Headlines

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi unveils plans for US$500 million global halal fund

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 24 April 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , ,

IMO News Service

'Halal Opportunities Fund' to secure integrity of halal food supply chain as global sales, including pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, hits US$2.1 trillion annually

Dubai: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi today revealed plans for a US$500 million private equity fund focused on global opportunities in the halal industry.

The fund is expected to be raised in stages and the aim, through a "roll-up" strategy, is to acquire, convert (non-halal companies) and grow companies in the food and agri-business sectors so as to have global reach as well as offer a diverse range of high quality quick service restaurant (QSR) products and services.

"There have been global developments in halal awareness, standard and certification, manufacturing and trade in the last decade. It is now time to create strong investment opportunities to enable more participation in this important halal sector," said Badawi at the launch of Azka Capital at the eighth World Halal Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Rushdi Siddiqui, Co-Founder and Managing Director Azka Capital
Azka Capital is a private equity advisory firm focused on halal industry initiatives. It has assembled a team which has a thorough understanding of the global halal food landscape including working with certifying industry bodies from 55 countries through its strategic partnership with the International Halal Integrity Alliance.

"Azka is advised by world-class practitioners from the halal food sector, and Shariah advisory services from Dar Al Shariah and Amanie Advisors and Mr Badawi is Chairman of its Advisory Board," said Rushdi Siddiqui, Co-Founder and Managing Director Azka Capital.
The highly fragmented nature of the industry would benefit from a consolidated strategy while Azka's proprietary access to deal flow makes it uniquely positioned to capitalise upon this opportunity," he added.

Siddiqui went on to explain that food security has become an integral part of national security policy in part because many Muslim countries are net importers of food and generally do not control the supply chains and, hence, the integrity of their food.

Dr. Abdullah Badawi
"The recent scandals including horsemeat in Europe and, more alarmingly, the evidence of pork DNA in halal beef by the very multinational companies responsible for halal integrity should be unacceptable to all halal stakeholders. Paying lip service to food security is wholly inadequate. The Halal Opportunities Fund is the first opportunity for investors and policymakers to take concrete steps toward securing the integrity of their food supply," he concluded.

Currently the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nations' food imports exceed US$40 billion annually, an overwhelming majority of their consumption. That figure will doubtless increase substantially with current estimates forecasting that the global Muslim population is expected to increase from 1.6 billion at present to 2.2 billion by 2030.

Commenting on Shari'a compliance, Dr Nasser Saidi, Member of Azka Advsiory Board, Founder and President of Nasser Saidi & Associates and former Chief Economist of Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) said: "Ethical, Shari'a compliant investors have typically relied on various 'filters' to weed out non-compliant publicly available investment opportunities. But these filters are not always reliable and cannot keep up with new opportunities and are typically limited to developed markets. There is a better way: direct equity investing in vetted industries and activities on an international basis. That is what is being offered to investors through the Halal Fund. This is major innovation in the ethical investment space."

About Azka Capital

The Azka Capital team has assembled an experienced and multi-functional team who have a thorough understanding of the global halal food landscape including working with certifying industry bodies from 55 countries through its strategic partnership with the International Halal Integrity Alliance. The team has vast experience with the halal sector combined with several billion dollars in executed deals, access to proprietary deal flow, and structuring transactions with Islamic modes of financing and investing. Azka's strategy is focused on acquiring, integrating, incubating, growing and exiting companies. Please visit at www.azkacapital.com

About Dar Al Sharia

Dar Al Sharia (DAS) is a Dubai-based subsidiary of Dubai Islamic Bank, the world's first Islamic bank. Over a period of 9 years, DAS developed the reputation as authentic and one-stop solution centre for all Islamic finance advisory and consultancy needs. It specializes in Sharia-compliant structuring and documentation for all types of Sukuk, Syndication and Funds, besides product development, restructuring, R&D for innovative products, Sharia audit and training, conversion of conventional financial institutions into Islamic ones, and the other allied services. It has a well-qualified team of Sharia scholars, lawyers, Sharia researchers, financial analysts, capital market specialists, accountants, bankers and other professionals working under the guidance of Dr. Hussain Hamed Hassan, a highly learned Sharia scholar and head of several Sharia boards in the region.

Amanie Advisors Sdn Bhd

Amanie Advisors Sdn Bhd (''Amanie'') is a Shariah advisory, consultancy, training and research and develop­ment boutique for institutional and corporate clientele focusing on Islamic financial services. It has been established with the aim of addressing the global needs for experts' and Shariah scholars' pro-active input. This will ultimately allow the players in the industry to manage and achieve their business and financial goals in accordance with the Shariah Principles.

Amanie is guided by its international Shariah Supervisory Board consisting of four globally renowned Shariah scholars namely;
i) Dr Mohamed Ali Elgari (Chairman) (Saudi Arabia)
ii) Dr Muhammad Amin Al Qattan (Qatar)
iii) Dr Mohd Daud Bakar (Malaysia)
iv) Dr Osama Al Dereai (Kuwait)

About KasehDia

KasehDia is a communication and consulting firm focused on the application of Islamic values in a universal and contemporary setting. Established in 1999 KasehDia has provided high level consultations for businesses and governments and created game changing global forums and content. KasehDia became the world pioneer in concept-based (halal) communication and developmental systems.

In 2003 it launched an integrated global initiative on the 'halal industry', a term it coined. It involves strategic projects in media, consultancy, training, business forums and lobby efforts on the global scale. Its key halal initiatives include The Halal Journal, Halal Food Guide Series, Muslim Travel Guide Series, the World Halal Forum, Global Halal Lead Auditor Training and lead consultation for the Government of Malaysia for the Halal Chapter in Malaysia's 3rd Industrial Master Plan (2006-2020). Due to its prolific and cutting edge ideas, KasehDia and its initiatives have been featured on the cover of TIME magazine, The New York Times, Asia Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Forbes, Guardian UK and Bloomberg.

About Nova Capital

Nova Capital Global Markets LLC is a leading middle market global investment bank. Nova offers a full range of investment banking services to middle market companies, and specializes in facilitating transactions in emerging markets. Nova provides clients with access to all forms of equity, senior debt, subordinated debt, convertible debt, and mezzanine financing. For more information about Nova please visit: www.novacapitalglobal.com.

For more information, contact:

Darhim Hasim,
Managing Principal,
darhim.hashim@azkacapital.com or info@azkacapital.com

Is the Islamic finance industry ready for social media?

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Rushdi Siddiqui

Social marketing eliminates the middlemen, providing brands the unique opportunity to have a direct relationship with their customers. — Bryan Weiner.

Today, it seems Islamic finance is still stuck at a hard-copy of stage communication (faxes) when the financial world has moved on to Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc.

Many Islamic financial institutions have Web sites, but how often is it updated beyond awards won? How many Islamic banks, takaful operators, Shariah consulting firms, industry bodies, etc, are on Facebook? Yet, the youth — its future clients — in many Muslim countries with Islamic finance are on Facebook.

What about the cross-sell of Islamic finance to non-Muslims as an ethical alternative? These potential customers are an important cluster of social media and they are continuously looking for offerings aligned with their values.

Several Islamic financial institutions have Twitter accounts, unsure how many of their (retail) clients are on Twitter. Do these institutions believe SMS, Internet and mobile banking is the “social media” connection to their clients?

Maybe the culture of social media is lacking in, say, the GCC. But we saw how effectively social media was utilised during the Arab Spring.

Fear

Is there a fear of technology among Islamic financial institutions? The fear of hackers stealing from customer accounts and identity theft? They have heard about horror stories on hacking from US- and EU-based banks with allegedly better (read, more expensive) firewalls.
Is there fear that social media connectivity will raise the level of transparency to conventional benchmarks standards and with accountability to follow? Put differently, will social media result in enhanced governance? It is not a bad thing in this post-credit crisis environment where companies are rewarded via a stable stock price and rave reviews for transparency and governance.

Is there fear that “bad news” concerning Islamic financial institutions will spread like wildfire if (deeply) connected to social media? It will spread anyway as news organisation coverage is supplemented by bloggers and tweeters in real time.

Resources

Is it a lack of resource issue in having, say, a “chief social media officer”? It would appear that Islamic financial institutions have not looked at public relations and outreach as an investment in their brand, but, rather, a cost of doing business.

Brand-building goes towards commitment to not only clients and staff, but long-term growth of the institution, including eventual cross-border expansion and future clients. Furthermore, during challenging market cycles, the message to the community, whose attention has become shorter, is the confidence inspiring “business as usual”.

Guidance

The Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Gateway, or IFG, may just provide a guidance for Islamic financial institutions on understanding about the benefits of social media connectivity. It comes down to market intelligence, and the market place is the best source of “knowledge that powers” market movements. The community connectivity function of the IFG comes down to insights by industry experts making sense of the information overload, communicating about important sign posts on the road ahead and allowing community to interface with experts on a secure platform.

LinkedIn, Twitter

At the behest of colleagues, I joined LinkedIn about a year ago to connect with like-minded colleagues globally to share ideas and articles. Outside of unsolicited endorsement of people I have connected with, but, not worked with, it has been a pleasant experience, especially reading leadership articles.

Furthermore, I started tweeting a few months ago, initially on Islamic finance and the halal industry, but have expanded to issues related to Muslims, Islam, Muslim countries, etc. It has been a fulfilling experience and I should have joined much earlier. Why?

1. Tweeting forces one to convey their message in 140 characters, becomes very important in today’s world of short-attention span and information overload. Islamic financial institutions should be able to convey thought leadership within these constraints.

2. Twitter brings news in real time from multiple eyes, hence, it’s a multiple “op-ed” of the market place on the subject matter. The raw news provides more colour than polished sound-bites.

3. Twitter has allowed me to follow the likes of global leaders like His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and his comments in real time. He first tweeted about Dubai being a hub for an Islamic economy a few months ago.

Conclusion

Shaikh Mohammed’s tweets, at the time of writing this, on the performance of UAE government standards should encourage Islamic financial institutions to engage and embrace the social media to not only connect, but also to report developments.

[Rushdi Siddiqui is co-founder and managing director of Azka Capital, a private equity advisory firm focused on halal industry initiatives, and an advisor to Thomson Reuters on Islamic finance and the halal industry.]

(Courtesy: Khaleej Times)

Forming your own opinion

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 06 April 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

Rushdi believes that a change agent must tell the truth to a benevolent dictator, religious hardliner, and compassionately connect with youth and have nots.

By Rushdi Siddiqui

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” — Jackie Robinson

Everyone has an opinion; however, some people are shy to share. An interactive article, much like a survey, requiring readers’ opinions may actually encourage wider audience participation. For many of us, constructive comments about an online article actually provide more insights than the article itself.

Politics

Why is that when China, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela (under the late Hugo Chavez) made/make provocative comments about the US, the reaction from the Tea Party loyalists and Fox talk show hosts are not immediate and proportional, if at all, when compared to comments from stateless extremists like Al Qaeda?

Is it because, in the mind of the loyalists, these sovereignties are not trying to expand religion, and they can actually do economic and/or military harm to the US? What about election year politics?

Many of the Muslim countries are trying to diversify their economies from natural resources, commodities, conventional banking, basic manufacturing, typically 4-5 economic sector bias, to a knowledge based economy as part of 2020 and 2030 vision plans.

The knowledge pursuit implies linkage of educational budgets for clusters, technology parks, equity financing (venture capital and crowd funding), legal protections, mentoring, etc. One way of looking at the output would be the number of patents registered with the US Trade & Patent Office. Does Malaysia have the most patents from the OIC?

Why do selected Muslim countries with excessive surplus continue to purchase trophy assets in the US and western Europe, at times at top of the market, and not invest more of the money in the “national mission” of establishing and enabling an educational infrastructure for future generations?

I recently had an eye-opening conversation with the former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, where he articulated that education starts in the mother’s womb with appropriate nutrition, food and spiritual guidance! The Muslim world needs this type of thinking to close the “knowledge” approach gap with the developed world.

Why has the OIC, as a whole, not captured the imagination of emerging market investors like BRICS? Is it because, out of the 57 OIC states, 22 are least developed but only three are G-20, there is corruption, capital flight, brain drain, and a host of most of the world’s intra-country conflicts, etc? Thus, requiring a sub-OIC, like SAMI +3, Saudi Arabia, Ankara, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Egypt? Who will promote such a clustering?

Inferiority complex

Why is it when celebrities like Mike Tyson or the late Michael Jackson allegedly “revert” to Islam, it spreads like wildfire on Muslim websites (with excitement)? Why is it when the UK wanted to issue a sovereign Sukuk (roughly and badly translated as an Islamic bond), the Islamic finance world spoke of it as a “badge of arrival” for the niche market? Do Muslims have an identity crisis and still mentally and/or are psychologically colonised by Western/conventional offerings?

Faith, finance, food and fashion

Islamic finance isn’t just about finance, but linked to faith, food, fashion, etc., hence, when will it or, rather, how will it step up and be the financial “lubricant” to these satellite-linked activities? Islamic finance needs to serve the economy, and not be positioned as the economy!

Should Ogilvy Noor, an Islamic branding consultancy, examine the merits of rebranding Islamic finance to Participation Finance, especially if the cross-sell to non-Islamic customers and countries is one of the KPI growth stories? Furthermore, how best to “educate” the anti-syariah movement, which attempts to link, without evidence, Islamic finance to terrorism financing?

Why Islamic finance, biased towards real estate financing, does not finance a real economy-linked movement like the halal food industry, as they are both mentioned in the same chapter of the Quran? The irony of the situation is a Muslim can consume the end product of certified halal food companies, like Malaysia-based Prima, but may not be able invest in the stock as it violates one of the financial ratios (too much conventional debt)!

Is the blame game spread to both halal (need to tell a better story of halal as an asset class) and Islamic finance (halal, asset backed, is ripe for Sukuk offering)?

Is food manufacturing considered a “sexy” or exciting industry compared to mega developments and information super corridors, etc.? Do people get excited about a food park or cows or chickens? Yet, everyone knows how important food security is to a country; hence, the disconnect.

Why is ethnic cuisine a great ambassador for a country? For example, in US, we have Italian, Chinese, Lebanese and Mexican food, Turkish delights, Pakistani biryani, Indian curry, Polish sausages, etc.

What Malaysian food/meal would be a good ambassador to the US? Would satay be a perfect food ambassador as the signature dish of Malaysia Airlines? How many Malaysian fast-food franchises exist in the US/UK?

Why is healthy food, vitamins, etc, expensive in Malaysia? This is one area, along with health club membership, the government should sunset subsidise until people feel the difference and understand the implications of health.

Human element

Why do Muslim countries not encourage local sport development by way of budgets, facilities and international coaches? Some of the countries offer “citizenship” for non-nationals to represent the country, and, even then a victory appears to be hollow.

For example, assume 25 per cent of the 1.8 billion Muslims are under 15 years old, there are Michael Jordans, Lebron Jameses, Tiger Woodses, David Beckhams, etc, in the Muslim world, and they would be wonderful ambassadors and role models for the country and its youth.
Who has a greater contribution to society, one who does not wear the “veil” and provides much charitable contributions, including the kindness of a smile, or the taker of charity, who passes judgment?

The highlight of the Proud to Be Human moment for 2012 had to be the recovery of Malala Yousufzai, the brave young Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education. Her actions should earn a Nobel Peace Prize for the courage of a “special ops soldier”.
The Nobel committee needs to send a strong signal about girls’ education by awarding her the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for Courage and Contribution to Girls’ Education in Emerging Markets.

“Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” — John F. Kennedy

So, what is your thoughtful opinion?

(Courtesy: The Malaysian Insider)

Islamic venture capital: Crowd funding

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 12 February 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

By Rushdi Siddiqui

Is crowd funding the VC for the masses, finally? Crowd funding enables — through a collective cooperation of a network of investors — pooling capital and other resources to seed initiatives, startups, expansions, etc.

It also an opportunity to attain the core ethical values of Shariah and the intended purposes of Islamic Finance “to do good” by contributing to socioeconomic development.

Meet Shehab Marzban, co-founder of Shekra, http://www.shekra.com, a socially responsible entrepreneurial ecosystem service provider based in Cairo but for the OIC countries.
Excerpts of the interview:

What is Shariah-compliant crowd funding about?

Crowd funding attempts to solve the major problems faced by entrepreneurs, access to capital, and ordinary individuals, access to deals/funds, traditionally for high net worth individuals/institutions.

Banks in the Muslim world do not lend without collateral, as an idea or early stage development company is too risky, too small to fund or the business model does not fit the financing criteria. Thus, venture capital does not exist in OIC in a meaningful manner. Furthermore, how many stories from the Muslim world about investing in the “next big thing” in Silicon Valley VC funds?
Crowd funding links entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to a network of investors, who contribute small amounts of capital. The investors may invest across a diversified portfolio of startups to minimise their overall risk. Crowd funding has a multiplier effect through job creation, encouraging entrepreneurship, and impact ‘brain drain’ from OIC countries.

To ensure overall Shariah-compliance beyond the inherent ethical traits of the crowd funding process, Shekra ensures specific Shariah screening and legal formalities, as well as apply shareholder rights.

How does Shekra differ from conventional crowd funding platforms?

Shekra stands for “Sharek Fekra” (partner in an idea) and differs from typical crowd funding. It attempts to overcome the main challenges faced by global crowd funding platforms in terms of sustainability of the initiatives as well as considering the specific cultural, educational and social characteristics of entrepreneurs and investors in OIC countries.

Differences include:

Shekra combines multiple aspects of the entrepreneurial ecosystem including reaching out to startups, business plan support, mentorship, milestone financing, and monitoring to increase the success rate and sustainability of crowd funded initiatives.

Shekra provides investors with the opportunity to receive equity either through capital contribution or in-kind contributions such as office space or marketing campaigns, for instance, enabling a wider spectrum of interested investors to participate.

Shekra is compensated through in-kind equity rather than a broker deal to ensure that Shekra’s interests as service provider are aligned with investors and entrepreneurs.

Shekra is not labelled Islamic, but focuses on ensuring Shariah-compliance and social responsibility: core values and responsibility towards Islamic investors and entrepreneurs.
Shekra focuses not only on growth companies or technology companies but also on startups that generate a steady income where the typical exit for investors might not be an acquisition but instead a buyback by the entrepreneur through a diminishing musharakah contract.

How can crowd funding contribute to OIC countries?

The development of small enterprises and startups is crucial for job creation, diversification, and contribution to knowledge-based economies. Most research identifies, especially in developing countries, the main problem of startups is to raise capital since they are positioned in the underserved funding gap: too big for microfinance and too small for private equity funds.
Additionally, OIC countries are rich — rich in human capital. This is the core asset and strength, which has to be supported and encouraged to increase the global outreach and success of startups “Made and Financed in OIC.’’

How will Shekra work across OIC countries?

Shekra strongly believes in partnership and joint collaboration, hence, focusing on identifying local partners to jointly build a Shekra investors network. We are excited about the pool of potential startups to be crowd funded across target markets. After starting in Egypt and closing the first crowd funding round shortly, Shekra is focusing to expand in North Africa, the GCC and selected ASEAN countries, Malaysia.

A key market is the UAE, especially after His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai’s recent announcement to make Dubai Islamic finance/halal hub, an optimal global platform for Shekra to operate.

What are the main challenges?

The demand is huge as we received an overwhelming number of startups looking for funding from more than 10 countries related to technology such as online media such as location-based retail shopping, fashion, arts portals, financial applications such as portfolio optimisation systems, small boutique natural textile producers, furniture design, renewable and green technologies, agricultural projects as well as social services, etc.

We are currently screening and prioritising. While this is an enormous potential, it flushes out how underserved this young and dynamic market, hence, putting additional positive pressure on us to grow faster than we projected. Another key challenge is to overcome the legality issues of crowd funding since we want to be able to raise capital from the public and have contributions as small as $ 10, which is currently not legally possible. Currently, we rely on a tight legal framework and a closed network of investors who join on request and recommendation basis.

[The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters.]

(Courtesy: Khaleej Times)

Unsung heroes of Islamic finance industry

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 02 February 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

By Rushdi Siddiqui

For the first column in 2013, I did not want a me-too article about sukuk issuance for year ahead, central bank authorisation of a mega Islamic bank, or new IFSB or AAOIFI standards, but shine a spotlight on ‘unsung heroes’ of an Islamic financial institution.

At an Islamic award ceremony and ensuing Press release, the CEO of an Islamic financial institution usually thanks his staff and employees, and typically says, “... without our hard working employees none of these achievements is possible...” These are not hallow words, as he ‘flies or falls’ based upon staff meeting their KPIs down the chain of command to the clerk in the mailroom and the janitor.

Treasury

The beating heart of an Islamic bank is actually the treasury and its uniquely qualified people. Treasury, at one time, was about liquidity management, and now has become a profit centre for banks. The challenge for Islamic finance treasury is there are not many options, vis-a-vis, conventional treasury on liquidity management, hence, their important contribution adds to not only the bottom line, but also the bonus!

In launching the pricing benchmark for Islamic Interbank Benchmark Rate (IIBOR), compliant alternative to Libor, Thomson Reuters showed the implicit importance of treasury and credit pricing reference rate to the banking and financing world.

Front liners

These folks are really the unsung heroes, as they cannot hide behind an office, cubicle or desk when things like compliant credit cards not working, delays in personal loan or customer service leads to hang-ups.

The ultimate front liner is the bank teller. He/she needs to be a combination of an accountant and fireman(woman). They have to keep the line moving, make sure slips are properly filled out and signed, explain financial statements (including to the expatriate low income with linguistic challenges), including discrepancies while smiling.

Then there are the sales people meeting targets in selling, say, various third party funds, often white labelled as banks own. The issue of Islamic banks raising money locally (as have community confidence) and exporting to managers (value add) in other countries is a topic for another day.

The challenge arises when the fund loses money, and having to explain the loss to irate investors who believed, because it was Islamic, there would not be losses. It should not be assumed that such investors read or understand the fine print disclaimer (requiring a comprehension of a professional) buried in the prospectus.

The people working in Islamic private banking, some call it Royal Banking, must have the toughest jobs, as high net worth people are more demanding and less tolerant on mistakes and negative market movements. The escape goat is usually the relationship manager when things do not follow the game plan.

There must be a super-honourable mention of human resource, as they provide the ‘fit for purpose’ staffing and continuous updating. This is the team surrounding the CEO: from senior leadership team (SLT) to sales people to administrative staff, including the very important personal and executive assistants. Finally, choosing the right vendors for IT platforms for measuring and monitoring staff KPIs.

Finally, the collections department, if it’s not outsourced. The collection call and chase on defaulting party on financing, say, an Islamic mortgage. It must be extremely challenging (PR nightmare) for an Islamic bank to start foreclosure proceedings against a local/national (Muslim) for defaulted Islamic mortgage. This was one of the challenges in Saudi Arabia with the delay in the mortgage laws.

Collateral heroes

Islamic banks operate in a data eco-system, hence, require much content, whether its news, pricing of instrument and commodities, indexes, sukuk or fund prospectus, etc, and not many know that it requires army of dedicated people to make it look seamless and keep it updated.
Companies like Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, Zawya, etc, are the data backbones for Islamic finance. For example, we, at Thomson Reuters, are extremely proud of the content build out by our dedicated Islamic finance team in Bahrain. These dedicated young people are working hard and smart to make Islamic finance conventionally efficient for information intermediation in the cross sell of this niche market (led by eco-data).

Finally, the journalists covering Islamic finance, they deserve a round of applause for their stories, as getting access to senior executives to answer tough questions is not easy.

[The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters.]

(Courtesy: Khaleej Times)

Women in the combat frontline

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , , , ,

By Rushdi Siddiqui

If your country is attacked by an army of women combatants, how would the Commander-in-Chief respond?

A. Send out the military which is dominated by males;
B. Enrol more females, hence, a mix of soldiers to respond;
C. Send out an all-female military response; or
D. Assume no response is necessary as the attack will not be successful.

News flash: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon will end the long-standing prohibition on women serving in direct combat.

What exactly is a frontline war zone?

The news flash has created a flashpoint of debate on women in combat; however, the issue is actually deeper. It is about the roles of women in society, especially during war time.
Much research and many articles have been published on the relative strength of women and the associated issues and effects of women operating in an all-male unit combat zone. Even calorific intake is said to be strictly controlled in battle zones: 3,950 calories a day for men, 2,700 for women. But perhaps there has been less focus on the exact conditions that frontline combatants live under in the gruelling war zones especially in today’s global landscape.

A former marine, Ryan Smith, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on January 23, 2013: “Most people seem to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have merely involved driving out of a forward operating base, patrolling the streets, maybe getting in a quick firefight, and then returning to the forward operating base and its separate shower facilities and chow hall … I served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a marine infantry squad leader. We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other’s laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems … Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.”

Is it a sign of progress?

History has recorded many women who participated in the battlefront. There was Queen Boudica, who led the Britons against Rome; Joan of Arc of France. Women fought in the First World War and in the Second World War, British and German women served in combat roles in anti-aircraft units. They were in the hundreds of thousands and said to have shot down thousands of enemy fliers. This was then widely accepted as they were not at risk of capture. But can we guarantee this today?

It’s well acknowledged the important role women play in society. Women are deemed less susceptible to temptation (corruption), they are also seen as better leaders in organisations, better at raising children, and, often, are the glue that keeps a family together, be it in a least, less, or developed world. The adage, educate a woman you educate a community was not said for no reason.

But will increasing the number of women in the military result in a more effective and efficient military? Follow-up question: is it a sign of “progress” for a country (or society or, even, civilisation) if women are given same option responsibility as men in protecting the country from the frontline? Will it in any way increase the fortunes of a society or a country?

Two schools of thought

Although women are built differently, the first school of thought on this debate is about “separate but equal” treatment and their talking points include:

● It is about objective standards, and if a soldier passes the various tests, physical, emotional, mental, etc., then they have earned the right to represent their country on the frontlines. However, it is rare to have the same people talk about the actual frontline experience of women under sustained fire and its impact over time.

● It is an opportunity to move up (fast track) the chain of command, and with women in higher places, women issues are better represented for informed solutions, hence, advancing career opportunities. This is the same argument put forth of need to have affirmative action quotas, be it the Bumiputera favourable treatment, a minimum set aside for board positions for women, and so on. Have such arguments prevailed in having Bumiputeras gain the targeted levels of economic parity? Or have boards recruited women based on competence or quota incentives?


The second and competing school of thought includes many former/present frontline combatants, and they have aired arguments against ending the prohibition, including:

● The physical demands of carrying 22kg of body-wear may be fine during training exercise, but under duress of conflict in hostile weather may result in lagging soldiers.

● Being able to carry injured colleagues (or retrieving killed soldier), weighing more than the carrier, to safer places for treatment. This actually places her directly in harm’s way.

● Stress and “distractions” of being in a fox-hole for extended period of time with male soldiers.

● The rate of suicide among men in combat, from Iraq to Afghanistan, has increased significantly, what of single mothers returning home?

● That time of month for women and the conditions in frontline battle fields.

● Being caught by enemy and torture includes rape and sexual assaults.

● Being bought back home in body bags.

Finally, it is well known that countries, like Israel, known to be on heightened alert of conflict, have banned women in combat as result of this experience.

History of women in conflicts

In Islam, according to narrations from the various historic accounts, Muslim women are exempted but are not prohibited to fight to defend their communities.

Muslim women can participate in battle zones with the Muslim army if the latter is a strong and powerful army and if there is no fear that Muslim women would be taken prisoners. Ibn Abdel Bar, an Islamic scholar, said: “They (the women) can go with the army if the army is strong enough to take hold of the enemy’s army.”

This is the opinion of all scholars and it is an imitation of a Sunnah that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did and his companions followed.

The Prophet took his wives and some of the wives of the Muslims in several holy battles in the company of the Prophet (pbuh) as narrated in a sound hadith. But it was also narrated that the role of women was mostly limited to looking after the wounded and providing food and drink to the men. Where she is required to travel, it is narrated that she should only do so within the limits of her nature. During the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, Aisha (RA) participated in the early battles. During the Battle of Uhud, for example, Aishah distributed water bags to the Muslim combatants on the battlefield.

Amazon’s ancient warriors?

The Amazon warriors were said to be a group of warrior women who belonged to an all-female culture and society in Greek mythology. They were reputed for their fearsome battle and fighting skills. These women are said to be as strong as any man, and tall and powerful. The Amazon warriors’ exact location is unknown, although recent evidence has found some Amazon remains are located in Cumbria, England. Most sources do concur that the Amazonians were around in Roman times from around 27 BC to 1400 AD. Whether the Amazon women warriors were a myth or a reality, what was prevalent in their tradition and said existence is that they were warriors who lived in all-female communities.

My daughter

In the final analysis, we ask ourselves if we will let our daughters, sisters, wives draft for frontline battle.

Would I encourage my daughter to become a combatant in the frontlines? I wonder if the defence secretary’s boss, President Barak Obama, would also encourage his two daughters to participate in direct combat. Or, put differently, if they wanted to serve their country as frontliners, would the president or the first lady discourage them?

There are cases recorded even in the US military where women in frontline combat have been kidnapped by enemy soldiers and sexually assaulted. This, despite the training they received in how to avoid these things. When women take on frontline combat roles, their male colleagues may put themselves in harm’s way to protect the honour of their female colleagues in a way they never would for fellow male officers.

Obviously, one is patriotic to the country that has given them life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. But surely there other ways to demonstrate patriotism. Must we place women in the most dangerous lines of fire to demonstrate this in the name of equality? Can there not be better roles for women in light of their genetic predispositions and special talents?

My views cannot be better represented than by a 2007 article which John Piper wrote in World magazine:

“If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honour of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.”

How would you react to the following comment?

“It ain’t combat until the lead is coming at you!”

(Courtesy: The Malaysia Insider)

Things that bug me

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 16 January 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Rushdi Siddiqui

Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way... that is not easy. — Aristotle.

As the New Year resolution time frame is “officially” over, it’s time to air out some pet peeves for 2013, with the hope that it will have therapeutic impact if not for anyone else, then for myself. Self help is often cheaper than professional help, but if you pay peanuts, you wind up getting monkey advice!

Let’s talk about the LinkedIn agenda

Firstly, I wonder about the whole LinkedIn agenda. While I, and like many of you, are very appreciative of unsolicited endorsements from people not known on first name basis, it’s however a bit disconcerting as I have never worked or met many of these people! With so many endorsements, one wonders, if it carries any weight? Furthermore, are these good people expecting me or you to endorse them? I hope not, as an “open letter of recommendation” could dilute the reputation of both the endorser and the subject!

Secondly, at one level, all of us are generally interested in new career opportunities, and we try to reach out to or help those we have worked with over the years. The challenge is when you get unsolicited requests for job opportunities from people we never met. One is sympathetic to their plight, especially if the person has faced personal tragedies included (as that could have been you). But the reality is we are not an employment agency. But like the Lottery tagline in NY, “gotta be in it to win it”.

Thirdly, people who use LinkedIn as Twitter. Some of these people post things like their 5km runs and attending a wedding. Not sure if people really care! LinkedIn is about professional connections, opportunities, insightful articles, wonderful quotes, etc, and there are other forums for weddings, personal training or (non-rat) races.

[BTW, one of the challenges I have with Twitter is that I do not want people to know every detail about me, my doings and often times one has to apologise with a follow-up tweet because of, say, heat-of-moment comment (well, the damage has been done!). Social media has pushed the privacy attribute to a bare minimum, but some people may prefer that route.]

What are we commenting on

Some of us write bylined pieces, regularly or occasionally, and hope or expect constructive or insightful feedback comments, as the collective intelligence of the market place is greater than any one of us individually. The frustration typically rears its head when (1) there are no comments (but, everybody has an opinion) or (2) personal attacks that have nothing to do with the written piece.

The lack of comments is more prevalent in Islamic finance articles, yet, at, say, conferences, we have mini-presentations from the audience members challenging a panel member or the panel session theme during the Q&A! In fairness, Islamic finance is technical, laden with Arabic lingo, requires a glossary during the read, or people can’t be bothered with the effort to reply, as finding a pen or not having spell check on PC are the usual show stoppers!

Leaders seeking medical treatment

A country’s leaders often tout the benefits the government provides for the people, from education, infrastructure, healthcare, subsidies, etc. Yet, we often read about the leader and/or minister receiving treatment at, say, Mayo Clinic in the US or world-class hospitals in western capitals in Europe. Yes, we want out leaders to be free of sickness and disease as consequences of being leaderless for a short period of time is (welcomed?) chaos!

But, what message does it send about local healthcare quality and care of the citizens when leaders and the privileged (repeatedly) go overseas for surgery and treatment?

Internet use in hotels

There are tight-wad hotels that charge for the Internet! Why don’t they charge for actual usage with a clock/timer instead of charging by the day? Thus, pay per use (PPU) would make more sense, as most humans don’t use the Internet when not in the room or sleeping, and, more importantly, it would build goodwill (for repeat business) and word-of-mouth endorsement (more effective than a marketing budget), especially if they travel for family/personal reasons.

Halal hotels and mini-bar

I’ve stayed at shariah-compliant hotels, but unsure what that really means. But it has included a conservative dress code and greetings of “Asalaam Alaikum” by the staff, alcohol/pork not served, segregated times for males/females for the pool, toilet not facing Mecca, Quran and prayer mat (in the room), etc. This will be an interesting conversation for another day.

I would like to see enlightened hotels help out the halal food industry that Islamic finance has missed. In the room’s mini-fridge, I would like to see sampling of (certified) halal food, from (healthy) drinks to candy bars, crisps, etc, during the stay. The “regular” hotels can ask the guest, much like options for a smoking room or size of the beds, if they want to stay in a “test room” with a mini-fridge that has only halal-certified offerings.

This would not cost hotel anything and is a great opportunity to test market products for companies and consumers, eventual clients. The only “payment” by the client would entail a written review of the consumed items.

Mums of super heroes

There is an urgent need to know where super heroes get their values!

In movies, toy stores, comics, prizes (value meals), there are super-heroes characters with their stories, and the move works well for the sell-side stakeholders. It’s a thriving global multi-billion dollar business, and some would say it’s the wholesale export of US culture at the expense of developing local super heroes.

[Unsure how popular The 99, Islamic super-heroes, has been received by the age appropriate children and commercials benefits of off-shoot collaterals.]

It’s well known that many of the super heroes are males, from Hulk to Iron-Man to Thor to Spiderman to Batman, and such figures are almost always influenced by their mothers. The lessons these super heroes represent must come from somewhere, and it’s their mothers.

So, it would be nice if the creative people in countries like Malaysia started thinking about “Mums of Super Heroes”. Let’s assume intellectual property issues do not become an issue for the story.

I see kids connecting with their dad’s “big toys” like fast cars, cool outfits, ATM-cum-Santa policies of toy purchases, but what about their mum’s, who often have to be the bad guy and say “no”?

I would ask the creators to include a script that includes answers to following questions:

Who is the super hero’s mum?

How were they raised?

Where do they send flowers and candy on Mother’s Day or mother’s birthday?

Where did they get their powers from and when to use them, whilst keeping anger/revenge in check?

Where do they go when they have problems?

Conclusion

To become a more tolerant person, one has to air out their pet peeves in a civilised manner with the hope readers show compassion and empathy.

BTW, I will neither be biking nor hiking today, and will not be attending any marriages or divorces!

(Courtesy: The Malaysian Insider)

Cross examining Islamic finance

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 10 January 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

By Rushdi Siddiqui

I wanted to share with the readers a sample of questions posed to me during the last few years of travel in Europe, GCC and Asean countries.

The questions give insights into the ‘mindsets of the landscape’ and kaleidoscope of concerns in connecting to the young, understanding the spirit and perception of Islamic finance, innovation that results inclusion of the non-bankable, etc.

Missed ‘connectivity’

Why aren’t more Islamic financial institutions sponsoring events that connect them to the young people, next generation of clients and employees, like sporting events in Muslim countries (badminton, football or cricket) or concerts like Sami Yusuf, whose lyrics are about Islamic values?

Why don’t Islamic finance conference awards sponsors include categories like: (1) Most admired Islamic financial institution; (2) Most respected Islamic financial institution; (3) Most ESG, environment, social and governance, conscious Islamic financial institution? These awards attract the best young talent and build bridges to the non-Islamic community.

Are Islamic banks and funds focusing too much on Shariah and less on the value proposition? It seems many institutions use their Shariah Board members, be it in their marketing materials or public presentations, too prominently to pitch the product sale rather than the merits of the product? I suspect scholars do not want to be positioned or viewed as part of the marketing materials.

There are many Islamic funds, about 560 plus (Lipper), but not one has a ‘green’ mandate, meaning companies that pass screening from Shariah and ESG, environment, sustainability and governance, why?

Why are exchanges where sukuk are listed, always pitching the total number of listings and total size listed, when the real issue is secondary market liquidity that attracts additional liquidity? Have any Fortune 500 companies issued a sukuk after GE?

Fees for innovation

Will Islamic finance have ‘proprietary trading’ in the near future as more instruments come into the market place? An ‘Islamic Goldman Sachs,’ where trading profits contribute much to its bottom-line? Is this innovation or catering to higher fee margin producing HNW money?
Innovation may imply increasing efficiency, new products or financial inclusion of the disenfranchised. The FT recently stated that only 12 per cent of 1.6 billion Muslims use Islamic finance, or 192 million Muslims, its a number I place with those who cheerlead Islamic finance. The actual number is close to two-four per cent, and actually Halal foods are ‘used’ by a larger percentage of Muslims, more than 12 per cent, then Islamic finance.

What are the lessons for the $640 billion Halal from the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry for establishing industry bodies, like AAOIFI, IFSB and the recently launched IILM? The Halal industry is even more fragmented with territorial issues on the certification process than Islamic finance on standardisation.

A ‘Big Mac Index’ was published by The Economist (1986) as an informal way of measuring the purchasing power parity (PPP) between two currencies, and it gave rise to the word ‘burgernomics.’ Put differently, its the amount of time that an average worker in a given country must work to earn enough to buy a Big Mac.

Should the Halal industry look to produce a similar index.

Is Takaful, Islamic ‘insurance,’ being used or positioned to mitigate risk in Islamic investing (Islamic hedge funds), transactions and structures, like sukuk issuance, hence, lowering the Islamic cost of capital? Or, is the Takaful industry not well developed to ‘insure’ complicated structures and projects?

How come no Islamic financial institutions in Saudi Arabia and Turkey have ‘Islamic’ in their title name, which is commonly found in the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Malaysia, and even UK, European Islamic Investment Bank and Islamic Bank of Britain?

Why are the same people from same institution in Islamic finance interviewed by western media? Its gives the impression that Islamic finance has very few qualified people to speak on topics, developments, events, etc.

If authorities eventually decided to include Islamic finance into the mainstream education, where would it fit: Religious studies or finance/economics?

How come there are no Malaysian founding shareholders in any of the five FSA approved banks in the UK, yet there are many travelling Malaysian delegations and sponsored events taking place there, and a number of Malaysian Islamic financial institutions have won Euromoney Islamic finance awards?

Conclusion

The perception or myth of Islamic finance needs to be addressed? When will people understand that it’s not only for Muslims? Would it take a non-Muslim scholar to break this image/perception of Islamic Finance?

Today’s perception of Islamic finance is tomorrow’s reality, and the industry need to change tomorrow’s reality today.

[The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters.]

(Courtesy: Khaleej Times)

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