Should the financial coexistence be part of the Global Islamic Economic Summit? The interest and values of the summit include: to have meaningful dialogue, there needs to be an alignment of interest; to build bridges, there must be common shared values; to make it happen, there must be an initial conversation. Imagine the following scenario: There is a global finance conference on alternatives to conventional finance and investing in conservative Saudi Arabia or Pakistan , secular US or Australia or multi-ethnic Malaysia . There are seven speakers, and their respective presentations are from their areas of practice, including: Hindu banking; Christian indexes; Bhuddist asset management; Jewish hedge funds; Islamic finance; ethical investing; and Halal and Kosher. At one level, it's about financial inter-faith dialogue, which is a good beginning in tearing down walls of difference and building bridges of common shared values. Thus, people have more things in common than differences, but, unfortunately, even with the ubiquitous social media connectivity, very little dialogue. An interesting aspect of financing large projects is that it brings people/countries, which have differences, directly to the negotiating table or through back- door channels. For example, oil/gas pipelines, water rights, syndicate financing deals/projects, etc. COMMON TRUST The common starting point for the faithful is, 'In God, We Trust .' The out-right prohibitions are probably very few, as most areas, linked to the real economy, on financing, investing, and insuring are permissible amongst the faith- based movements. The common prohibitions may include: Compounding interest, which had (and still has) resulted in many jurisdictions having 'debtor's jail'. For example, Albert Einstein is rumoured to have said, "... the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest." It is assumed people borrow because there is a need, be it for consumption (buy house, car, hospitalisation, vacation, etc.) or production (building products, factories, roads, etc.), and to charge those (especially) in need (and pay a penalty) goes against human values/nature. But, do the faith-based financing recognise inflation and time value of money? Areas that may not benefit (or harm) man, society, country and the environment are stated in the holy books, interpreted by scholars and generally supported by modern day scientific studies. Thus, some areas may include weapons manufacturing (distinction between offensive and defensive?), alcohol (red wine benefit for heart versus liver problems and loss of 'control'?), pornography (defined by US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart saying, '... I know it, when see it'), gambling (some say the stock and futures market is organised gambling, pointing to 'f lash crashes' associated with hyper-trading computer programs), and so on. It appears the rules of engagement on prohibitions are similar amongst the faiths and secular, like ethical and atheist movements. Thus, the prohibitions act as 'uniters' amongst the various followers of the movements. But, is that enough to start the journey of convergence for understanding and appreciating each other? HINDU BANKING FOR INDIA If we take examples of countries that have been adamant in maintaining the separation between church/mosque/synagogue/ temple and state, and tweak the approach, what would be the outcome? For example, in Hindu- majority India , its regulators have been adamant against Islamic banking, notwithstanding a recent development on authorising a non- banking institution to undertake financing/investing Islamically. Frankly speaking, the approach has not been thought through by the cheerleaders of Islamic finance in India . In using the example of Islamic banks in other jurisdictions, like UK's Islamic Bank of Britain (with questionable performance), is interesting academically, but not persuasive. Furthermore, in going for 'highest hanging fruit,' a deposit- taking Islamic bank, it's a non starter for the whole movement. For example, an Islamic VC fund catering to start ups (in ICT) and SME funding, including Halal food companies would have shown regulators success stories and the anti-Shari'ah movement there is no link to financing extremism. Now, what if there was a grass-roots level movement for Hindu banking in India ? But, what is that? In 2008, Dow Jones Indexes launched the DJ Dharma Index, and its methodology was based upon Hindu, Jain and Bhuddist principles, as interpreted by the advising respective scholars. Unfortunately, the Index was decommissioned, but the principles are now known. Thus, if the proposed appeal for Hindu banking takes off, then Islamic banking should be considered. If it is not allowed, then the playing field is transparent and level, hence, expanding the non-banking financial inclusion approach. Furthermore, the faith-based approach may be extended to the food sector. For example, the Halal industry in India , which is much larger and has greater global reach than the Halal industry in rival Pakistan , is a 'lower hanging fruit' to aggressively promote than lobbying for a deposit-taking Islamic bank. CHRISTIAN BANKING G-20 countries like US, Australia , etc., are Christian majority countries, and faith is an important and integral part of their lives. Their faith-related work encompasses missionaries, charity, etc., and, recently, there has been increasing chatter about Christian investing - a possible prelude to Christian banking? For example, in 2010, The Stoxx Europe Christian Index was launched. The press release, said, "A committee, which Stoxx says includes representatives of the Vatican , screens shares, which are drawn from the Stoxx Europe 600 Index. It is comprised of 533 European companies that only derive revenues from sources approved "according to the values and principles of the Christian religion". BP , HSBC , NestlÉ, Vodafone , Royal Dutch Shell and GlaxoSmithKline are among the companies in the index. Only groups that do not make money from pornography, weapons, tobacco, birth control and gambling are allowed to be listed." Islamic banking is a globally recognised phenomenon amongst the faith-based movements, but is it time to raise the conversation bar on rebranding? Could the underlying principles and rules of engagement of Islamic banking, participatory finance, become part of universal banking. Finally, the number of institutions offering Christian, Catholic, Lutheran-based investing and the assets under management are small, but the more important point is that it's an emerging movement. Furthermore, the greed that sparked the financial crisis in 2008, and contributed to the Occupy Wall Street movement, has incidentally raised the profile for alternatives like 'faith-based investing.' HALAL/KOSHER In Surah 5:5 of the Quran, it states, "... The food of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] is lawful for you as your food is lawful for them. Thus, Kosher meats, consumed by Jews, are permissible if no Halal meat is available for Muslim consumption, because of similarity between both methods of slaughtering. The Muslim/Jews view that all meat must come from animals which have been slaughtered according to Koranic/Jewish law. These strict guidelines require the animal be killed by a single cut across the throat ... This ensures the animal dies instantly without unnecessary suffering. But, it isn't only about the rituals associated with the slaughter, it's about the humane treatment of the animals before the knife. The treatment of livestock is often not well understood by both Muslims and those who label the ritual slaughter as an animal rights violation. The well-known Islamic scholar and author, Tariq Ramadan , said, "However, the Prophet (PBUH) did not simply command us to respect the ritual and recite "Bismillah, Allahu Akbar!" ([I begin with] In the name of God, God is the greatest!) with which animals could be killed for food. He required animals to be treated in the best possible way and spared needless suffering. As a man had immobilised his beast and was sharpening his knife in front of it, the Prophet intervened to say: "Do you want to make it die twice? Why didn't you sharpen your knife [away from the animal's view] before immobilising it?" Prophet Muhammad had asked everyone to do their best to master their range of skills: For a man whose task was to slaughter animals, this clearly consisted of respecting the lives of the animals, their food, their dignity as living beings and sacrificing them only for his needs, while sparing them unnecessary suffering." It's well-known, though maybe not accepted, greed and love of money, and not money itself, is the root of all evil. But, money may also provide a compass for moral guidance. The monetary moral guidance is the common denominator of the faithful to have meaningful dialogue of mutual understanding over mistrust. Financial coexistence may lay the foundation for political coexistence. "There is a crisis of understanding that tears at the social fabric of societies around the world. Globalisation has outpaced understanding, creating divisions that plague societies with prejudice, misinformation, hate, and violence. The Coexist Foundation is a non-profit organisation creating understanding across divides. Since 2006, the Coexist Foundation has forged a range of inspiring initiatives to create understanding through education and innovation." Source: Coexist Website. Islamic banking is a globally recognised phenomenon amongst the faith-based movements, but is it time to raise the conversation bar on rebranding? ...do the faith-based financing recognise inflation and time value of money?
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