As the global financial landscape continues to tackle the recession, inflation, and a cost of living crisis, Islamic finance is emerging as a resilient and stable financial system. Grounded in ethics and transparency, Islamic finance aims to ground financial dealings in ethics and risk sharing. This in itself is one of the main reasons that Islamic finance is helping people and organisations to override the impact of inflation.
Islamic finance has the ability to navigate the challenges posed by inflation through its distinct features and principles which are rooted in Islamic Sharia law.
WHAT IS INFLATION?
Inflation is the measure of how expensive goods, services, and products become over a period of time. Inflation can lead economies and entire countries into instability and financial turmoil. The rate at which the cost of goods and services increases over a period of time is the rate of inflation.
Inflation is usually a broad measure, but it can also be narrowly calculated. For example, currently in the UK by examining the cost of milk and eggs now and comparing it to this time last year, we can assess the inflation rate very closely.
We usually measure inflation by looking at different economic indicators and indices. These indicators reflect the differences in prices over a specific period.
Some of the methods and tools we use to measure inflation include the following:
- GDP Deflator: the gross domestic product deflator compares the GDP over a period of time. It reviews the overall price level of services and goods an economy produces. Changes to the GDP deflator are indicative of whether the increase in nominal GDP is due to actual output or changes in prices.
- Consumer Price Index (CPI): the consumer price index is the most widely used indicator when examining inflation rates and measuring them. the CPI tracks the average cost of a basket of goods and services over a period of time.
- Producer Price Index (PPI): the producer price index examines the average change that takes place over time in selling prices domestic goods producers receive.
- Cost of living index: this index reviews the changes in price to the cost of living essentials including food, goods, and services. This index looks at factors such as consumer preferences and shopping habits and the changes in prices they pay.
There are many different factors that can lead to inflation. We cannot look at what causes inflation without referring to the root cause of inflation. At its very core, inflation is driven by there being too much demand in relation to the supply available.
So, what causes demand to outpace the supply? There are a few different reasons this can happen, but they include major disruptions to economic input such as energy (see the Ukraine war for example). If there is uncertainty around the supply of anything then this can lead to higher costs.
The government's monetary policy can also cause inflation. For example, if the UK government keeps the interest rate as low as possible for too long this can lead to inflation.
The bottleneck of global supply chains is another reason that drives inflation.
ISLAMIC FINANCE PRINCIPLES
Islamic finance operates on principles that are compliant with Sharia law. There are some commonalities between Sharia rules and conventional finance rules, however, there are also some stark differences.
Sharia rules relating to financial transactions deem interest (riba) to be completely impermissible. Similarly, dealings that involve uncertainty or speculation (gharar), or involve haram industries (such as gambling and alcohol) are also not permitted. Another area where Islamic finance differs from traditional finance is that Islamic finance is based on the distribution of wealth. It encourages people to participate in economic, business and personal investments using an ethical framework.
Islamic finance has an underlying principle that everything, including money, belongs to Allah. It therefore follows that interest and excessive risk and speculation are forbidden. For someone looking for an investment compliant with Islamic finance, they must ensure that any financial arrangement they enter into does not include any impermissible transactions or sectors.
Let's have a look at some of the ways Islamic finance principles are tackling inflation head-on.
HOW DOES ISLAMIC FINANCE MITIGATE INFLATION?
Islamic finance is not based on fractional reserve banking. This is the system most commonly used by conventional banks and involves banks holding what is known as a fraction of their customers money. The rest is loaned out to borrowers of the bank.
Add to this the prohibition of interest which itself can lead to instability in the market and is susceptible to market changes, Islamic finance is a more stable way of managing finances. Interest can also distort the supply and demand within a market. Under Islamic finance rules, all products and services should face natural market conditions, and not conditions that have been distorted by interest-based credit and debit.
Another important Islamic rule to mention here is the principle of zakat - one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakat (obligatory charity) aims to support the less fortunate in society and to distribute wealth throughout society. The whole concept of zakat goes against artificial supply and demand, price gouging, price fixing, and amassing large sums of money.
ASSET BACKED FINANCING
Many Islamic finance transactions include asset backed financing. Asset backed financing is one of the key concepts of Islamic finance. Essentially, it focuses on linking transactions to tangible assets. This is a departure from conventional finance instruments which are based on borrowing and lending money with interest. They generate income via interest payments and not by linking them with real assets.
Linking finance with tangible assets is one way that Islamic finance ensures there is transparency and an ethical framework underpinning savings, transactions, products, businesses and relationships.
Relying on tangible assets (such as real estate) enables Islamic finance to move away from interest based systems that fluctuate based on the value of currencies. Tying itself to real assets means that Islamic finance can reduce the overall impact of inflation by tying itself to stable assets that are not as impacted by volatile markets.
Another key hallmark of Islamic finance that is used to combat inflation is the promotion of risk sharing contracts. Essentially, these types of arrangements distribute the risks each party takes on, as well as the potential rewards.
This means that in a volatile economy both parties share the fallout and one party is not unduly burdened.
MUDARABAH AND MUSHARAKAH
Musharaka and Mudaraba contracts are risk sharing contracts. They encourage both parties to share in the risk. For example, one party can invest capital and the other party invests experience. Any profits or revenue generated are shared by the parties as per a pre-agreed ratio.
This structure is dynamic and transparent and is more resilient than conventional contract arrangements. The burden of economic shocks, fluctuations, and inflation is shared between the parties to the contract.
Inflation can cause huge problems for contractual arrangements, especially is one party is taking on all the risk. Sharing the risk mitigates the impact of inflation and spreads them out creating a more resistant and adaptive financial system.
If you are dealing with a bank in the West, you will find that their products, services, and dealings are interest based. One of the main principles of Islam and Islamic finance in particular is that we must avoid interest. It is deemed to be completely haram.
In conventional finance systems. interest rates are impacted during inflation and they are adjusted to combat inflation. This is the case in the UK where the Bank of England has been steadily increasing interest rates.
By avoiding interest completely, Islamic finance is able to use alternative mechanisms to ensure transactions are safe and secure. This means the Islamic finance system is less susceptible to increasing inflation rates.
STABLE FINANCE AMID FLUCTUATIONS
Interest rates play a key role in conventional financial systems. They do not play any part in the Islamic finance system. They are deemed to be exploitative and unstable by Islam.
Interest rates are vulnerable to the structures and systems within society and they are especially vulnerable when it comes to inflation. By avoiding interest completely, Islamic finance is able to withstand currency and economic fluctuations. This leads to a more robust and resilient financial environment.
PRODUCTIVE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
Islamic finance places emphasis on real economic activity. It encourages investment in real assets and ventures that are productive. The aim is to lead to economic growth, help vulnerable communities to grow and stabilise, and to create jobs. All these endeavours should be able to withstand the terrible effects of inflation.
By focusing on productive activities that lead to improvements in the wellbeing of society, Islamic finance positively impacts the economy and society.
The goal is not selling or purchasing simply for the sake of it, but to engage in meaningful transactions that lead to a social return and benefit. There is a focus on sustainability whether you are an individual, corporate entity, or government.
ETHIS AND ISLAMIC FINANCE
The concept of wealth in Islamic finance is very different from the concept of money in the conventional finance system the West has. According to Islam, wealth is a blessing from Allah.
Viewing finance through a socially responsible and ethical lens means there is less scope for transactions that are unfair, speculative and exploitative.
The ethical principles embedded in Islamic finance encourage fair business practices, wealth distribution, economic justice, and ethical screening. Being socially responsible with finances result in investments that lead to social stability and benefits. This stability helps to prevent the distortions in the economy that can result from inflation.
AVOIDING HARMFUL MONOPOLIES
As a finance system, Islamic finance encourages staying away from harmful monopolies. The result of this is that, whilst this does not directly combat inflation, it does seek to prevent market distortions, keep competition fair and ensure no party is exploited or taken advantage of.
Harmful monopolies often operate by excluding independent and small and medium businesses. The outcome is harmful for society and means there can be inefficiencies and the misallocation of resources. This in turn leads to instability in the stock market when a stock shortage becomes apparent.
Avoiding harmful monopolies also ensures that price manipulation and inflation can be monitored and avoided. Large monopolies can often dictate the market price of a service or product. In order to keep pricing fair and transparent, Islamic finance encourages avoiding harmful monopolies.
Harmful monopolies aim to concentrate wealth in the hands of those at the top of the monopoly structure. This goes against the principle of wealth distribution which Islamic finance promotes. Wealth retention leads to social disparities and exacerbates the effects of inflation for the poor.
Having a diverse and competitive market and economy ensures that there is sustainable and ethical growth and long term stability.
WAYS TO MANAGE THE CURRENT INFLATION CRISIS
According to the Quran, this world is a test, and Muslims see each part of their life as a challenge that is sometimes in their favour and sometimes not in their favour. The most important thing for those wanting to remain true to Islam and Sharia law is to ensure they live within Sharia rules and make sure their finances are within the parameters of Islamic finance.
Muslims also believe that their provisions are preordained and predetermined. With this in mind, if Muslims operate within Islamic rules and principles with regard to their personal and business dealings then they can save themselves from hoarding wealth and gluttony.
Ensuring financial transactions are not interest based, not exploitative and not risky means that Muslims can mitigate against the harmful affects of inflation.