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Muslim Women and Islamic Finance

Eve's Corner

, by KASHIF HASAN KHAN

Islamic Fiqh Academy of India and Institute of Objective Studies in collaboration with Islamic Development Bank organised a two-day national workshop on “Teaching Islamic Economic and Finance in Madaris in India: Problems and Prospects” at Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi last week. Different scholars participated in deliberations and presented papers on the topic.

The Chief Guest Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqi, one of the towering figures of Islamic banking and finance, deliberated upon a few core issues. His most central argument was the role of women in the development of Islamic finance that invited my attention to see if Muslim women have any role at all as far as the Islamic finance is concerned. It is pertinent to argue that Islamic finance is not an unknown phenomenon and is reaching its zenith gradually, while it started from the West Asia and then proliferated in the rest of the world except a few countries like India.

According to some estimates, trade among the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) based in Jeddah is likely to reach $4 trillion in 2012. Industry is opened for everyone, be they bankers, researchers, scholars and businessmen, etc., irrespective of the gender.

Despite Islamic Finance being the fastest growing banking sector, only few women are holding and enjoying reputed ranks in the same. But Malaysia is different in that context; it is an example of how making money has nothing to do with gender in Islam. Two women are the financial regulators of the two most reputed institutions. Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, the Central Bank and Zarinah Anwar is the chairman of the Securities Commission of Malaysia, the securities regulator. But the Arab world is still lagging as far as the development of Muslim women in Islamic finance and other areas is concerned.

National Commercial Bank in Saudi Arabia has opened 46 women-only branches since it launched its first branch in 1980.  Malaysia’s Shari’ah Advisory Council has two female scholars on its 11-member board and Indonesia has 6 women on its panel of 35 experts. Twenty-two per cent of women in the Middle East are employed, compared with 54 per cent in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, according to November 2009 data from the ILO (International Labour Organisation).

Now it has become a topic of debate as to how many women are working in this sector. According to Mushtak Parker, the Islamic finance sector is a microcosm of society as a whole. Unfortunately, the role of women in the industry is reflected in this way. Further he says, “There are women (like men) of different faiths who have been involved in the development of Islamic finance over the years, and it would be a disservice not to acknowledge their contributions.” The role of Muslim women has been clearly defined and outlined in Islam.

In short, her primary role is not only upbringing of her children and being a dutiful wife but to carry out all the duties she takes up with devotion and enthusiasm without crossing the limits set by Almighty Allah. Islam has always fostered to egalitarian ethos and does not adhere to glass-ceiling against women.

Taking history into consideration, one can come to know that it was Khadija Bint Khuwalid, the first wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) who was engaged in business dealing with the Prophet and then the same dealing culminated in a reason of their marriage. The dealing was based on profit and loss sharing which is the basic principle of Islamic finance. Khadija never hesitated to take part in business and became a very rich woman of her time, more particularly in the time when sometimes new born girls were buried alive.

Both the Prophet and his wife Khadija were committed to help the poor and interested in running some projects like establishment of a hospital during the plague epidemics and involvement in Hilf al-fudul movement to stand for the rights of the unprivileged.

In Islam the independent economic position of women has been established since the very beginning. Of the great faiths, Islam has been foremost in assigning women a position of economic independence. In the midst of the darkness that engulfed the world, the divine revelation echoed in the wide desert of Arabia with a fresh, noble, and universal message to humanity. “O mankind, keep your duty to your lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate (of same kind) and from them twain has spread a multitude of men and women” (Qur’an 4: 1).

There have been an ample number of Muslim women with expertise at a considerable role. In fact, the role of Muslim women has always been encouraged by Muslim intellectuals.

Sheikh Halima Krausen, a noted Islamic scholar, who focuses on counselling and family matters, said the option of training in Islamic finance wasn’t available when she started her Islamic studies 50 years ago, but today women should take advantage of increased opportunities.

Going back to the Islamic history more carefully, we would come to know that there are many Muslim women whose contribution can be discussed at length. Some of them are Hind bint Uqba, Zaynab bint Abu Muawiya, Shifa, and Ijliya bint al Ijli al Asturlabi, etc.  Women are not bound to support their families. If you ask why, the most frequent answer is because they are physically delicate, and that men are supposed to look after their families. But if you look around yourselves, you may find a lot of women who are involved in different business activities.

Let me recall the role of Shifa who taught the Prophet’s wife Hafsa reading and writing and later on Caliph Umar employed her as market inspector, and Imam Abu Hanifa emphasised that there should be women judges in every society so that the women’s rights can be guaranteed. Therefore, Islam never goes against the role of Muslim women in society but encourages and motivates them.

At last, it is advisable to Muslim girls and women, who are interested in gearing up their career in different streams like business, jobs and academics, that they must divert their attention towards a newly established industry that is Islamic finance where they can have good prospects and also a way to get reward in the life hereafter.

[The writer is Doctoral Candidate of Islamic Banking and Finance at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi; he can be reached at Kashif_islamicfinance@yahoo.com]



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