Islamic finance is a financial system that keeps within the moral and ethical principles of Islamic law (known as Sharia) and is therefore Sharia compliant.
Islamic financial principles have been around since the advent of Islam in the 7th century CE. However, the formal establishment of a fully-fledged system was introduced in the 1960s in Egypt, with Islamic finance entering the UK markets in the 1980s.
Whilst Islamic financial institutions are able to offer many similar products to those offered by other finance institutions, the main difference lies within the practices and principles that are used. Most banks offer lending and borrowing based on interest, whereas Islamic financial institutes are not lending institutes, instead they work as trading/investment houses.
Islamic law aims to promote social justice in the economy through a number of prohibitions and requirements. The main prohibitions in Islamic finance include a ban on interest, prohibiting investments in forbidden (haram) items/activities, prohibiting speculation (maisir) and uncertainty and risk (gharar). Islam requires all Muslims to pay a mandatory almsgiving (zakat) which is a compulsory donation to charity once an individual meets the minimum threshold for payment.
Islamic law prohibits interest (riba) as in Islam, money itself has no intrinsic value and instead is seen as a measure of value, and not valuable in itself. It is a medium of exchange or a unit of measurement, but not an asset. Each unit is equal in value to another unit in the same denomination and it is therefore not permissible for a profit to be made by exchanging these units (money) with another person/entity.
Instead of promoting transactions that favour one party over the other, Islam encourages partnership. This means that, where possible, both profit and risk are shared between the parties.
There are many forms of partnership agreements, including mudarabah which is a profit and loss sharing partnership offered by most Islamic financial institutions. This form of partnership is one where one partner provides all the capital (silent partner/financer) and the other partner (working partner) provides expertise and is responsible for the management and investment of the capital. The profits are then shared between the parties according to a pre-agreed ratio. The losses (if any) unless caused by negligence or breach of contract are borne by the financer/Islamic bank.
Islamic finance products and services are available to all and not just Muslims.
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