Thursday, June 10, 2010

TID, Islamic CDs, the halal market and sustainability

The Investment Dar
The Investment Dar case became more complex with the Shari'ah board of TID requesting that the bank stop contesting the claim by Blom Bank based on the wakala contract's non-compliance with Shari'ah. In addition, the Shari'ah board asked that a similar defense not be used in the future without first consulting the Shari'ah board to determine the legitimacy of its contracts. An article in Arabian Business comments that "While the sharia board's statement puts a wrench in Investment Dar's ability to move forward with a case against Blom regarding the deal, legal experts say the reputational damage to the industry has already been done".

I disagree with the contention that TID's case has damaged the Islamic financial industry. In contrast, the UK courts held a skeptical view of TID's defense and now the institution's Shari'ah board has come out in support of the wakala product's Shari'ah-compliance. This accomplishes two things for the industry. First, the court's skeptical ruling on TID's defense provides another secular court precedent that a party to an Islamic contract cannot, ex post, argue that the contract is not Shari'ah-compliant to get out of their obligations. I have argued before that the court's ruling provides Shari'ah scholars and boards with more freedom to change their mind on Shari'ah-compliance without worrying about upsetting existing contracts.

Second, I believe it is positive is that TID's Shari'ah board came out against the institution and upheld their initial ruling. There is always a potential conflict of interest between a Shari'ah board and the institutions for whom they work. However, this provides one example of a Shari'ah board publicly demonstrating that their duty to ensure Shari'ah-compliance and preserve the integrity of their ruling is placed above their employment with one institution. The only clear loser in this development is TID, who are stuck between an adverse court ruling in a secular court and their own Shari'ah board's ruling that contradicts their claims in that court.

UAE central bank to offer Islamic CDs to Islamic banks
The UAE central bank is planning to offer Islamic CDs as short-term money market instruments for Islamic financial institutions. The lack of short-term money markets outside of Malaysia (and to a limited extent in Bahrain) hampers the Islamic banking industry because it leads banks to hold excess reserves in cash, which lowers Islamic banks' returns compared to conventional banks because they cannot generally generate returns from this cash. The Islamic CDs received preliminary approval last week from the Shariah Coordination Committee with what Hussain Hamed Hassan, the committee's chairman, described as "minor changes". It may receive final approved next week according to Mr. Hassan. Islamic CDs are offered in the US by one institution, the University Islamic Financial Corp and are used by some of the Islamic mutual funds in the US as a way to generate a return on their cash balances.

The halal market and social responsibility
The Managing Director of Al Islami said that Islamic branding is a "myth" at a halal market conference in Brunei. The point being made was that the halal brand--the certification--was important but without a quality product, it is not likely to succeed. The point was expanded by Shahed Amanullah, the founder of Halal Media, as a way to expand the market to non-Muslims as well either from incorporating organic and socially responsible halal certifications in food and through social responsibility in the broader marketplace so that "non-Muslims can see Muslims promoting halal values which includes social responsibility, stewardship of the earth and economic justice". I think that this is an often understated point. Although Islamic products, particularly in the financial world, were created to cater to Muslims' needs, they do not need to remain constrained to just Muslims. However, to reach out to non-Muslims, incorporating other shared ethical values and leverage the success of sustainable finance to expand the potential market for Islamic financial products.

Other News

  • Hussain Hamad Hassan said it was "not a far-fetched reality" for a Gulf-wide Shari'ah board to be in place by 2013.
  • Gulf Finance House continues to restructure its debts. In May, Mohammed Khnifer, Aatef Baig and Frank Winkler released an article called "The Rise and Fall of Gulf Finance House", which analyzes the pre-crisis years and how they might have led to GFH's current problems.
  • Cagamas Bhd, the Malaysian national housing company, may issue up to RM1 billion ($303 million) in sukuk that are designed to be acceptable in Malaysia and the GCC.
  • The Shari'ah-compliant non-bank financial company being established in the Indian state of Kerala has received significant interest from GCC- and Indian-based institutions (Doha Bank and Reliance Capital, respectively), although the government has said it will not sell more than 20% of the NBFC to any single investor.
  • The Islamic Bank of Thailand became a major shareholder of a Thai leasing company, Nava Leasing Plc, in which it will own 49%.
  • A Malaysia law firm has released a booklet in Australia to explain commonly misunderstood aspects of Islamic finance among Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The headline writers, of course, took the most sensationalistic topic titling the article: "Islamic finance not jihad".

No comments: