Saeed Jawed Ahmad, an Islamic banker and investment analyst based in Jeddah, has this to say regarding the “basics of Islamic finance”:

The conceptual difference between an Islamic finance and a conventional finance transaction lies in the fact that in conventional finance, the financial institution generally lends cash for a length of time, often direct to the client or borrower, of course based on a credit rating or evaluation, on the basis that the borrower would return the borrowed amount plus an interest amount. The interest amount and the original borrowed amount is required to be repaid to the lender over the loan period or by the end of the loan period. Thus the transaction in essence is the lending of cash against the return of a higher amount of cash, and not necessarily for a specific purpose. One of the basic ideas behind the interest rate is the time value of the money lent. The excess cash returned to the lender over and above the borrowed amount is considered “riba” in Islamic finance.

In Islamic finance, there is no direct lending of cash against return of a higher amount of cash, unless the transaction is “asset backed” implying that the transaction has to involve the sale and purchase of an asset. In a typical financing transaction, the Islamic financial institution will purchase assets required to be financed by a borrower at a price and sell them to the borrower at an agreed (higher) price allowing the financial institution to make a profit. This purchase and sale of an asset basically renders the financing as “Shariah-compliant.” Islamic Shariah laws allow cash to be lent, but generally only as “Qard Hassan” where only the same amount of cash is required to be returned, if returned at all.

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