Islamic Finance and Women
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Islam honors women, enhancing their standing [in society] and granting them their full unabridged rights, and in the process solidifying this view in the hearts of Muslim believers.
This can be seen in the fact that one of the surras [chapters] of the Holy Quran is named "al Nissa" [the woman]. Al-Nissa is the fourth surra in the Quran, and one of the seven longest surras in the Quran. There are also a number of Sunnah which relates situations that honor women and their rights.
In one Hadith narrated by Abu Huraira, he said "A person came to the messenger of God and asked 'Who among the people is most deserving of my fine treatment?' He said 'Your mother.' He then said 'who next?' The Prophet replied 'Your mother' again. He asked 'who next?' The Prophet said 'Your mother.' He asked again 'Then who?' Thereupon the Prophet said 'Then your father.'
The prophet's life was a model of how to honor and do justice to women. In the Sahih al-Bukhari collection of Hadith, the Prophet's wife Aisha said that the Prophet consulted women and sought their opinion on the most serious issues. The Sahih al-Bukhari quoted al-Miswar Bin Makhrama as saying that "When the writing of the [Hudaybiyyah] treaty was concluded, the messenger of God said to his companions 'Get up and slaughter your sacrifice and get your heads shaved.' By Allah, none of them got up, and the Prophet repeated his order thrice. When none of them got up, he left them and went to Umm Salamah and told her of the people's attitude towards him. Umm Salamah said 'Oh Messenger of God, do you want your order to be carried out? Go out and don't say a word to anybody until you have slaughtered your [own] sacrifice and called your barber to shave your head.' So the Prophet went out and did not talk to any one of them until he did that i.e. slaughter the sacrifice and called the barber to shave his head. Seeing this, the companions of the Prophet got up, slaughtered their own sacrifices, and started shaving each other's heads, and there was such a rush [to do this] that there was a danger of killing each other."
Commenting on this Hadith, Imam al-Hassan al-Basri said that the Prophet did not need to consult with Umm Salamah but rather he did this as he wanted to set an example to the people that they should not feel embarrassed about consulting with women.
Despite women's considerable standing in Islam in general, the Islamic financial industry, which is based upon the principles of Islamic Shariaa law, has failed to give women priority. Therefore women do not occupy their natural position in this industry, even though they contribute financially to this industry's assets. Experts at the International Islamic Finance Forum held in Dubai 2007 estimated the value that Gulf women contribute to the Islamic financial industry is in the region of $35 billion. Observers may notice this negligence in two major sectors, the employment and business sectors.
As for employment, this negligence is apparent in a variety of aspects, such as qualification and training, as Islamic financial institutions offer few training courses to female employees. Of the few courses that female employees have access to, these are primarily basic courses, not advanced ones. This prevents female employees from being able to qualify for senior positions, and therefore they are restricted to lower-level management and marketing positions. This has created a shortage of qualified female employees in the Islamic financial sector, which in turn has caused a lack of qualified trainers for female employees of Islamic financial institutes, thereby creating something of a vicious circle. There is also a lack of a suitable work environment in line with the provisions of Islamic Shariaa law, and this is something that would increase productivity. This lack of a suitable work environment places pressure on the female employees in the financial sector, causing professional employees to abandon their work as a result of this. This also prevents the Islamic financial sector from easing unemployment rates among women, especially in conservative societies.
The business sector in Islamic finance is lacking in financing and investment services aimed at women. It is also lacking in initiatives that enhance women's contribution to the Islamic financial industry, such as the establishment of banks, and capital and investment companies that cater specifically for women. At this point I would like to pay tribute to the Kuwaiti Tejarati company, which was the first company to be established by women, targeting women as clients. We wish this company all the success, and hope that this encourages other types of initiatives.
In fact, the Islamic financial industry is not the only financial sector that neglects women, as this is something that is widely spreading to include the financial industry as a whole. This is why the International Finance Corporation in collaboration with a number of banks has sought to establish the Global Banking Alliance for Women. Their aim to take the necessary measures to ensure the speedy growth of the wealth of women by exchanging the best possible practices between financial institutions around the world.