Islamic Finance: Fit for Purpose or Mere Replication?

Abstract

The form versus substance issue is not a new phenomenon in Islamic finance. Beyond question, one of the verses emphasising the superiority of substance over form is surah al-Baqarah: ‘Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but righteousness is one who believes in Allah, the last day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, the who ask for help, and freeing slaves…’(2:177) In the verse, it is stated that the true goodness and respect for Allah is not to turn its face towards east or west during the worship. Put differently, the Qur’an idealises an understanding wider than a mere formalism that is not based on the virtues of faith, religion, and morality. In this article, it is discussed whether the understanding of the substance over form, which is adopted in the sources of Islam, is fully implemented or not. In this article, first, prohibitions against riba (as a guiding principle of Islamic finance) in the Quran and its historical roots are examined to understand what the purpose of these restrictions is by looking at Islamic finance philosophy. Second, various contract types which have been used to circumvent the prohibition of riba through hilah and their historical origins are also be criticised. Lastly, some Islamic finance contracts, which are frequently used in Islamic finance, and which are similar to the contracts in conventional finance in terms of economic outcome, are examined. It is also evaluated to what extent the Islamic finance sector, which is structured in line with the classical view on riba, is unique. Also, the criticism of Islamic finance being same as conventional finance both economically and legally is examined. Islamic finance contributes to the expansion of financial inclusion and the growth of the financial industry. Islamic finance may enhance financial access by broadening the scope of available financial products and promoting the inclusion of individuals who lack access to financial services. Islamic banking has a strong emphasis on partnership-style financing, which may be helpful in enhancing access to capital for small businesses. It also contributes to enhancing financial stability due to its relatively uncorrelated financial products operating in line with the risk-sharing and avoidance of leverage principles. However, the Islamic finance industry needs to develop new innovative products to differentiate itself from conventional banking and accommodate the concerns of investors regarding the authenticity of the system

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