The time value of money in Islamic banking

 

  

The use of the Karachi Interbank Offered Rate (KIBOR) as a benchmark by Islamic banks in calculating the selling price of their commodities in murabaha sale transactions is not only justified, but also necessary, to remain competitive given the current banking industry dynamics in which Islamic banks have a pretty low share. However, it is not permissible under Shari’ah to price loans using KIBOR, as many conventional banks do. Najmul Hassan, general manager for corporate and business development, Meezan Bank, explains the underlying differences in approach.

The use of the Karachi Interbank Offered Rate (KIBOR) as a benchmark by Islamic banks in calculating the selling price of their commodities in murabaha sale transactions is not only justified, but also necessary, to remain competitive given the current banking industry dynamics in which Islamic banks have a pretty low share. However, it is not permissible under Shari’ah to price loans using KIBOR, as many conventional banks do. Najmul Hassan, general manager for coprorate and business development, Meezan Bank, explains the underlying differences in approach.

Unlike conventional banking based on interest-bearing loans, funds invested in an Islamic bank are used essentially for trade. The Quran clearly mentions riba in a number of places (Surah Ar-Rum, Al-Imran, An-Nisa, and Al-Baqra), with a very strong view against such people who indulge in it. The authentic definition from Hadith (with the chain of transmission being Hazrat Ali) leaves no room for ambiguity: ‘every loan that draws a gain is riba’.

According to capitalist theory, there is no difference between money and commodity in so far as commercial transactions are concerned. Islamic principles differ from this concept because money and commodity have different characteristics.

Many people question whether Islamic finance differs meaningfully from conventional finance. Outwardly in form, many structures do bear a similarity in a number of respects. The present day operating environment is a conventional one, from market structuring and dynamics, to rate benchmarks and circulation of money, then on to regulatory controls. However, the way these two financial systems function with respect to core defining parameters is very different. Many things look the same but are, in essence, fundamentally different.

 

We begin with basic principles. The one is interest-based money lending while the other operates like a trading house. Where does this difference originate? Two core principles lie at the centre – elimination of riba and gharar. Any Islamic transaction needs to assess these two things first and foremost. Bearing in mind the definition given in Hadith, as mentioned above, we can discuss the time value of money and the workings of present day Islamic banks. For this, we have to look at the differences between the ways in which modern capitalist theory (the basis of interest-based banking) views ‘money’ and ‘commodity’ and the principles defined by Islam.

According to capitalist theory, there is no difference between money and commodity in so far as commercial transactions are concerned. Accordingly, both are treated at par and can be sold at whatever price parties agree upon. With this theory, selling Rs100 for Rs110 or renting Rs100 for a monthly rental of Rs10 is the same as selling a bag of rice costing Rs100 for Rs110 or renting a fixed asset costing Rs100 for a monthly rental of Rs10.

Islamic principles differ from this concept because money and commodity have different characteristics. For instance, money has no intrinsic value but is rather a measure of value or a medium of exchange. It cannot fulfil human needs by itself, but needs to be converted into a commodity. On the other hand, a commodity can fulfil human needs directly. Furthermore, commodities can differ in quality while money has no differential quality, in the sense that a new note of Rs1000 is exactly equal in value and quality to an old note of Rs1000. Similarly, commodities are transacted or sold by pinpointing the item in question or at least by giving certain specifications. Money, however, cannot be pinpointed in a transaction of exchange. Even if it could be, it would be of no use to do this since the different denominations of money making up an equal amount have the same ultimate value.

With these differences in mind, to exchange Rs1000 for Rs1100 in a spot transaction would make no sense since the money in itself has no intrinsic utility or specified quality. So, the excess amount on either side is without consideration and hence not allowed under Shari’ah. The same would hold true if we were to exchange these Rs1000 for Rs1100, to be delivered after a period of one month, since the excess of Rs100 would be without consideration of either utility or quality but would only be related to time.

Any excess amount charged against deferred payment is riba only when money is exchanged for money, since the excess is charged only against time.

The same is not true when commodities are involved. Since a commodity is known to possess an intrinsic value and quality, the owner of such a commodity is allowed to sell it at whatever price is mutually agreed with the buyer, provided that, in selling, he does not commit a fraud but is subjected to the forces of supply and demand. This would hold true even if the price that is mutually agreed upon is higher than the prevailing market price.

In conclusion, any excess amount charged against deferred payment is riba only when money is exchanged for money, since the excess is charged only against time. The proof lies in the fact that, if the debtor fails to repay at the stipulated time, he is charged extra money. In contrast, where a commodity is being exchanged for money, the seller may take into consideration various factors (like the supply and demand situation, quality, utility, special features and so on) as well as the time of deferred payment. It is true that the seller may take account of the time factor in increasing the price of his commodity in a credit sale, but the increased price is being fixed for the commodity and not exclusively for the time element.

Time is not the exclusive consideration in fixing the price; therefore once the price is fixed it relates to the commodity and not to the time. For the same reason, if the purchaser fails to pay at the agreed time, the price would remain the same and under no circumstances would the seller be allowed to charge more than is actually owed.

Keeping in mind the above discussion, the use of KIBOR as a benchmark by Islamic banks in calculating the selling price of their commodities in murabaha sale transactions is not only justified, but also necessary, to remain competitive given the current situation in which Islamic banks have a pretty low share in the banking industry.

We must understand that the use of KIBOR as a benchmark to determine the profit is for indicative purposes only and this does not make the transaction impermissible if all of the other conditions of a valid sale are fulfilled. It is often the case that a trader, whether a large multinational trading corporation or a roadside store, will arrive at a decision on profit or margin rates, having taken into account a number of factors. A major variable of which is the competitive environment in which the trader is operating his business.

If a rice trader or a cloth merchant uses KIBOR as the basis for adding profit margins to the cost of his commodities to arrive at the price, this would not amount to interest or riba and it would not make the transaction impermissible. The principle is similar for Islamic banks using the KIBOR to arrive at the selling price of their commodities.

In contrast, conventional banks price their loans based on KIBOR, which does result in riba since it is an exchange between money and money and not a sale transaction in which commodities are exchanged with money.

It is being questioned in some circles whether Islamic banks could price their commodities by applying some other benchmark rate. The rationale behind using KIBOR is the banking environment is dominated by conventional banks, which discourages the development of an Islamic benchmark rate.

In the light of this situation, Islamic banks are compelled to use an interest- based benchmark to price their products. This not only ensures stable returns inline with the industry but also assures competitively priced products for the customers.

As more and more Islamic banks begin to operate, an inter-bank market between Islamic banks will be created and a new benchmark for the Islamic banking industry will then be able to be developed.

 
 

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