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Features of a Conventional Bank

The conventional banking, which is interest based, performs the following major activities:

  1. Deposit creation
  2. Financing (Refer to section IV)
  3. Agency services
  4. Issuing LGs
  5. Advisory services
  6. Other related services

We now would like to make a comparison of these activities with Islamic concept of banking:


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Deposits (The liability side)

Deposit – qard (loan) not amanah (Trust)

The common misconception regarding “deposit” is that it is a form of amanah (security/trust). However, according to Shariah definition, deposit has more resemblance to qard (loan) than amanah. This conclusion is based on the fact that in Islam an item is termed as amanah, if it bears all the features of amanah. Deposits cannot be termed amanah, as they do not have two of its special features, i.e. :

  1. a) Amanah cannot be used by the bank for its business or benefit.
  2. b) The bank cannot be liable in case of any damage or loss to the amanah resulting from circumstances beyond its control

Whereas in banks, deposits are primarily placed to earn profit, which is only possible when the bank uses these deposits to invest in other business. Hence deposits do not fulfill the first condition of amanah, which says that it should not be used by the caretaker for his own business or benefit.

Secondly, the bank is held 100% responsible for these deposits in all circumstances even in case of loss or damage to the bank. This feature releases deposits from the ruling of amanah where the assets will not be returned in case of any damage to the asset resulting from circumstances beyond caretaker’s control. According to this justification, all three kinds of deposit namely current accounts, fixed deposits and saving accounts are not amanah. They are all governed by qard.

One school of thought says that only fixed deposit and saving accounts fall under the laws of qard but current account is governed by amanah. However, this is also not correct because the bank is as much liable to current account holders as its PLS account holders and is called the “guarantor” in fiqh terminology. Due to this feature, current account is also governed by qard.

The depositors are not interested in terminology but the endresult of holding an account. Therefore if a bank does not offer security to the assets, the depositors under normal circumstance will never keep their assets at such a bank. Similarly if the depositors are told that the status of their account will that be of amanah and in case of any loss to the assets, without any negligence of the bank, will not be returned to them, not a single person would put his asset in the bank. Therefore the bank provides the security to the assets, which the depositors themselves want.

We therefore conclude that the main intention of the depositors is not to put the assets in banks as amanah; rather as qard by having collateral security by appointing the bank as guarantor.

Example of Syedna Zubair bin Awwam (RA)

Hazrat Zubair bin Awwam (RA) was famous for his honesty and trustworthiness. Prominent people used to leave with him their properties in trust. Based on their needs they would also withdraw all or part of their properties. It has been reported in Al Bukhari and Tabaqaat-e-Ibn-e-Saad in respect of Hazrat Zubair bin Awwam (RA) that he would decline to accept such property as amanah (trust) but rather accepted them as qard (loan).

The reason for this action on his part was his fear that the property may be lost and it may be suspected that he was neglectful in its safekeeping. As such, he decided to consider it a loan so that the depositor felt more comfortable and his reputation remained intact. Another reason for it was that it could become possible for him to employ these funds for trading and earn profit out of them. The loan amount calculated at 2.2 million at the time of his death by his son Syedna Abdullah bin Zubair was specified as qard not amanah. He also used the term loan while instructing his son before his death “Son, dispose off my property to settle the loans”.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, we come to the conclusion that all three forms of bank deposits are governed by the law of qard as a consequence of which the account holder may withdraw only the assets deposited. Any increase on it will be interest. The commercial interest that if the purpose of the lender is business or security and not providing financial assistance, then to get an excess amount is also interest, which is prohibited in Islam just like usury.

It is also clear that there is a consensus of Muslim scholars on the point that the transactions in Fixed Deposit and Savings Account is prohibited because the bank pays excess to their account holders over their actual capital, which is interest. The Islamic Fiqh Academy Jeddah in their 2nd session has further endorsed such transactions as interest based transaction. Therefore it is illegal for a Muslim to keep their deposits in such accounts. As far as the current account is concerned, the bank does not pay any excess (interest) over the actual capital, therefore holding such an account is allowed.

To sum up, profit given on fixed deposit and savings accounts is interest and therefore prohibited. However if the banking system is based on Islamic principles, Musharakah can play a very important role. Therefore we will now discuss how the banks can operate on Musharakah basis. As we already know a bank has two sides, one where it receives deposits from customers which is called the liability side and the other where it advances finance to investors and businessmen which is called the asset side. Both sides can operate on Musharakah basis. As far as deposits are concerned, Musharakah is the only instrument in which money can be received from customers meaning that every depositor will become a partner in bank’s business through their deposited money. However, for the asset or finance side, there are other instruments apart from Musharakah but since those instruments are not covered in our subject, we will stick to the operation of Musharakah. We will begin by the role of Musharakah in the deposits and its relevant laws and will then discuss the procedure of Musharakah in the finance side.

Source: Dr. Muhammad Imran Ashraf Usmani, Meezan Bank’s Guide to Islamic Banking.