The best of both worlds?

April 15, 2009

Combined Shariah and ethical/SRI products could be the way forwards for Islamic finance investing, according to Dr Humayon Dar, CEO at BMB Islamic, the Shariah consultancy at BMG Group.

Speaking at the Reuters Islamic Finance Summit today, Dar highlighted the development of an upcoming F&C fund that will meet both ethical and Shariah investing criteria, and can be sold to both Muslims and non-Muslims. “I see this as the way forward in markets such as Malaysia, where a significant proportion of the population is non-Muslim,” he said, adding that once such products have established a track record, it should appeal to a broader audience, and encourage other launches.

Marrying the Western and Islamic traditions of investing could help Shariah surmount a number of hurdles that have so far limited its appeal. A recent Oliver Wyman survey found that only half of the 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide would opt for Islamic finance if given a competitive alternative to conventional products. Dar said he had conducted his own survey which found that no more than 25 percent of UK Muslims was interested in Islamic banking and finance. “The vast majority prefer competitive quotes from non-Shariah providers,” he said – this is particularly the case in the mortgage sector.

In other countries he said the problem is twofold. Where Arabic is not the dominant language, the severity of the prohibition on earning interest on financial products is not recognised by the majority of Muslims. In other countries it is a question of poverty: “This technicality is not relevant to their thinking,” he said.

Despite this, he was optimistic about the prospects for growth in the next decade: “By 2020, Islamic financial products will account for 40 percent of the total in the top six Islamic finance markets,” he said. These markets include Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain and Kuwait.

In the short term he also predicted a bumper year for sukuk – the Islamic equivalent of a bond. The last six months of 2009 should see an increase in sukuk activity, and in 2010 he predicted increases in activity of up to 200 percent.

“This is an asset class that could grow very quickly as the fall in oil prices has consequences for governmental budgets – it’s likely that we will see some sovereign issuance,” he said.

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Islamic finance has already gotten attention from non-Muslims in terms of its relative immunity to toxic debt–most notably, from the Vatican: http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/busi ness/2009/march/Western-Interest-in-Isla mic-Finance-Increasing.html