Thursday, February 17

Islamic Accountability

So earlier this week Lloyds TSB announced the availability of the first "high street Shariah compliant bank account" or some other spiel. Read more here.

Back? Anyway, if you didn't click on the link (tut tut, naughty), this would be an account which wouldn't credit you with any interest or charge you any by removing the availability of any overdraft facility. Apparently it's to be quite popular with Muslims.

Now banks have been able to withhold interest payments for a while now (well, to my knowledge anyway; I was offered this service by Natwest when opening a new account many moons ago. Things may have changed since then), so the only new thing here is the label and a bit of marketing. For those that think not accepting interest is a worthy action, I guess that's great.

Personally I don't see how one can see themselves as avoiding the sin of usury by opening such an account. Their money is still being used to fund loans and interest is still being generated, it's just being tippex'ed out from their statements. Now I'm not saying that accepting the amounts and giving them to charity is any better, certainly not in terms of reward. But these Islamic bank accounts seem to be the same thing, but with the money going to a man in a suit instead. Out of the two (rewardless) options, both which may absolve the sin, I know which I'd choose.

The argument I was given was that since you didn't "witness" the interest being taken, you're absolved of any sin. Something in that doesn't sit quite right with me, or at least the way which it's being used here. Any person who researches these accounts will be fully aware that their money is still being used in the same way. Does the fact that a charge is missing on their statements mean that they can forget that?

How else would you use this principle? If we switch off our tellies, are we excused from helping out our brothers and sisters around the world? If I believe my bruised sister when she tells me she fell down the stairs without any further investigation, have I done my duty? If I've lost my watch, can I skip my prayers? Of course not - as humans we have other senses with which to detect our sins. Ignoring or hiding them do not make them go away.

Apart from this "painting over" of sins, there's a deeper point. Islam has a spirit; it's not made up of technical pedantic rules. It's not the interest payments on your bank statement which are forbidden; it's the problems that it inevitably brings to society. Whether I take payment for loans or not I'm still contributing to the problem, and in my opinion it's that on which I'll be judged.

As always IANAS, this is all my personal take, and I don't expect anyone to take this on authority. Do your own research and decide for yourself.