Interest may be banned in Muslim countries, but self-interest is still very much alive, in a thriving consulting industry to ensure that financial transactions are structured in an Allah-friendly way. Sheikh Nizam Yaquby is one of the world’s most prominent “scholars” of Islamic bonds, deciding, with a bit of semantic and theological wrangling, if deals are kosher can happen. Sukuk, or Islamic bonds, must be fully collateralized with income generating assets that provide an equivalent to interest on conventional debt. Sanctioned Islamic assets are expected to triple by 2015 to $2.8 trillion worldwide, far outpacing the international bond market and US junk debt market.
Yaquby sits on advisory committees of 40 financial institutions, and with annual retainer fees averaging up to $100k a year (and considering Yaquby probably makes well above the market rate), the guy is raking it in. May his no interest savings account be praised.
Trying to adhere to Shariah creates a rather tenuous market dynamic (aside from the fact that “Shariah compliance” takes about 2-3 weeks), where different “interpretations” of Shariah can void deals. Many disagreements over the validity of Islamic deals occur every year. Here’s one example, from Bloomberg:
Some Shariah rulings don't work around the world. Suria Capital Holdings Bhd., a Malaysian state-run property developer, last month sold 80 million ringgit ($23 million) of sukuk that wouldn't be accepted in the Persian Gulf. Suria sold port concession rights to two Malaysian banks arranging the bond sale. The banks sold the concessions back to Suria at a higher price and the money will be passed on to bondholders over 10 years. The sukuk, approved by advisers including Mohammed Bakar, uses a contract called Bai Bithaman Ajil which scholars in the Gulf say doesn't comply with Shariah because the sale includes a profit margin that is akin to an interest payment.
Imagine if Steve Schwarzman could just point to deals (TXU) and void them, just through metaphysical obfuscation. Then imagine, like most Blackstone underlings (and several members of the press) that what Steve Schwarzman said was the word of GOD. Despite Bonderman’s reaction (it would set him off more than a question about global warming), creating superfluous arbitration mechanisms and more ways for financial transactions to become intertwined with religion and politics doesn't exactly seem like a positive trend in the market.
Islamic Bond Fatwas Surge on Million-Dollar Scholars – [Bloomberg]