Conventional bills, bonds, and notes which pay interest are unacceptable from an Islamic perspective.
Tradable financial instruments using Islamic structures were introduced in Pakistan in 1980 and Malaysia in 1990.
The defining characteristic of sukuk is their asset backing.
There remains much controversy over sukuk structures, especially among shariah scholars.
There is growing worldwide interest in sukuk, including from the Treasury in the United Kingdom.
Incompatibility of Conventional Financial Market Instruments with Shariah Law
Islamic capital markets are made up of two components, stock markets and bond markets. This contribution is primarily concerned with the latter rather than shariah-compliant stock determination. In particular it is sukuk that have become the accepted Islamic alternative to conventional bills, bonds, and notes, and hence are the major focus here.
Conventional capital market instruments such as treasury bills, bonds, and notes are unacceptable from a shariah Islamic legal perspective as they involve interest payments and receipts. Interest is equated with riba, an unjust addition to the principal of a debt, and is seen as potentially exploitative. Islamic economists prefer equity to debt financing because of the risk-sharing characteristics of the former, which is viewed as fairer to all parties. They are also concerned about the injustices that often arise with excessive indebtedness, as in the case of developing country debt, or simply the higher interest charges often faced by those with no collateral to offer and the poor more generally.
Nevertheless, government and corporate borrowing is unavoidable, and can indeed be beneficial if the finance is used productively for investment that can contribute to employment and prosperity. Bank lending, however, commits assets on a long-term basis and reduces liquidity. The advantage of using capital market instruments to raise finance is that investors can exit at any time rather than wait for assets to mature. Furthermore, the investment banks that arrange the issuances earn fees and do not have to commit their own resources, unless the bill, bond, or note issue is not taken up, in which case, as underwriters, they will have to purchase the issuance.
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