Islamic finance seeks young scholars to lead growth

Tue Jun 1, 2010 7:37am EDT
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By Shaheen Pasha

DUBAI (Reuters) - Fifteen years ago, New York native Taha Abdul-Basser had a set plan for his future. The Harvard student was double majoring in pre-med and comparative religions with the expectation that he would serve society as a doctor.

But his life took a different turn as Abdul-Basser, already a student of traditional Islamic disciplines, became involved with Harvard University's Islamic Finance Project as a researcher and found his new calling: sharia.

"I always had an interest in traditional Islamic religious sciences with my early education coming from my father," said Abdul-Basser. "But I really stumbled across the opportunity to apply Islamic ethics to contemporary life."

At 35, Abdul-Basser is now a respected and in-demand sharia advisor in the global Islamic finance industry and positioned to benefit from an acute shortage of qualified professionals in the sector.

With Islamic finance a $1 trillion industry globally and expected by ratings agency Moody's to reach $5 trillion in time, students of sharia have more opportunities than before to take their skills beyond the mosque doors and into the boardroom.

Reflecting the change in times, many current scholars, including Abdul-Basser, now prefer to call themselves sharia advisors or technicians to suggest that their duties are more professional rather than simply clerical.

Professionally, it can be a lucrative endeavor. Scholars working on Islamic finance deals are paid consulting fees, depending not only on the services provided but also the seniority and fame of the scholar.

There's no shortage of positions, with every Islamic finance company having a sharia board that monitors compliance, and ad hoc boards often set up for individual deals.   Continued...