TORONTO (RNS) Global leaders in Islamic finance are meeting in Toronto Tuesday and Wednesday (March 30-31) to probe the growing but still under-explored world of financial products and services that comply with Shariah, or Islamic law.
The Usury-Free Association of North America (UFANA) conference brings together more than 150 experts from a dozen countries to explore a wide range of services that abide by Islam’s prohibition on interest.
Conference organizers say the potential of the global Islamic financial market is an estimated $500 billion.

Islamic scholars, lawyers and financial experts from the U.S., Canada, Britain and several Middle East countries are looking at Shariah-compliant stocks and investment products, banking, equity funds, mortgages, and credit. Canada’s first Shariah-compliant credit card, the iFreedom Plus MasterCard, will be launched at the conference.
Though there have been great strides in Islamic banking and financial services, particularly in Britain, “supply is definitely not keeping up with demand” outside the Muslim world, says conference spokesman John Qubti. “A lot of Muslims keep their money under their mattress. They’re just not investing.”
Under Shariah, charging or paying interest (“riba”) is usury and considered “haram,” or forbidden. That means conventional savings accounts, credit cards and interest-bearing investments are off-limits for observant Muslims.
So are investments in any sector associated with gambling, alcohol, pork, tobacco, weapons or pornography, or one that assumes an unduly high level of risk. Financial speculation is also enjoined.
The Islamic financial model is based on risk sharing. For example, Islamic mortgages work by having the lender either buy the home or become an equity partner in its purchase. The homeowner then pays monthly “rent” along with principal payments based on fair but competitive rates. The arrangement is based on trade and profit, both permissible.
“Making money is not a sin in Islam,” Qubti said.
Worldwide, both the Dow Jones Islamic Fund, launched in 2000, and the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index, begun in 1999, offer Shariah-compliant investments.
A recent report for Canada’s national housing agency said Islamic mortgages and other Shariah-compliant financial products would pose no problems with civil law.
By Ron Csillag
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.
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