Sunday, November 30, 2008

US Treasury hosted Islamic Finance 101

By Habhajan Singh
There was mixed reactions when the US Treasury Department hosted an Islamic finance primer for staff of US banking regulatory agencies and other government bodies recently. While some were supportive of the move, noting that the US is behind the curve with other countries like the United Kingdom already talking about floating Islamic bonds, others have derided the move.
One critic, the Coalition to Stop Sharia, hosted a press conference on the same day to reiterate its concerns, according to a news report. In its statement, the US Treasury Department said the forum was designed to help inform the policy community about Islamic financial services, which are an increasingly important part of the global financial industry. It said it will work with Harvard University’s Islamic Finance Project to host speakers from the academia and industry to share information on the development of Islamic finance, both in the US and globally.
"The primary audience of this seminar comprises staff from the US banking regulatory agencies, Congress, Department of Treasury and other parts of the Executive Branch. "For some in attendance, this may be their first and only opportunity to learn formally about Islamic finance," it said. It said it had expected about 100 people to attend, with the presentations short and focused, directed toward policymakers rather than academics.
Entitled "Islamic Finance 101", the one-day seminar began with a welcome note by US Treasury's assistant secretary Neel Kashkari. Prior to joining the Treasury Department in July 2006, Kashkari was a vice president at Goldman Sachs & Co in San Francisco. The seminar began with an introduction by Samuel Hayes who holds the Jacob Schiff Chair in Investment Banking Emeritus at the Harvard Business School. According to his profile, Hayes was a principal contributor to the Harvard Islamic Investment Study and co-author of "Islamic Law and Finance: Religion, Risk and Return".
Among the speakers at the forum were Mahmoud El-Gamal, Professor of Economics and Statistics at Rice University and Sarah Bell, a senior bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Harvard's Islamic Finance Project is the continuation of the Harvard Islamic Finance Information Programme (HIFIP), which was established by the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies in 1995.
The project is now part of the Islamic Legal Studies Programme at Harvard Law School. It aims to study the field of Islamic finance from the legal and Shariah points of view by analysing contemporary scholarship, inducing collaboration among scholars within and outside the Muslim world, and increasing the interaction between theory and practice in Islamic finance, according to its website.
In February, Harvard Law School and the London School of Economics (LSE) had conducted a workshop in London to deliberate on a controversial pronoucement by prominent contemporary Islamic jurist Muhammad Taqi Usmani on sukuk.
(The Malaysian Reserve, Dec 01, 2008, p31, by Habhajan Singh. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on Islamic finance on Mondays)

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