Thursday, August 7, 2008

Furqan forum: Shariah boards should include various experts

By Habhajan Singh
Shariah boards of Islamic financial units must comprise experts from various related fields and not be confined to Shariah experts, says a former Shariah scholar.
Prof Dr Md Masum Billah, a former International Islamic University Malaysia scholar and now group executive chairman of Hong Kong-based Middle Eastern Business World, said that Shariah boards should allow financial institutions to integrate additional experts in the areas of politics, social and economics.
"Shariah is not only at the micro level but (should be practised) at the macro level as well," he told participants of an Islamic finance forum organised by Furqan Research in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
In practice, most Islamic banks and takaful operators have Shariah boards to advise them on matters related to Shariah. These positions are held primarily by Shariah scholars with a good number of them coming from universities. In Malaysia, for example, the IIUM is a hunting ground for Islamic financial institutions looking for Shariah advisors.
One example is Dr Uzaimah Ibrahim, currently an Assistant Professor at IIUM's Ahmad Ibrahim Kuliyyah of Laws, who sits on the Shariah board of Hong Leong Islamic Bank Bhd (HLIB). She was one of the panelists at the forum.
HLIB's Shariah Advisory Committee (SAC) is chaired by Dr Ab Mumin Ab Ghani, from University Malaya. He currently heads the Department of Shariah and Management at the Academy of Islamic Studies.
The bank's board, according to information available on its website, holds monthly meetings where members review and comment on the principles, contracts and transactions relating to all proposals, applications and issues submitted by the bank.
HLIB said that it strives to ensure that the SAC understand the matters well so as to proper advices, rejections or approvals on the submissions.
Dr Mohammad Akram Laldin, executive director of International Shariah Research Academy for Islamic Finance (ISRA), said that the academy is attempting to bridge the gap between market practitioners and Shariah scholars.
"One thing that I would like to tell industry practitioners: don't hide anything from the Shariah board," he told the forum.
Dr Mohd Akram was making references to potential attempts to get the Shariah-compliant badge from scholars by withholding key information.
Some of the other panelists at the forum were IIUM's Prof Muhammad Aarif Zakaullah, Megat Hizaini Hassan from legal firm Zaid Ibrahim & Co and Prof Hashim Kamali from International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IIAIS).
The key speaker at the forum was Prof John L Esposito, a professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and author on numerous books on Islam, including Islam and Politics published in 1984.

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