E.P.L. in Islamic Finance: PERCEPTION– What is it?

Post By David Vicary

Perception

I am not going to start this article by trying to define “Perception”.  Suffice it to say that one person’s perception is likely to be another’s reality and vice-versa. In the world of Islamic Finance and Islam there are multiple misperceptions, many of which are based on a lack of education and a genuine unwillingness of many people to stop and think.

All too often it is easier to tune in to the media and have a nicely packaged solution for your questions, than to stop and think about what the real facts are and to draw your own conclusions!  I GUESS WE ARE ALL GUILTY OF THIS BEHAVIOUR FROM TIME TO TIME.

Let me give you some examples of misperceptions regarding Islamic Finance, which are based on recent personal experience.

Last year, at the request of the bank Negara Malaysia, I was invited to meet with several US State Department and White House officials, who were visiting Malaysia to find out more about Islamic Finance.  I was given their names and asked to meet them at the lobby of a well known hotel.  They were given my name as Daud Vicary Abdullah.

At the appointed time I arrived and had no problem spotting the US officials.  I went over, attired in one of my best bespoke pin-stripe suits and introduced myself as “Daud Vicary Abdullah and are you the representatives from the State Department?”
The response from the senior official took me somewhat by surprise “You don’t look like an Islamic Banker!” he said.
To which I responded “Who were you expecting.  Osama bin Laden?”
To be fair there were peels of laughter and we did have a very engaging couple of hours to follow, but it was that initial reaction that lingers in the memory.  Perceptions are interesting.

I would also like to share with you another recent example.

At the end of a one hour phone interview with an Australian Financial Journalist, which had gone well, as he had demonstrated that he grasped the subject, and was asking the right questions. He suddenly moved into “perception territory”.
“What if an Australian woman wanted to open an Islamic Bank Account?  Would she be allowed to?”
“Why do you ask that?” I responded.
“ Because we hear so much about negative behavior towards women in Islam”

On investigation, much of this negative behaviour was actually more to do with local tribal customs than Islam itself, but it was the association with Islam that was interesting and the fact that a seemingly intelligent reporter had not thought the whole thing through.  I wrapped up the conversation by mentioning that women’s rights to property were embedded in the Koran and also in the behavior of the Prophet (pbuh). In my own country, the UK, these rights were not given to women until the 1920’s with the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act.

So what do we do to help change these perceptions?

The solution is relatively easy.

Firstly we need to be sure of our facts.  That means more education and a deeper understanding.
Secondly, we must be prepared to stand up for what is right and defend the facts.

We cannot sit on the fence.  If we hear of something that is wrong and that demonstrates a poor perception of Islam and Islamic Finance, we should do our best to explain and correct in a non-confrontational way. We need to explain by speaking to people’s listening.  If they are not prepared to listen face to face then we need to seize every opportunity that we have in the media to explain the value proposition and demonstrate that Islamic Finance is for everyone.

Those of us who have the capability to explain should explain.  Those of us who do not yet feel capable to explain should study and debate in order to improve.  This is not going to be either an easy or a soon to be completed task.  It will require dedication and effort coupled with much persistence.

There is much to do and not a moment to lose.

Daud Vicary Abdullah

 

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I am not going to start this article by trying to define “Perception”.  Suffice it to say that one person’s perception is likely to be another’s reality and vice-versa. In the world of Islamic Finance and Islam there are multiple misperceptions, many of which are based on a lack of education (refer to my first article in this series) and a genuine unwillingness of many people to stop and think.  All too often it is easier to tune in to the media and have a nicely packaged solution for your questions, than to stop and think about what the real facts are and to draw your own conclusions!  I GUESS WE ARE ALL GUILTY OF THIS BEHAVIOUR FROM TIME TO TIME.

 

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Joy Abdullah

I create brand, financial and people value for an organization by linking its leadership, strategy, engagement and communications into one cohesive story.

2 thoughts on “E.P.L. in Islamic Finance: PERCEPTION– What is it?”

  1. Daud, the article is a much needed topic to open a frank discussion.

    IF communication practitioners do a horrendous job when relating what IF consists of and what benefits are offered therein.

    Setting aside product formation to religious compliance, there is a huge void in citing its practice and disassociation to the jihadist movement. If Islamic Finance is going to be better understood by global finance professionals, it has to forthrightly state its serves honorable purposes vs. those directly associated with disastrous activity.

    It goes without qualification that IF is a noble profession with many qualified and ethical people working toward productive goals and economically beneficial endeavors. It embraces a Muslim way of life and standard of living that is anti-terrorist. Until the industry forthrightly states its principals and operating doctrine, IF will remain misunderstood and perceived as being a negative movement and infringement on global finance.

    The sheer size of its potential makes it an enormous opportunity for those educated in finance to advance its cause and influence. But the fact remains that IF has a negative connotation and unless its image is improved, through careful and forthright explanation, its future is limited involving technology and product development that can advance the cause.

    Even though schools may increase IF educational studies, those seeking jobs will find the opportunity to apply learned skills limited. The counter move is to apply to a Western bank and contribute through their mode of operation.

    As recently related to a London journalist, unless IF begins to tout its positive elements from widely perceived negative ones, its challenge for acceptability will continue. When met, the talent will grow its professional base and therefore expand it acceptance and productivity.

  2. I know exactly where you are coming from Daud. By way of showing exampes from the other side as a non-Muslim islamic finance guy:

    Via Muslim colleagues I’ve had feedback on multiple occasions that someone in the ‘communities’ that I’ve met has said to a ‘brother’ that they couldn’t believe I wasn’t Muslim, and that they thought I was one of them. I should point out that this was only after they had overcome their intial percpetions of a white banker in a suit and engaged in conversation.

    And second example – a senior officer in a major Islamic charity felt the need to explain to me where Peshawar was – I’ve stayed there, and visited the region many times. I let it pass without comment……..

    We’re all guilty.

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