Monday, 19 December 2016

The Tunisian Martyr of Palestine

Martyrdom in Palestine is the ultimate gift
That takes you to heaven in a moment so swift

To sacrifice your life for the holy land
And give your blood for its soil and sand

To raise the banner of resistance to oppression
And fight Zionism’s tyranny and repression

You would think this gift is exclusive to
Palestinians who the land belongs to

But God works in mysterious ways
That is what He showed us the last few days

For a man from a country so far away
Was martyred fighting his own way

On the land of Tunisia his pure body fell
Every drop of blood had a story to tell

A story of a man who held Palestine so dear
He joined its resistance with no sense of fear

A story of a man who with his intellegence gifted
The resistance a weapon that in the sky was lifted

He bequeathed the resistance with al-ababeel
To defend the skies of Palestine with sijeel

Remember that Prophet Muhammad once said
That the sincere shall attain it even in their own bed

Zawari was far from his bed with his resistance
Far from it when cowards ended his insistence

God tells us that the shaheed is alive and not dead
So instead of crying we will rejoice instead

Rejoice that our ummah has produced a man
Who has taught us that we all can

We can all, in our own way, resist
So that, one day, Zionism may desist

Where there is a will there is a way they say
That was truly Mohammed Zawari’s way

In Tunisia he fell but to the world he confessed
That a sincere man can anywhere be blessed

So you see it was in Palestine that he actually died
And in Palestine, his brothers rejoiced and cried

In Palestine he attained the ultimate gift
From Palestine his soul rose to heaven so swift

By Ryan Mahmoud

Monday, 14 November 2016

Islam & Democracy after the Arab Spring

Islam & Democracy after the Arab Spring, by John L. Esposito, Tamara Sonn and John O. Voll.  Oxford University Press, 2015. 308 pages.  $29.95.
Reviewed by Ryan Mahmoud

The book’s writers have presented here a brief, post-colonial, history of seven Muslim countries with commentary on how democracy has evolved in those countries in modern times.  It is not so much a pure analytical piece of work so much as it is a historical account of important events in the history of democratisation of those countries.   It would seem a redundant task to write a book about the history of Muslim countries as there are many books that have comprehensively covered the topic.  The authors have attempted to discuss the obstacles faced by Muslim countries in the context of the history of colonialism as a precursor to the modern era of nation-state independence.  Some commentaries underemphasise the reality of only recently-gained independence when discussing Muslim countries.  Many Muslim nations have inherited colonial systems and states that were designed to maximise the benefit of the departing colonial powers as opposed to their own wellbeing and prosperity.  This reality is not overlooked here, and is in fact very present as it shapes the main discussions and provides the historical backdrop for the pressing current issues that are discussed.
The introduction provides a thorough analysis of the theory of democratisation as presented by Samuel Huntington.  This theory describes democracy as spreading in regions via a series of waves.   The  authors agree that the Arab Spring could be regarded as a fourth wave, but disagree with Huntington’s notions that Muslim countries are culturally incapable of successfully transitioning into democratic nations as many Western countries have.  They also clearly reject Huntington’s view that colonialism has nothing to do with the difficulties faced in Muslim countries on their way to democratisation. 
The authors begin their analysis with Turkey.  They show that although Ataturk’s policies of secularising the country were very anti-Islamic, Islam still found its way into the country’s politics through the figure of Erbakan and his successful Welfare Party.  Erbakan’s party was the precursor to Erdogan’s AKP party that has dominated Turkish Politics since it took power in 2002.  The AKP heralded an era of economic growth that was unprecedented in Turkey’s modern history.  Their success in politics was also impressive.  Their success was due to their inclusive language that brought together people of various backgrounds while still abiding by Turkey’s spirit of secularism and democracy.  In short, they managed to win the trust of non-Islamic voters and prove that their trust was well-placed.  The authors then conclude with a note on the views of Erdogan’s critics that he is turning Turkey into an authoritarian state.   Overall, the analysis about Turkey does not add any new insight into the phenomenon of Islamism in Turkey.  It is merely a presentation of Turkish history.  It would have been more useful for the authors to delve deeper into the AKP’s ideology and how they managed to attract and maintain such a wide voter base.  Unfortunately only a few statements from Erdogan’s speeches were used as analysis in this regard.
Iran is shown to have a different story.  The recognition of the effect of geopolitics is quite central in this chapter. Following a brief introduction of the history of British and Russian influence on the country, the authors then discuss the effect of the removal of Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister from power with the help of the United States.  This, the authors argue, had a profound effect on the history of Iran, as it lead to the Islamic Revolution, which then lead to conflicts with Iraq, that ultimately led to American intervention in the region and the beginning of the Global War On Terror.  Within this geopolitical landscape, Iran’s internal democracy has been slowly progressing, with significant interruptions from the theocratic regime of the Ayatollah’s.  Recent grassroots movements however are a sign that the population is willing to peacefully oppose the authoritarianism to achieve a more inclusive system of democratic governance.
Pakistan is presented as a country that had all the necessary ingredients present in the founding constitution of the state, but which has so far  failed to achieve the ideals outlined in that constitution.  Over the past decades the country has experienced periods of democracy interrupted by military rule.  However, the authors conclude that it is a work in progress, and that the country is currently under democratic rule.  Pakistan was an interesting case that was well-chosen for this book.  It is a striking contrast to Turkey whose founding constitution was aggressively anti-Islamic but still ended up with an Islamic party dominating its politics.  Pakistan, on the other hand began its history calling for the ideals achieved by the AKP in Turkey, however due to continuing military coups has yet to achieve a vibrant and successful democracy as experienced in Turkey.
Indonesia is a country that has successfully managed to make that transition, shedding the effects of military rule that had plagued it for decades following its independence.  Although presented as an example that may be studied by countries of the Arab spring, the authors are quick to point out that Indonesia’s circumstances are very different and cannot be emulated directly by Arab nations.  The success of the transition was presented as being due to the collaboration of secularists, Islamists and the army.  The analysis was to the point and was coherent in its discussion.
Senegal is discussed in relief to its post-colonial past.  The authors affirm that the current political scene has surely progressed past post-colonial structures, and is well onto the path of democratisation.  The Senegalese political landscape is influenced by a synthesis of ethnic, religious and military institutions that are guiding the country towards sustainable democratic governance.  Unlike other countries discussed in the book, political Islam is not a dominant influence on Senegalese politics, but rather an equal contributor to the overall political arrangement.
Tunisia is discussed in the light of it being the uniquely successful case in the Arab Spring.  The writers contrast its peaceful transition to democracy with the civil war that has erupted in Libya and the bloody military coup that took place in Egypt.  However, the authors were quick to also point out that despite its success, Tunisia faces many challenges on the path to democracy, primarily the inclusion of the different facets that make up Tunisian politics.  The leadership is described as being in a position where it needs to overcome the Islamic-Secular divide to insure the future success of Tunisia’s fragile, infant democracy.
The last country discussed is Egypt.  The Arab Spring sparked swift democratic changes within the country that unfortunately did not prevail over the existing power structures.  A military coup rapidly brought to a halt the process of democratisation only two years after it began.  The coup was violent and methodical in its arrest of key political figures, the most prominent being President Morsi and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The authors warn though that Egypt’s recent history has shown that the appeal to Islam is strong among Egyptians and that efforts to suppress its expression have typically backfired.  They also warn that if the crackdown on political Islam is not reversed, there is a strong possibility that its younger followers may resort to violence to defend themselves and their ideals.
Although it has a novel approach, the recounting of historical events is superfluous at times as many readers would already be familiar with the chronology of modern, Middle Eastern and Muslim history.  However, it can be argued that this text can act as a complete resource for someone who wants a comprehensive account of history and of democratisation in Muslim countries.  This book achieves that very well.  The authors’ awareness of colonialism and the geopolitics affecting Muslim countries makes this work very comprehensive and therefore very relevant in understanding how Islam, history and politics are affecting the process of democratisation in Muslim countries.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Sharia: Definition and Significance in the Modern World

Sharīʿa[1]Roots and Meaning of the Word

Sharīʿa in Islam has a broad and encompassing meaning.[2]  The medieval Muslim scholar al-Ṭabarī[3], in his Commentary on the Quran, interpreted the word sharia simply as ‘the religion’ and that it encompasses commandments and guidance to the path that was set down by God for believers[4].  The root of the word sharīʿa is sharʿ, which means ‘the path that leads to the spring’, in Arabic.[5]  In the Quran it is mentioned in the following verse: “Now We have set you [Muhammad] on a clear religious path, so follow it. Do not follow the desires of those who lack [true] knowledge”.[6]  It is the path that God has laid out for believers to follow or, in other words, it is 'the way to faithfulness’.[7] However, it is not merely a set of laws.  In the theoretical sense, it is an entire social, economic, cultural and intellectual system.[8]

Sharīʿa as Law

Sharīʿa is a broad, over-arching term that covers many areas of Islam and can be conceptualised in terms of four categories and they are: belief (or creed), morals, ʿibādāt (rituals) and law.[9]    It encompasses the commandments that must be followed and the prohibitions that need to be avoided by the believing Muslim. 

Commandments in Islam are not all strictly legal, in the modern Western sense.  Many commandments of the sharīʿa are designed to instruct Muslims on their moral and religious conduct that effectively show Muslims how to ‘be and remain Muslim’.[10]  For example, acts like being good to your neighbour or being kind to your parents are considered acts of servitude to God that are specifically outlined in the sharīʿa. These moral instructions are numerous in the ḥadīth literature.  For example, the prophet Muḥammad is reported to have said:

Don't nurse malice against one another, don't nurse aversion against one another and don't be inquisitive about one another and don't outbid one another (with a view to raising the price) and be fellow-brothers and servants of Allah”.[11]

Contrary to popular belief[12] only a small portion of the sharīʿa deals with penal law.  On the other hand, a significant portion of the Sharīʿa deals with ʿibādāt, or rituals of worship.  This is can be seen by looking at how much emphasis classical Islamic scholars gave to the issue of criminal law and punishment.  In the classical reference book of jurisprudence, ʿUmdah fil-Fiqh[13], written by the Palestinian scholar ibn Qudāmah[14], 123 of the book’s 346 pages are devoted to rituals such as purification, prayer and fasting while only nine pages are devoted to criminal law. Although it is the last category that gets the most emphasis in Western discourse, it is the area that is given the least amount of authorship among fiqh scholars.  An analysis of the Qurʾān yields similar results - less than 700 of the Qurʾān’s 6000 verses deal directly with legislation.[15]

The creed, or belief, aspect of Sharīʿa outlines what a Muslim must believe in order to be considered a Muslim.  This includes belief in the oneness of God, his angels, books, prophets, judgement day and destiny.   The legal aspect of Sharīʿa covers both transactional law of contracts and.  The muʿāmalāt part of fiqh deals with law of transactions.  As with many different parts of the Sharīʿa, this area also heavily focuses on morals and how a trader should and should not behave, from a moral perspective.

Sharīʿa and Fiqh

It is easy to confuse the difference between sharīʿa, the multifaceted system described above, and fiqh, the collective body of jurisprudential rulings of Islamic scholars.[16]  Fiqh is an attempt to interpret the Sharīʿa to produce rulings that can be used to solve people's day-to-day problems.  It is a human effort that attempts to interpret what Muslims believe to be God's divine will and, because it is a human effort, fiqh can evolve and change over time[17].  Muslims believe that the Sharīʿa is infallible but that human effort is mortal and prone to mistakes, although the closer views converge towards a consensus, the less likely it is that mistakes occur, and the closer mankind gets to God's will.  The prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “My community shall never agree on a falsehood”.[18]

Contemporary applications of Sharīʿa

Sharīʿa, as an entire belief, moral, ritual and legal system is no longer fully present today.  Western colonisation of Muslim lands in the 20th centuries effectively relegated it to the personal sphere.[19]  Although many Muslim-majority countries state that Islam is the religion of state, these countries are effectively secular modern nation states.  Even countries that claim to fully implement Sharīʿa such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, only implement parts of it.  The economic system of Sharīʿa for example, is absent even in these two countries where the modern banking system prevails.[20]

The upheaval of Sharīʿa from many Muslim countries has led to the formation of groups that have called for its return.  The main reason for this is that the ideals of justice and equality called for in the Sharīʿa are seen as solution to the corruption of Arab regimes.[21]  For example, corruption in the Palestinian Authority is believed to be one of the main reasons that Hamas was elected to government in the Gaza strip in 2006.[22]  In the few situations when free democratic elections have been permitted in Muslim countries, Islamic parties have been the major victors.[23]   Some of the groups that are calling for the return of sharīʿa have been more moderate, like Muslim brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahda party in Tunisia, while others have been extreme in both their views and methods, like Al Qaeda and the Islamic state (ISIS).

[1] This entry was an assignment I wrote for an Islamic Studies paper I did as part of a masters program.
[2]Saeed A Khan, 'Sharia Law, Islamophobia and the U.S. Constitution: New Tectonic Plates of the Culture Wars', U. Md. LJ Race, Religion, Gender & Class, 12 (2012), pp. 133.
[3] Died 923 AH in Baghdad.
[4] al-Ṭabarī, 'The Commentary on the Quran'(Islamic Library).
[5] Tariq Ramadan, Western Muslims and the Future of Islam.  (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004), p. 31.
[6] Surah al-Jāthiyah (Kneeling) 48:15, The Holy Qur'an. Trans. Abdel Haleem M.A.S.,  (Oxford Islamic Studies Online).
[7] Ramadan, p. 37.
[8] Wael B Hallaq, An Introduction to Islamic Law.  (Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 163.
[9] Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, 'The Implementation of Sharia in Free Societies'(Aljazeera, December 2013).
[10] Ramadan, p. 32.
[11] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.  (
[12] Scott Shane, 'In Islamic Law, Gingrich Sees a Mortal Threat to U.S.'(The New York Times, December 2011).
[13] Ibn Qudāmah, Al-ʿumdah Fil Fiqh (the Mainstay Concerning Juresprudence). Trans. Muhtar Holland.  (Fort Lauderdale: Al-Baz Publishing Inc., 2010).
[14] Died 620 AH in Damascus.
[15] Seema Kazi, Muslim Law and Women Living under Muslim Laws.  (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997), p. 161, cited in Maliha Masood, 'Untangling the Complex Web of Islamic Law: Revolutionizing the Sharia', Al Nakhlah, 4 (2003).
[16] Ibid. p. 3.
[17] Ramadan, p. 99.
[18] Hallaq, p. 20.
[19] Wael B Hallaq, Sharia: Theory, Practice, Transformations.  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 2.
[20] Mohd Daud Bakar, Syed Musa Alhabshi, and Effendy Rahaman, Islamic Banking and Takaful - Products and Services.  (William Press, 2011).
[21] Noah Feldman, After Jihad.  (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), p. 62.
[22] 'Ḥamās Electoral Campaign Platform (2006)'(Oxford Islamic Studies Online).
[23] Ishtiaq Hossain, 'Arab Spring'(Oxford Islamic Studies Online).


al-Ṭabarī, 'The Commentary on the Quran', Islamic Library, (<> [Accessed 22nd February 2016].
Bakar, Mohd Daud, Syed Musa Alhabshi, and Effendy Rahaman, Islamic Banking and Takaful - Products and Services, Cima Diploma in Islamic Finance (William Press, 2011).
El-Shinqiti, Mohamed El-Moctar, 'The Implementation of Sharia in Free Societies', Aljazeera, (December 2013) <> [Accessed 22nd Febuary 2016].
Feldman, Noah, After Jihad (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).
Hallaq, Wael B, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
———, Sharia: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
'Ḥamās Electoral Campaign Platform (2006)', Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (<> [Accessed 25th February 2016].
The Holy Qur'an. Trans. Abdel Haleem M.A.S. (Oxford Islamic Studies Online).
Hossain, Ishtiaq, 'Arab Spring', Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (<> [Accessed 25th February 2016].
Ibn Qudāmah, Al-ʿumdah Fil Fiqh (the Mainstay Concerning Juresprudence). Trans. Muhtar Holland (Fort Lauderdale: Al-Baz Publishing Inc., 2010).
Khan, Saeed A, 'Sharia Law, Islamophobia and the U.S. Constitution: New Tectonic Plates of the Culture Wars', U. Md. LJ Race, Religion, Gender & Class, 12 (2012), pp. 123-39.
Masood, Maliha, 'Untangling the Complex Web of Islamic Law: Revolutionizing the Sharia', Al Nakhlah, 4 (2003), 1-7.
Ramadan, Tariq, Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).
Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. Vol. 45, Hadith 37. (
Shane, Scott, 'In Islamic Law, Gingrich Sees a Mortal Threat to U.S.', The New York Times, (December 2011) <> [Accessed 22nd February 2016].

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The 5 Pillars of Finance - An Islamic Investment Perspective

Notice that the title isn’t Islamic Finance.  Islamic finance mainly deals with cost-plus (Murabaha) and partnership (Musharaka) arrangements, mainly used by Islamic banks to help finance the purchase of assets like houses and cars. These are forms of finance and not investment.  True Islamic economics is based on investment and not finance.  When applied fully, it acts to promote the welfare and benefit of mankind while at the same time preventing harm (Ahmed, 2011).  It is based on Mudaraba and Musharaka in investment as opposed to finance activities (Yusof & Kan, 2010).  In this post I want to critically analyse the study of conventional finance, from an Islamic Investment perspective.  Although conventional financial studies mainly revolve around earning interest (ribā), there are plenty of good things that can be drawn from conventional finance theory that can be applied in Islamic Investment.

To begin with, I will lay out what I believe conventional finance is all about. There are five main concepts that are the cornerstone of conventional finance: 

1.    Interest as a reference point for investment.
2.    The idea of the time value of money. 
3.    The concept of risk and “risk-free”. 
4.    Annualised rates of return.
5.    Required return.

1.     Interest

Interest is what conventional finance is all about.  It is the sun at the centre of the finance galaxy.  Everything in conventional finance uses interest as its reference point.  In other words, using interest-returns as a ruler is the central idea of finance.  Let me clarify this with an example.  An investment in a company A will give you a return of 5% per annum while depositing your money in the bank will give you an interest return of 6%.  The interest returns are greater than the returns that you would get from company A.  Finance would tell you to deposit your money in the bank to earn the 6 per cent of interest.  This simple example is used in all finance investment decisions.  In fact, bank interest rates are factored in to a lot of the equations used in finance.  Of course Islam is very clear on the prohibition of interest:

O you who have believed, fear Allah and give up what remains [due to you] of interest, if you should be believers. [Quran 2:278]

2.     Time Value of Money

Central to the study of conventional finance is the idea of the time value of money. An example will best illustrate the meaning of this concept.  A bank deposit of $1,000 earning 5% interest per year would give $1,276.28 in 5 years.  So what finance tells you is that a future value of $1,276.28 is worth $1,000 today.  Again this is used to compare different investments to decide which one is the best investment. In other words, investments that take a longer time to give us a return are worth less today, while investments that take less time to provide a return are worth more today.  Although this concept is also associated with interest investments, it has a place in non-interest decision making too.  Instead of using it to compare an investment to a deposit, it can be used to compare two different non-interest-bearing investments, which is actually done in the finance world.  Not all finance decisions are based on comparisons to bank deposits, and it is these parts of conventional finance that have a place in Islamic investment.

3.     The Concept of Risk and “Risk-Free”

A bank will always pay depositor the exact amount of interest quoted. No ifs or buts.  From a conventional finance perspective, this is almost a risk free investment.  The only investment considered less risky is a government bond – which is essentially a loan you give to the government that it promises to pay back with interest. So interest bearing loans are considered as “risk-free” investments.  Normal business investments on the other hand are considered very risky, because they are based on profit sharing which means that the investment might make a profit, but it also might make a big loss.  From an Islamic perspective, no investment is truly risk-free.  The whole concept of no risk is very counter-productive and encourages people to shy away from investing in real projects that benefit the economy and local communities.

4.     Annualised Returns

In finance returns are calculated on an annual basis. For example, if you buy a house today for $500,000 dollars and sell it in five years’ time for $700,000 you would normally calculate your return as = 700,000-500,000 / 500,000 = 40% return on your investment.  In finance returns are quoted as annualised returns. The annualised return for this example would be calculated as 6.96% (there’s a specific equation for this).  What this means is that your $500,000 increased 6.96% yearly over the 5 years.
Annualised returns are very useful because they allow you to compare different investments with different time horizons.  For example, let’s take the example above but with a different time frame and sell price.  Let’s say you sold the house after two years for $600,000.  Calculating your return normally would get = $600,000-$500,000 / 500,000 = 20% return.  The annualised return though is 9.54%.  So in annualised terms, the second investment is a better investment.
Now, the reason conventional finance calculates annualised returns is because they want to be able to compare normal investments to interest earned from bank deposits, which is quoted in annualised rates, and which is affected by how you deposit the money for.  This doesn’t mean that it’s a completely useless concept for the Muslim investor though because a Mulsim investor can use annualised returns to compare Shariah-compliant investments that have different time horizons.

5.     Required Return

Required return is used in the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM).  This is basically an equation used by finance managers in company to decide how much money should come from investors for a particular project.  In any project, the money raised comes in two forms – investment (capital) and debt (from banks).  Finance managers put a cost on each of these sources.  The cost of money that comes from banks in the form of debt is basically the interest rate of the debt.  The cost of capital however, is the required rate of return that investors expect on their investment in the project.  Finance managers then decide on the mix of these two sources, and work out the overall cost of the project using a formula called the Waited Average Cost of Capital (WACC).  This is as much detail as I will get into this process. 
The required return is THE concept that Muslim investors need to pay attention to.  It is the bridge between Islamic Investment and conventional finance and where two have a common ground without any conflict in ethics.

Further thoughts

Finance future returns are calculated very accurately – to one decimal place accuracy. This is because when you deposit your money in the bank you know exactly how much you’re going to get back.  In normal investments, however, you never know how much profit, or even loss, you’re going to earn – so I really don’t see a need to have calculations that are that detailed.  In the end they are predictions, and these can be off by ten or twenty per cent, let alone one or two decimal places!

So in summary, conventional finance has many aspects that are counter-productive, and even destructive to society and the general economies of nations, however there are aspects that can be applied in Islamic investment.  This post has highlighted some of those useful aspects.


Ahmed, H. (2011). Maqasid Al-Shariah and Islamic Financial Products:  A Framework for Assessment. ISRA International Journal of Islamic Finance, 3(1).

Yusof, E. F. E., & Kan, Z. (2010). Appraisal on End Products and Services offered by Islamic Banks from Maqasid Shari'ah Perspective. Retrieved from