A U.S. court decision to dismiss a case alleging that AIG’s (AIG.N) sharia-compliant businesses promoted religious doctrine looks likely to boost confidence in the industry and lift sales of Islamic products in the longer term.
Two of the Gulf’s top Islamic finance scholars spoke out against efforts to reduce the number of boards they and their peers are allowed to sit on, challenging industry attempts to improve corporate governance. Bankers in the emerging $1 trillion Islamic finance industry say the concentration of hundreds of board positions in the hands of a few sharia scholars leads to conflicts of interest and hampers appropriate supervision.
From Australia to South Africa, governments are scrambling to change the law to accommodate the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry, whose avoidance of toxic debt has looked increasingly attractive since the global crisis. But in the Gulf Arab region, birthplace of Islam and cradle of Islamic finance, governments have taken a more passive approach, which experts say is slowing the industry’s growth.
Bankers in Islamic finance are increasingly outsourcing sharia supervision due to a lack of scholars in the industry, but critics say this is making the sector even less transparent and slowing its development.
(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.
Islamic finance is toughening supervision of its powerful religious advisers as shareholders worldwide demand increasing accountability from directors, but key reforms may do little to boost independence and transparency.
With Islamic finance a $1 trillion industry globally and expected by ratings agency Moody’s to reach $5 trillion in time, students of sharia have more opportunities than ever before to take their skills beyond the mosque doors and into the boardroom.