Saturday, October 5, 2013

CRISIS IN ISLAMIC FINANCE EDUCATION

Islamic finance as practiced today is a new phenomenon that is very interesting to look at not because it is related to the so-called growth  rate that is so impressive according to many reports of late. True that to a certain extent,  the figure normally quoted to support this claim of impressive growth is there to be appreciated but the basic question to ask is whether such an achievement is truly an achievement worthy of celebration.

The reason for this matter to be raised is simple; the growth as mentioned is not free from critics who  pointed to claims that many Islamic financial products that have so far been introduced and practiced in the market mimic their conventional counterparts such that they have lost their original Islamic identity. The  issue has become more prominent with the debate surrounding whether what is needed are Shariah compliant products or Shariah based ones. Proponents on both sides of the argument have to accept the fact that in Islam what is required is that all what need to be done need to be done according to the Islamic ways of doing things. Hence the key to the whole issue is closely related to the level of knowledge prevailing in the market about what is the Islamic ways of conducting financial and commercial  activities. Everything is related to the level of knowledge needed to ensure consistency with the Islamic dictates as properly understood.

But the sad thing is that there seems to be a crisis in the area of education in Islamic finance where it has been said that a minimum standard has not been applied both in terms of student and lecturer  intakes at various level of education in Islamic finance. Issues have been raised as to the presence of not so qualified teaching staff at various centers  offering Islamic finance  education, and there seem to be no control as far as the necessary qualification is concerned that have led some observers to conclude that given the existing mode of education, there will be no hope for the field to be improved in terms of quality education when both of the aspects as mentioned are not given adequate attention. There are many centers that have been established  recently or in the past couple of years to offer related courses at various levels of Islamic finance education but the sad thing is that many a time it is found out that such education lack substantive coverage on basic Islamic concepts  just because many individuals who are tasked to teach are not suitable or qualified enough to present Islamic view on financial  and business matters given their background, as they are mostly trained in western economic or financial system and thus lacking in substantive Islamic knowledge. With these background can it be expected that they can  present to the students Islamic information they way it should be when they themselves are still struggling with some basic understanding  about finance from Islamic perspective. The outcome of all of these phenomena is an education which is slanted more toward  imparting conventional  financial knowledge rather than the Islamic one. This problem is further aggravated by the fact that, the majority of players in Islamic finance sectors come from conventional background with little proper education or training in Islamic finance the correct way. It has been noted in some situations, people with little credential in terms of Islamic knowledge have been appointed to set direction to what is supposed to be Islamic finance education. If this is the situation what hope is there that the future direction of Islamic finance is leading to a correct destiny as those who are mandated to set the future are themselves confused about what the direction would be. To make  matter worse there are instances where people moved to this field just because they saw more opportunities lie in this field not being truthful to themselves  whether they have the minimum standard to be there or not. It is surprising to see or even mind boggling to ponder about the fact that in certain  circumstances people are busy  talking about the need to regulate Shariah advisors but not other players in the markets who are themselves  devoid of minimum necessary qualification to talk about things Islamic but have  full freedom to practice with little scrutiny as to their suitability and qualification. Unless minimum standard is put in place to regulate the basic qualification needed to teach Islamic finance related subjects at various centers of education offering courses in Islamic finance, there is little hope that the level of knowledge can be improved in the correct manner; truthful to a saying which says that “one who has not in possession cannot give.. .”.