Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Islamic foreign exchange forward contracts; halal participation banking?

Malaysian scholar Shamsiah Mohamad, who is a member of the Securities Commission Shariah Advisory Council, said that muwa'adah is a valid contract for foreign exchange contracts. Muwa'adah is a mutual promise in forward foreign exchange contracts and has been ruled impremissible by AAOIFI. The trading of currencies in forward markets is viewed as prohibited because currencies (taking the analogy from trading of gold and silver, which were used as dinar and dirham coins) must be traded only in the spot market. The distinction made with muwa'adah by the scholar is that the forward trade is a promise, not a contract because "it is not a sale and purchase contract because specific words must be used to enter into a contract in Islam". The controversy emerges because AAOIFI has ruled that the transaction (the binding mutual promises) does represent a contract and therefore cannot be used for foreign exchange futures contracts. It is one more example that the fiqh surrounding financial matters is still evolving in many areas and--whether it leads to positive or negative outcomes for the industry--it does represent an area of uncertainty in Islamic finance.

Rushdi Siddiqui's latest article in Gulf News deals with whether Islamic banking needs a rebranding. I have heard him speak a number of times and he has articulated the need to move beyond the 'Islamic' brand and the use of Arabic names for contracts to become more 'familiar' or 'accessible'. In his article, he ends with a combination of two ideas for Islamic banking: 'Halal Participation Banking', which combines the idea of that which is halal (which has been successful in the food industry) with participation banking, the name for Islamic banking in Turkey. I think it will be difficult to change the description of Islamic banking as 'Islamic', but that should not deter anyone from trying. In particular, the use of "participation" as a descriptor of the Islamic banking system is a good one in my opinion because it represents a reminder that Islamic banking differentiates itself as one where 'risk sharing' is an important idea. It may be used in practice less often as many Islamic financial products have replicated conventional financial products, but it provides a more clear explanation of how Islamic finance is designed to differ from conventional finance. It is also a phrase which can more easily convey the difference (in theory) with conventional finance and can be more easily be grasped by non-Muslims who may agree with the ideas of Islamic finance without even realizing it because of the use of Arabic terms and the 'Islamic' or 'Shari'ah-compliant' label.

Other News
  • South Africa has a proposal to modify its tax laws to place Islamic finance on equal footing with conventional footing by treating the profits in Islamic finance in a way equivalent with its treatment of interest in conventional transactions.
  • The latest Central Bank of Bahrain Sukuk al-Ijara was oversubscribed 630% with BD63 million in subscriptions received for the BD10 million ($26.5 million) issue.
  • Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank issued the first sukuk in its RM3.5 billion ($1.1 billion) sukuk program for RM500 million at 4.75%.
  • Bloomberg has an article about the IIFM report on Islamic repos, which I discussed after it was released.
  • An article describes the potential of Islamic finance in Russia and adds that state-controlled VTB Bank, which has had a sukuk in the pipeline for several years, will issue its sukuk for $200 million in the second half of the year, citing a Reuters report from April.
  • Dubai's oldest Islamic bank, Dubai Islamic Bank, reported lower income in its second quarter financial report. It did not reveal its exposure to Dubai World. DIB owns 20% of Tamweel, the troubled Islamic mortgage company, and Deyaar, a Dubai-based property developer. Tamweel, which is in merger talks with Amlak Finance, another Islamic mortgage company in Dubai, reported positive income for the most recent quarter.
  • A takaful provider, Dar Altakaful, launched a takaful policy for horse owners if their animal dies or becomes injured.
  • An article in Bloomberg discusses the growth of Islamic investing in Malaysia with the entrant recently of international companies like Saturna Capital, the parent company of the Amana Funds in the U.S.
  • Gulf Finance House is planning to raise additional capital--the second time in less than a year--and has delayed reporting its results.
  • Ithmaar Bank reported its first results as an Islamic retail bank since its reorganization with its former subsidiary Shamil Bank.
  • Bahrain Financial Harbour Holding Company repaid a $134 million sukuk.

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