Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I am a lawyer by profession. I have been studying Islamic law since my university days — and continue to do so. When Islamic banking was introduced in Malaysia in 1983, I was fortunate to be in a position to advise the first Islamic bank (Bank Islam) set up in this country. At that time, very few lawyers were keen on Islamic banking. Almost all financing documents had to be drafted without the help of precedents.I managed to undertake and complete that assignment. It was a daunting but rewarding and fulfilling endeavor. And I have not looked back since.
What does your role involve?
In my professional capacity, it is mainly advisory work on Islamic banking and finance. I conduct seminars on Islamic banking and finance and present papers at conferences. I also carry on my regular legal practice in corporate, banking and related matters.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
In relation to Islamic finance, it is getting the proposals I made in a Malaysian law conference paper for the better functioning of Islamic banking and finance in this country accepted and implemented and, in one case, enacted as law.
Among them is the establishment of the National Shariah Advisory Council when the Central Bank of Malaysia Act had to be amended to accommodate a central Shariah advisory unit. Then there is the establishment of the Muamalat division of the High Court in Malaysia. The division which was established in 2003 hears only Islamic bank cases. There are also revisions to the civil laws to allow the system to be more compatible with the Shariah.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
What are the strengths of your business?
Finding solutions that call for novel, bold and precedent-setting approaches to legal issues and problems that arise in the implementation of Islamic banking and finance. We operate on the principle that for every (and any) problem, there is a solution if only we would seek it diligently enough.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
The courage and ability to tread paths not previously traversed and surmount the constraints of the existing legal system within which Islamic banking and finance has to be implemented.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
I believe the industry will achieve as much growth in the next five years as it did in all of the last 25 years. There would be wider acceptance of Islamic banking and finance based purely on its own merits and strength. On a global basis, it would emerge as a truly alternative system to conventional banking.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I would like to see the ulama (Islamic scholars) as financial experts and the financial experts as ulama. The separation between the two is not in keeping with the principles of Islamic scholarship. In Islam, knowledge is one and all encompassing. A truly knowledgeable person is one who is learned in all fields of knowledge but this is not to say that there should be no specialization.
I do not see any reason why an ulama cannot also be a finance man and vice versa. When that happens, Islamic banking and finance would have arrived.
Mohamed Ismail Shariff holds an LLB (Hons) from the University of Singapore (1969) and an LLM from King’s College, University of London (1974). He is currently a director of Kuwait Finance House Malaysia Bhd, the first foreign-owned Islamic bank in Malaysia.
Ismail is the only advocate and solicitor to have been associated with Islamic banking from its introduction in Malaysia in 1983 to present day. He drafted the first Islamic banking documents used by the Islamic banking industry. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]