- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2000

A Muslim who makes the wrong move in a business deal runs the risk of committing more than just a costly mistake it could be a mortal sin.
And Islamic businessmen must cope with the conflicts that occur when practices that are strictly proscribed under Islamic law are treated as commonplace in the global economy.
For instance, transactions that involve interest are forbidden under the Koran-based Shariah laws, which can make dealing with the modern business world difficult.
In an effort to deal with the problem, two Muslims have started IslamiQ.com, the first finance and investment portal based on Islamic law.
Hasnita Hashim, a mathematician with a doctorate in nuclear physics from Oxford University, and Peter Faisal, an entrepreneur, are the founders of IslamiQ.com.
The London-based site was started in March to target the world's 1.2 billion practicing Muslims who must follow business principles set by Islamic law.
"Our intention is to provide an array of financial information and services, which previously this huge audience a market that may be worth over $150 billion worldwide has been unable to take advantage of," Ms. Hashim said during a Washington appearance last week to promote the site.
Mr. Faisal said though the idea started in 1998, the preparation for the site took about a year because they had to get advisers for the site and get all the financial aspects worked out.
"So we prepared quite a long time," he said, adding that because Internet use is very high in the United States and Americans are more willing to buy items on the Internet, that is where a majority 55 percent of their users are. There are about 13-15 million Muslim Internet users worldwide, he said.
Ms. Hashim said that Islamic finance and investment banking is only about 25 years old, young in comparison to the conventional market. And there are Islamic laws that sometimes might be difficult to follow in the modern business world.
Since Muslims aren't allowed, for example, to charge or take part in transactions that involve interest this precludes owning a savings account or a certificate of deposit. But Ms. Hashim said she thinks "it's quite easy" to work in the business world as a Muslim.
Other forbidden acts include gambling, the sale of alcoholic beverages and extension profiting from money lending. Therefore, the site provides information as to what companies are acceptable to work with.
Ms. Hashim said there are sometimes gray areas as far as suitable businesses, but they have to follow their beliefs.
"But in cases of doubt then we just don't allow that until these things are addressed," she said.
Specifically, users may, for instance, manage personal financial affairs like travel and on-line shopping on the site, use e-mail and make payments of Zakah, the obligatory tax on wealth for Muslims.
Furthermore, Muslim investors can get market-sensitive information and make appraised investment decisions and access information like the status of stocks in regard to Islamic principles.
Besides the company's two portals, IslamiQMoney.com and IslamiQStocks.com, the site has an on-line newspaper that covers Islamic business and financial news internationally.
The company employs about 35 persons and is searching for Muslims who know business. Mr. Faisal said to broaden their appeal, they are looking for a sports reporter to cover sports news.
An international board of Islamic law scholars guides the company and provides opinions and approvals for investment and securities.
With offices in London and Malaysia, the two founders were in Washington for a conference but said they are looking to set up an office in the United States, most likely in New York.
The idea has its detractors. Asghar Bhatti, a senior partner with International Consultants, a Reston finance company and a Muslim who lived in Pakistan for many years, called it impractical.
Incorporating Islamic law into business isn't in line with today's business world, especially since that arena is becoming increasingly global and much of the world does not follow Islamic principles, he said.
The idea is not really practical for modern business, he said.
"As a businessman, we cannot limit ourselves to a particular sect, a minority," he said, adding that business affects too large a scope. "All countries are not Muslim countries."
He said following certain Islamic laws like not charging interest would be very deleterious to his business. "We would be out of the market," he said.


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