There are many Islamic finance glossaries available on the internet. I have create another due to some specific objectives about spelling and to give more detailed explanations than the typical glossary. The glossary will grow slowly as I add words to it. If there is a word you would like me to include, please let me know.
A reader asked me whether the UK's bank levy might discriminate against Islamic banks. The drafter of the UK's bank levy legislation wrote it to ensure that Islamic banks were included. The reader's question led me to address the accounting for profit sharing investment accounts. My view is that, as operated in practice, profit sharing investment accounts are clearly liabilities for accounting purposes.
This is the UK's first retail Islamic bank. I summarised all of its published accounts. They show steady losses year by year, until the bank was taken over and recapitalised after which it has made reasonable profits. It was previously just too small to be viable.
People underestimate how much you can learn about a company just by reading its published accounts. I downloaded and summarised the accounts of Bank of London and the Middle East plc. They show a pattern of small losses in good years, interspersed with very big losses in bad years. I consider this shows how hard it is to make money in Islamic finance in the UK.
The Government's promised Shariah compliant student finance is long delayed, but I expect it to be launched eventually. A reader asked whether the private sector could instead offer a pure equity based scheme that would be more desirable from a Shariah perspective. In my view "adverse selection" would cause the private sector financiers excessive losses.
It is nearly two decades since the UK started modifying its tax law so that Islamic finance transactions should not be taxed more heavily than conventional finance transactions. However a "level playing field" has not yet been achieved. One key reason change is so slow is because the tax system is extremely complex. Accordingly, every change risks creating fresh anomalies.
Nine years after its founding, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values has very few member institutions. Islamic banks put much more emphasis on their ethical nature than do most conventional banks. Islamic banks do not charge interest. However does that automatically make them ethical?
For many years I have been unhappy with the name (in English) many Islamic finance practitioners give to the payment made by a customer under a takaful (Islamic insurance) contract. It is often described as a "donation" when it is nothing of the sort. Such terminology risks misleading people who are new to Islamic finance regarding the true economics of the transaction. My September 2018 Islamic Finance News column suggested more accurate names for the payment.
My June 2018 Islamic Finance News column looked at the relative performance of the conventional and Shariah compliant versions of the FTSE All World Index from 2008-2017. A reader responded by saying that the MSCI World Index showed the opposite result. I have taken a detailed look at the figures which not change my fundamental point. A conventional equity investor should perform better than a Shariah compliant investor, simply because the conventional investor can pick from the entire universe of shares, while the Shariah compliant investor cannot.
Islamic banks do not make loans, but provide finance in other ways. UK tax law gives the finance costs paid by Islamic banks' customers the same tax treatment as it gives interest expense. That is normally helpful, but not always. For example, it means that the rent paid in a diminishing musharaka transaction to finance "buy to let" property will receive only basic rate income tax relief.
Writers and speakers about Islamic finance often contend that not only is it more moral, it also produces better financial results. During the global financial crisis, they regularly pointed to the superior performance of Shariah share indices. However, the evidence shows that in general Shariah compliant share indices perform worse than their conventional counterparts. That is what logic would predict.
The UK is slowly amending its tax laws to facilitate Islamic finance. However the tax treatment of Shariah compliant real estate refinancing is a particular problem. Conventional refinancing of appreciated real estate involves no tax costs. Meanwhile, Shariah compliant refinancing causes the accrued capital gain to become taxable.
Conventional banks securitise mortgages to free up their regulatory capital. Investors in conventional mortgage backed securities receive a pre-specified return provided that the mortgages do not default beyond a safety margin built into the terms of the securities. Al Rayan Bank similarly issued sukuk in order to free up its regulatory capital. The sukuk investors will receive a return equal to LIBOR + 0.8% provided the mortgages do not default beyond the safety margin. From an economic perspective, there is no difference between conventional mortgage backed securities and this sukuk.
Traditional Islamic law (fiqh) includes a detailed partnership law, covering several types of partnerships. However it never developed the concept of a corporation. Today many Islamic scholars attempt to analyse corporations using only the partnership categories in traditional Islamic law. This is a serious mistake, and holds back the development of Islamic law, and in my view holds back Muslim majority societies more generally.
This page discusses a "total return swap" structure which has been signed off as Shariah compliant. The structure would allow Muslims to achieve the same economic returns as investing in any identified asset. For example, a Muslim could achieve the economic results of investing in brewery shares, while remaining Shariah compliant. The structure risks violating any purposive intent of Islamic finance. That may account for the nickname of the underlying religious opinion as "The Doomsday Fatwa."
A key requirement for a successful economy is reliable, relatively inexpensive, and rapid, enforcement of commercial contracts. Sadly the courts of many countries cannot be relied upon when it comes to enforcing contracts, particularly when foreigners are seeking to enforce contracts against local country residents. The case of Dana Gas and its sukuk default illustrates this very well.
Islamic banks fulfil the same economic functions as do conventional banks. Furthermore, the services they provide to their customers, whether "depositors" of money or "borrowers" of money, are essentially the same. Accordingly it should be no surprise that both types of bank derive competitive strength from the same leverage attributes.
About 25 years ago, Price Waterhouse's (now PricewaterhouseCoopers or PwC) global strategy was heavily focused on the distinction between "foundation attributes" and "leverage attributes". A foundation attribute is one you must have to play in the game; a leverage attribute is something that gives you competitive advantage. Because Shariah compliance is essential for all Islamic banks, it does not distinguish one Islamic bank from another. Hence it is a foundation attribute.
Islamic finance has basically the same economics as conventional finance. This naturally leads to the question of whether Islamic finance makes any difference to the world. I see its key benefit as bringing people into the financial system who would not use conventional finance for religious reasons. Islamic finance should also discourage borrowing to accelerate consumption.
My correspondence with a journalist on the apparent choice between AAOIFI and IFRS accounting standards. In most cases, financial institutions cannot choose which standards to use; their regulator prescribes the accounting standards to apply. Quite separately, users of accounts need to remember that AAOIFI and IFRS standards have different goals. The page also includes my subsequent Islamic Finance News article, and links to some other resources on my website.
Islamic banks are banks which operate in accordance with rules set by Shariah scholars. As both conventional and Islamic banks fulfil the same economic functions, they face similar transfer pricing issues. I gave some technical responses to a researcher and based this page on them. The page starts with a basic explanation of what transfer pricing is.
Islamic finance arrangements need to be Shariah compliant throughout their life. Unfortunately some borrowers initially accept their arrangements are Shariah compliant, but assert non-compliance when repayment is due. Several such cases have resulted in litigation. Late assertions of Shariah non-compliance create extra risk in Islamic finance, thereby making it more expensive. They also damage Islamic finance's reputation. Contractual uncertainty in Islamic finance must be minimised.
"Fintech" looks like disrupting conventional finance. A reader asked why this is not happening in Islamic finance. One reason is the much smaller size of Islamic finance. Conventional finance offers much bigger rewards to successful innovators. I believe another important reason is religious conservatism in Islamic finance, with innovative concepts having to be justified within narrow historical modes of legal analysis.
Banking regulations require banks to maintain large amounts of high quality, preferably risk free, assets which can be accessed almost immediately. Conventional banks maintain deposits with the central bank, which in the UK is the Bank of England. Islamic banks cannot do so, as such deposits are not Shariah compliant. The Bank of England is consulting about it offering a Shariah compliant deposit facility, and in my view it is nearly there.
Discussions have been held with the Government since 2011 regarding the possible introduction of Shariah compliant student finance. Progress has been made steadily over the years, albeit very slowly. The Government now has the statutory power to offer such finance. However the Government has not set any deadline for the introduction of the scheme. I remain hopeful that it will happen by September 2018.
In the UK Islamic mortgages are more expensive than conventional mortgages. There are good reasons for this discrepancy. Islamic banks lack the economies of scale achieved by conventional banks. Islamic mortgages also involve more, and more complex, legal transactions. As Islamic finance grows, the difference should narrow.
Most people have too little life insurance. This applies even more strongly in the case of Muslims. Some Muslims have religious concerns about life insurance. However there is an Islamic finance version approved by Shariah scholars, known as life takaful. While life takaful is now widely available in Malaysia and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, I am not aware of it being available in the UK.
People prefer money now to money later. This is known as the time value of money. Some early writers on Islamic finance appeared to believe that it required there be no time value of money. More recent academic writers generally recognise the time value of money, but then struggle to distinguish its application in Islamic finance from that in conventional finance.
I have added "murabaha" to my "Glossary of Islamic finance terms." A murabaha transaction enables a bank to finance the purchase of an asset by a customer without making an interest bearing loan. This page explains how it works.
Islamic financial institutions are required to comply with Shariah rules. Shariah governance presently rests with the institution's Shariah Supervisory Board (SSB), which is normally appointed by the directors. There are concerns about whether the SSB is sufficiently independent or has sufficient auditing skills to give an opinion on whether the institution has complied with Shariah. Accordingly there are calls for the introduction of external Shariah audit (ESA). However, those calling for ESA have not yet addressed the implications of ESA for the SSB.
Does Islamic banking meet different needs from those met by conventional banking? Not in my view. However Islamic economists envisage Islamic finance as part of a completely different economic system. Underlying Islamic economics is "Homo Islamicus" who behaves quite differently from the classical "Homo economicus." In contradiction, I do not see the economic behaviour of real Muslims as being materially different from that of real non-Muslims.
I received an interesting enquiry from a PhD student in Germany. He expected Islamic banks to primarily use profit participating contracts. He found that, in practice, fixed return contracts overwhelmingly predominate in Islamic banking. I already knew this and explained to him that fixed return contracts are used for commercial reasons. Profit participating contracts are actually very unattractive to Islamic banks, and also to their customers.
International business almost always gives rise to foreign exchange risk. Derivative contracts assist conventional companies to manage foreign exchange risk, but are not considered Shariah compliant. A Shariah compliant foreign exchange forward contract has now been developed. There is standard documentation which should make the contract easy to use.
Many people today are apathetic. Some people are apathetic because they wrongly believe the world cannot be changed. Others wrongly believe the world can be changed easily and quickly, and give up when success is not immediate. Both wrong perceptions lead to apathy. The antidote to apathy is belief in the possibility of change combined with realism about how long it will take and how hard it will be. My experience in dealing with the UK Government on Shariah compliant student finance illustrates this quite well. I started meeting the government in 2011, and others had been involved even before that. The Prime Minister promised in October 2013 that change would happen, but I do not expect it before September 2017 at the earliest.
My article originally published in the magazine "Tax Notes International" points out that VAT systems developed in an environment of conventional finance. Particularly where one of the parties is not in business, or is carrying on an exempt or partially exempt business, Islamic finance risks incurring higher VAT costs than conventional finance. The approaches taken by four countries, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia and the UK have some aspects in common, while other parts of their approaches differ. The article also makes some general policy recommendations.
The two main reasons for studying a subject at university are its intrinsic interest and its value for a career. The relative weights given to these two criteria vary from person to person. Growing numbers of UK universities are offering masters' degrees in Islamic finance. However, if UK students are taking them for career enhancement, mis-selling may be taking place.
A growing number of people are in defined contribution pension schemes. Many Muslims in such schemes want Shariah compliant pension arrangements. There is adequate Shariah compliant provision for the investment phase of pension schemes, but not for the retirement phase. In particular Shariah compliant annuities are needed to satisfy retirees' financial requirements. Developing a market for Shariah compliant annuities will also help sukuk issuers to access longer term funds than they can at present.
Conventional banks can hold liquidity deposits with the Bank of England. The Bank of England also lends money to conventional banks when required. However Islamic banks are not able to use these facilities as they are not considered Shariah compliant which makes their treasury management much more difficult. The Bank of England is currently consulting on how it might offer Shariah compliant central bank facilities. I have responded to the consultation, which closes on 29 April 2016.
Religious and empirical questions are answered by different methods. Accordingly confusing them is a serious mistake. Whether God says that money should only be gold or silver is a religious question. Whether the economy would function better by replacing fiat money with gold or silver is an empirical question. The empirical answer is clear. All advanced economies use fiat money because they run better than they did with gold as money.
My article for "IFN Education." Islamic finance tax advisors need to be tax experts, but they also need to know about relevant other areas such as Shariah, accounting, company law and treasury management. In addition, good client service also requires strong soft skills such as listening and communicating clearly.
I regularly receive requests for advice, especially about careers. This recent enquiry was from a schoolboy who was under the impression that Islam prohibited Muslims from being actuaries. In response I gave him examples of actuarial practice within Islamic finance. More generally, I stressed the essential requirement to take one's own decisions on religious matters.
Wealth management is important to individuals and to the financial services industry. For all transactions the tax implications must be considered. However, tax is always country specific. Accordingly this article explains some of the generic tax issues that need consideration, and then goes on to outline how UK law deals with the transactions discussed as a guide to those who need to research similar transactions in other countries.
Islamic finance presents challenges for VAT systems because it requires more transactions than the conventional finance assumed by most tax systems. Consequently it can cause extra VAT costs to arise. Malaysia and South Africa have introduced specific VAT rules for Islamic finance while the UK relies upon general VAT law, which can lead to difficulties in certain situations.
Commodity futures markets can look irrational and chaotic, while commodity speculators are often criticised for "speculating." I explain why commodity futures markets exist, and how they assist commodity producers and commodity consumers who need to make long term plans to protect themselves from unexpected price changes. Such futures markets would not work without the liquidity provided by speculators.
International Islamic finance is normally conducted in English. However precision and brevity often require the use of vocabulary derived from Arabic. Such imported words become part of the English language and are no longer foreign words. Accordingly they should not have transliteration signs or use Arabic grammatical formulations.
Although I have been writing technical articles for 18 years, I have just become a columnist for the first time with a monthly column in the magazine "Islamic Finance News." I devoted my first column to explaining how I got involved with Islamic finance, and why I am passionate about it.
In 2014 all but one of the UK's Islamic banks made a profit. However return on equity is still unacceptably low for all of them. Their accounts show very different strategies and it is wrong to talk of the UK's Islamic banks as if they were a homogeneous category.
An article written for the Journal of International Taxation. It was based on the report"Cross border taxation of Islamic finance in the MENA region Phase One" which I wrote as part of a research project supported by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority. The intended audience was MNC tax directors not knowledgeable about Islamic finance. My website page has the full text submitted to the magazine, which was abridged somewhat for publication due to space constraints.
During 2014 the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) finally started to give some serious attention to Islamic finance accounting. It is also a good development that the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) is now providing input to the IASB on accounting. While accounting is global, tax developments are always country specific. The trend continues of countries continuing to modify their tax rules to facilitate Islamic finance.
Government action can increase or reduce the country's international competitiveness. In practice this happens with the cumulative effect of many small decisions. The UK Government's encouragement of Islamic finance illustrates this point very well.
Outside Muslim majority countries, the UK has been the leading pioneer of Islamic finance. However, after some major announcements in 2006 and 2007, the UK seemed to lose interest. The UK government has recently taken Islamic finance much more seriously. This culminated in the UK issuing the first sovereign sukuk outside Muslim majority countries.
The rules for taxing international business developed in an era when communications were slow and difficult. However electronic communication and fast international travel make them outmoded. Consequently Governments are losing tax revenue as businesses sell via the internet from low tax jurisdictions for example. There is a risk that the likely policy responses could impact upon Islamic finance unless great care is taken with tax law drafting.
The UK has a generous government provided student loan scheme. However some Muslim students do not use it for religious reasons. In October 2014 the Prime Minister committed to providing a Shariah compliant student finance scheme. The Government is now consulting on a proposed design. The consultation closes on 12 June 2014.
In this interview on sukuk taxation I explain that no country taxes purely on legal form or purely on economic substance. I also discuss whether there is a role for tax incentives, and point out that in practice the benefits of incentives get shared between issuers and investors.
This 33 minute lecture explains the main indirect taxes: transfer taxes, sales taxes and value added taxes (VAT) from first principles. I then discuss how VAT should apply to financial services generally, before considering why VAT presents particular problems for Islamic finance transactions. I also suggest some possible ways forward.
This 27 minute lecture explains the methodology and findings of a major study on the taxation of Islamic finance in the Middle East and North Africa. As well as summarising what we found, I give recommendations for how MENA region countries should modify their direct tax systems to facilitate Islamic finance.
My seven minute speech outlines the roles of the Board of Directors, the internal Shariah Department, the Shariah Supervisory Board and the external auditors. I explain the role I see for the external auditors in auditing Shariah compliance, and who I believe should report to stakeholders.
The clouds of the global financial crisis are lifting. However the UK's Islamic banks are still unprofitable and the best performer had 2012 ROE of only 2%. The announcement of a UK sukuk was the highlight of 2013 for the industry.
This is a 26 minute video of my lecture for the Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance, comparing the accounts of Bank of London and the Middle East plc and Islamic Bank of Britain plc. It explains the business of banking, and shows how much can be learned by reading published accounts.
My chapter in a report published by Simply Sharia to coincide with the World Islamic Economic Forum being held in London. I explain that there is only a limited need for Islamic finance specialists in the UK. In practice experience for these careers generally needs to be acquired in the conventional finance industry.
The UK has been thinking about issuing a sukuk since 2007. However it has kept putting it off as not being value for money. Accordingly David Cameron pleasantly surprised many people when he announced at the World Islamic Economic Forum that he wanted the UK to go ahead with an issue. I wrote an article the same day welcoming the announcement and answering some questions from 2008 about the implications.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced at the London World Islamic Economic Forum that he wanted the UK to issue a sovereign sukuk. This has led many to ask what a sukuk is. I have written a simple explanation.
My contribution to the Islamic Finance News global "2013 Guide". In my view UK Islamic finance has struggled since the global financial crisis. The UK Islamic banks were unprofitable in 2011. Figures for 2012 were awaited when I wrote. One key challenge is that the UK retail Islamic finance market is small. If conditions improve, 2013 may see new entrants to the industry.
I am the principal author of this report published by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority and the International Tax and Investment Center. It looks at the taxation of four common Islamic finance structures: commodity murabaha, sukuk, salaam and istisna in eight MENA region countries: Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and also in the Qatar Financial Centre. The report recommends how these countries should adapt their tax systems to facilitate Islamic finance.
My response to this generic question is that each country market is distinct, and thinking about western markets as a whole will lead to bad strategic decisions. Each Islamic financial institution needs to decide what markets it can enter profitably and focus on its core strengths.
The IILM was set up by several central banks from Muslim majority countries. Its aim is to issue high quality Shariah compliant instruments suitable for Islamic banks to hold for their treasury operations. To date, it has not yet issued any such instruments. I pose some questions that must be answered before such instruments are issued.
People use terms such as "asset backed" and "asset based" with sukuk without being clear what they mean. After defining the terms, I point out that investors in asset based sukuk have much less protection in the event of default by the sponsor. The credit ratings agencies have been saying the same thing for many years, but few people paid attention until the financial crisis hit some of the Gulf states.
Islamic finance practitioners often question whether IFRS or AAOIFI accounting standards should be used. In practice, local law rarely allows a choice. While IFRS accounting often deviates from the transaction's legal form, so does AAOIFI accounting at times. IFRS accounting can make it harder to assess whether the company's transactions are Shariah compliant.
The magazine Islamic Finance News asked: "Should the Islamic finance industry be responsible for funding the global Halal sector? And if so, how should this be facilitated?" This question appears to assume that Islamic banks exist to fulfil a social purpose. In my view, they do not; their sole purpose is to make a profit for their shareholders.
Many young UK Muslims obtain Islamic finance qualifications and want a career in Islamic finance. However the supply of UK Islamic finance jobs is very limited. Moreover, the Islamic finance industry needs specialist skills, which in most cases can only be acquired within conventional finance.
Like many developing countries, Malaysia has exchange controls. Whether foreign companies should be allowed to issue ringgit denominated sukuk in Malaysia is purely a foreign exchange management question, not an Islamic finance question.
Islamic banks face far more challenges than conventional banks. In particular, the main contracts used by Islamic banks for treasury liquidity management are sometimes frowned upon by Shariah scholars. Also there is a shortage of liquidity management instruments apart from the Shariah compliant inter-bank market.
Islamic finance is far less standardised than conventional finance, with little standard documentation. This increases transaction costs. The industry also needs more Shariah standards and would benefit from greater willingness to publish fatwas.
A review of GCC Islamic banks shows that AAOIFI's accounting standards are only followed in Bahrain and Qatar. I conclude that AAOIFI should cease issuing its own accounting standards and instead collaborate with the IASB.
This is my chapter of the book "Euromoney Encyclopedia of Islamic Finance" edited by Aly Korshid and published by Euromoney Books. My goal in writing it was to explain the different approaches to the taxation of Islamic finance taken by the UK and some Muslim majority countries.
This is my chapter of the book "Islamic Investment Banking: Emerging Trends, Developments and Opportunities" edited by Sohail Jaffer and published by Euromoney Books. My goal was to explain the factors that have made the UK the leading centre for international Islamic finance outside Muslim majority countries.
This is my chapter of the book "The Chancellor Guide to the Legal and Shari'a Aspects of Islamic Finance" edited by Humayon Dar. It explains why the UK would tax Islamic finance transactions more heavily than conventional finance, and discusses how UK law has been revised with the goal of parity of tax treatment.
Many people who are new to Islamic finance often ask about the difference between takaful and conventional insurance. I have tried to explain this with the simplest possible example; two people who each have a house that is at risk from fire.
I was asked to contribute an article on Islamic finance for the brochure being prepared by the Muslim Council of Britain's delegation to the World Islamic Economic Forum. As the audience at the WIEF would mostly come from Muslim majority countries, I decided to explain how the UK has been able to promote Islamic finance while maintaining a policy of religious neutrality.
The UK is globally recognised as the leading Western country for Islamic finance. However from time to time proponents of Islamic finance ask me why the UK does not allow Islamic banks to offer “true” profit and loss sharing investment accounts. This item is a long answer to that short question.
In one form or another, this question often crops up at conferences on Islamic finance. In my view, the answer depends upon the personal religious views of each Muslim, and I have therefore not sought to address it in any of my published writings on Islamic finance. However, the receipt by the Muslim Council of Britain of an open letter required me to address it when composing the response.
I visited Australia in July 2009. Australia is an important regional financial centre, and I believe it has significant competitive advantages if it chooses to compete regionally in international Islamic finance.
This short video of 2 minutes and 17 seconds addresses the question of whether we need accounting standards for Islamic finance which are distinct from the accounting standards applicable to conventional finance. The short answer is no. The video is not very "bubbly"; apart from the subject being accounting, the other reason is that I was speaking without any notes or advance preparation, so I was literally making it up as I went along! It can be watched on the website of the Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance.