Islamic Banking and Finance in the United States – a report

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Report by Mufti Ebrahim Desai

It is Friday after Maghrib Salaat on 14 July 2006 in Musjidun Nabawiy [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam]. I am on my way to South Africa from the United States and Allah favoured me with the opportunity of visiting the Haramayn Shareefayn. I have been travelling to the United States for the past fourteen years and have witnessed a great deal of Islamisation in the past one and a half decade. I regret not having recorded the details of my previous travels and hope to prepare a brief summary of my travels and experiences. Insha Allah.

I decided to pen down a summarised version of this trip for the benefit of the businessmen aiming towards Shari’ah Compliancy in Business Economics.

I was invited by the Shari’ah Board of Chicago, Illinoise to travel with a group of Ulama around the United States to promote Shari’ah compliance in Business Economics and Islamic Banking.

The Shari’ah Board of Chicago

The Shari’ah Board of Chicago is the most organised Ulama body in the United States. The Ameer / President of the Board has great talents and leadership qualities. He is the Shaykhul Hadith of the Darul Uloom operating under the Rahmat-e-Aalam Foundation and teaches Bukhari and Tirmidhi. He is also the Shaykh / spiritual guide and people around the United States benefit from his spiritual discourses. I have observed him very closely in my travels. He is very found of academic spiritual discussions and always keeps along with him the Arabic version of Fusul Hikam of ibn Arabi with the persian introduction to it. An Aalim of Deen will appreciate the high level discussion in Fusul Hikam. Hadhrat Mufti Saheb stated to me that he read the discourses four times and continue reading them. Hadhrat Mufti Saheb always has his mobile phone on and he receives innumerable phonecalls from all types of people around the States and he listens to everyone with patience and offers them advice.

Hadhrat Mufti Saheb is also well known through his Jamaat activities throughout the States. Mufti Saheb is very humble and very friendly. People of all walks of life, young and adult are able to freely communicate with him. It is under the leadership of Hadhrat Mufti Nawalur Rahmaan Saheb, the Ramat-e-Aalam Foundation serves the Muslims of the Unites States in the following ways:

1. The online questions and answers – oral and written – through their website. This is a very popular site. There are at least three Muftis dedicated to answering the Fatwas. Majmooul Fataawa (a compilation of all the Fataawa of our Akaabireen) is being compiled by these Muftis. The first volume is published.

2. Mediations and arbitrations.

3. Halaal certification.

4. Aalim and Aalima classes. The monthly expenses of the board is approximately U$D80000 and the Board rely on the generous contributions of the public. It is amazing to know how many women, young and adult, have successfully completed their Aalima courses from the first year till final year. There is a very academic and spiritual environment of women in Chicago due to education programmes of the Ramat-e-Aalam Foundation.

The Foundation has many senior and competent Ulama who serve on its Board. In my travels in the United States with these Ulama, the efforts and benefits of the Shari’ah Board has been hailed by all the Ulama we met in the United States. It should also be noted that the senior Ulama of India and Pakistan also recognise the great efforts of the Shari’ah Board of Chicago and regularly visit there, especially, Mufti Mohammad Sa’eed Palanpuri Saheb (Ustaadh of Hadith – Darul Uloom, Deoband)

The above are just a few services of the Ramat-e-Aalam Foundation. One very important function of the Board is Islamic Banking and Shari’ah Compliancy in Business and Economics.

Brother Salman Ibrahim, a real estate agent has a great passion for Islamic Banking and works closely with Devon Bank. Brother Salman is a very deeply religious person in every aspect and is guided by Hadhrat Mufti Nawalur Rahmaan Saheb. Allah has blessed Salman with a great talent. Br. Salman has in his heart the benefit of Islamic institutions and offer appropriate advices to them regarding building and purchasing.

Devon Bank offers two Shari’ah modes of Financing – Muraabaha and Ijaarah. Devon Bank has taken keen interest in Islamic modes of Financing and one of the shareholders has actually obtained a diploma in that regard.

I have studied a report and contract documents of Devon Bank. It is clear that the head of Islamic modes of Financing, David Loundy, has a fair amount of knowledge on Islamic financing. What was more amazing was his strict implentation of the Shari’ah rules of Islamic financing. He would even comment against some Fataawa that were compromising in that regard. Devon Bank has gone to great lengths in devising Islamic products besides Muraabaha and Ijaarah. Great expenses has been incurred by them to devise the products compatible with US economic rules and regulations. Some of the products have been rejected but the effort of the management is ongoing. However, there is a need to create an Ulama supervisory board to advise and regulate Islamic Financing of the Bank and other institutions.

Many Muslims have contracted with Devon Bank and Devon Bank itself has benefited through that. Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity for Muslims in the US to use Shariah compliant products and avoid interest bearing transactions. The Shari’ah Board of Chicago became aware of the successful Shari’ah Compliant Business Campaign of Madrasah In’aamiyyah Camperdown, South Africa and invited me to travel with a group of Ulama around the United States to create an awareness of Shari’ah compliancy in the Muslims of the United States. It was the Madrasah holidays in July and I accepted the invite from June 30 till July 9. I reached New York on Friday, June 30 2006 via Dubai. This was an approximate 24 hour flying time from Durban besides the transit times. The following was the schedule:

July 1, Saturday, Bayside Musjid – San Francisco
July 2, Sunday, Los Angeles
July 3, Monday, Cyprus Musjid – Los Angeles
July 4/5, Tuesday & Wednesday, Chicago
July 6, Washington
July 7, 8, 9 – New York

On Friday, June 30, I was scheduled to fly to Sacramento, San Francisco at 3:30 pm. I missed the flight and was rescheduled to fly at 6:00 pm. It was a five hour flight and I reached Sacramento at midnight.

After lunch the following day, we proceeded to Bayside Musjid which was an approximate 2 hours drive. This is a very big and spacious Musjid with a beautiful layout and artwork. We were informed that the attendees of the Musjid are highly professional people and overly critical. The programme was also highly advertised and Alhamdulillah, the attendance was overwhelming. The programme was chaired by Hadhrat Moulana Mumtazul Haqq Saheb (formely Ustaadh of Hadith, Darul Uloom – Newcastle). His unique style of welcome and eloquence set the tone smoothly for the programme. Brother Salman gave a slide presentation of Sunrise Equity Fund and the Ijaarah and Muraabaha products. Thereafter I gave a talk on Ribaa and importance of abstaining from it. There was then a detailed session of questions and answers related only on business issues. The website of Shari’ah Board of Chicago has the recordings of all the programmes.

The following morning, we had to leave for the airport which was about an hour. The scenery was very refreshing with the ocean on the right and the beautiful hills and lush gardens on the left. The hundreds of large and tall windmills on the hill enhanced the beautiful sight. The flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles was almost two hours.

We were invited for the Walima of Moulana Ridwan. He married the daughter of Syed Hussain of Canada. Syed Hussain has a great deal of passion for Islamic economics and was appointed by late General Ziaul Haqq of Pakistan to draft the policies of Islamic Banking in Pakistan. I was called up to offer some advices at the Walima reception and I met many young Ulama and Muftis at this Walima.

After Asr Salaat, the seminar on Islamic Banking was held at a community hall adjacent to a Musjid. The programme was well attended and well arranged. The MC was Moulana Junayd Kharsani of South Africa. There were many questions in the Q/A session and the MC had to cut the Q/A session short as it was running too late.

The following day, we proceeded to Cyprus Musjid. The Imaam is the famous senior Aalim of South Africa – Hadhrat Moulana Ahmad Sadeck Mehtar. The Musjid is big and spacious. The sea breeze can be well felt from outside the Musjid. Moulana gathered the local Ulama to interact with us. Alhamdulillah, there were many experienced Ulama. After Maghrib, there was a programme on Tazkiyah by Mufti Nawalur Rahmaan Saheb. His talk was highly academic and based on Wahdatul Wujood and non-existence of everything else. This talk was a clear expression of Hadhrat Mufti Saheb’s deep understanding of Tasawwuf. To be honest, this high level discussion was meant for the many Ulama present. The masses could understand only about 40% of what was discussed. After the Esha Salaat, I was requested to offer some advices. I continued on the ongoing discussion of Tazkiya. After the programme, I was pleased to meet brother Khalid Baig, the director of the famous Albalagh.net website with whom I have been communicating for approximately 10 years. He is a very soft spoken and humble person with Sunnah attire.

The following morning, we proceeded to the airport for Chicago. We were scheduled to fly at 6:00 am. The plane left on time and returned to base after 10 minutes of flying due to a technical fault. After three hours, we were put back on the plane and the pilot returned after less than 10 minutes of flying. We had to take another flight at approximately 12:00 and reached Chicago’s O’Hare airport on time for the night programme at Schamburg, a suburb outside Chicago. The Musjid is very big and extremely beautiful with two major lightened frames of the Haramayn on the left and right of the Musjid. I was welcomed by a senior (Mufti Azizur Rahmaan) of the Shari’ah Board of Chicago.

The Musjid was filled to capacity. The following day, a meeting was scheduled with all the Ulama of Chicago and many issues were discussed especially on Islamic Banking and the Ulama proposed to set up a broad Ulama committee to serve on the Board. Qari Abdullah Saleem (son of Moulana Na’eem – famous Ustaadh of Jalaalayn and author of Kamaalayn) was present. I expressed my wish to meet his father and went to Elgin. Qari Saheb has a Darul Uloom and teaches Bukhari Shareef. I met Moulana Na’eem Saheb. He is approximately 90 years of age. He was well dressed and walks about. A stack of Kitaabs of Tafseer was by his bedside. He offered us snacks and shared his experiences with Moulana Yusuf Saheb (Ameer of Tabligh Jamaat)

The following morning, we left for Washington and were hosted by Moulana Abdul Hamid Saheb. He is a senior and prominent Aalim of the area and served there for approximately 25 years. His services on Deen and education are well recognised in the Metropolitan area. He is also a Shaykh in the Naqshabandi Silsila and has many followers. He has inspired many and reformed the lives of many. By profession, he is an engineer. He runs an Islamic / secular school. Alhamdulillah, the level of both types of education is high and the more impressive part is the Islamic ethos of the school. There is complete segregation between males and females. I have read on one of the notices on the board that girls cannot attend with Jeans. This attitude is very encouraging especially being in America. Moulana has a flair for collecting Kitaabs and Islamic literature. The library of Darul Huda is worth admiring. A programme on Islamic Banking was held after Asr Salaat. People from all around the Metropolitan area attended. The Q/A session was also exhaustive. The following morning, we left for New York. The Jumma talk was scheduled at Manhattan Musjid Rahmah which has a capacity of approximately 3,500 Musallees.

On Saturday, the programme was in New Jersey. We met brother Sohail – a lawyer who works closely with the officials and Judges of New York and offers programmes on Islam. Alhamdulillah, brother Sohail’s zeal is admirable. He wanted to meet me and create a level of communication on various issues. The same evening, a dinner was arranged for the Memon businessmen of New York at Jackson Hights. This meeting was also attended by the Shari’ah Board of Ulama of New York. I offered some advices on the importance of a Muslims businessman and his role. Brother Salman made a presentation on Sunrise Equity and last Mufti Nawalur Rahmaan offered some sterling advices on the rights of wealth in Shari’ah. The last day, Sunday, after Dhuhr we met with other businessmen and bankers and explained the importance of establishing an Islamic bank.

The last programme was a graduation Jalsa of Baytul Hamd. The Principal is Mufti Jamaluddin and he is also the president of the Shari’ah Board Chicago. Moulana Ebrahim who also runs a school in New York stated in his opening remarks that Baytul Hamd’s level of education cannot be matched anywhere in New York. I have also witnessed the excellent reading and Tajweed of the children. Moulana Ebrahim Memon (son of Principal of Darul Uloom Bufallo) was also invited. He offered some very sterling advices on the need for a pure environment for our children. After my talk, Mufti Nawalur Rahmaan spoke on the importance of female education and the role of woman in Islam.

The above is a summary of my Islamic Banking travel in the US. The purpose is to inform the Ummah about the zeal and enthusiasm in the Ummah regarding Shari’ah compliancy in business and financing. Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] said, ‘For every Ummah, there is a test and the test of my Ummah is wealth.’

One of the questions we will be asked by Allah on the day of Qiyaamat is how did you earn your wealth and how did you spend your wealth.

May Allah grant us Tawfeeq.

Mufti Ebrahim Desai