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Islamic banking will benefit Kenyans of all faith

By Mohamed Wehliye | Published Sat, June 10th 2017 at 00:00, Updated June 9th 2017 at 22:39 GMT +3

Bishop David Oginde’s opinion piece “Why expansion of Sharia laws remains perturbing” published in the Sunday Standard last weekend gave the impression that some proposed reforms in the Finance Bill 2017 portend danger simply because they touch on Islamic financial products. Bishop Oginde was clever in his approach but his message was loud and clear; Reforms to help promote Islamic financial products in this country should be viewed as a grand scheme of Islamisation, subtly disguised in a policy cassock.

Here is why his arguments do not hold water: First, the good Bishop’s opposition to the institutionalisation of these reforms seems to be on the basis that they are discriminatory and would marginalise non-Muslims. Bishop Oginde notes, “The concern therefore is that such a move may result in a situation where the Muslim community enjoys preferential exempt status by government in the raising of taxes to fund national obligations, while non-Muslims continue to shoulder the burden.”

This is laughable! How can such a statement be true when these products are available to every individual, irrespective of their religious leanings and will be traded by the Barclays, CBAs and KCBs of this world? This is not religious zamzam water being availed in mosques only. These are financial products available in the market for all Kenyans. How is it then that the non-Muslims will be subsidising the Muslims? Gai!

Second, who says non-interest based financial transactions are based purely on Islam? It is not Islam only that prohibits interest and usury. Christianity and Judaism also condemn it. The Bible condemns interest and usury and one would expect a bishop like Oginde to know this. In fact after the recent global financial crisis, Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Newspaper published an article extolling the merits and successes of Islamic banking and voiced its approval of Islamic finance.

It asked banks to look at the rules of Islamic finance to restore confidence amongst their clients at a time of global economic crisis. “The ethical principles on which Islamic finance is based may bring banks closer to their clients and to the true spirit which should mark every financial service” it wrote.

May be Bishop Oginde is more Christian than the Pope himself. Furthermore, would not a Christian bishop having issues with an ethical based financial arrangement not give the impression, albeit a subtle one, that the conventional interest-based financial institutions that many Kenyans detest today, are indeed Christian? Why would a bishop, of all people, have a problem with any system meant to ensure people are not exploited and taken advantage of, just because it is the brainchild of another faith?

If Kenyan Christians want to establish banks or products that go with their ‘no usury’ Christian principle, why wouldn’t that be welcomed by even say the Muslims? Bwana Bishop, we Muslims have absolutely no problem with Saturdays and Sundays being rest days, not to mention the many other Judeo-Christian based laws of our constitution. Finally, Bishop Oginde thinks Kenya’s plan to join the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) is a well calculated move to Islamised the country. What he ignores is that many other countries, like Ghana and even our neighbour Uganda, with negligible Muslim population, are already in it. Kenya, like these other countries, wants to join IOC for financial not religious reasons. It wants to access loans from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). Such loans will benefit all its citizens. People like Oginde would probably opine that Kenya does not need the IDB since it is ‘Islamic’. They would rather we take loans from the IMF and the World Bank because these institutions in their misconstrued judgments are ‘Christian’?

Countries such as the UK, China, Japan, US and South Africa, which have minority Muslim populations, have amended their legislation to accommodate these products. Even the World Bank recognises Islamic finance as an effective tool for financing development worldwide, including in non-Muslim countries. It is an industry with $1.5 trillion in assets and Kenya cannot ignore it.

Kenya needs an integrated financial system with deep and efficient financial markets capable of improving financial inclusion and wooing international investors from all corners of the world. Before the introduction of Islamic banks and Islamic windows in the conventional banks, we had a deliberately unbanked citizens who did so in order to maintain their religious sanctity. The proposed reforms in the Finance Bill 2017 are meant to attract this group. They are also geared towards attracting investments from the Islamic axis of the liquidity rich Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, open up investment opportunities in our financial institutions and ultimately create jobs for Kenyans of all faith. These are the reasons behind the amendments being made to the several finance related laws in the Finance Bill 2017. Bishop Oginde should see these issues in terms of their substance and not in their identity.

- The writer is an advisor to the Saudi Central Bank