Thursday, July 21, 2011

Islamic Banking (3)

Post 32  

While the last two posts presented you with two different Nigerian viewpoints on Islamic banking, today I begin to share with you some of my own perspective.  My material is laced with quotations from my book Christians and Muslims: Parameters for Living Together (Vol. 8-2 of my Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations, ch. 9.  Remember, you can access it free of charge from  < > by just typing  < jan h boer >).  Since it is both a rather complicated and important subject, I will be dealing with it in a number of posts, though I have not planned it well enough to predict how many.  

Wisdom of Islamic (and Canadian) Economies
That Chapter 9 begins with a quotation from Amr al-Faisal, a board member of a holding company that owns several Islamic banks and other financial institutions:

The ugly side ofWall Street is exposed; it’s always been there but
covered by a layer of glamour that is now stripped away. We are
more conservative and sober in our investments. That used to be
considered a handicap. Now it’s considered the height of wisdom (p. 313).

I know, quoting is a kind laziness, something that will get me nowhere, as the saying goes.  But I did want to share this quote from the midst of the recent economic tsunami—November, 2008.  If you did not know the origin of this quote, you might have surmised that the speaker was describing the Canadian situation at the time.  Canada, too, had been more conservative in its investment policies and was sometimes sneered at by its more adventurous cousins south of her border, but it came out of the tsunami with comparatively flying colours, more so than any other major Western economy.  It turned out that “adventurous” really was a mask for recklessness, a feature that Islamic banking allegedly avoids.  OK, so laziness will get me nowhere, but a bit of patriotism won’t hurt.  With those overwhelming and boastful neighbours to our south, our Canadian self-image needs such a lift occasionally.  So far the digression.  Phew! Got that off my chest!

Why the Call for Islamic Banking
Returning to Nigeria, why would her Muslims clamour for Islamic banking?  That call was heard from way before the recent tsunami and way before anyone had ever heard of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the scholarly chief of the Central Bank of Nigeria who is currently spearheading the drive for Islamic Banking.  For the latest here, I encourage you to check the internet under headings like “Nigeria: Islamic (or: Sharia) banking” and you will get an eyeful. 

A Nigerian Muslim scholar, Ibrahim Sulaiman, explains what initially prompted the call of Sharia banking:
Colonialists found a viable legal and economic system in place in what became Northern Nigeria. The British undermined the sharia legal system and largely replaced it with foreign British Common Law.  That is indeed what happened, but not only in the legal world. Sulaiman explains that the same process took place in economics. The British replaced the indigenous Muslim economic system with capitalism. Among the educated elite with their colonialized mentality, the Muslim approach to economics was slowly forgotten. He wrote, “If Nigeria does not know the nature of the Islamic economic system, then she has an obligation to learn it with a view to applying it. Ignorance of a system which still influences the lives of the majority of this nation’s people is an unspeakable national disgrace. Must anyone be surprised that Nigeria has sunk into an economic disaster?” Please turn to volume 4 of my series, appendix 6, where Sulaiman argues for Muslim corrections to Nigeria’s economic system. Among others, he proposed that Muslims must create a Muslim banking system (pp. 314-315).

Call for Decolonization
Having written that 8-volume series as well as a tome of a doctoral dissertation on colonialism in Nigeria and a couple of other books on related subjects (see the Boeriana page on my  < > ), I can vouch for the accuracy of Sulaiman’s explanation.  That’s exactly what happened.  And that’s a major reason I am sympathetic towards the Muslim call for Islamic banking, for the Nigerian experience is a common one where, over the decades and even centuries, capitalism in its colonial and subsequent editions suppressed Islamic economics and imposed its own Western system. Many Muslims now have woken up from their slumber and recognize the poison pill they had been dealt.  The call for sharia banking is at least partially a call for the continuing liberation of the Muslim world from colonial shackles. 

Need for Christian Support
Though Christians largely supported colonialism in the past, they have since come to recognize colonialism for what it really was and therefore now recognize it as an evil arrangement that should never have been and that they should never have supported to begin with.  Since Christians now sympathize with all attempts at undoing colonial situations, including those practiced by non-Western nations, they should also be more sympathetic towards the Islamic banking movement, since that is part of the de-colonization movement, of the liberation that Sulaiman is talking about.

Liberation, de-colonization, allowing a people their own culture are today recognized as issues with which Christians would naturally sympathize. They have become part of our “common sense” or “shared values” that few people will challenge today. That being the case, Islamic banking should get a more sympathetic ear from them. 

Of course, this is not the only issue.  Others will follow in succeeding posts.  Curious? Stay with me.

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