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Islamic Banking

Evolution | Rationale | Anatomy | Literature: Theory 
 Literature: Practice | Conclusion | Glossary  
Appendix: Islamic Financial Institutions
| References


The first modern experiment with Islamic banking was undertaken in Egypt under cover, without projecting an Islamic image, for fear of being seen as a manifestation of Islamic fundamentalism which was anathema to the political regime. The pioneering effort, led by Ahmad El Najjar, took the form of a savings bank based on profit-sharing in the Egyptian town of Mit Ghamr in 1963. This experiment lasted until 1967 (Ready 198l), by which time there were nine such banks in the country. These banks, which neither charged nor paid interest, invested mostly by engaging in trade and industry, directly or in partnership with others, and shared the profits with their depositors (Siddiqi 1988). Thus, they functioned essentially as saving investment institutions rather than as commercial banks. The Nasir Social Bank, established in Egypt in 197l, was declared an interest-free commercial bank, although its charter made no reference to Islam or Shariah (Islamic law).

The IDB was established in 1974 by the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), but it was primarily an intergovernmental bank aimed at providing funds for development projects in member countries. The IDB provides fee based financial services and profit-sharing financial assistance to member countries. The IDB operations are free of interest and are explicitly based on Shariah principles.

In the seventies, changes took place in the political climate of many Muslim countries so that there was no longer any strong need to establish Islamic financial institutions under cover. A number of Islamic banks, both in letter and spirit, came into existence in the Middle East, e.g., the Dubai Islamic Bank (1975), the Faisal Islamic Bank of Sudan (1977), the Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt (1977), and the Bahrain Islamic Bank (1979), to mention a few.

The Asia-Pacific region was not oblivious to the winds of change. The Philippine Amanah Bank (PAB) was established in 1973 by Presidential Decree as a specialized banking institution without reference to its Islamic character in the bank's charter. The establishment of the PAB was a response by the

Philippines Government to the Muslim rebellion in the south, designed to serve the special banking needs of the Muslim community. However, the primary task of the PAB was to assist rehabilitation and reconstruction in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan in the south (Mastura 1988). The PAB has eight branches located in the major cities of the southern Muslim provinces, including one in Makati (Metro Manila), in addition to the head office located at Zamboanga City in Mindanao. The PAB, however, is not strictly an Islamic bank, since interest-based operations continue to coexist with the Islamic modes of financing. It is indeed fascinating to observe that the PAB operates two 'windows' for deposit transactions, i.e., conventional and Islamic. Nevertheless, efforts are underway to convert the PAB into a full-fledged Islamic bank (Mastura 1988).

Islamic banking made its debut in Malaysia in 1983, but not without antecedents. The first Islamic financial institution in Malaysia was the Muslim Pilgrims Savings Corporation set up in 1963 to help people save for performing hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina). In 1969, this body evolved into the Pilgrims Management and Fund Board or the Tabung Haji as it is now popularly known. The Tabung Haji has been acting as a finance company that invests the savings of would-be pilgrims in accordance with Shariah, but its role is rather limited, as it is a non-bank financial institution. The success of the Tabung Haji, however, provided the main impetus for establishing Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad (BIMB) which represents a full fledged Islamic commercial bank in Malaysia. The Tabung Haji also con tributed l2.5 per cent of BIMB's initial capital of M$80 million. BIMB has a complement of fourteen branches in several parts of the country. Plans are afoot to open six new branches a year so that by 1990 the branch network of BIMB will total thirty-three (Man 1988).

Reference should also be made to some Islamic financial institutions established in countries where Muslims are a minority. There was a proliferation of interest-free savings and loan societies in India during the seventies (Siddiqi 1988). The Islamic Banking System (now called Islamic Finance House), established in Luxembourg in 1978, represents the first attempt at Islamic banking in the Western world. There is also an Islamic Bank International of Denmark, in Copenhagen, and the Islamic Investment Company has been set up in Melbourne, Australia.

Courtesy of Mohamed Ariff, University of Malaya

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