Islamic banking (sharia) is not the answer

If “cash is king,” then Middle East coffers are irresistibly enticing. During a recent tour of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt applauded the “growing role” of Arab banks in the U.S. economy. Treasury is seeking buyers for its newly acquired bailout assets because more than $1 trillion in cash is urgently needed to rescue the largest U.S. banks.

However, cash from the Arabian Gulf comes with a vital string attached: Islamic banking, erroneously viewed as an ancient practice. In fact, Islamic banking is a newly invented institution: “Neither classical nor medieval Islamic civilization featured banks in the modern sense, let alone ‘Islamic’ banks,” notes Timur Kuran, professor of economics and law at the University of Southern California. According to the Dinar Standard, “assets managed by Islamic banks are in excess of $700 billion – predominantly concentrated in the Middle East.”

Islamic banking took off in the 1970s, but was first concocted by Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna in the 1920s. The stated goal was to penetrate the Western finance system, corrupting it from within in hopes of creating a parallel system to re-establish a global Islamic empire governed by Islamic law (Shariah). Islamic rules of commerce (fiqh al-muamalat) forbid interest (riba) and investing in a prohibited (hara’am) enterprise. They also mandate tithes on wealth (zakat). However, the Koran fails to precisely define these concepts. Imams and ayatollahs differ, for example, on whether riba prohibits all interest or only usurious interest.

While the overhaul of American and Western banking regulations is urgent, Islamic banking cannot be the answer because Muslim clerics – not U.S. laws and regulators – make the rules. In 1969, the Saudis created the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which is now leading the charge for global expansion of Islamic banking and has established new regulatory, accounting and auditing organizations to govern such banks. Notably, the OIC’s charter is to “liberate Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa [mosque] from Zionist occupation.”

Read it all via Washington Times – EHRENFELD/ABADY: Islamic banking.

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