A number of economic concepts and techniques were applied in early Islamic banking, including bills of exchange, the first forms of partnership(mufawada) such as limited partnerships (mudaraba), and the earliest forms of capital (al-mal), capital accumulation (nama al-mal), cheques,promissory notes, trusts (Waqf), transactional accounts, loaning, ledgers and assignments. Organizational enterprises independent from the state also existed in the medieval Islamic world, while the agency institution was also introduced during that time. Many of these early capitalist concepts were adopted and further advanced in medieval Europe from the 13th century onwards.
The word “Riba” means excess, increase or addition, which according to Shariah terminology, implies any excess compensation without due consideration (consideration does not include time value of money). The definition of riba in classical Islamic jurisprudence was “surplus value without counterpart”, or “to ensure equivalency in real value”, and that “numerical value was immaterial.” During this period, gold and silver currencies were the benchmark metals that defined the value of all other materials being traded. Applying interest to the benchmark itself (ex natura sua) made no logical sense as its value remained constant relative to all other materials: these metals could be added to but not created (from nothing).
Applying interest was acceptable under some circumstances. Currencies that were based on guarantees by a government to honor the stated value (i.e. fiat currency) or based on othermaterials such as paper or base metals were allowed to have interest applied to them. When base metal currencies were first introduced in the Islamic world, the question of “paying a debt in a higher number of units of this fiat money being riba” was not relevant as the jurists only needed to be concerned with the real value of money (determined by weight only) rather than the numerical value. For example, it was acceptable for a loan of 1000 gold dinars to be paid back as 1050 dinars of equal aggregate weight (i.e., the value in terms of weight had to be same because all makes of coins did not carry exactly similar weight).
Modern Islamic banking
Interest-free banking seems to be of very recent origin. The earliest references to the reorganisation of banking on the basis of profit sharing rather than interest are found in Anwar Qureshi (1946), Naiem Siddiqi (1948) and Mahmud Ahmad (1952) in the late forties, followed by a more elaborate exposition by Mawdudi in 1950. The writings of Muhammad Hamidullah 1944, 1955, 1957 and 1962 should be included in this category.They have all recognised the need for commercial banks and their perceived “necessary evil,” have proposed a banking system based on the concept of Mudarabha – profit and loss sharing.
In the next two decades interest-free banking attracted more attention, partly because of the political interest it created in Pakistan and partly because of the emergence of young Muslim economists. Works specifically devoted to this subject began to appear in this period. The first such work is that of Muhammad Uzair (1955). Another set of works emerged in the late sixties and early seventies. Abdullah al-Araby (1967), Nejatullah Siddiqi (1961, 1969), al-Najjar (1971) and Baqir al-Sadr (1961, 1974) were the main contributors.
The early 1970s saw institutional involvement. The Conference of the Finance Ministers of the Islamic Countries held in Karachi in 1970, the Egyptian study in 1972, the First International Conference on Islamic Economics in Mecca in 1976, and the International Economic Conference in London in 1977 were the result of such involvement. The involvement of institutions and governments led to the application of theory to practice and resulted in the establishment of the first interest-free banks. The Islamic Development Bank, an inter-governmental bank established in 1975, was born of this process.
The first modern experiment with Islamic banking was undertaken in Egypt under cover without projecting an Islamic image—for fear of being seen as a manifestation of Islamic fundamentalism that was anathema to the political regime.The pioneering effort, led by Ahmad Elnaggar, took the form of a savings bank based on profit-sharing in the Egyptian town of Mit Ghamr in 1963. This experiment lasted until 1967 (Ready 1981), by which time there were nine such banks in country.
Islamic Banking is growing at a rate of 10-15% per year and with signs of consistent future growth. Islamic banks have more than 300 institutions spread over 51 countries, including the United States through companies such as the Michigan-based University Bank, as well as an additional 250 mutual funds that comply with Islamic principles. It is estimated that overUS$822 billion worldwide sharia-compliant assets are managed according to The Economist. This represents approximately 0.5% of total world estimated assets as of 2005.According to CIMB Group Holdings, Islamic finance is the fastest-growing segment of the global financial system and sales of Islamic bonds may rise by 24 percent to $25 billion in 2010.
In 1972, the Mit Ghamr Savings project became part of Nasr Social Bank which, currently, is still in business in Egypt. In 1975, the Islamic Development Bank was set-up with the mission to provide funding to projects in the member countries. The first modern commercial Islamic bank, Dubai Islamic Bank, opened its doors in 1975. In the early years, the products offered were basic and strongly founded on conventional banking products, but in the last few years the industry is starting to see strong development in new products and services.
The World Islamic Banking Conference, held annually in Bahrain since 1994, is internationally recognized as the largest and most significant gathering of Islamic banking and finance leaders in the world.
The Vatican has put forward the idea that “the principles of Islamic finance may represent a possible cure for ailing markets.”