Islamic State: Hollande ready to “increase actions” in Iraq

Francois Hollande assured Iraq’s president of his support in the fight against the Islamic State. In a joint statement with prime minster Haidar Al-Abadi, Hollande declared that France is ready to “increase actions” against the Islamic State.

“We will continue to provide military support to Iraq, which is the victim of a full-scale terrorist attack,” he continued. “For three months actions were carried out by the Iraqi army after having received the coalition’s support, and these actions have led to clear progress and military success and therefore political success.”

There are currently nine Rafale and six Mirage fighter jets that are part of the “Chammal” operation. “Baghdad is secure. We are currently moving to free the entire territory that has been occupied by [the Islamic State],” said Hollande. Al-Abadi added, “We believe that liberation is not far away. Today there is more optimism and more hope that Iraq can stay together as one nation, one people.”

The Prime Minister also asked for funding to reconstruct occupied areas. “Reconstruction of areas destroyed by the Islamic State is an important topic,” he added, because “terrorism thrives on the people’s poverty and dissatisfaction with their economic circumstance.” Al-Abaid added that, “the decline in oil prices and in our oil exports have had a negative impact on our budget.”

Islamic Banks, Stuffed With Cash, Explore Partnerships in West

December 25, 2013

By Nathaniel Popper

 

A noted Muslim law scholar, Yusuf DeLorenzo, recently pored through the books of Continental Rail, a business that runs freight trains up and down the East Coast.

Along with examining the company’s financial health, Mr. DeLorenzo sought to make sure that the rail cars didn’t transport pork, tobacco or alcohol. He was brought in by American investment bankers who want to take rail cars bought by Continental Rail and package their leases into a security. The investment is being built for banks that are run according to Islamic law, which, among other things, prohibits investments in those three commodities. If the cars are acceptable, or halal, the deal will be one of the first in the United States to be completed in compliance with Islamic law.

“It’s a new territory for all of us,” said John H. Marino Jr., chief executive of Continental Rail.

The deal is a sign of how banks that comply with Islamic law are making inroads into the global banking scene and how Western businesses are working to meet the expectations of those banks. The banks can’t find enough acceptable places to park their money, many industry insiders say, so investment bankers are scurrying to assemble deals.

Over the last 30 years, the Islamic financial sector has grown from virtually nothing to over $1.6 trillion in assets, according to data from the Global Islamic Financial Review, an industry publication. The financial crisis has only encouraged the growth. Industry assets grew 19 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in 2012, in contrast to the less than 10 percent growth at non-Islamic banks in most of the world.

Until recently, Islamic banks have largely put their money to work in the Middle East — or, if they invested in other parts of the world, in real estate. Real estate is among the most popular investments under Islamic law, also known as Shariah, because a deal can be structured that does not require interest payments, which are prohibited by Shariah. But as the banks grow larger they are looking for new, more diverse places to put their money.

The deal with Continental Rail is attractive because the rail cars will spin off lease payments, rather than interest, and can be bought in bulk. The cars are also in the United States, which will help bring geographic diversity to the bank portfolios. The deal was brokered by a newly created team at Taylor-DeJongh, a Washington investment bank, looking to bring money from Islamic banks to the United States.

There are similar pushes around the world. A few non-Muslim African countries, including South Africa, have recently been talking about raising money using the Islamic financial instruments known as sukuk, which function much like bonds. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain announced in late October that England planned to become the first European country to issue sukuk. The global bank Société Générale is preparing to raise money from Islamic banks in the coming months.

“There is a gap between all the money coming in to Islamic banks and the deployment of that money into real economic assets,” said Sayd Farook, the global head of Islamic finance atThomson Reuters. “A crazy amount of money has gone into their coffers and they need somewhere to invest it.”

The first modern Islamic banks were founded in the 1970s, motivated by the Quran’s ban on riba, which has been interpreted as any fixed payment charged for money lending. Islamic banks have focused instead on putting their money into real assets and property, and sharing any resulting profits from the performance of an asset. Muslim mortgages, for instance, are structured so that the bank buys the house and then sells it to the occupant slowly over time. Stocks are generally considered acceptable as long as the companies issuing the stock adhere to Islamic law; casinos, banks and weapons companies are forbidden.

Islamic banks have religious scholars, like Mr. DeLorenzo, review their operations on a regular basis. Yet some Islamic scholars have criticized the banks for straying too far from the spirit of the Quran into the speculative realms of Wall Street. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a Western investment and a Shariah one. For instance, an Islamic bank’s fixed-deposit account ties up a customer’s money for a set period of time, like a certificate of deposit. Instead of offering interest, the account offers a share of the profit from its investments. The “profit rate” of a one-year deposit currently is 1.9 percent at one major Middle Eastern bank.

There is a debate among Islamic scholars about what qualifies as halal. “The industry is going through soul-searching,” said Ayman A. Khaleq, a lawyer specializing in Islamic finance at the Morgan Lewis law firm in Dubai. “It’s far from settled.”

But these problems have not stopped the flood of deposits into banks like the Sharjah Islamic Bank, which is named for the city in the United Arab Emirates where it is based. The bank has 24 branches, some of which offer separate spaces for female and male customers. From 2006 to 2012, deposits there almost tripled to about $3 billion.

Muhammed Ishaq, the head of the treasury division at Sharjah, said that the bank’s problem was not attracting money, it was figuring out what to do with it. “It’s not very easy when any financing needs to be backed by some kind of asset,” Mr. Ishaq said.

Real estate has been a very popular investment in the Islamic world, but when real estate was hit hard during the 2008 financial crisis, many investors were reminded of the need for more diverse portfolios. For many banks the answer is sukuk. Like bonds, sukuk make regular payments to investors. But unlike a bond, which is a money loan, sukuk are structured as investments in hard assets that generate payments.

The amount of sukuk sold each year has grown sixfold from 2006 to 2012, to some $133 billion, according to Thomson Reuters’s Islamic financial data service, Zawya. A joint venture between Dow Chemical and Saudi Arabia’s national oil company sold a $2 billion sukuk this year to raise money for an oil complex. But this is falling far short of the demand from banks. “There are serious supply-side bottlenecks,” said Ashar Nazim, head of Ernst & Young’s Global Islamic Banking Center.

Now there are several efforts to create more supply. The Bank of London and the Middle East was founded in London with Kuwaiti money to find these new investment opportunities. “They wanted a wider range of Islamic assets that could be originated away from the Middle East,” said Nigel Denison, the bank’s treasurer.

Yavar Moini, the former head of Islamic banking at Morgan Stanley, said he was establishing an operation in Dubai that would gather assets from around the world that can be packaged into sukuk, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do in the United States with mortgages. Mr. Moini said that “it’s the absence of sufficient product or opportunities for Islamic investors that drives them into the conventional arena.”

In the United States there have been a few attempts at sukuk. In 2006, a Texas oil company sold a $166 million sukuk to finance oil exploration, but the company went bankrupt during the financial crisis. Then in 2009, General Electric issued a $500 million sukuk tied to aircraft leases.

Taylor-DeJongh, the 30-year old, energy-focused investment bank, is hoping to take advantage of the shortage. Ibrahim Mardam-Bey, who worked on the 2006 Texas sukuk, joined Taylor-DeJongh at the end of 2012 and has built a team of five bankers working on Islamic finance.

One deal would provide financing for private toll bridges. The other, which is further along, will bundle the rail cars managed by Continental Rail. The team has already signed a deal to buy 1,000 rail cars in Pennsylvania, and is looking to acquire 5,000 more.

Mr. Mardam-Bey said that some American businesses were hesitant to take money from Islamic banks, perhaps a byproduct of negative associations with Shariah since the Sept. 11 attacks. But in the Texas deal, and in many others, that tends to fade as the financial possibilities become clear.

“The borrower was a Texan wildcatter who couldn’t spell ‘sukuk,’ ” Mr. Mardam-Bey said. “But at the end of the day when I brought the check he didn’t care if I prayed to Allah. He just wanted the money.”

 

Dealbook/New York Times: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/12/25/islamic-banks-stuffed-with-cash-explore-partnerships-in-west/?_r=0

A Muslim daughter’s role in preparing her mother for burial – by Momtaz Begum-Hossain

October 25, 2013

I saw a wooden coffin, I answered the phone call to tell us that Umma, as we called our mother in Bengali, had left us, and later that same night saw her lying still like a ragdoll in the hospital ward. The burial was almost immediate. Within hours I was at the register office recording Umma’s death to get the certificate we needed to release her body. At home, my sisters were collating every teacup and saucer she had ever bought, for the well-wishers who were flooding our house with prayers.

We knew about the concept of heaven and hell and were warned that when a parent dies, their children’s prayers are the most important ones. Although a whole village in Bangladesh spent three days reading prayers for Umma, ours would have most impact.

Packed away in a suitcase in my parents’ bedroom was the white shroud that Umma was to be buried in. It had been washed in holy water from Mecca, for when the time came. She had been so busy talking about death and reminding us where to find the fabric that she never had a chance to explain to me and my three sisters that as her daughters we had duties after her death. In Islam it is a daughter’s duty to wash her mother and prepare her for the afterlife; boys attend to deceased fathers. Having never attended a funeral, I didn’t know what this involved. I soon discovered it wasn’t an elaborate bathe, but a wash down with sponges, towels, buckets of water and the bar of soap from my carrier bag.

There were two elder women in charge who directed us where and how to clean her. Umma was so devoted to her religion that I sensed she would be proud her daughters were taking part in such a symbolic ritual. As her limbs were lifted and we took it in turns to scrub her, it seemed as if her expressions were changing. She was a puppet, being moved, bent over, turned from side to side. I didn’t know it was possible to get this close to a dead person, let alone share in the most intimate experience their body would ever go through. She was washed an odd number of times. I can’t remember which number we settled on, just that the procedure was repeated until we were tired.

Afterwards she was dried with towels and scented with rose water. The room was suffused with the fragrance of Turkish delight, though she never wore perfume. Her beauty regime consisted of applying hair oil and moisturiser. I never saw her wear makeup and she had the smallest wardrobe of anyone I’ve ever known; just a handful of saris and blouses and petticoats she had made herself. Just as she had led a modest life, so it was for her funeral. Umma’s hair was combed and plaited and her body wrapped in the white fabric that Ubba, my father, had brought back from Mecca. When she was wrapped and laid to rest we anointed her with more rose water. We took her to a newly opened Muslim burial ground, she was buried there and her spot was marked with a hand-painted a plaque with my mother’s name and dates of birth and death.

Not everyone has a chance to say goodbye properly to someone they love, but I did more than that.

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/26/muslim-daughter-mother-burial

Obama Protesters Sing ‘Bye Bye Black Sheep,’ Rail Against ‘Half-White Muslim’ In Arizona

A raucous crowd of supporters and protesters from both ends of the political spectrum showed up outside President Barack Obama’s appearance in Phoenix, Ariz. on Tuesday, with some of his detractors turning to racially charged attacks to express their opposition.

From the Arizona Republic:

 

Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president’s skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”

The Republic reported that hundreds of people gathered outside Desert Vista High School as Obama unveiled a plan to overhaul the nation’s mortgage finance system. Some protesters came from Obama’s left, urging him to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline and take other actions on climate change. But a prevailing theme among many in the protest appeared to be issues of race. Some even suggested that Obama himself was to blame for racial tensions.

 

“We have gone back so many years,” Judy Burris told the Republic, arguing Obama had taken the nation back to pre-Civil Rights era levels of racism. “He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”

Others carried signs calling for Obama to be impeached, Tucson News Now reported, though despite the negativity, the majority of those in attendance were Obama fans.

Interview chair of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jemaat community

July 22

 

Abdullah Uwe Wagishauser, is born in 1950. Since 1984 he is the chair (Emir) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jemaat community association in Germany. In an interview with the German Turkish News portal, he speaks about the plans of the community to extend the number of mosques and religious facilities. The Ahmadiyya community possesses 36 mosques for 220 communities in Germany and plans to construct 12 new facility buildings.

 

Recognized a corporate body under public law, the Ahmadiyya community is legalized to teach Imams. They are studying Islamic theology at the Islamic theology institute of the Ahmadiyya community. Right now, there are 17 student of Indian and Pakistani origin. They study the Fiqh (Law), Tafsir (Interpretation) of the Quran and Islamic Philosophy. Wagishauser emphasizes the importance of the legal status for the community, as it would not rely on Arab oil or the bargain power of the Turkish Ditib community. Instead, Wagishauser offers to cooperate with other Turkish and Muslim communities and encourages them to free ride on this window of opportunity for Muslims to become visible and notable.

 

Dutch artist creates PO Box for Allah

Artist John van der Dong has created a Post Office Box to receive messages addressed to Allah in the Netherlands. The artist’s previous work includes establishing a hotline at which over 25,000 people left telephone messages to God. Van der Dong intends to keep the letters from his current project unopened and says he will use them in his oil paintings. “What is in the letters is between the writer of the letter and Allah,” he told Dutch news agency ANP.

International Financial Centres Battle for Islamic Markets

International investment services compliant with Islamic financial law are competing for a slice of the oil revenue in the Middle East. With the price of crude oil almost doubling in the last year, countries with large Muslim populations and connections – including Singapore, Hong Kong, London, Birmingham and Paris – are vying to act as key centres of expertise in the new boom. A spokesperson for the British Standard & Poor’s claims that, “By preparing the ground for Islamic finance, France can help financial innovation and benefit from the deep pockets of Middle Eastern investors as liquidity has dried up elsewhere in the global financial markets.”

Generally, more and more businesses have come forward to meet demand for Shariah-compliant services. Approximately two-thirds of the world-wide market for Islamic bonds (sukuks), an estimated $100 billion, is currently based in Malaysia, where the industry first took off. Outside of Asia and the Middle East, Britain in particular, is seen as the clear leader, worth about $6.5 billion.

International Financial Centres Battle for Islamic Markets

International investment services compliant with Islamic financial law are competing for a slice of the oil revenue in the Middle East. With the price of crude oil almost doubling in the last year, countries with large Muslim populations and connections – including Singapore, Hong Kong, London, Birmingham and Paris – are vying to act as key centres of expertise in the new boom. A spokesperson for the British Standard & Poor’s claims that, By preparing the ground for Islamic finance, France can help financial innovation and benefit from the deep pockets of Middle Eastern investors as liquidity has dried up elsewhere in the global financial markets. Generally, more and more businesses have come forward to meet demand for Shariah-compliant services. Approximately two-thirds of the world-wide market for Islamic bonds (sukuks), an estimated $100 billion, is currently based in Malaysia, where the industry first took off. Outside of Asia and the Middle East, Britain in particular, is seen as the clear leader, worth about $6.5 billion.

First Islamic equity product launched in UK

The London-based ABC International Bank’s Islamic Asset Management (IAM) entity, both of which are subsidiaries of the Bahrain-based consortium bank Arab Banking Cooperation, has launched the first retail Shariah-compliant capital-protected equity product in the UK under its ‘Alburaq’ brand. The savings product, which has a minimum subscription of just _500 and is a Shariah-compliant alternative to a conventional guaranteed equity bond, adds to an increasing number of retail Islamic financial offerings in the UK market, which now includes mortgages, Takaful (insurance), pensions, current and deposit accounts and even escrow accounts for money transfers. Other Shariah-compliant retail products in the process of being launched include ISAs (investment savings accounts) and child trust accounts. The product was structured by ABC International Bank and is offered in partnership with the Bank of Ireland, which has a long history of providing guaranteed equity bonds to UK consumers. ABC Group is one of the largest banks in the Arab world with assets totaling around $32.7 billion at the end of December 2007. The group announced net profits of $125 million for the year 2007. The government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been very supportive of developing the Islamic finance sector under the Labor Party’s social and financial inclusion policies. At the same time, it is the stated policy of the UK to develop London into an international hub for Islamic finance, investment and trade. Only yesterday at the Jeddah oil summit, Brown reiterated that oil producers in the GCC states should divert some of their record liquidity surpluses to investment in the developed countries in renewable energy initiatives and other sectors. These funds could be channeled through sovereign wealth funds; through conventional or Islamic capital flows. Bahrain-based Arcapita Bank, for instance, was one of the first Islamic financial institutions to invest in alternative energy in the UK in a wind farm project developed by Innogy.

Mario Bunge: Pope Benedict wants to engage a Holy war against Islam

The Argentine philosopher Mario Bunge in a recent interview in a Spanish newspaper classified the Pope as a man who doesn’t want peace, who wants to engage in a Holy war against Islam-this is a departure from his predecessor who was very active against war and discrimination. According to Bunge, the greatest enemy today is the one who has more power. Islam, therefore, cannot be the enemy as it does not have an army, it is divided among factions and its only wealth is oil. Bunge identified the enemy of in his perspective as the USA.