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Friday, 13 June 2008

Halal money (Current state of Islamic Banking in UK)

This is an interesting article taken from The Guardain, June 11 2008
By Nesrine Malik

Islamic banking appeals to Muslims who take their religion literally, but it misses the bigger picture

Adapting to life in Britain can be a complicated business for a practising Muslim, as I discovered when I moved here a few years ago. In some ways I was lucky, managing to slot in the five daily prayers awkwardly (and often belatedly), between meetings and professional commitments.

Fasting during Ramadan turned out to be a non-issue, while alcohol and pork were easily avoided in my remarkably tolerant and politically correct business and social circle.

One of my biggest problems, though, revolved around the Islamic prohibition on paying or receiving interest. I shunned credit cards and loans (with some difficulty) and when I was fortunate enough to earn interest, I duly disposed of it - not without a certain degree of smugness. To many of those who observe the religious prohibition on financial transactions involving interest, fundamental personal finance issues arise.

Interest is forbidden in Islam with the intention of preventing usury or riba - effectively selling money as a commodity to the needy and profiteering from the desperation of others. But the rejection of this fast and easy money is predicated on the affordability of liquidity. What became clear to me was that in a situation where my family would not immediately intervene to come between myself and starvation, credit presented an appealing safety net that could bridge the gap between itinerant student jobs and sporadic transfers of cash from benevolent uncles.

The Islamic finance market in Britain has expanded significantly over the last few years and has now even been integrated into the mandatory tests required for those who practice in financial services. Islamic mortgages - previously the preserve of such institutions as the United Bank of Kuwait - are now being offered by several high street banks such as Lloyds TSB and HSBC.

Islamic mortgages - the jewel in the crown of faith-based financial products - are priced very similarly to non-Islamic mortgages that charge interest, but with the interest disguised as "rent yield". They require a larger deposit (usually around 30%) but the remainder of the value of the property is not loaned out to the mortgagee. The bank buys the house outright and charges "rent" instead of interest.

Muslims can now even take out an "Islamic" personal loan where, by sleight, of hand the client borrows money in a six-step process which must be finalised on the same day to "minimise the risk of price movement". In the days when the value of money lay in the very material from which it was created - such as gold - it was reasonable that repaying a loan in gold, when the value of gold had gone down, would involve an additional payment to recompense. In today's economy however, all credit transactions involve risk due to the volatility of everything from currencies to inflation. Therefore, the interest charged by lenders today need not necessarily be considered as usury: the lender is merely underwriting the risk of the borrower's inability to repay the loan while making a marginal profit from the investment.

A specialist in sharia-compliant mortgages commented to the BBC that "No one says that Islam is an easy religion to follow, but we believe that the rewards of being a Muslim are great as well.

Halal food costs more money than regular food, yet nobody thinks twice about buying halal meat. Why would you think twice about doing Islamic banking?"

To any customer who is not merely willing to line the pockets of those who are adept at clever nomenclature and circular investment (rubber-stamped, naturally, by a sheikh in the Islamic finance department of some far-flung university), it becomes clear upon closer investigation that most Islamic products are not in fact - pardon the conflation - kosher: they effectively charge interest under a different mask.

Despite that, British Muslims have been eager to assuage their consciences by subscribing to these financial products. The "Islamic" current account is one of the easiest pickings for high street banks. By not paying any interest it manages to attract clients' money while appearing to offer them some kind of special service. Most of so-called Islamic finance is in a similar vein - trying to dress up 21st century financing in 7th century terminology without any real change. It is unfortunate that clients of Islamic finance institutions, who only want to follow their faith, appear to be exploited this way. However, this preoccupation with interest misses the bigger picture. Without delving into the intricacies of the religious prohibition, the literalism with which the ban on interest is taken, and its superficial observance, is the source of the problem.

The spirit of the Quran is against abusive loan-shark type financing - which is neither unreasonable not impracticable, in fact there are echoes of the hazards of a usurious system in today's credit crunch, measures for tighter controls on lending and curbing the number of mortgages on the market in order to stem the bleed of subprime mortgages in essence mirror the basic premise for the prohibition of unreasonable interest. But when banks capitalise on either the literalist attitudes of Muslim clients or their ignorance this is a double whammy. It is difficult for me to accept that Islamic principles should be extrapolated to mean that all commerce must be limited to basic structures of finance, making no allowances for entrepreneurship, foresight and the right to take a flier on the potential of an individual, business or inspired initiative.

Taking a risk and earning commensurate reward on the either the perspicacity or audacity of the stake is the cornerstone of the globalised economy of opportunity in which we live. Some might argue that Islamic sharia based financial solutions would not exist if there were no demand and that profiteering from this market is not only acceptable but standard business practice. All the more reason for us consumers to remember the principle of "buyer beware" and employ our reason to distinguish between usurers and lenders - and this applies to borrowers both within the Islamic finance system and outside it.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Important: Are you wearing pig skin?

We are all aware that wearing clothing that is made out of pig skin or that has traces of pig skin is forbidden (pig skin remains filthy (najis) even after tanning) - as such, it is impermissible to wear shoes or clothing from pigskin, and prayer in such items would be invalid. But how many of us can truly say that they are NOT wearing pig skin?

This is a difficult issue to deal with because not every item of clothing or furniture is labeled appropriately. Some items may have small elements of pig skin and not be labeled at all or some will just state "real leather" but will not state the type of animal it's derived from.

Here is a useful article taken from sunnipath.com realting to this issue. The article was written by Shaykh Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf Mangera .

Assalamu alaykum

In the name of Allah the Gracious the Merciful.

1. You must determine whether the garment is made of pigskin or not. If one person does not know then ask someone who works in a leather store.

2. If you cannot be sure then it would still be better to abstain from wearing it since the Sharia has considered it essentially impure [najis al-'ayn] and cannot be purified in any way.

The following may help to determine whether it is of pigskin. However, consult an expert in a leather store if still in doubt.

And Allah knows best.
Abdurrahman Ibn Yusuf

Are You Wearing Pigskin Leather?

It is amazing that many Muslims do not know if they are actually wearing a leather jacket or a shoe or carrying a purse or any other leather product that is made of pigskin.

At many occasions I have pointed it out to folks about it. Many have listened and many have not, I keep seeing them wearing those again and again. Imagine how many mosques, centers and other holy places they may have made NAJAS. Their prayers may not have been accepted. Do you think you are one of them or will you be one on them?

Here are some tips to find what a pigskin is, what it looks like and where it is used?
Where it is Used?

  • General Leather Products: Heavily used in Chinese and other developing or under-developing countries.

  • Shoes & Joggers: Full Leather suede looking Shoes or inner linings.

  • Jackets: Full Leather suede looking knee long and waist long full sleeve or sleeveless jackets.

  • Purses: Women and men purses. Full leather or linings.

  • Briefcases: Men and Women leather brief cases, usually inner linings are pigskins. But look out for rest of the leather.

Why is it Used?

Price & Availability: Pigskin is cheap and easily available in most countries. It is lighter that real suede made of Cow. Due to low price it is easier to market and sell. It was first used as liners as it is really thin and strong. Soon it was used in most products as profit margins are comparatively high.

How to recognized it?

Mostly, it looks like suede. But it is thinner. It has spots on it. Kind of depressions or little holes that never go through. It seems like some has used spikes to try to pin through it. But these spots are only on one side.

Usually, on the other side of the leather, you will see squeezed round shaped spots. These spots may not be very prominent on this side. If you look very closely at the pictures given, you will have no problem in identifying pigskin. If you are not sure, read labels or ask the store keepers. Do not ask them if these are pigskins. Let them tell you what kind of leather it is. Do not take their words - Ask for proof.

Hard to Recognize

Hardest is to recognize the pigskin that is being used for non-suede type leather products. But with a close examination spots and holes can be detected. This type of leather needs much concentration.

Picture # 1
Flattened leather with thin look and equal-distance spots

Picture # 2
Very prominent Spots & Pin Holes. Suede like texture is visible.

Picture # 3
Flattened and soft looking but spots are visible.

Please also read the useful articles in the links below:

Further reading:

(1) Pig Skin Shoes - GMWA Foodguide (This is a very good website that investigates companies that in the UK that provide everyday items to the consumer. This article investigates shoes in particular and GMWA have come up with a list of shoes to avoid from companies such as Clarkes and Marks & Spencers. This link and the website is worth a look.

(2) Pigskin Sandals: Wudu and Makeups - SunniPath.com

(3) Using Hairbrush Made With Boar Bristles - SunniPath.com

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Qur’anic Ringtones Haram

Qur’anic Ringtones Haram
Taken from Arab News, 9 November 2007

The Islamic Jurisprudence Council banned the use of the verses of the Holy Qur’an as ringtones for mobile phones because it impinges on the sacred character of the Muslim Holy Book, the Saudi Press Agency reported yesterday.

“It is demeaning and degrading to the verses of the Holy Book to stop abruptly at the middle of a recitation or neglecting the recitation, as happens when they are used as ringtones in mobile phones. On the other hand, recording the verses from the Holy Qur’an in phone sets with the intention of recitation and listening is a virtuous act,” the scholars attending the council said in a statement.

During the six-day meeting of the council in Makkah, which began Nov. 3 under the chairmanship of Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, 70 Muslim dignitaries and scholars tackled a number of important issues. On behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal opened the first session of the council.

The council decided that Muslims are permitted to determine the sex of a fetus provided it was a medical necessity, such as when ascertaining diseases that are suspected to affect boys and not girls, and vice versa. The council said three doctors would be required to confirm the medical necessity of the procedure.

The council also approved damaging an ovary that could lead to a disabled child, but said that trying to control the sex of a child was strictly prohibited.

The council also encouraged Muslims in the West to participate in elections in non-Muslim countries and play an effective political role, especially if elections brought about public good or prevented social evils.

It said this was the only way for Muslims abroad to secure their rights.

It also encouraged Muslims in the West to integrate into Western societies but cautioned them against adopting any Western habits that are contrary to the principles of Islam.

Those who presented papers included Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Subeyel, imam of the Grand Mosque. In the concluding session yesterday, the Islamic Jurisprudence Council emphasized that dialogue with non-Muslims supported by well-prepared media programs are essential in confronting anti-Islamic campaigns.

The council called on Pakistanis and Palestinians to stand united in solving their problems.

Islamic scholars from various parts of the world, who attended the conference, also called for the upholding of Islamic unity and adherence to the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah (Tradition of the Prophet), while tackling issues affecting Muslim countries such as Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Further Reading:

(1) Scholars Ban Qur'an Ringtones - islamOnline.net

(2) Entering the toilet with a mobile phone on whose screen is the name of Allaah - islam-qa.com

(3) Using musical tunes on mobile phones - islam-qa.com

(4) Is purity essential for reading Qur’aan from one’s mobile phone? - islam-qa.com