Islamic finance is for all

The common yet erroneous perception is that Islamic finance; its practice, services and the study of the subject would be of interest only to Muslims.

At INCEIF, its 100 % Islamic finance academic programmes are being pursued by a small yet growing number of non-Muslim students. Of the 2,169 INCEIF students, 186 or approximately 9 % are people of other faiths.

The recent fourth convocation of INCEIF saw 10 non-Muslim graduates among 184 graduates.

Yoshihiro Watanabe, 65, flew in from Tokyo to join other graduates to receive his Chartered Islamic Finance Professional (CIFP) scroll from INCEIF Chancellor and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz at INCEIF 4th Convocation on 20 Oct 2012 in Kuala Lumpur.

Watanabe registered as an online CIFP student in September 2007. His decision was spurred by the dedication and encouragement for the development of Islamic finance shown by BNM.

“As the then chairman of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Malaysia, I asked the bank’s president to look into the possibilities of opening up an Islamic window at the bank. The response was it would be difficult to do so due to lack of competent human resource.  Both the president and I did not have enough knowledge on Islamic finance products. I thought as executives of the bank, we should at least know the core idea of Islamic finance.

“At the same time, a friend who was the chief representative of Bahrain Economic Development asked me to translate into Japanese a book on Islamic finance written by the Bahrain Monetary Authority.  I accepted the work provided that we worked closely. Yet, again I was reminded of my lack of understanding of Islamic finance,” he adds.

Yoshihiro Watanabe.

In the course of his work, Watanabe also met with the then BNM Deputy Governor Dato’ Mohd Razif Abdul Kadir.

“He took time to explain the reason behind the setting up of INCEIF, and that INCEIF offers the programme online specifically to cater for those who do not have the time to attend regular classes in Kuala Lumpur. BNM’s strong involvement in INCEIF gave me the final push,” says Watanabe.

Watanabe is the Managing Director of Japan’s Institute for International Monetary Affairs, and concurrently serves as Advisor of The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd, Japan. Since 2007 he has been a committee member of the APEC Business Advisory Council representing Japan. He travels frequently for work.

As on online CIFP student, text books for the 14 compulsory CIFP papers were couriered to Watanabe and with the exception of intermittent emails with his lecturers, Watanabe was pretty much on his own.  Even during final examinations, which were held at the Malaysian Embassy in Tokyo and invigilated by the Embassy staff, he would be the sole student.

“With my work load, both mentally and physically, I have to admit that to keep on studying was hard for me. However, my old friend, AmBank Group Chairman Tan Sri Azman Hashim stopped me from withdrawing from the programme.

“As colleagues at APEC Business Advisory Council, we submitted a proposal for the promotion of Islamic finance as an alternative finance following the conventional finance crisis, to APEC finance ministers and leaders. Tan Sri Azman also sits on INCEIF Governing Council (which advises INCEIF on strategic directions). Therefore it was difficult for me give up on my CIFP journey midway,’ says Watanabe.

Dongcheol Yang, a Masters in Islamic Finance graduate, is a 35-year-old Senior Manager, Risk Management Department, at South Korea’s Korea EximBank (KEXIM). In 2009, KEXIM started a programme to encourage its employees to study Islamic finance as the bank wanted to build its pool of Islamic finance experts. By then, KEXIM had a growing number of projects in MENA (Middle East & North Africa) and other Muslim-majority countries, most of which were related to Islamic finance.

“I noticed that Islamic finance was a new promising area that was flourishing in the South East Asia region. Therefore, when the bank started a sponsorship programme for staff to study Islamic finance, I applied for it,” says Yang.

When looking for the place of study, Yang also considered the programmes offered by European and Middle Eastern institutions.

“However I find Malaysia the best place to study Islamic finance since it is the hub for Islamic finance. The country, which is backed by strong government initiatives and a robust infrastructure, has achieved global recognition when it comes to everything to do with Islamic finance,” Yang adds.

He chose to study MIF at INCEIF because, “more than any other programmes, INCEIF offered the opportunity to go deeper into Shariah aspects of Islamic finance not only in the Shariah subjects but also in practical ones.

“Personally, I loved to live in KL. In 2002, when I was still a student, I had a wonderful chance to study Bahasa Malaysia and visit Malaysia to find it is a beautiful country to live. I was so happy because my little dream “someday I want to live in Malaysia” came true by studying at INCEIF.”

Yang says he enjoyed his study very much because to him, Islamic finance was truly an inter-disciplinary subject.

“I find that I must understand Shariah and law as well as finance. As a non-Muslim student without any Islamic background, I had to try to understand some basic philosophy that lies in Islam. Thanks to my past experience where I studied South East Asian region and Islam, I understood the basic concept of Islamic finance.

“And life is fair.  While Shariah or law background students had some difficulties to grasp the finance concepts, I had no such difficulties. My working experience as a banker helped me a lot,” adds Yang.

Yang looks forward to contribute towards the development of Islamic finance practices in Korea. Apart from KEXIM, a number of Korean companies have vast interests in MENA or Muslim majority countries including mega projects which required huge amount of funding.

“Korean companies and financial institutions are seriously considering Islamic finance as a financial instrument that can support those projects,” he adds.

For INCEIF, the increasing diversity of INCEIF graduates reaffirms its role in developing world class talent for the global Islamic financial services industry. The diversity of INCEIF students is not confined to geographical boundaries as they are also from different faiths and different academic and professional background.

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