An Education on: The Harmonization of the Islamic Economy

January 5, 2017

Islamic finance is still not viewed as a viable career option by many college bound students. Neither is it offered at many colleges, especially in the Middle East. What needs to change? 

In order to meet this human capital challenge within the Islamic economy, we need to take a step back and look at the corresponding increase in the number of experts in the Islamic economy- in general – as compared to the growth in the industry.

Over the last decade, the industry has witnessed impressive growth, especially from the 2008 financial crisis.

With that, we have not seen a corresponding increase in the education in terms of the availability of expertise and there are so many reasons for that.

Organizations still look at conventional bankers and economists as potential contributors to the Islamic economy’s education.

The gap between what they know in the realm of the conventional economy and what they need to know in terms of the Islamic economy can be addressed through workshops or short term training programs – which unfortunately do not do the job.

 

What do you view as potential solutions to this issue?

Solutions that are available in the conventional economic system are developed for people that have unique characteristics.

These characteristics are different from an Islamic economy in terms of the structure, and Muslims in general. Therefore you need to have unique solutions that address the needs of the people you’re catering to.

I’m not calling for organizations to re invent the wheel – however the way we use things,  the way the decisions are made – the way the solutions issued are addressed – is different, and therefore we need to ensure that we filter  conventional solutions through the religious characteristics of the economy.

Solutions need to be provided addressing poverty, managing family businesses etc – the nuances of some these are not necessarily issues in other parts of the world.

Education in this part of the world has largely been limited to Islamic finance, which is the dominant sector we see a lot of interest in. a lot of initiatives, including our own have covered Islamic banking and finance and addressing the needs of professionals in providing the certificates and diplomas in demand. We don’t see as much interest in Takaful programs or Islamic fashion, which although severely different – are equally as vital.

Interest is beginning to materialize in different part of the world, but it’s not as widespread as Islamic finance.

Many of the programs have addressed the academic need in terms of providing Bachelors- Masters and PhD programs. The investor, however, needs more. There is only a small group in the Islamic world that is interested in academic accreditation of that sort. The larger majority however, demand professional certifications. Herein lays the need- not only for certification programs within Finance, but across all applied fields within the Islamic economy.

 

What approach should be taken to make education within the Islamic economy more widespread?

Conventional approaches will not do the job here- it is simply too expensive! What we need to do is ensure that Islamic economy education is made affordable, flexible and accessible.

These three needs must be the cornerstone of every solution – and the solution needs to be provided by professionals and government initiative. It is not a task to be taken on by one organization or a single government body; it is much bigger than that.

 

How can/has technology played a role?

Technology has helped us make education in the Islamic economy accessible, flexible and affordable.

Our infrastructure here allows everybody around the world access to our knowledge- and with modern technology; we can create learning courses on any subjects of interest.

Therefore, we cater to the customer’s needs – we provide learning that is requested, this makes it not only cost effective, but makes the investment accessible to many more people. Any nation, Muslim or otherwise – should not be deprived access to world class educators. This way, we don’t have to invest the money and risk sending a professor to an unstable region – technology has made sure of that.

Likewise, social media has been extremely effective in the Arab world by creating a community of learners, exploring the Islamic economy as a whole and making it an accessible platform for everybody, is something we’re very serious about here in HBMSU.

Currently, there are very limited open education opportunities; we need to encourage organizations to develop more open learning resources freely available to different learners. Peer to Peer learning is an integral part of any emerging field, and creating an open democratic platform for individuals to share their empirical work, examine studies as well as create dialogue- is made so much easier now with social media platforms such as LinkedIn; among others.

 

With the exception of the Halal certification – there‘s little else Muslim scholars are able to agree on in terms of standardization, how can we go about it?

At the end of the day, any certification is a combination of modules that address a specific issue. If the learner is given the opportunity to understand the different viewpoints with regards to certain issues, you’re allowing that individual to form an opinion of their own.

There are of course differences in interpreting Shari’ah with respect to the different Muslim regions in South East Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

While these interpretations may be viewed as negative, they are in fact an opportunity for healthy debate; you are allowing professional discourse to take place, and creating discussion.

So, instead of looking for standardization; which is very difficult when everyone’s view reflects the uniqueness of their sect and/or their regional perspective, I believe in pursuing harmonization.

Standardization should not be the aim – but harmonization, and that is the attempt to minimize differences as opposed to eliminating them – recognizing that some differences will remain just that. Trying to minimize differences is an approach far more productive than eliminating them- an example is attempting to create standardization within Europe to create the EU; when all else failed, they harmonized.

 

Is a centralized framework a stepping stone to harmonizing the differences between the SEA and MENA economies to propel Islamic finance further forward?

An organization that tries to manage the different aspects of the Islamic economy, to bring more global awareness regarding the specifics of the economy is what’s needed.

I don’t believe it’s a possible concept in our present time; however, it would help to have an apparent source of information to all the important aspects of this economy. We need organizations at regional and national levels managing and studying the differences, this information can then be fed to a supra organization that can better disseminate and circulate this information.

The SEA region have made advances in certain areas, but I believe Dubai to be more encompassing in terms of its appeal, its leadership and its ability to address the challenges that have long been ignored. At the end of the day, there is more than enough space for us to have several economic capitals within the Islamic economy.

 

Author: Professor Nabil Baydoun
BIO:  Professor Nabil Baydoun is the Vice Chancellor for Enterprise & University Advancement, at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, Dubai. He has held senior academic positions and staffed key board committees at various institutions in Australia, Honk Kong, New Zealand and the UAE. Professor Nabil earned his doctorate in Accounting from the University of East Anglia, England, and is an internationally recognized authority on the impact of Religion and Culture on accounting systems.

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