Monday, January 13, 2014

BADLISYAH: Invasion of Shariah scholar wannabes

The Islamic financial market globally has been invaded by Shariah scholar wannabes and they are destroying it from the inside out.

While this is a strong statement, it is one which I have made many times in open conferences and many would agree with me. However, like so many other issues in Islamic finance, most prefer to keep such opinions to themselves.

Many real and qualified Shariah scholars have lamented about this in private and some in public but most times, like the Malay proverb, Ibarat mencurah air ke daun keladi, the lamentation goes unheeded.

These Shariah scholar wannabes have infiltrated Islamic banks at the highest level of decision-making bodies — the board of directors, the Shariah committee and the senior management — dictating what cannot be done without due consideration to stakeholders value, which at times resulted in the overnight dismantlement of businesses that took years to build.

They have infiltrated financial regulators and Shariah governing bodies and exerted unnerving and disastrous influence on industry regulatory frameworks and policies in many jurisdictions, causing Islamic finance to fail its function as a public good to facilitate optimum financial inclusion for the general populace or the Ummah, particularly Muslims. As a result, the industry becomes a non-starter in many jurisdictions until today.

They have infiltrated many institutions of higher learning and distorted the teaching of Shariah and its application in commerce or Muamalat, especially in Islamic finance, by imposing their personal opinion and biasness in their teachings.

This weakens the very foundation of the industry from the inside out as they train the industry’s workforce.

Those that provide distorted Shariah application in Islamic finance have also written many books and presented many papers, putting themselves as the industry’s authority although most of them have never done a single Islamic banking and finance business themselves.

They have a tendency to make prohibition on what has never been expressly prohibited in the Quran and Hadith, such as debt.

There have been instances where they have changed the meaning of Quranic verses and Hadith to suit their arguments and define established Shariah principles differently, such as defining “Bai” or “Bay” as risk sharing instead of its true meaning, sale.

Considering that most of them are excellent orators and have a stronger command of English than most qualified Shariah scholars, many people are easily persuaded and influenced by what they say. I believe that even if we call ourselves an Islamic economist, Islamic accountant, Islamic banker, Islamic journalist or whatever with an Islamic prefix, we are still just an economist, accountant, banker, journalist and so on.

We are not Shariah experts.

We have to accept that we cannot be a Shariah expert by simply learning about Shariah as a single subject or module in our higher education programmes.

Being a Shariah expert or A scholar certainly requires a different kind of training.

I have never referred to myself as a Shariah expert nor have I ever allowed people to think that I am one. I have my opinions. My opinions may be legitimate under Shariah and I can appear to come out very strong on it but I have never and would never impose them on others as an authority of Shariah.

Of course to be fair, most people in the industry are just like me, someone who knows Shariah from self-learning and on-the-job training and rely on real qualified Shariah scholars to guide us on Shariah matters in the industry.

However, there are some that truly takes the cake and present themselves as a Shariah scholar to the extent of instating themselves as members of the Shariah scholars’ fraternity although they have no qualification to be one.

The reality of Islamic finance is that Shariah is simple but it is the people, particularly the Shariah scholar wannabes, that make it difficult.

[Badlisyah Abdul Ghani is CIMB Islamic Bank Bhd executive director and chief executive officer]


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