J.KAU: Islamic Econ., Vol. 19, No. 2, pp: 45-50 (2006 A.D./1427 A.H.)
Clement M. Henry and Rodney Wilson
Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2004, pp. 307.
Abdul Azim Islahi
Islamic Economics Research Center
King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
THE POLITICS OF ISLAMIC FINANCE is co-edited by Clement M. Henry,
Professor of Government, at the University of Texas at Austin, and Rodney Wilson,
Professor of Economics in the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the
University of Durham. Professor Henry, author of The Mediterranean Debt Crescent
(1996) and other works, which earned him fame in the circle of Islamic Banking and
Finance after publishing the special issue of Thunderbird Review of International
Business on Islamic Banking (1999). Professor Wilson is well-known to Islamic
economists due to his numerous works in this field.
The events of 11 September 2001 had very adverse consequences for Islamic
finance. Many credible financial institutions of Muslim countries were accused of
‘racketeering, wrongful death, negligence and conspiracy ’ in a lawsuit dismissed later.
But it had already inflicted damage to the fame and functioning of these institutions.
The growth rates of Islamic deposits diminished in the subsequent years. The American
officials, ignorant about Islamic finance, viewed any ‘Islamic’ bank with heightened
suspicion. It is this situation in which the present work has been prepared. Covering
political as well as economic constraints, and correcting misunderstanding about Islamic
banking and finance, this timely book helps readers learn to appreciate the various
political contexts in which Islamic finance operates in the Middle East and North Africa
(MENA). 46 Abdul Azim Islahi (Reviewer)
According to the editors, the focus of the book is ‘the politics conditioning and
sometimes enveloping’ Islamic financial institutions. The book is divided into two parts.
In addition to an introduction and conclusion by the editors, each part of the book has
six essays. In part one a set of thematic essays lays the groundwork for the country-
specific political analysis of part two of the book.
In part one, Monzer Kahf, in his paper “Islamic Banks: the Rise of a New Power
Alliance of Wealth and Shari`a Scholarship” discusses the history of the new political
alliance between private Muslim financiers and Shari’ah scholars. ‘The ulama were
generally preferred over more politicized Islamists because of the moral authority that
the former exercised over potential banking clienteles’ (p. 10). This alliance benefited
both parties in several ways. Kahf mentions a note of optimism about this pleasant
alliance: “After centuries of dormancy, the ulama have a new chance to play a crucial
role in the development of events in their countries, without being brushed aside by
political Islamic movements” (p. 32). Ibrahim Warde in his paper “Global Politics,
Islamic Finance and Islamic Politics Before and After 11 September 2001” points out
that ‘the international and particularly American authorities responsible for tracking
down terrorist money’ have occasionally missed the distinction and distance found
between ‘Islamic capital’ and ‘political Islam’ (pp. 10-11).
Tarik M. Yousef in his paper “The Murabaha Syndrome in Islamic Finance: Laws,
Institutions, and Politics” notes that Islamic banks work under a disadvantage as the
long-term financing with mudarbah or musharakah is far riskier and costlier than the
long term or medium-term lending of the conventional banks. That is why there is
divergence between the theory of equity-based finance and murabahah-dominated
practices of Islamic banks. He examines the murabahah syndrome in Islamic finance
through the prism of a systematic analysis of financial structures across the world. His
findings show that ‘Islamic banks, as niche providers of capital, do not operate much
differently from conventional banks’ (p. 75). It may be noted that the issue has been
discussed by many scholars at various forums. Kazem Sadr and Zamir Iqbal in a study
about the Iranian Agricultural Banks claim that this is due to the problem of
asymmetrical information (Kazem and Iqbal, 2002, p. 142).
Ellis Goldberg in his paper “Marketing Commodities Does not Happen on
Commodity Markets: The Egyptian Bursat Al-‘Uqud and Oil Futures Markets”, presents
an analysis of ‘past Egyptian experiences with cotton futures and current experiences of
oil-producing Muslim countries with their international markets’ (p. 11). According to
the author, ‘futures markets constitute important building blocks of the global financial
system. As a consequence, the creation of viable financial structures in the Islamic
world might be jeopardized if the content of Islamic law posed an impediment to their
existence’ (p. 81). He accepts that ‘existing research on Islamic law is fairly clear that
the futures markets as presently known are not consonant with Islamic law’ (p.83).
After stating the story of Cotton future market of Egypt functioning throughout the
twentieth century, the author concludes that since Islamic law emerges out of request for
judgment by interested parties rather than from the need to enunciate public policy, the
landowners never cared to seek a fatwa about the future market. ‘Clearly, for a
prolonged period, Egyptian Muslims engaged with the commodities markets felt the
primary role of the state was to regulate them rather than subordinate them to a legal Clement Henry and Rodney Wilson: The Politics of Islamic Finance 47
discourse’ (p. 93). Finally he addresses the question ‘whether the governments of oil-
producing countries should be engaged in the futures markets for petroleum’ (93). In the
light of Egypt’s experience, his conclusion is that ‘powerful economic interests can, if
necessary, override any legal obstacles to innovative financial engineering’ (p. 288).
Clement M. Henry in his paper “Financial Performance of Islamic versus
Conventional Banks” compares the financial performance of selected Islamic banks
with comparable conventional banks of structural adjustment and economic reform in
the countries where they operate (p. 11). His inquiry mainly focuses upon those
countries that display fair playing fields of competition between Islamic and
conventional banking. That is, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey. In the opinion
of the author, ‘ Islamic banks would seem to have better opportunities to compete and to
expand their shares of market in relatively open, liberal economies than in closed ones ’
(p.106). This means that the existing trend in the world order towards openness and
globalization would provide prospects of growth and expansion to Islamic banking and
finance. For example, ‘as a result of the liberalization of the Turkish economy, Islamic
business has become an important sector of the economy’ (p. 219).
The last paper in the analytic section is by Rodney Wilson. As the title of his paper
“Capital Flight through Islamic Managed Funds” indicates, Islamic banks generate
wealth locally but invest it overseas same way as their conventional counterpart. The
author terms it as ‘capital flight’. To him, ‘Islamic finance is by definition primarily of
concern to Muslims, its adoption might be expected to result in capital markets of
Islamic World’. Especially when ‘global capitalism is often viewed as exploitative from
a Muslim developing country perspective, with the gain from international financial
integration unfairly distributed’ (p.129). Surely it will be a great contribution of Islamic
banks if they could prevent capital flight to abroad by creating investment opportunity
in the home country.
In part two, Case Studies, three models have been selected:
1. Countries with close relations between ‘Islamic banks and Islamic political
movement’. This includes studies of Sudan and Kuwait.
2. Countries where ‘indirect connections and interactions between Islamic financial
institutions and Islamic political factions and parties’ exist, e.g. Jordan and
3. Countries where regimes ‘repress their political Islamists’, e.g., Tunisia and Egypt.
Thus the editors classify the relations between Islamic financial institutions and
Islamic political movements as integration, separation and uneasy coexistence (p. 12).
The integration between Islamists, as the editors would like to use the term, and
incumbent power has shown different results. Endre Stiansen in his case study titled
“Interest Politics: Islamic Finance in the Sudan, 1977-2001” finds ‘a pattern of mutual
destruction. While Kristin Smith’s paper “The Kuwait Finance House and the
Islamization of Public Life in Kuwait” finds ‘possible synergies between financiers and
48 Abdul Azim Islahi (Reviewer)
Mohammed Malley presents “Jordan: A Case Study of the Relationship between
Islamic Finance and Islamist Politics”. In his opinion, Islamic banks may prove to be
intermediaries between the government and Islamic activists. He sees a pivotal role for
the country’s two Islamic banks only if an environment of real political liberalization is
provided that seems to be unlikely in the near future.
Filiz Baskan studies “The Political Economy of Islamic Finance in Turkey: The
Role of Fethullah Gulen and Asya Finance”. But first he examines the role of Islam in
Turkish politics and tries to show that ‘Islamic opposition has never been considered as
legitimate by the state authorities’. ‘Parallel to the suppression of political Islam, the
Turkish state has repressed Islamic businesses, albeit not systematically ’ (p. 217).
According to the author, ‘the Islamic sects gained a significant place in the economic
field by using the facilities of a market oriented economic model, which was initiated in
January 1980 with the help of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’
(p.218). Islamic banks in Turkey are called Special Finance Houses because it is
constitutionally illegal to found banks named “Islamic”. These banks tended to
concentrate in the Turkish cities that have registered the most votes for the Islamists.
The author, in some details, examines the development of Asya Finance, which is
affiliated to Islamic Fethullah Gulen Community, as an example of Islamic banking.
Fethullah Gulen who believes in a sufi cult and known for his philanthropic and welfare
works getting support of moderate as well as secularists to counter the radical Islamists.
As compared to other special finance houses, performance of the Asya Finance is
continuously improving. An interesting feature of Asya Finance is that the proportion of
mudarabah financing reached to 41 percent, almost equal to murabahah financing. The
establishment of the Union of special finance houses in 2001, which provides
guarantees for depositors’ money in case of bankruptcy, has strengthened the position of
Islamic banking and finance in Turkey.
Robert P. Parks raises question “Ayyu Bank Islami? The Marginalization of
Tunisia’s BEST Bank”. The distinguishing feature of Tunisia is that there is ‘sharp
continuity between the colonial and post colonial era’. In Tunisia ‘the colonial order has
replicated the colonial policy of maintaining a concentrated banking sector, adding a
twist of state domination’. The author finds that when relations between the bank and
the political regime are good, BEST Bank’s coffers are full; when the relationship sours,
BEST loses deposits. Thus, the BEST or Beit Ettamwil Saoudi Tounsi (Bayt al-Tamwil
al-Saudi al-Tunisi) presents a case of ‘separation and coward capital’ (p. 242).
Samer Soliman’s use of the phrase “putting Islam to work in the economy” in the
very first sentence of his paper “The Rise and Decline of the Islamic Banking in Egypt”
betrays his bias against the experience of Islamic banking in Egypt. In the same vein he
is using phrases like ‘mother land of Islamic fundamentalism’, ‘economic Islam’
(p.265), ‘akin to voting against Allah’, ‘pious customers’ (277), ‘a band of thieves’
(281), etc. Those who classify Islam as ‘Islamist version’ or secularist version, ‘political
Islam’ or sufi Islam, etc., they cannot make justice with the true version of Islam
understood from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Based on mostly journalistic sources the paper
seems to be rather a propaganda piece of article than a serious research paper. It is the
“Prophetic version” as well as the Qur’anic requirement and not ‘the Islamist version of
Islam’ that ‘religion must apply to all aspects of material as well as spiritual life’. To the Clement Henry and Rodney Wilson: The Politics of Islamic Finance 49
author ‘spread of the veil’ is a ‘symbol of political Islam’ (p. 274). The paper makes a
big disclosure to all students of Islamic banking and finance when it declares that Mit
Ghamr, established in 1963, and later the Nasser Social Bank, established in 1970, were
not first Islamic banks or for that matter ‘Islamic’ at all, because they did not use the
word ‘Islamic’ nor did they announce that they were making an experiment of interest
free Islamic banking (p. 268), as if to him, word is more important than work. No doubt,
Najjar, the founder of Mit Ghamr Saving House, was inspired by the German model of
interest-free banking and he presented it also as a German experience but as himself
noted in his work Harkat al-Bunuk al-Islamiyah (1993, p. 32), “He started it in disguise
of a saving bank using the name of an European government so that his step might
succeed amid the interest based banks as it was a time when opposition to Islamic trend
was at the peak, without making explicit its Islamic nature, something which was
exposed anyway. It was a great success, and its success revealed its Islamic identity. We
had no other way. The result was that it was targeted with all might and its founder was
forced to leave the country to merge it with other interest-based banks to loose its
identity”. To conceal the Islamic identity of the bank even the zakah fund was named as
the ‘social service account’. If we see the background of al-Najjar, a nephew of
Muhammad Abdullah al-Arabi, one of the pioneers of Islamic economics and interest-
free banking (p.19) and his later age career, there seems no reason to belie him and to
attack on his intention. The author’s statement that ‘the bank was unsuccessful and was
liquidated in 1973’ (p. 268) is contradictory to the statement of Monzer Kahf, a senior
Islamic economist who says that it was closed and liquidated in1967 and that it was a
successful experiment (p.19). According to Kahf, “This may have brought pressure on
the government to fill the vacuum created when the houses were closed. Hence, in 1971
the government of Egypt created the first Islamic bank, Nasser Social Bank (NSB)”
(ibid.). But to Soliman, NSB can ‘hardly be regarded as an Islamic bank’ because it did
not use ‘Islamic reference and discourse’ (p. 268). A third revelation in this article is
that in Egypt Islamic banking was introduced by the conventional banks themselves and
under the very patronage of the Government (p. 271, 272, 283). At occasions the article
lacks proper documentation. For example: no reference has been provided in support of
his statements that ‘suspicion about the conventional banks has been in evidence since
the late nineteenth century’ (p.269), or ‘the religious supervisory boards accepted that
the fines were in conformity with Islamic law’ (p.277). As against his own finding (see
p.278), he declares that ‘Islamic banking is no longer rising in Egypt’, ‘the model has
lost much of its appeal’ and that ‘the practical application of economic Islam has
brought the concept down to earth’ (italic added) (p. 279). Indeed, there is much relief
in this assertion for those who are opposed to the abolition of interest and the
establishment of Islamic banking.
But this is a short-lived relief if one reads Soliman’s statement along with what the
two editors have said at the beginning of the book: “by narrow as well as broad
definitions, Islamic capital is growing” (p. 2). ‘The most significant guarantee of
Islamic finance’s future may be the large multinationals that have opened Islamic
windows for receiving deposits…..’ (p. 3). ‘Islamic finance, in short, is becoming
respectable in international business circles’ (p. 4). And what the editors have observed
in their concluding remarks: ‘The logic of Islamic finance remains intact’,
‘….investments in Islamic banks and in the Islamic instruments engineered by
international banks will probably continue to grow faster in most MENA countries than 50 Abdul Azim Islahi (Reviewer)
will conventional bank deposits’ (p. 287), and that along with the ‘relatively
underbanked countries, such as Algeria and Yemen’, ‘Syria and Iraq may also offer
fertile fields for Islamic finance when they eventually permit it, like most Arab states’
(p. 291). They have rightly observed that ‘it is surely in the Western world’s interest to
encourage a more benign sort of globalization whereby Islamic financial instruments are
integrated into international finance’ (p. 293).
The editors have tried to take full care of the transliteration system but still some
inconsistency is noted. For instance: Shaykh p. 92, Sheikh p. 24, Shaikh p. 24; Faisal p.
275, Faysal p. 275. Similar is case in proof reading. A few examples: mudarrib p. 3 (for
mudarib), Moncer p. 13 ( for Monzer), Taweed p. 132 (for Tawheed or Tawhid), bai al
dawn p. 148 (for bay` al-dayn), Bazagan p. 36n (for Bazargan), etc.
Since the book mainly addresses western man, at occasions certain terms needed
explanations. A glossary of the terms would have been more helpful. On p. 270 the
phrase ‘infita Laws’ is not clear. If it means “laws related to openness (infitah)”, then it
should be noted that it would be incorrect to drop the letter ‘h’ from the end as it is a
root letter of that word.
In the end we must admit that though the book is dealing with the ‘politics’ of
Islamic finance and perhaps therefore most of the contributors have been selected from
the Departments of Government and Political Sciences, it is also a valuable addition to
‘economics’ of Islamic finance specially to understand the Western perspective of the
Henry, Clement M. (1996) The Mediterranean Debt Crescent: Money and Power in Egypt,
Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, Gainesville, FL. University Press of Florida.
_______________ (edt.) (1999) Thunderbird Review of International Business: Special Issue on
Islamic Banking , July – October, vol. 41, nos. 4-5.
Al-Najjar, Ahmad (1993/1414) Harkat al-Bunuk al-Islamiyah Haqa’iq al-Asl wa Awham al-
Surah, Cairo: Sprint.
Sadr, Kazem and Iqbal, Zamir (2002) “Choice between Debt and Equity Contracts and
Asymmetrical Information: Some Empirical Evidence” in Munawar Iqbal and David T.
Lleyllyn (edts.), Islamic Banking and Finance, Cheltenham, UK, and Northampton MA,
USA, Edward Elgar, pp.139-154.
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