DEMYSTIFYING THE MYTH OF SHORTAGE OF SHARI’AH SCHOLARS
Zulkifli Hasan Available at: Global Islamic Finance Magazine, page 66, July 2010.
The release of “Shari’ah Scholars-A Network Analytic Perspective” issued by the Funds-at-Work provides the extent of current Shari’ah board practices in Islamic financial institutions (IFIs). The survey in 2008 reveals that out of 94 scholars in 467 IFIs in 19 countries, only 20 of them are heavily utilized where they represent 339 board positions equaling 17 board positions per scholar. This figure is increased in 2009 where it shows that the top 10 listed Shari’ah scholars have monopolized more than 58% out of 956 Shari’ah board positions in 271 organizations in 22 countries. The recent analysis in 2010 further evidences that the top 10 scholars hold 67% out of 1054 board positions in 291 IFIs in 24 countries.
This article summarizes and illustrates the board and chairman positions of top ten Shari’ah scholars in these three separate reports. Amongst the top 10 Shari’ah scholars, Sheikh Nizam Muhammad Saleh Yaqubi is ranked first with 78 board positions followed by Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah, 77, Sheikh Muhammad Ali Elgari, 65, Sheikh Abdulaziz Khalifa Al Qassar, Sheikh Abdullah Sulaiman Al Manea and Sheikh Mohammad Daud Bakar, 38 respectively, Sheikh Hussein Hamid Hassan, 32, Sheikh Ali Mohyuldin Al Qarradaghi, 31, Sheikh Essa Zaki Essa, 25 and Sheikh Ajeel Jasim Al Nashmi, 22. As regard to the chairman position, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Ghuddah and Sheikh Hussein Hamid Hassan hold 21 Chairman Positions respectively, Sheikh Abdullah Sulaiman Al Manea, 20, Sheikh Nizam Muhammad Saleh Yaqubi, 10, Sheikh Abdulaziz Khalifa Al Qassar, 9, Sheikh Muhammad Ali Elgari, 8 and Sheikh Ali Mohyuldin Al Qarradaghi, 7. The average of board position for top 10 Shari’ah scholars in 2008 is 25.3 while in 2009, it increased to 42.4 followed in 2010 whereby the figure amounted to 44.4.
As would be apparent from the above figures, most of the Shari’ah board positions are monopolized by the same Shari’ah scholars. It is understood that we can not solely blame the Shari’ah scholars for such practices as IFIs need for qualified, experienced and well known individual for Shari’ah advisory services. The author nevertheless is suspicious as to the reason and rationale of the industry heavily utilizing certain individual Shari’ah scholar. Interestingly, almost for a decade, there would be the same reason were given for such practices namely the market experiences the problem of shortage of Shari’ah scholars. After more than 30 years of Islamic finance practices worldwide with thousands of conferences, workshops, seminars were organized and numerous academic institutions as well as international standards setting agency were established, does the same excuse is still acceptable or it is just a myth. With aim at exploring the reality of this issue, the author attempts to demystify the myth of shortage of Shari’ah scholars by briefly examining and analyzing the state of institutional and human resource development as well as the extent of intellectual discourse on Islamic finance.
Basically, the issue of lack of Shari’ah scholars is not the real issue in Islamic finance. There are hundreds or thousands of potential Shari’ah scholars that could be utilized by the industry. Mohammad Akram Laldin, Executive Director of ISRA and well known Shari’ah scholar during the interview by Rushdi Siddique views that the industry is actually not in the stage of shortage of Shari’ah advisors. He further raises his concern that many potential Shari’ah advisors are not given fair chance and opportunity to serve on Shari’ah board as the IFIs prefer to have the existing well known and prominent figures. For instance, in Malaysia alone the Bank Negara Malaysia report in 2009 reveals that the rules on restriction of individual from sitting in more than one Shari’ah board had increased the total number of Shari’ah experts in 2004-2009 to more than 100 individual Shari’ah scholars. In addition, Failaka published the Shari’ah report on Profiles of 100 of the World’s leading and Up-and-Coming Shari’ah Scholars in 2008. Both reports even not extensive have indicated to certain extent that there are many Shari’ah scholars who are available in the market that could provide Shari’ah advisory services for IFIs.
The argument for engaging the same scholars because of lack of qualification and experience is also futile. The Islamic Finance Program Data Bank of Harvard University reported that as of December 2007 there are numerous publications related with Islamic finance which consist of 4792 articles, 875 books, 1959 book chapters, 4539 conference papers, 540 thesis and dissertations. On top of that, there are various academic journals that allocate discourse on Islamic finance such as Journal of Economic Cooperation Among Islamic Countries, Islamic Economic Studies, IIUM Journal of Economics and Management, Journal King Abdulaziz University, Islamic Economics, Journal of Islamic Banking and Finance, Contemporary Jurisprudence Research Journal, International Journal of Islamic and Middle Eastern Finance and Review of Islamic Economics. To complement this, numerous magazines, bulletins as well as specific column in daily newspapers offer a wide range of information on Islamic finance such as the Banker, the New Horizon, the Global Islamic Finance Magazine and the Business Islamica. In addition thousands of conferences and seminars were organized to disseminate information on Islamic finance for both industrial and academic research. All of this information surely would be able to assist the existing, potential and future Shari’ah scholars in facilitating themselves with necessary knowledge on technical aspect of Islamic finance as well as exposing with the latest goings-on in the industry.
To further demystify the myth of shortage of Shari’ah scholars, brief observation on the available underutilized Shari’ah scholars in the institution of higher learning worldwide might be useful. Amongst the top universities that offer programme on Shari’ah are Al Azhar University, Damascus University, Darul Uloom University, Imam Mohammed Ibnu Saud University, International Islamic University of Malaysia, International Islamic University of Islamabad, University of Al Madinah Al Munawwarah, Kuwait University, Umm Al Qura Universtiy, University of Jordan, University of Yarmouk, National University of Malaysia, Islamic Science University of Malaysia and Malaya University. In view of this information, we may simply presume that there are many potential Shari’ah scholars that could be found in all of these institutions that would be available to provide Shari’ah advisory services and consultancy. In fact, the prominent jurists and the world renowned scholars such as Sheikh Wahbah Al Zuhailiy, Sheikh Said Ramadhan Al Buti and Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi are not in the list of top ten Shari’ah scholars.
The above facts and findings indicate that the issue of lack of Shari’ah scholars to certain extent is just a myth and perhaps the actual reason for IFIs to engage certain individual Shari’ah scholar are mainly for purpose of maintaining credibility and marketability of their products and services. It is hoped that the future development on the institution of Shari’ah board would able to address this specific issue so as to negate any negative perception on the credibility and image of Shari’ah scholars. At this point, the author strongly advocates an idea for the establishment of professional body of Shari’ah scholars that has authority to grant license, to offer professional course and necessary qualification and to regulate the ethical principles of Shari’ah advisors. In this aspect, an effort and initiative taken by Malaysia to establish Malaysian Association of Shari’ah Advisors (MASA), a professional body for Shari’ah scholars regulated by specific law and regulation is greatly welcome. The author extremely supports this initiative and further advocates this idea to be materialized at regional and international level.