Sunday, April 26, 2009

ISRA I YEAR: Forges international tie-ups, translates 300 fatwas

By Habhajan Singh
International Shariah Research Academy for Islamic Finance (Isra), the central bank-backed research outfit set-up just over a year ago, has translated from Arabic to English some 300 fatwas that will be of use to Islamic financial institutions (IFIs).
This is one of the achievements of the research outfit that began operations in May 2008 to promote applied research in the area of Shariah and Islamic finance.
The outfit, now with 20 staff led by executive director Dr Mohamad Akram Laldin, has also forged a number of ties with international bodies like General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions (CIBAFI), the United Kingdom's Islamic Finance Council and Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI). In the last year, Isra has published two books and one monograph entitled "Dispute resolution in Islamic finance".
"We've also got the executive committee to endorse our policies. At this juncture, we already have all the approval for policies required for our core business," Isra executive director Dr Mohamad Akram Laldin told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview.
On the operations side, he said Isra has basically completed its administrative setup, with the management team having obtained its mandate on policies concerning its administratione, research and scholarship activities.
"We are still looking for a few more senior researchers," he said, adding that a few more research-based staff are joining the body next month. Research Fellwoship Moving forward, one initiative in the pipeline is the proposal to establish a research fellowship, modelled to the concept of chairs at universities.
"This will allow us to get some prominent figures in Islamic finance to attach with Isra for a period of time. They will be able to share their experience and perform research with us," he said. For this, Isra is on the lookout for collaborations with private institutions keen on sponsoring the initiative.
The 300-odd fatwas translated from Arabic to English are now avaialble on Isra’s website. These fatwas, compiled by the institution from various sources, have been classified to allow easier reference by end-users, who are predominantly Shariah advisors and researchers. Fatwa is a key component in Islamic finance. Islamic banks and takaful operators are required to operate in a manner that is compliant with Shariah.
Their products are also required to be fashioned such that they are in consonance with Islam. This badge of approval comes in the form of a fatwa from Shariah scholars who sit on the Shariah advisory boards of the individual IFIs, including Islamic banks and takaful operators.
At the national level, both Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and the Securities Commission (SC) have their own national Shariah boards that provide Shariah guidance for Islamic banking and the Islamic capital markets, respectively. Applied Research Isra has also started the ball rolling in conducting researches.
From May 2008 to April 2009, the institution has also completed 14 short-term researches. Among them are are on Malaysian experience in Shariah advisory, Shariah solutions for secondary sukuk trading, jurists' opinion on financial tawarruq and hibah issues in takaful.
During that time, Isra undertook eight medium-term research projects, having completed the study on Employees Provident Fund (EPF) Shariah-compliant investment guidelines.
Projects like research and fatwa translation goes to show Isra's commitment to act as the repository of knowledge for Shariah views or fatwas and undertake research on contemporary issues in Islamic financial industry.
Isra is a specialised research academy established by BNM on March 26, 2008, as part of initiatives to enhance the spectrum of Islamic finance knowledge, with concentration on applied research that is geared towards solving the pressing issues faced by the global Islamic finance industry, particularly Shariah matters.
Moving forward, Mohamad Akram said that one of challenge faced was to convey the message to the various stakegholders in Islamic finance abroad that it does not intend to become another standard setting body, but that it intends to play the role of an active researcher, as mentioned in its vision be the premier Shariah research centre in Islamic finance.
Its board of directors consist of BNM govenor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz and also its deputy governor Datuk Mohd Razif Abdul Kadir. Its governing council is led by International Centre for Education In Islamic Finance (INCEIF) governing council chairman Tan Sri Dr Rozali Mohamed Ali.
Some of the 14 members in the council are renowned educationist Royal Prof Ungku A Aziz, Datuk Dr Zulkefli A Hassan Secretary-General Ministry of Higher Education secretary general Datuk Dr Zulkefli A Hassan, Prof Dr Rifaat Ahmed Abdel Karim Secretary-General Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) secretary general Prof Dr Rifaat Ahmed Abdel Karim, BNM deputy governor Datuk Zamani Abdul Ghani, Shariah scholar Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo, Saudi Arabia's Dallahal-Baraka Group chairman Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel and Germany's Phillips University Marburg president Prof Dr Volker Nienhaus.

(This story appeared in The Malaysian Reserve on Apr 27, 2009. The Malaysian Reserve is a daily business/finance newspaper published out of Kuala Lumpur, with a sectoral page on Islamic finance on Mondays, edited by Habhajan Singh)

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