Islamic Equity Funds
In an Islamic equity fund the amounts are invested in the shares of joint stock companies. The profits are mainly derived through the capital gains by purchasing the shares and selling them when their prices are increased. Profits are also earned through dividends distributed by the relevant companies.
It is obvious that if the main business of a company is not lawful in terms of Shariah, it is not allowed for an Islamic Fund to purchase, hold or sell its shares, because it will entail the direct involvement of the share holder in that prohibited business.
Similarly the contemporary Shariah experts are almost unanimous on the point that if all the transactions of a company are in full conformity with Shariah, which includes that the company neither borrows money on interest nor keeps its surplus in an interest bearing account, its shares can be purchased, held and sold without any hindrance from the Shariah side. But evidently, such companies are very rare in the contemporary stock markets. Almost all the companies quoted in the present stock markets are in some way involved in an activity which violates the injunctions of Shariah. Even if the main business of a company is halal, its borrowings are based on interest’. On the other hand, they keep their surplus money in an interest bearing account or purchase interest-bearing bonds or securities.
The case of such companies has been a matter of debate between the Shariah experts in the present century. A group of the Shariah experts is of the view that it is not allowed for a Muslim to deal in the shares of such a company, even if its main business is halal. Their basic argument is that every share-holder of a company is a sharik (partner) of the company, and every sharik, according to the Islamic jurisprudence, is an agent for the other partners in the matters of the joint business. Therefore, the mere purchase of a share of a company embodies an authorization from the share-holder to the company to carry on its business in whatever manner the management deems fit. If it is known to the share-holder that the company is involved in an un-Islamic transaction, and still he holds the shares of that company, it means that he has authorized the management to proceed with that UN-Islamic transaction. In this case, he will not only be responsible for giving his consent to an UN-Islamic transaction, but that transaction will also be rightfully attributed to himself, because the management of the company is working under his tacit authorization.
Moreover, when a company is financed on the basis of interest, its funds employed in the business are impure. Similarly, when the company receives interest on its deposits an impure element is necessarily included in its income which will be distributed to the share-holders through dividends.
However, a large number of the present day scholars do not endorse this view. They argue that a joint stock company is basically different from a simple partnership. In partnership, all the policy decisions are taken through the consensus of all the partners, and each one of them has a veto power with regard to the policy of the business. Therefore, all the actions of a partnership are rightfully attributed to each partner. Conversely, the policy decisions in a joint stock company are taken by the majority. Being composed of a large number of share-holders, a company cannot give a veto power to each share-holder. The opinions of individual share-holders can be overruled by a majority decision. Therefore, each and every action taken by the company cannot be attributed to every share-holder in his individual capacity. If a share-holder raises an objection against a particular transaction in an Annual General Meeting, but his objection is overruled by the majority, it will not be fair to conclude that he has given his consent to that transaction in his individual capacity, especially when he intends to refrain from the income resulting from that transaction.
Therefore, if a company is engaged in a halal business, but also keeps its surplus money in an interest-bearing account, wherefrom a small incidental income of interest is received, it does not render all the business of the company unlawful. Now, if a person acquires the shares of such a company with clear intention that he will oppose this incidental transaction also, and will not use that proportion of the dividend for his own benefit, how can it be said that he has approved the transaction of interest and how can that transaction be attributed to him?
The other aspect of the dealings of such a company is that it sometimes borrows money from financial institutions. These borrowings are mostly based on interest. Here again the same principle is relevant. If a share-holder is not personally agreeable to such borrowings, but has been overruled by the majority, these borrowing transactions cannot be attributed to him.
Moreover, even though according to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, borrowing on interest is a grave and sinful act, for which the borrower is responsible in the Hereafter; but, this sinful act does not render the whole business of the borrower as haram or impermissible. The borrowed amount being recognized as owned by the borrower, anything purchased in exchange for that money is not unlawful. Therefore, the responsibility of committing a sinful act of borrowing on interest rests with the person who wilfully indulged in a transaction of interest, but this fact does render the whole business of a company as unlawful.
Source: Republished with the kind permission of Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Usmani.