Islamic finance can connect millions around the globe to the economy (Credit: The Reboot, Flickr)
In the wake of the global financial and economic crisis, the need for a new development model which is more sustainable and also fosters inclusive growth has become more apparent. Could Islamic finance be the answer? Islamic finance promotes risk-sharing, connection to the real economy and emphasizes financial inclusion and social welfare. Can these dimensions contribute to inclusive growth and sustainable development?
Islamic finance is based on two intrinsic features: risk-sharing and the link between financial transactions and the real economy. Because all financial contracts are backed by real sector assets and risk-sharing among partners, including financing institutions, Islamic financial instruments have relatively more stability than conventional instruments and tend to be more flexible against unanticipated shocks. This critical link brings prudence to the system, promotes equity relative to debt, broadens financial participation, and minimizes overall vulnerability.
Can Islamic Microfinance give more people access to the financial services they need to grow their business? (Credit: DFID, Flickr Creative Commons)
Research has shown that financial sector development and the efficiency of financial systems are closely linked to economic growth. Ensuring the provision of financial services to the poor can also address the challenge of poverty alleviation and directly target financing towards economically and socially underprivileged groups. Appropriate financial services, such as savings services, investment, insurance, and payment and money transfer facilities, enable the poor to acquire capital to engage in productive ventures, manage risks, increase their income and savings, and escape poverty.
Islamic finance is growing in countries like Malaysia (Credit: Asian Development Bank, Flickr Creative Commons)
Over the last three decades, the concepts of Islamic finance have captured the attention of researchers. One of the core principles of Islamic finance is the prohibition of interest and debt-based financing. Instead, economic agents are encouraged to engage in financial instruments of risk-sharing rather than risk transfer. Although the principles of Islamic finance go back several centuries, its practice in modern financial markets became recognized only in the 1980s, and began to represent a meaningful share of global financial activity only around the beginning of this century. The growth of this market has been driven by the high demand for Islamic financial products, as well as the increasing liquidity in Gulf region due to high oil revenues. Table 1 shows the growth trend in Islamic finance for the banking sectors by different regions, with estimates of total Islamic banking assets reaching $1.8 trillion by the end of 2013. Figure 1 shows how the growth of the Islamic financial sector in 2006–10 period surpassed the growth of conventional financial sector in all segments of the market, ranging from commercial banking, investment banking, and fund management to insurance in several Muslim-majority countries.