Islamic banking, also referred to as Islamic finance or shariah-compliant finance, refers to finance or banking activities that adhere to shariah (Islamic law). Two fundamental principles of Islamic banking are the sharing of profit and loss, and the prohibition of the collection and payment of interest by lenders and investors.
Islamic banking is grounded in the tenets of the Islamic faith as they relate to commercial transactions. The principles of Islamic banking are derived from the Qur’an–the central religious text of Islam. In Islamic banking, all transactions must be compliant with shariah, the legal code of Islam (based on the teachings of the Qur’an). The rules that govern commercial transactions in Islamic banking are referred to as Fiqh al-muamalat.
Bankers who are employed by institutions that abide by Islamic banking are entrusted with not deviating from the fundamental principles of the Qur’an while they are conducting business. When more information or guidance is necessary, Islamic bankers turn to learned scholars or use independent reasoning based on scholarship and customary practices.
One of the primary differences between conventional banking systems and Islamic banking is that Islamic banking prohibits usury and speculation. Shariah strictly prohibits any form of speculation or gambling, which is referred to as maisir. Shariah also prohibits taking interest on loans. In addition, any investments involving items or substances that are prohibited in the Qur’an—including alcohol, gambling, pork—are also prohibited. In this way, Islamic banking can be considered a culturally distinct form of ethical investing.
To earn money without the typical practice of charging interest, Islamic banks use equity participation systems. Equity participation means if a bank loans money to a business, the business will pay back the loan without interest, but instead gives the bank a share in its profits. If the business defaults or does not earn a profit, then the bank also does not benefit. In general, Islamic banking institutions tend to be more risk-averse in their investment practices. As a result, they typically avoid business that could be associated with economic bubbles.
While an Islamic bank is one that is entirely operated using Islamic principles, an Islamic window refers to services that are based on Islamic principles that are provided by a conventional bank. Some commercial banks offer Islamic banking services through dedicated windows or sections.
Beginning in the 1960s, Islamic banking resurfaced in the modern world, and since 1975, many new interest-free banks have opened. While the majority of these institutions were founded in Muslim countries, Islamic banks also opened in Western Europe during the early 1980s. In addition, national interest-free banking systems have been developed by the governments of Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan.