Shariah Study Lures Non Muslim Students in Asia: Islamic Finance

Demand for Islamic finance training from non-Muslims rose more than fourfold in the past seven years as students seek to enter an industry whose assets are set to double to $3.4 trillion by 2018.

Malaysia’s International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance had 2,000 people enrolled on its courses this year, of whom about 14 percent are from nations with small Muslim populations, its Chief Executive Officer Daud Vicary Abdullah said in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. That compares with 3 percent in 2007, he said.

While students from South Korea, Japan and the U.S. dominate the enlistees, those nations have yet to introduce Shariah-compliant legislation. The U.K. became the first western country to sell sukuk this year, while Hong Kong and South Africa also plan to debut in the market in 2014. Ernst & Young LLP forecasts Islamic lenders will have 70 million customers by 2018, up from 38 million last year.

“Islamic finance is becoming less and less of a niche,” Daud said in a phone interview. “The Koreans and the Japanese see this as a business proposition and given the potential, they can’t afford not to participate.”

Malaysia, Indonesia and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are the world’s main Shariah-compliant industry centers, with Hong Kong, Singapore and the U.K. all vying to become regional hubs since introducing Islamic finance laws.

Professionals Needed

Australia has considered employing such legislation since at least 2010, while plans in South Korea met with opposition from Christian groups. Japan has no rules of its own but allows subsidiaries of its lenders and insurers to offer Islamic financing overseas. The U.S. has no laws that permit the sale of sukuk although it does provide Shariah-compliant services.

Shariah law bans investment in companies involved in activities deemed as unethical such as gambling, prostitution and alcohol. Scholars are employed to vet products and services to ensure they comply with religious tenets, including a ban on interest payments.

The industry needs 1 million people with Islamic finance knowledge by 2020 as Shariah-compliant assets are set to reach $6.5 trillion by then, according to a November report from the Malaysia International Islamic Financial Centre.

State Sponsored

Rodney Wilson, who used to teach Shariah-compliant banking at Durham University in the U.K. and is now an Emeritus Professor, said he’s taught students from South Korea at Malaysia’s INCEIF and non-Muslim Europeans at the England-based institution.

“Islamic banking and finance is now accepted by mainstream bankers and finance professionals, who see it as an opportunity,” Wilson said in an Aug. 5 e-mail interview. “Sukuk are becoming more popular as the issuance in non-Muslim countries illustrates.”

Global offerings of Shariah-compliant bonds rose 27 percent in 2014 from a year earlier to $26.9 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show. A decade ago, full-year issuance amounted to $5.6 billion. Malaysia, the world’s largest sukuk market, accounted for 69 percent of sales last year, followed by Saudi Arabia with 12 percent, the United Arab Emirates with 6 percent and Indonesia with 5 percent, Bank Negara Malaysia data show.

Many students from non-Muslim nations are sponsored by state agencies, such as their foreign and finance ministries, said Daud at Malaysia’s INCEIF, who is also on the steering committee of the Royal Award for Islamic Finance organized by Bank Negara and the country’s Securities Commission. More education is needed to clear up misperceptions about the Shariah-compliant industry that some people have, he said.

Better Awareness

Hong Kong plans to sell as much as $1 billion of sukuk in its debut offering this year, according to an e-mailed statement in April. Maybank Kim Eng Holdings Ltd. and law firm Clifford Chance LLP began training staff in the city in preparation for this and future sales.

Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and U.K. were home to less than 0.4 percent of the 1.6 billion global Muslim population in 2010, according to the website of the Washington-based Pew Research Center. That compares with 1 percent in Malaysia, 12.7 percent in Indonesia and 1.6 percent in Saudi Arabia.

Luxembourg and South Africa are planning to sell Islamic bonds by year-end, Emad al Monayea, chief executive officer of Kuwait’s Liquidity Management House for Investment, said in an interview in London on June 18.

“The awareness is getting better,” Raj Mohamad, managing director at Five Pillars Pte, a consulting firm in Singapore, said in a phone interview yesterday. “Non-Muslim countries want to tap the liquidity available in Islamic finance and expand their offerings.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE