First Islamic banks in Morocco: Get debt-ridden Islamically?
By Omar Bihmidine
Following growing sought-after demand for Islamic banking in Morocco, the Moroccan government has ultimately agreed to the ‘Sharia-compliant’ form of banking services, one of the Islamist party’s pledges during the 2011 elections. Yet, the question of how Sharia-compliant Islamic banks are continues to stir controversy in public life and on social media. Some even went on to share caricatures mocking the benefits of this Islamic financing and pointing out sarcastic nuances between conventional banks and Islamic ones. Levant TV has recently talked to supporters and critics of this new wave of Islamic loans, especially about the difference they think the move is likely to make in their lives.
People in Morocco and other Muslim countries continue to share and debate the question of how Islamic Islamic banking is on social media. Some critics point out that the idea of Islamic bank servies is more about the religion than it is about solving financial problems, such as those related to housing, businesses and small projects. One of the advantages of such banks for us Muslims is to escape interests resulting from loans. But are these banks going to spare you the forbidden interests? Or are they going to replace the interests with trade and sell you their products Islamically? Even clerics themselves are still divided over the issue.
Islamic banks invest in real estate and objects. They buy them and sell them at a higher price to those seeking this kind of business, which is, for many, much better than being a slave to loans with high interests. This bears much resemblance to renting and commerce, which Islam allows and recommends as opposed to usury. However, at the end of the day, it is clerics who are to assume responsibility for issuing fatwas supporting the benefits of Islamic banking, not Muslims. The Quran mentions that we Muslims are not to blame for what sheikhs tell us, especially if given the proof.
Talking to Levant TV, Ahmed Bendaoud, a state employee, said, ” Like other fellow Muslims, I have long been waiting for Islamic banks to enter Morocco. Though I don’t understand how they operate, I heard that many sheikhs say that they are Islamic. I don’t want to get stuck with interests and do haram.” In response to the idea of Islamic or not, Ahmed added, ” We are not in a position to tell. All that we dream of is having an easy life without going against the teachings of our religion.”
Meanwhile, according to some critics, there was never such a concept of Islamic banking during the era of the prophet and the Islamic civilization, particularly since the Quran is not precise enough about the issue, which is open to different interpretations. Indonesia and Egypt tried their hands at providing Muslims with Islamic banking servies, but the question remains: How Islamic is the service?
“The problem, for me, isn’t with whether or not interests are forbidden. We Muslims dream of having a simple house of our own. We can’t even afford to pay for the value of a house, let alone be consumed with interests.” Brahim Achnouch told Levant TV. “I don’t think Allah is going to punish those who resort to interests out of necessity. If it were for a car, I would say it’s forbidden. But a house is a basic necessity,” Brahim added. It is true conservative Moroccans have been impatiently waiting for the coming of Islamic banks. Yet, others don’t question whether it’s forbidden to take a loan from other banks so long as they are not hurting anyone.
Even though the kingdom is seeking to give a push to its economy, conventional banks aren’t likely to welcome the idea unless Islamic banks are going to make concessions. Talking to Levant TV, a maths teacher, who is interested in economy, said that Moroccans aren’t going to benefit a great deal from these banks in the presence of existing competitive banks. It is not prudent for other banks to allow Islamic banks to attract investors and clients without gaining benefits, which many deem as another form of interests, an Islamic one.
According to Moroccan social media users, Islamic banking will not make a big difference. The new wave is just a curse in disguise to get more people into Islamic debts, Islamic mortgages, Islamic burdens and Islamic enslavement. ” I can’t see any big difference yet between Islamic banks and conventional ones. All some supporters of this kind of halal banking have explained to me is confusing.” Adam Hassim, an private school teacher, told Levant TV. ” How can I take part in something I myself haven’t yet got the hang out of? How can Islamic banks survive for long if they don’t gain much money out of debt-ridden people?” Adam added.
At this point, I believe that before Morocco invites Islamic banks to enter the kingdom, the government must first make sure riches are distributed equally, corrupt officials are taken to court, capital flight is stopped, and social justice is brought about on the ground. By then, Moroccans impatiently seeking benefits of Islam banking will have found it much easier to have a house of their own, a car and a project while loans remain as the last resort. This, clerics must be reminded, will certainly make the lives of Moroccans much easier.