PERSONALLY, I don’t see anything wrong with Islamic banking, but I can understand the sentiments of those opposing it. Question: Would I want it introduced? Answer: yes, but subject to terms and conditions.
My own layman’s understanding of this system of banking is that it is tied to a traditional approach to lending which abhors undue exploitation. Most usurers are sharks who end up destroying the poor that approaches them for lending.
Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is all about the extreme heartlessness of lenders. The Islamic form of banking presents as a more humane alternative governed by Islamic Sharia laws.
And why not? Everyone who parts with his money to another party must spell out terms. My layman’s impression is that the Sharia laws are meant to prevent the use of money lent by an Islamic bank to promote businesses and activities which the religion forbids such as the rearing of pigs, conduct of worldly beauty pageants, production, buying and selling of alcohol and others.
The idea of profit and loss sharing, rather than charging interests, whether profit or loss was made (which conventional banking thrives upon) is something many businessmen and women are liable to welcome, irrespective of their religious backgrounds.
The wonderful thing about the non-interest banking policy is that if, not being a Moslem, you do not wish to tie yourself to the conditionalities of Sharia law, you can always go for the non-Islamic variants. What it means is that if interest groups outside the Islamic circles should want to launch their own variants, all they need to do is to conform to the guidelines of the enabling law.
The problem with Islamic banking, therefore is not Islamic banking itself but the usual immature and careless ways that the CBN Governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has gone about it. It is said that a good diplomat can tell you to go to hell and make you actually look forward to doing so. But if Sanusi tells you: “Good morning”, he can make it sound like:
“God punish you”. Since he opened fire to clean up the banking system, Sanusi’s otherwise revolutionary policies have been blighted by his corrosive pronouncements that are better kept unsaid, or at least said with more attention to undesirable side effects. He could have succeeded in rescuing the banks and getting those who defrauded them punished without setting the entire financial system on fire as he did with his buccal bazookas.
I remember very well that part of his predecessor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo’s packages was the introduction of Islamic banking. He served notice on several fora that the policy was on the cards, but nobody even took notice, let alone raised the hatchet against it. Being a Muslim (and a possible future emir at that) Sanusi should have been clever not to set off a rock-fall of opposition by those who would feel uncomfortable with it. If I were in his position I would have portrayed it as the introduction of non-interest banking, with the Islamic banking being only one of the many choices in the bouquet.
As I said before, I understand the furore being raised against Islamic banking. Our Muslim compatriots from Northern Nigeria managed to sow seeds of discord and suspicion with the manner in which they imposed certain Islamic practices on a country that is widely seen as “secular” (even though I prefer the term “multi-religious”). They exploited their long monopoly of power to do so many things without caring about the sentiments of other Nigerians who did not share their Islamic cultural way of life. There are so many examples to point to.
One of them was the use of the ajami Arabic inscriptions on our currency notes. Right from the time of my childhood, I could never understand the source and meaning of those inscriptions on our Pounds and later, Naira notes. I don’t even know the meaning of “Naira”. I have been told that “Kobo” is a corruption of “copper” used to describe the copper coin even in colonial times. Kobo is actually “kwabo” (as in Gaskiya tafi kwabo), a Hausa term.
Now our national currency is just like our flag and English, our official language. These are things all Nigerians share in common. These are symbols and factors that unite us. But ajami is something peculiar to only Moslems (especially Northern Nigerian Moslems). It has nothing to do with me as an Igbo and Christian Nigerian, or another person as someone of another ethnic stock who is a non-Muslim. And yet, the people who forced it on our national currency did not care how others felt.
Soludo’s decision to remove the ajami from our current 50 kobo and lower denominations got him called all sorts of names. Soludo’s work was only half done, because the ajami must be removed from our banknotes. To me there is nothing Nigerian about it.
In the same way, mosques were built in our State House at Abuja. General Ibrahim Babangida built the Aso Villa architecture to look like the palace of an emir. It was only in response to the heat raised by the Christian community that a chapel was reluctantly inserted.
Nothing raised the consciousness of Nigerian non-Muslims like the surreptitious enrolment of Nigeria as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC, late in 1985. Since that time, Christians have been vigilant to prevent what they see as the grand plan to “Islamise” Nigeria. The introduction of Islamic banking is viewed in this light and thus the clamour for it not to see the light of day.
The truth is that if we go on this way, this country will never survive, let alone develop. Muslims must do away with any real or imaginary idea of forcing their religion on this country. This mentality is gradually radicalising the normally peaceful Christian community to meet force with force. On the other hand, Christians must also learn to allow their Muslim compatriots (especially those who choose to live a Muslim lifestyle) to do so provided that no one’s liberty is tampered with. It is not everything that is good for Muslims that is bad for Christians, and vice versa.
The beauty of dog play is: You fall for me, I fall for you!