Friday, December 07, 2007

UK wants to be the leader in Sharia banking

From the Gulf Daily News:
MANAMA: The UK's strengths and capabilities as the leading international financial centre for Sharia-compliant financial services will be debated at the World Islamic Banking Conference.

The roundtable discussion is being organised and hosted by UK Trade & Investment and comprises experts from Islamic Bank of Britain, Bank of London and the Middle East, HSBC Amanah, ABC International and the London Stock Exchange.

Topics for discussion will include "Is the UK an obvious choice as a centre of Islamic finance" and "Are the ethical concepts of Islamic finance readily understood by the UK financial market?"

"As a leading centre for financial innovation where new Islamic structures are constantly being developed, the UK recognises the tremendous opportunities that Islamic Financial Services - worth over £250 billion has to offer," said British Trade Minister Digby Jones.

"Our goal is to position the UK as the international partner of choice for the provision of Islamic financial services, including developing strong partnerships with other centres of Islamic finance.

"We have a proven record of developing and delivering retail domestic and wholesale international investment Islamic financial services and products, and the necessary legal and financial skills and expertise to take full advantage of this."

"The debate will provide these leading companies with the perfect platform to showcase the skills and expertise the UK has to offer to those looking for a global partner in Islamic finance," said British Ambassador Jamie Bowden.

I have no problem with companies going after the Islamic market - it is just another market segment, after all. Adding Islamic credit cards or mutual funds as another option for customers seems reasonable. But things start to get sticky if the growing Islamic financial demands start to affect the mainstream practices of Western firms - if, in order to get a Sharia seal of approval, banks are requested to drop all investments in companies that sell alcohol or pork.

Far more worrying is when a Western government is willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the demands of a religion. This isn't about Arab banking, it is about Islamic, Sharia-compliant banking, and the quotes above indicate that Great Britain is willing to do whatever it takes to get a piece of the action, no matter what ethical issues are involved. The dangers of such a policy are obvious and extreme.