Opinion: Giving credit where it is due

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Special to Gulf News

As a follow-up to the Unsung Stars of Islamic Finance article, which received interesting circulation, I wanted to acknowledge their efforts with the inaugural Islamic Finance Agitation Awards. The word agitation implies a stirring or commotion to balance the cheerleading, and it is used in this context.

The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is said to have stated: “… Say what is true, although it may be bitter and displeasing to people…” (Baihaqi).

We recognise those who may not have the popular opinions are not invited to speak at the Islamic finance conferences, nor receive the ‘best this or that’ award, but are the conscience of Islamic finance and are willing to air it as the needed constructive criticism to grow/develop the industry. Any industry composed of MAS (mutual admiration society) will fail as it does not get stress tested in the court of public opinion.

As with any awards, the interest in categories and nominees is as entertaining as the declared winners. .

The Agitation awards are more about behind the scenes hard work, and less photo-ops and usual sound-bites. So, using a survey/questionnaire format with some colour comments, we start by reviewing 2010, with my answers are at the end:

1. The Agitation Award nominees for academic/economist in Islamic finance:

A. Mahmoud Al Jamal (Chair, Dept of Economics Chair of Islamic Economics, Rice University)
B. Nasser Saidi (Chief Economist, DIFC)
C. Sayd Zubair Farouq (Academic)
D. Aly Khourshid (Scholar/Academic)

The bigger question is, when will an academic/economist, Muslim or non-Muslim, win a Nobel Peace Prize for work in Islamic Economics?

2. The Agitation Award nominees for journalist in Islamic Finance:

A. Mushtaq Parker (Arab News, Islamic Banker)
B. Khalil Anwar (Arab News)
C. Habhajan Singh (Malaysian Reserve)
D. Mahmoud Rafiq (Freelance journalist in Bahrain)

Again, same inquiry, when will a journalist, Muslim or non-Muslim, win a Pulitzer Prize for coverage/analysis for Islamic finance?

3. The Agitation award nominees for Islamic finance media:

A. Arab News
B. Zawya/DJN
D. Financial Times
F. Malaysian Reserve

Islamic finance has not yet arrived as a time-sensitive news item, as the main page of the business section of on-line/off-line (major) media do not have performance of Islamic Indexes next to S&P 500, MSCI World, DJIA, FTSE 100, Russell 2000 or Nasdaq.

4. The Agitation Award nominees for Islamic finance blogging:

A. Sharing Risk Dot Org (Blake Goud)
B. Islamic Finance Resources (Bernardo Vizcaino)
C. LinkedIn

Social networking is possibly the next big/focused information ‘distribution’ channel, as a brand building exercise, especially at the important (deposit taking) retail level. However, is the retail adequately ‘connected,’ via internet/mobile, in the Muslim countries, and is there trust/confidence?

5. The Agitation Award nominees for Halal industry:

A. Abdalhamid Evans (Halal industry expert/consultant, www.halalfocus.com)
B. Halal Development Corporation (industry organization in Malaysia)
C. KasehDia (industry organisation in Malaysia, www.halaljournal.com)
D. Al Islami Foods (globally recognised Halal food company based in Dubai)
E. Adnan Durrani (Chief Halal Officer of American Halal)
F. Brunei Halal (branding of Halal in Brunei)
G. All of above

At a macro-level, who is leading the Halal industry forward? It seems the Halal industry’s controversies, including stunning, certification bodies, ingredients, etc., have raised the profile of this industry, and not major developments like a (western) food company issuing a sukuk and using proceeds to build a factory for halal products. Furthermore, in Islamic finance we have industry bodies such as AAOIFI, IFSB, IIFM, etc., where is an industry body to lead the Halal Industry Body?

6. The Agitation Award nominees for Sharia Scholar/Board:

A. Investment Dar Sharia Supervisory Board
B. Dr Aly Kourshid (Scholar/Academic)
C. Dr Monzer Khaf (Scholar/Academic)
D. Shaikh Yousuf Talal DeLorenzo (Scholar/Translator)

Today, Sharia scholars are the most important stakeholders, yet they are seen by some as ‘rubber stamps’ by those who pay for their services. Investment Dar’s Sharia Board’s push back to management in using the ‘Sharia defence’ to escape responsibility was one of the important high-lights of 2010.

7. The Agitation Award nominees for Islamic finance hubs gone silent:

A. Hong Kong
B. Singapore
C. Paris
D. Dubai

Levelling the regulatory and taxpaying field is only a beginning, funds needs to be set aside for training, local personal/scholars, education/awareness, seed moneys for funds, etc.

8. The Agitation Award nominees for Islamic finance conference:

A. Kuala Lumpur Islamic Finance Forum (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
B. International Islamic Finance Forum (Dubai, UAE)
C. Euromoney Islamic Finance Summit (London, UK)
D. World Islamic Banking Conference (Bahrain)
E. None of above

Islamic finance conference organisers position themselves after the Davos events, but rarely do we see lively and animated debates.

9. The Agitation Award nominees for the anti-Sharia movement:

A. Robert Gaffney (Centre for Security Policy)
B. Pamela Geller (Stop Islamisation of America)
C. Geert Wilders (Dutch politician and leader of the Party for Freedom)
D. Robert Spencer (Jihad Watch)
E. All of Above

Whether one likes/approves their comments or not, they are entitled to express them, and such individuals should be invited by conference organisers in GCC/Malaysia, as keynotes, to present their evidences and afforded opportunity to answer questions.

10. The Islamic Finance Agitator of the Year:

A. Funds-at-Work: linking scholars to boards and universities
B. Mohammad Al Chaar: “We wanted to address the concerns [potential conflict of interest of scholars serving on multiple boards] in an unbiased manner. When the [AAOIFI] guideline is published it will be a bold move and it may cause a stir.”

Author’s answers:
1. A/B
2. A
3. Recuse Myself
4. A/B
5. G
6. A
7. A/E
8. E
9. E
10. B

Rushdi Siddiqui is Global Head of Islamic Finance at Thomson Reuters. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect that of his organisation or Gulf News.