Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Letters Edition #2

Quote of the week:
'The critic has to educate the public. The artist has to educate the critic.' - Oscar Wilde

Alas, I have been accused below of being a mere critic. I received a letter from someone at a company that that has an Islamic Finance 'window' in addition to their regular business. The person takes exception to the irreverent way in which I seem to be discussing 'Islamic Finance' and the companies that are trying to inhabit this space in Canada. Although our two companies are not competitors (who could possibly compete with us, or them for that matter?), we cohabit this contentious space. I have included both the letter in question and my inevitable response below. Don't worry, it has passed our PG-13 screen.

Letters Edition (Commentary will be back next week):
Letter No. 1:
Brothers salams... I am very saddened to see your firms on-going critical and cynical outlook on the current state of Islamic Finance. It would be prudent for you to tone it down a bit and perhaps highlight articles like the one below that does not make a mockery of our deen. With idots (sic) like the MCC criticizing Islamic Finance we don't need Ittihad being perceived as joining such ranks... Please forgive me if I have hurt your feelings but I am getting very very fed up with this on-going unnecessary distribution of e-mails and rumors in the community. Especially given the fact that I heard first hand from a Bay Street broker of a large Institution that your staff is concerned about some details on our prospectus. We need to work together as a Ummaah and NOT be perceived as divided especially amongst the non-Muslims professionals. This is very sad indeed and makes us look really really foolish as a Umaah that was suppose to be together as a brotherhood and not be indulging in such blatent Back-biting. IF we have issues with our respective businessess we should make a first effort to content each other before disseminating information to 3rd parties.p.s. Article: 'Islamic finance could have prevented subprime crisis' by Amy Glass on Thursday, 24 April 2008 read more here
Response to Letter No. 1:

Thank you for your email. Your letter was the best I have received in many months and I look forward to much more of such praise couched within the facade of criticism. Our super-genius readership will no doubt read between the lines and see your all-too-apparent awe of our policy to be transparent and open about things that many others would rather gloss over or sweep under the rug. In order that no professional harm comes to your career, I have removed your name and that of your company. I trust that this will be acceptable to you.

Your letter, article link and 'need' to be happy raises several existential issues for us, which I will discuss below. I must, however, clarify that the newsletter (inasmuch as it is the source of your beef) is my personal production. I am of course, blessed to be at a firm that allows me to engage readers in this way, but you should know that Ittihad Policy may or may not be the same as mine, depending on the issue and circumstances. There is actually a very cute disclaimer at the end of all IWB issues that says this in the required legalese.

Although I am honoured at all your underlying praise of our company, I will take you up on your offer to respond to some surface criticisms first.

Just a few points for you to consider:

1. As Ittihad exists as a local firm without ties to established multinationals or foreign parties, it is in our nature to cause both sadness and happiness to people. There are people we are committed to making happy and then some people about whose happiness we are unfortunately not mandated to worry as much. I know this might come as a bit of a surprise since you are in the financial industry yourself, but Ittihad actually exists to make it's shareholders / directors / clients / investors & regulators happy, not the 'Islamic Finance' industry. It would be difficult at this point for us to re-jig the structure of the firm and our mandate to include your happiness as our goal, but I will do the needful and try and get this onto the Board's agenda. As we Muslims say - InshAllah (God-willing).
2. I assure you that Ittihad is neither cynical nor critical of Islamic Finance. We are blessed to be able to work in the field on our own terms and are fully seized of the great responsibility on our shoulders when we use the words Islam and Finance in the same phrase. Personally, I am at a loss to understand why you would think me 'cynical' and 'critical' - I will stubbornly console myself with the thought that you perhaps meant to say 'thoughtful' and 'astute'. Reading between the lines of your letter confirms my view.
3. With regard to your reference to being 'prudent', I do not understand how can it be 'prudent' to accept wholesale and unthinkingly what the conventional system labels as Islamic? In my opinion, that is called 'Foolishness' at best and 'Hypocrisy' at its worst. Also, it is not a small, humble newsletter that few Muslims read that makes a mockery of our religion but rather the injudicious and gratuitous use of Islam as a marketing gimmick and advertising tool. Just calling ourselves 'Islamic' does not remove the onus from us to actually be Islamic, it is meant to be the other way around. Let us agree then, to disagree on who does more damage to Islamic Finance.
4. I did not know that the MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club??) had uncharitable views on Islamic Finance, but I assure you that ours are our own. Canada is Alhamdullillah (Praise be to God), a free country and we both love and celebrate the free exchange of debate and ideas.
5. As you no doubt know already, a prospectus is a public document mandated by the Ontario Securities Commission. If yours is embarrassing or was meant to be secret, perhaps it should be renamed or withdrawn from the public record. I see no reason why two people should not be able to discuss a public document candidly, especially as our concerns have been brought up in person with members of your Shariah Board and yourself already.
6. The article that you have sent us is insipidly named but does indeed merit a read. It ends by saying '... (Islamic) banks only look to maximize their profits. They know that there is no real difference between conventional banks and Islamic Finance'. I did not get a clear picture of your views on this, but is this practice not making a mockery of Islam? Furthermore, it is not at all true and quite besides the point that what passes for 'Islamic' Finance these days 'could have prevented SubPrime'. The whole point of Islamic Finance is that subprime issues would not even arise. I am sure that this crucial distinction will not escape you as you read more of the Ittihad Weekly with an open mind.

I hope that I have not hurt your feelings, but like you, I am also getting fed-up with businesses whose purpose seems to be getting as much Muslim money under their belts as possible, using any and all means necessary. Furthermore, I am beyond fed-up with this tiptoe-ing around the problematic issues within Islamic Finance in the interests of a false consensus that large companies want to dictate. If this is what Islamic Finance is, then I want no part of it. Please feel free to use your position in the industry to have me excommunicated.

Finally, I wish you great success in uniting the 'Ummah' and keeping it from looking foolish. I am sure that the various tricks 'Islamic' Finance professionals devise to profit from 'interest' makes Muslims look like geniuses instead. Thank you for writing.

MAP Canada is hosting an event for young businesses on the 10th of May. Some great local entrepreneurs from successful public (and private) businesses will be there to speak and provide mentorship to the up and coming successes of tomorrow. Within a set of true luminaries, MAP Canada has also taken a humungous risk and invited your humble correspondent as a speaker. I hope that many of you will attend. My contribution to the festivities are supposed to address the question of 'How to Raise Capital for Your Business', so you know there will be some fireworks. This is a volunteer organization that deserves our support and it is always interesting to see where the community is headed economically. Lunch will also be served. Please register here

There is also a conference in NY that our Senior Management will be attending. Our CEO's topic of discussion will be on the 'Ethical Dimensions of Islamic Finance' and how the one cannot and should not be divorced from the other with ease. The One being Ethics and the other being Islamic Finance, which in better times were explicitly known to be irrevocably connected. For those who can make it to NY, it may be an excellent working holiday and an educational experience. Please Register Here for your 15% discount.

Finance News:

1. Good article (too short though) on what young people starting out in life absolutely must know about their finances ... read more here

2. Who says that the financial sector learns from its mistakes? These are the same hedge fund people that caused the Multi-Billion loss when they were at Long Term Capital Management in the late 1990's ... read more here

Economic News:

1. Following up last week's commentary ... the environmental impact of food transportation ... read more here

2. North American Food Processing companies are having a field day. High profits, high share prices, lots of hungry people, what more can we ask for? ... read more here

3. Is Canada Recession-Proof? ... read more here

4. I can't believe at the sheer gall of this plan. The new BOC Governor wants taxpayers to allow him to buy all sorts of non-performing investments on their behalf in order to relieve pain for the private sector ... read about it, think about it, call your MP and 'Just Say No' ... read more here

5. This is how recessions start ... with the closing of retail stores ... read more here

Islamic / Middle East / Emerging Markets:

1. A primarily Canadian (but not exclusively so) company on how to make it big in Islamic Finance ... read more here

Interesting but not Finance:

1. Issues with wind energy? Say it ain't so ... read more here

2. The price of Oil is $120 a barrel, but what is the price of water? ... read more here

No comments: