December 29, 2006
A queer concept, really, the Islamic MBA, but the FT report on this from two weeks back makes for interesting reflexion on the emerging intersection of Islamist thinking - let's call it roots-Salafism (modernization oriented conservative piety as opposed to Wahhabite inflected nihilist messianic neo-Salafism of al-Qaeda) - and modern economic / socio-economic trends.
Some reflexion, then, below:
First, the arty, Oil wealth paves way for Islamic MBA could be a bit more reflective, but nevertheless. The basic proposition:
The need for MBA graduates armed with a knowledge of Islamic norms has become increasingly pressing. Bankers working to put together deals involving Islamic finance point towards a fundamental skill gap in finding professionals who combine the knowledge of Islamic shariah (jurisprudence) principles with knowledge of the marketplace.
That is undeniably true - I'd add that it is hard to find sophisticated people in the market place that truly buy into the Islamic Shariah propositions as set forth in the Salafi framework. E.g. in re interest.
Plenty of financially illiterate Muslims do, of course, fully buy into the smoke and mirrors of form over real substance, but operators? Not really.
However, that hardly means to me that creating an Islamic MBA is needed per se. I'd opt for honesty and just telling the customers right out the interest free loan is a fiction, legal ledgermain.
However, the political project wants there to be an Islamic equivalent to the "Western" finance model.
So far, the emergence of a Islamic banking and finance MBA has been more a dream than a reality. But if Hussain Hamid Hasan, a Dubai-based scholar of Islamic banking and finance, has his way, an MBA with Islamic finance at its core “should become reality much sooner than people expect”.
Mr Hasan, who has lived in Dubai for more than 25 years and has seen Islamic finance develop from an idea into a workable reality with mainstream interest, says banks and other institutions, such as Islamic insurance companies and Islamic equity funds, “all want to see it happen. There is enough demand for people to actively begin working on this”.
Without doubt the massive liquidity in the Gulf and their attachment to maintaining appearances certainly can drive the emergence of something calling itself "an Islamic Finance MBA" - not that I expect this to be much more than some window dressing.
Interesting turn of phrase, I may add, is used by the author in refering to the interest issue here:
Traditionally, Islamic finance has been widely thought to be against the use of interest-based transactions such as those provided by mainstream conventional banks. Rather, Islam seeks to promote the idea of partnership-type structures, where depositors provide money through a bank or other institution and borrowers use that money for investment purposes. Profit or loss from the investment is supposed to be shared between the provider and the borrower, with the bank charging a fee for managing the transaction.
I found that particular demarche interesting, since it somewhat indirectly admits that there is interest involved, only structured somewhat.
Other obvious prohibitions include investments in anything considered a vice under Islamic law, such as pork, investments in hotels where alcohol is served and outlets for gambling, as well as businesses involved with the trade of arms.
Moral business. Always the religious' harping.
For all my cynicism, however, a practical, business oriented training for the Salafi oriented Islamic Everything crowd could be useful as a vector correcting the decades of influence of Arab Socialism that has crept into Islamic discourse and tends to be a serious brake on the development of healthier popular attitudes towards free enterprise.
Of course, it could go down blind alleys, and the Timur Khan complaint of seeing Islamic economics as a sterile political stalking horse is a valid one. However, I don't see pure secularist arguments winning in most of the Islamic world since pseudo-secularism of the Socialist / Quasi-Left elites has effectively brought much discredit to "secular" government and general discourse.
Indeed having people able to talk Islamic law and who are reasonably literate in genuine economics - a presumption here - would probably be helpful, given this reality:
Scholars of shariah who serve on the boards of Islamic finance institutions play a key role in overseeing all big decisions, but many such scholars have no experience of the global marketplace.
In short, some financially and economically illiterate theologians trying to pronounce on matters they grasp, at best, only dimly in general.
further, building up cadres with modern management skills and an ability to rap with the short-thobed could be an excellent tool for transmitting modern business and economic liberalism:
Leading figures in the Islamic financial world are increasingly aware of the need to hire the best possible managers and some are calling for substantial increases in spending on training and development.
According to Khalid Abdulla-Janahi, chairman of the board of Faisal Finance Switzerland, the country’s first Islamic private bank, “the amount of money spent by Islamic finance institutions on people is very low. We need to increase that.”
An obvious question arises, can non-Muslims do such degrees?
This comment suggest yes:
“If a leading business school was able to provide a new MBA programme with specialisation in Islamic business, that should attract lots of students, especially Muslim students who want to work for an Islamic bank in the future.”
Especially, but not exclusively.
However, opinion is divided on whether such a programme would succeed in the Middle East, where some of the brightest business students choose instead to head to the US for an MBA, rather than enter local programmes.
Well, obviously most of those who can will go to the West for MBAs, false dilemma really.
To close out then with this quote from presumably an expat:
“If banks are able to hire shariah scholars to vet their investment decisions, why do they need MBAs to be knowledgeable about Islamic principles too?” asks the country head of a western bank based in the Middle East.
Well, of course it depends on what one means by "vet their investment decisions."
I suspect the sous-entendu is "rubber stamp" for the proper payment. Or effectively rubber-stamp after eliminating obvious violations of the required optics for being "Shariah [Salafi style] compliant."
I rather agree in the end with this:
But a senior executive at a Middle Eastern Islamic bank disagrees.
“Shariah scholars may have knowledge of religion but they don’t necessarily know the marketplace. As the demand grows for Islamic money and the scale of this business grows rapidly, MBAs who understand the conceptual basis may be far more successful than just plain MBAs.”
Except the "far more successful" part.
Posted by The Lounsbury at December 29, 2006 06:28 PM
Filed Under: Biz - Private in MENA
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Nice post, although your insistence on Islamic finance and business as a [Salafi style] emerging market is historically incorrect. The main proponents and founders of the whole idea of Islamic economics, finance, and business were the Jamat Islami and the Ikhwan, unless of course you include them in the Salafi discourse.
This would be difficult, because the Ikhwan and the Jamat islami were vehemently opposed the the western concept of interest as brought to the Muslim world by the west, while
"... Islamic Shariah propositions as set forth in the Salafi framework. E.g. in re interest."
Were in fact permitted by the likes of Abduh and others, who are obvious forerunners of many of the Salafi persuasion.
Lets not stretch the labels farther than they can go.
Your points on the Islamo-everything offsetting Arab socialism is right on point, basically the only way capitalism will move into the region in full force is as a wolf dressed in Muslim clothing.
"far more successful" in the article is pocket-wise ;)
Posted by: Hood at December 31, 2006 09:02 AM
Well, I did indeed include them. It gets tiresome parsing the fractions and tendancies.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at December 31, 2006 06:00 PM