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Key Sharia Principles and Prohibitions in Islamic Finance

Part of the Islamic Finance For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Sharia law differentiates Islamic finance from conventional finance. The Islamic financial system is constructed on economic concepts specified by sharia — a code of conduct that guides Muslims (the followers of Islam) in social, economic, and political matters. Sharia promotes balance and justice and discourages behaviors of excess. Some of the core ideas promoted by sharia include the following:

  • Allah (God) is the owner of all wealth. Humans are merely the trustees of wealth, which belongs to Allah. Humans must manage wealth according to Allah's commands, which promote justice and prohibit certain activities, including wasting or destroying resources. Muslims have the right to enjoy whatever wealth they acquire and spend in sharia-compliant ways.

  • Material pursuits must be balanced with an individual's spiritual needs. A Muslim's economic activities and pursuit of wealth should balance with the spiritual aspects of life. Economic activity conducted according to sharia is, itself, an act of worship, but finding balance between economic activities and spirituality is key. A Muslim is expected to seek moderation in the material world — to avoid being either miserly or too materialistic.

  • An individual's needs must be balanced with society's needs. A Muslim needs to consider society in general when enjoying Allah's bounties. These considerations include promoting justice in all economic activities, remembering that all people have mutual responsibility for all others, and using the earth's resources wisely.

  • Economic transactions should take place within a just, responsible, free-market economy. Islam does not restrict economic activity but instead directs it toward being responsible to other people, to the earth, and to Allah. Islam allows for a free-market economy where supply and demand are decided in the market, but it directs the function of the market mechanism by imposing specific laws and ethics. A primary purpose for imposing these laws and ethics is to promote social justice: a balance in which wealth is not accumulated only by a few while most others suffer.

In support of these principles, sharia prohibits business transactions based on the following:

  • Interest: Riba, the Arabic word for interest, means to increase, grow, or multiply into more than what would be due. Riba is prohibited by Islam because it creates societal injustice; in a riba-based transaction, the owner of the wealth gets return without making any effort, and the borrower carries all the risk.

  • Uncertainty: The Arabic word gharar means uncertainty or to cheat or delude. Transactions based on gharar are unclear or ambiguous; not everyone involved knows what to expect and can make an informed decision. Gharar exists when two parties enter a contract and one party lacks complete information or when both parties lack control over the underlying transaction.

  • Gambling: Two Arabic words — maysir and qimar — refer to transactions that involve gambling. Maysir is the acquisition of wealth by chance instead of by effort. Qimar refers to a game of chance. Both types of transactions are based on uncertainty; no one can know how a gamble will pay off.

  • Prohibited products and industries: Islam prohibits products and industries that it considers harmful to society and a threat to social responsibility. Examples include alcohol, pork, prostitution, pornography, tobacco, and any products based on uncertainty or gambling.

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Islamic Finance For Dummies Cheat Sheet

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