Dropping ‘Islamic’ from Islamic Finance – good or bad idea?

Sadia Karim Islamic Finance Leave a Comment

Rebranding Islamic Finance - is it needed?

Every choice we make in our lives, whether at individual level or organizational level, has four scenarios:

1. Right choice for the right reason

2. Right choice for the wrong reason

3. Wrong choice for the right reason

4. Wrong choice for the wrong reason

The match or mismatch between desired goals and attained results depends on which quadrant it falls in the choice-reason matrix. If we choose the right thing for the right reason, the possibility of success and sustainability is the highest. If we choose right thing for the wrong reason, or wrong thing for the right reason, it may at first look as though going towards the desirable goals only to be found at sooner or later with disastrous consequences.

It is imperative therefore, to ask ourselves at a deeper level, WHY we are about to do WHAT we are thinking about doing. Our WHYs are more important for the results than our WHATs. Those WHYs should be convincing enough to justify the WHATs.

Let’s look at the WHAT here: Dropping of the word ‘Islamic’ from Islamic Finance.

WHY? – Because that will attract more customers, as the reasons given.

Why do we need more customers? Because it brings more money. Why we need more money? Because it will help Islamic Finance (or Ethical / Participation / Moral  Finance) to grow. Why we need it to grow? So that all humanity can benefit from Islamic Finance.

Fair enough. Now let’s see if it’s convincing enough.

I think there is no disagreement about the fact that everything comes in a package of pros and cons. A wise man choose the option that brings higher pros and less cons. However, the irony in this matter is, what may be pros to one, may not necessarily be pros to all. Similarly, what may be cons to one, may not be the cons to all. We are unique in our priorities, ideals, viewpoints or perspective. Some may see things with a blue lens, others with green, some others with white. The color of the lens has critical impact on how we define what we see.

Philosophical arguments aside, for this problem, we cannot ignore or deny the root of the concept of Islamic Finance. The worst thing that keeps repeating in the history of mankind is that we, human being forget the roots and keep moving further and further away from our root purposes.

In Islamic Finance, ‘Islam’ comes first, then ‘Finance’. If we try to alter the sequence, it will be Finance Islamic and no matter how hard we try, once we decide on Finance Islamic, we cannot make an argument that both are same, with same purposes and same results.

Now let’s look at this from a different dimension. If the ‘Islamic’ is dropped it will attract more customers. Who are those customers? Common sense says, customers who have issues with the name ‘Islamic’ and will be comfortable with the same if just the name is dropped. So if someone has issues with title rather than substance, that in itself is problematic in nature. Prejudice is something that is emotional; it is not any rational outcome or behavior. So why would Islamic Finance industry focus on addressing the emotional need of a group of customers that sounds prejudicial? Common sense says, because it will bring more money. So the goal here is money. The broader goal is off course growth of the industry, which is the end that is trying to justify the means.

What are the pros and cons here?

Pros: Money and growth.

Cons: With money comes influence and authority. If a group of customers who has issues with the name ‘Islamic’ and therefore are ‘uncomfortable’ in putting stake at Islamic Finance, are not attracted by Islamic legal principles or upholding the sincerity to God’s commandments which is the core of Islamic Finance. They are attracted by the financial rewards from Islamic Finance transactions and yes it entails good ethics so having stake at something which brings money and also ethical is a good mix. To that segment of customers, ‘pricing’, and ‘customer service’ are the key factors – as stated in news medias and press releases. So in order of priority, price and customer service will come first, ethics may find its place in the list, but fulfilling God’s commandments has no reason to be in the list which is the essence or the core reason for the existence of Islamic finance. So if the segment of customers feel a certain transaction or mode of transaction is needed for maximum benefit in term of financial reward, the industry will try to fit it into the realm of Islamic legal jurisprudence. The push will come not the other way around. Common sense says, slowly but surely this Finance Islamic phenomenon will drag the entire system nothing different than the conventional unless an equal push is there from the other side of the spectrum to balance it out. It is a hard battle. Why choose that battle instead of trying to convince the segment of customers that ‘Islam’ is a good thing and there is no need to be afraid of the word ‘Islam’? Why not going through that route? Why not make the ‘Brand Islam’ a lucrative phenomenon? Or are we too lazy to do that so choosing the easy way out ignoring the long term consequences?

A vast number of halal conscious customers would prefer ‘kosher’ meat if there is no ‘halal’ meat available in the market because they know kosher is the second best alternative. Many Muslims in the west used to send their children to Catholic schools in the absence of Islamic schools because Catholic schools were the second best alternatives to preserve some basic values as contrary to public schools. Having prejudice over the name and not choosing product because of the title is not so wise if the underlying values are the priority.

So why encourage that ‘not so wise’ emotion? Making money the goal has never served humanity, and no one likes to see things getting back to square one after much progress.


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