Could women play a bigger role in Islamic finance?

Thu Sep 30, 2010 3:19pm EDT
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By Shaheen Pasha

DUBAI (Reuters) - It's not unusual to hear people ask why Islamic finance does not embrace women.

Given the global finance industry is dominated by men isn't it even more difficult for Muslim women to make their mark on the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry?

Well, only up to a point. Recent Western debate about the role of women in Islam may have centered on the veil, but from its early years, Islam was receptive to women in business and finance. And today, Malaysia is an example of how making money has little to do with gender in Islam.

Not only does Malaysia boast a female central bank governor devoted to helping Islamic finance grow, but Malaysia's Islamic institutions also boast women executives in top positions.

More surprising perhaps, Malaysia is also home to several woman scholars of Islamic law, or sharia, who provide companies with the approval they need to brand their business as compliant with Muslim principles that include a ban on interest.

But with its population of 28 million, Malaysia is just a drop in the Islamic finance lake. In the Gulf Arab region, the birthplace of Islam and the other main hub for Islamic finance, women are sorely underrepresented.

Islamic finance is growing rapidly in the Gulf Arab region, despite the global financial crisis, yet there is no woman chief executive at any Gulf-based Islamic financial institution.

Furthermore, there are no female Islamic scholars in the Middle East advising financial firms on sharia-compliance.   Continued...

<p>A staff of a sharia bank speaks to customers during the Economic Sharia Festival in Jakarta February 4, 2009. REUTERS/Supri</p>