The Corner

Hsbc – Superstition’s Banker

Lenin, a shrewd judge of human nature if nothing else, is said to have said that “the capitalists are so hungry for profits that they will sell us the rope to hang them with.”

And that, via Charles Moore at the Daily Telegraph brings me to this story:

“This month saw the launch of Britain’s first fully regulated and approved Sharia-compliant bank, the Islamic Bank of Britain. And the big banks have also developed Islamic banking arms. The need for these is said to arise because the Koran forbids “riba”, which is interest, or usury. Yet Muslims need money and banks need to make a living. Systems are devised to get round the ban. For example, instead of a Muslim holding a mortgage for a house, the bank can own the house and make arrangements for the Muslim gradually to buy it off the bank over a period of years. HSBC now boasts of “Our Sharia Board” stuffed with learned sheikhs and Justices from Arabia and Pakistan. Isn’t all this an encouraging example of how the resourcefulness of modern free societies can achieve tolerance and market efficiency?

“But when you look a little further into the question of Islamic banking, you find that it is not, in fact, required by Islam. Al-Azhar University, in Cairo, the main and ancient home of Sunni religious learning, teaches that “riba” means extortionate interest, not any interest at all, and that moderate interest should be permitted. Most Egyptian banks charge and pay interest. Even Muslims who reject this interpretation say that the doctrine of “extreme necessity” permits Muslims in non-Muslim countries to pay interest.

“So what is being proposed with Islamic banking is actually a hardening of the religion, not an accommodation of its existing custom. It is rather as if Catholics, arriving in large numbers in a Muslim country, insisted that they must eat fish rather than meat on a Friday, a rule which has been dropped by the Church in modern times. And when you look at HSBC’s Sharia Board you find that a couple of its members have links with the Deoband, the long-standing ultra-conservative group whose schools in Pakistan educated many of the Taliban. Two others are Wahhabis, trained by the intolerant and puritanical school of thought that dominates the religious life of Saudi Arabia. If HSBC had a Christian Banking Board would they staff it with disciples of the Rev Ian Paisley, the Rev Jerry Falwell and the followers of the late Archbishop Lefebvre, rather than nice Dr Rowan Williams or Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor?”

Judging by what Moore has to say, HSBC, a bank whose ignorance is, quite clearly, matched only by its greed, should be ashamed of itself.

But read the whole of what Moore has to say, particularly on the role of Islam in the UK today. It’s a brave, and thought-provoking, piece.

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