Islamic finance: a flywheel for integration?
The presence of Muslim believers in Italy, according to a report of the Italian Council for Relations with Islam, is estimated at about 1,600,000 people, i.e. 2.5% of the population.
This number is set to grow exponentially throughout the Western countries. By 2030, according to the report of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Muslims will make up 27% of the total world population and 9% of the European one. This is a reality that can no longer be considered marginal, but rather a community of believers that is becoming increasingly evident. This opens up a series of questions concerning the issue of inclusion in a plural society anchored to the principle of secularism, such as the Italian society, also with regard to economic integration.
In the Islamic religion, the believer is required to respect certain precepts that range from the public to the private sphere. Islam is an all-encompassing religion: there is therefore a common thread that runs through the various aspects of the faithful's life, which are entirely regulated by the Shari'ah. Also the economic-financial sphere, therefore, is entirely regulated by Islamic law.
The Muslim believer is therefore forced between the need to respect his religious principles and the need to access financial services.
In the Islamic Law, there are four fundamental corollaries which superintend the regulation of any financial activity. The prohibition of ribà (interest) and the principle of the sharing of risk and yield (profit and loss sharing). Therefore, any positive rate of return, fixed and predetermined, which is guaranteed regardless of the performance of the investment, is prohibited. The Koran also explicitly prohibits any form of speculation (maysìr) and the gain based on uncertainty and chance (ghàrar).
To these four principles is also added, indirectly, the prohibition of the use, commerce or investment in prohibited goods or activities (haram). In the last place, there is the zakàt, the equal distribution of wealth. Whoever possesses a minimum amount of wealth is obliged to purify his patrimony with the payment of a regulated offer, which takes the form of a real tax on income.
The Islamic world bases its financial system on the concept of the Shirkah, whereby parties share profits and losses from any financial activity; in other words, the parties involved pool a portion of their capital or labour for the purpose of a 'to share' business scheme. It is a technique that is endorsed by doctrine because it offers positive results on the real economy.
In recent years, Islamic finance has shown itself to be a fast-growing sector (also) in Western Countries as an alternative model of financial intermediation based on ethical elements. At the present time, the Islamic finance has reached substantial figures, which are drastically destined to grow in the short term, representing a reality in continual expansion: the sukuk, investment certificates in conformity with the Islamic Law, at the end of 2016, represented 17% of the sector and in that year alone, securities for 88 billion dollars were issued. According to Moody's, the annual growth of these products is estimated at between 14-15% and, in a short time, they should reach 148 billion dollars.
The development of Islamic finance has recently been boosted by the fact that the Muslim community in Europe numbers over 17 million people, or 4.6% of the total population.
(Conventional) financial institutions have developed products, services and institutions entirely dedicated to it. In most of the continental experiences, a model of dual-banking has been opted for, in which the two different systems, conventional and Islamic, share the same macro-economic habitat with points of interdependence. Many American and European intermediaries (such as Citigroup, Deutsche, HSBC, UBS, etc.) have created "Islamic windows", i.e. internal structures that are separate, both legally and account-wise, which offer products and services of Islamic finance. The current growth rate of the phenomenon is estimated at around 20% per year and there are about 500 operative Islamic banks in 75 countries.
Italy, for its part, seems interested in these forms of finance, at least from the point of view of the possible investments that subjects belonging to the Islamic world could make on the markets of our Country, as well as from the collection of capital that the Italian intermediaries could make in the Islamic Countries. However, unlike many European and non-European countries, it does have neither a real Islamic Bank, nor Islamic windows that respect the conditio sine qua non of the separation of the Islamic and conventional funds. All this despite the fact that 32.9% of the foreign population resident in Italy is of Islamic faith.
The Islamic economic-financial model undoubtedly leaves open multiple paths of in-depth study directed to the comparison of such financial model with the ethical finance sector, as well as to the analysis of the possible points of encounter between the set of regulations present in the Western juridical systems with the purpose of containing the phenomenon of usury and of money laundering with the Shariatic precepts. More in general, the Islamic finance could represent an important instrument of integration of the Moslem believer within the social fabric in which he lives.
(Focus a cura di Alessandro Cupri)
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