyond its initial role as a European management seminar. Since 2001, it has been working with faith communities in inter-faith dialogue, especially between the West and the Muslim world, and more recently a Global Agenda Council on Faith to explore “the challenges that lie in the interactions between religion and society, religion and peacebuilding and religion and business”.

My news story here on the poll gives a summary of its findings. In a few bullet points, they are:

Pope pleased by business ethics debate since his encyclical

pope-on-planePope Benedict has pronounced himself pleased with the discussion about business ethics sparked by his encyclical “Charity in Truth” published in July. In a short question-and-answer session (here in the original Italian) with journalists en route to the Czech Republic over the weekend, he commented on reactions to the document:

“I’m very pleased by the broad discussion. That was my goal, to promote and motivate a discussion about these problems and not to allow things to go along as they are but to find new models for a responsible economy both in individual countries and for all of humanity. (Photo: Pope Benedict speaking on the plane, 26 Sept 2009/Max Rossi)

“Today it really seems visible to me that ethics is not something exterior to the economy, a technical issue that  could function on its own, but it’s an interior prinicple of the economy itself which cannot function if it does not take account of the human values of solidarity and reciprocal responsibility. Integrating ethics into the construction of the economy itself is the great challenge of this moment, and I hope to have made a contribution to this challenge with the encyclical.