Introduction To Islamic Finance: Setting The Stage

We shall be publishing a series of articles from the revered book "Introduction to Islamic Finance" by Taqi Muhammad Usmani to give readers awareness into the general concepts of Islamic finance. Please direct your specific questions to scholars.

Islamic finance

OVER the last few decades, the Muslims have been trying to restructure their lives on the basis of Islamic principles. They strongly feel that the political and economic dominance of the West, during past centuries, has deprived them of the divine guidance, especially in the socioeconomic fields. Therefore, after acquiring political freedom, the masses are striving for the revival of their Islamic identity to organise their collective life in accordance with the Islamic teachings.

In the economic field, it was the biggest challenge for such Muslims to reform their financial institutions to bring them in harmony with the dictates of Shari‘ah. In an environment where the entire financial system was based on interest, it was a formidable task to structure the financial institutions on an interest free basis.

The people not conversant with the principles of Shari‘ah and its economic philosophy sometimes believe that abolishing interest from the banks and financial institutions would make them charitable, rather than commercial, concerns which offer financial services without a return.

Obviously, this is totally a wrong assumption. According to Shari‘ah, interest free loans are meant for cooperative and charitable activities, and not normally for commercial transactions, except in a very limited range.

So far as commercial financing is concerned, the Islamic Shari‘ah has a different set-up for that purpose. The principle is that the person extending money to another person must decide whether he wishes to help the opposite party or he wants to share his profits.

If he wants to help the borrower, he must rescind from any claim to any additional amount. His principal will be secured and guaranteed, but no return over and above the principal amount is legitimate.

But if he is advancing money to share the profits earned by the other party, he can claim a stipulated proportion of profit actually earned by him, and must share his loss also, if he suffers a loss.

It is thus obvious that exclusion of interest from financial activities does not necessarily mean that the financier cannot earn a profit. If financing is meant for a commercial purpose, it can be based on the concept of profit and loss sharing, for which musharakah and mudarabah have been designed since the very inception of the Islamic commercial law.

There are, however, some sectors where financing on the basis of musharakah or mudarabah is not workable or feasible for one reason or another. For such sectors the contemporary scholars have suggested some other instruments which can be used for the purpose of financing, like murabahah, ijarah, salam or istisna.

Since last two decades, these modes of financing are being used by the Islamic banks and financial institutions. But all these instruments are not the substitutes of interest in the strict sense, and it will be wrong to presume that they may be used exactly in the same fashion as interest is used.

They have their own set of principles, philosophy and conditions without which it is not allowed in Shari‘ah to use them as modes of financing. Therefore the ignorance of their basic concept and relevant details may lead to confusing the Islamic financing with the conventional system based on interest.

The present book (which we will be publishing as a series of articles In sha Allah – Editor) is a revised collection of my different articles that aimed at providing basic information about the principles and precepts of Islamic finance, with special reference to the modes of financing used by the Islamic banks and non-banking financial institutions. I have tried to explain the basic concept underlying these instruments, the necessary requirements for their acceptability from the Shari‘ah standpoint, and the correct method of their application. I have also dealt with the practical issues involved in the application of these instruments and their possible solutions in the light of Shari‘ah.

In my capacity as chairman / member of the Shari‘ah Supervisory Boards of a number of Islamic banks in different parts of the world, I came across the points of weakness in their operations caused mainly by the lack of clear perception of the relevant rules and principles of Shari‘ah. This experience emphasized the need for the present book in which I have tried to discuss the relevant subject in a simple way which may be easily understood by a common reader who had no opportunities to study the Islamic financial principles in depth.

This humble effort, I hope, will facilitate to understand the basic principles of Islamic finance and the main points of difference between conventional and Islamic banking.

May Allah Ta‘ala accept this humble effort, honour it with His pleasure and make it beneficial for the readers.


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