If global financial inclusion is the goal, we need to embrace Islamic finance

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In the Arabic language, the term Jã’iz refers to any act which is permissible, allowed, lawful. More broadly, you could say there is “no reward for performing it nor any punishment for neglecting it,” and that it’s a close synonym of the term Halāl. As such, it is the opposite of Harãm: something that is forbidden, prohibited, an act “from which one must abstain” and for which one will be punished.

Sharīʿah law, the body of religious laws based on the sacred scriptures of Islam, counts a few instances of illicit activities. From more well-known ones, such as gambling, alcohol and pork meat consumption, and prostitution, to strictly financial ones like giving and receiving interest, or being involved in extremely risky investments, there are lots of examples of acts forbidden under Sharīʿah law.

Jã’iz – this was the word we kept coming back to when thinking about our mission of bringing the world’s 1.4 billion unbanked and underbanked into the future – allowing them to step into the world of opportunities that opens up once you extend the goal of global financial inclusion to truly mean everyone, not just some of us.

Because out of those 1.4 billion, the MENA region (Middle East and Africa) counts 50% of its population as financially excluded, roughly the same as the figures for Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific combined. If we truly want to create financial freedom for everyone, then we need to think of the Muslim community, which has been excluded from some important aspects of the financial world for far too long. The crypto space, for example, is a prohibitive one for those who follow Islam, due to religious values prohibiting speculation and any association with non-halal trades like gambling and alcohol.

We need new and innovative business models. We need them to be truly ethical and truly inclusive if we want them to have any real global utility or reach. We need them to be Halal, to be Jã’iz. And of course, we need them to have all the value and sophistication of their Western-word-only counterparts, or we’ll never manage to eradicate the root cause of financial discrimination.

Only a decade ago, 49% of the world’s population didn’t have any access to financial services – half the world was entirely unbanked in 2011, whereas by 2022, that figure has shrunk to only 24% of people worldwide. And that’s not just in higher-income economies: in developing countries, financial access has grown by a staggering 71% in just ten years. Guess what we can attribute the jump to? That’s right, technology.

Innovative and includive technology is key to eradicating inequality, and because traditional banking has long and greatly failed the unbanked and underbanked, that means it’s time for fintech to pave the way for a new era of financial inclusion.

The use and wide adoption of blockchain technology can, and will, create an ecosystem of fully transparent, regulated, and certified solutions with the ability to liberate more and more people all over the world from the shackles of the obstacles in traditional banking that have long held them back.

With the help of sophisticated and transparent blockchain solutions with maximum data security, advanced digital asset protection, and stringent moral and ethical standards, complications like lack of privacy, account and overdraft fees, ID verification and lack of trust could be things of the past. Quite a worthy endeavor, wouldn’t you agree?

Because if we have managed to reduce global financial exclusion by 25% in ten years, surely we can commit to doing what it takes to close the gap completely. And because 1.4 billion unbanked and underbanked people, in 2022, is still an enormous figure: every community deserves efficient and inclusive solutions to bring them into the future, and all great solutions should be putting Jã’iz to good use.—City A.M

 

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