The challenge of joining up the dots

One of the first things that attracted me to Islamic finance and subsequently Islam, more than a quarter of a century ago, was the “duty of care” displayed by my early mentors and tutors. It appeared to me, in an age of excessive greed in financial services that had developed in the 80s and early 90s, as both a refreshing and entirely sensible approach to life and economic activity. So, I changed, and looking back I have absolutely no regrets about that decision whatsoever.

However, having said that, I do have a few concerns and observations. For quite some time, I have been an advocate for responsible and ethical finance. Many presentations I have made to global bodies in the last two or three years have focused attention on the clear links between the objectives of the Maqasid Al Shariah and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Indeed, this linkage has given some opportunities to explore and develop the usage of Islamic finance in a broader sphere of influence. In effect, most people do have a pretty similar view on “shared values” once the religious rhetoric is peeled away. I have no doubts that Islam and Islamic finance represent a clear demonstration of sustainable values. The challenge would appear to be of “joining up the dots”.

Let me try to explain a little further. Some seven or eight years ago, my attention was drawn to some groundbreaking research works done at George Washington University which broke down the objectives of the Maqasid Al Shariah into indices, to measure conditions on four dimensions in over 100 countries around the world:

i. Economic
ii. Legal and Governance
iii. Human and Political Rights
iv. International Relations

The findings, at that time, did not paint a particularly healthy picture for most Muslim countries. Indeed, the highest ranked Muslim-majority country, at that time, was Malaysia. It was placed somewhere in the mid- 30s. The leading countries include New Zealand, Iceland and Ireland, closely followed by other Scandinavian countries. The report was entitled “The Islamicity Index”.

My head was turned recently by an article authored by Dr Liza Mydin, a graduate of International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF), who has contributed to the latest Islamicity Index and a book entitled “Reformation and Development in the Muslim World”. I would like to share with you a couple of paragraphs from that article which were published in the house magazine of the Chartered Institute of Islamic Finance Professionals in August 2017.

“In the West, the words and Muslim have become feared and are invariably associated with terrorism, other horrific acts and backwardness. News headlines portray Muslims as zealots bent on fighting Christians and the West. Westerners show little understanding of what Islam preaches as the teachings of Islam have become distorted, resulting in an ever-growing divide between the East and West. All the while, the fundamental Islamic principles derived from the Quran and their interpretation and practice by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are rarely explained.”

“Frankly, we cannot blame some of the attributions when they are associated with some Muslims, as devout Muslims also see a failure of Muslim communities and their governments (rulers) to follow the rules that are foundational to a flourishing Muslim community. All over the world, we see Muslims in a state of turmoil — absence of freedom, political oppression, illegitimate governments, compromised legal systems, armed conflicts, cultural decay, economic failure, accumulation of wealth through rent-seeking activities, opulence alongside poverty, sub-par educational and medical facilities with limited access and injustice in many facets of life.”

Unfortunately, the latest Islamicity Index results for 2016 have found no Muslim countries in the top 40 overall index, which would indicate a worsening situation. This brings me back to my point. We have a generation of millennials who have an expectation that government and business live up to ethical and sustainable values.

So, we have a keen and attentive audience that really does want to see a change in behaviour. In Islam, we have a very workable and well-tested model that provides for all that we need, and by all, I do mean all humanity. We have a duty of care to demonstrate and we need to ensure that through our actions and behaviour, we can show how to “join up the dots”.

On a personal note, I really do hope that the time comes soon when I am introduced as Daud Vicary Abdullah to an audience that it does not provoke the following reaction from some individuals: “You don’t look like one!”

I leave you with my hashtag: #MTDANAMTL — much to do and not a moment to lose.

  • Daud Vicary Abdullah is the former president/CEO of the Malaysian-based INCEIF, has wide experience in finance and consulting industry, with stints at Deloitte’s Global Islamic Finance Group, Asian Finance Bank Bhd and Hong Leong Islamic Bank Bhd.