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Syariah advisers under-appreciated, says Perak sultan

Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah is of the opinion that many may not fully appreciate the “enormous” responsibility of syariah advisers in giving their endorsements.

In his speech at the launch of the book 'Shariah Minds in Islamic Finance' by syariah adviser Mohd Daud Bakar, the Perak sultan pointed out how a feature unique to Islamic finance is the sacred trust placed on institutions to comply with Islamic principles.

“Therefore, every endorsement by syariah advisers is an assurance to the public that the institution in question is acting in accordance with religious tenets," he said.

The syariah advisory function, he noted, has long been perceived as inaccessible and shrouded in lack of transparency and engagement with other stakeholders in the industry.

“I believe that removing the veil over the work of syariah advisers, as this book does, is extremely important in increasing the confidence of the public and the media in our Islamic financial institutions,” he said.

Further emphasising the responsibility of syariah advisers, Nazrin pointed out how any deviation from Islamic principles by any institution had the potential to taint the image of the entire industry.

'White ocean strategy'

Meanwhile, citing Prophet Muhammad who had endorsed several prevailing customs of the Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic society) so long as they were compatible with the teachings of Islam, Nazrin said scholars therefore must be assertive and take a bold approach to make Islamic financial products relevant and sophisticated.

He added this was encapsulated by what Mohd Daud called a ‘white ocean strategy’, about offering something not yet attempted but could contribute a more impactful value for the whole society.

“Whether this results in syariah-based or syariah-compliant products, engagement with and among scholars is imperative to see further progress and development in Islamic finance."

The sultan is however certain that the role of syariah scholars can become more significant as the industry evolves in the years to come, pointing out how they are ‘bastions for the proliferation of knowledge’.

“For this to happen, however, their work must be accessible, understandable and actively disseminated to industry practitioners, students of syariah, regulatory authorities, policy-makers and the public at large.

“Certainly, this calls for a certain level of audacity in the part of syariah scholars to abandon their ivory towers and pursue a more direct involvement in the development of the industry," he said.

Stressing how thinking strategically is expected in other disciplines, the sultan said it should therefore be no different in syariah scholarship as well.

The 350-page book is Mohd Daud’s first, and provides a glimpse into the many facets of a syariah adviser’s career.

Syariah advisors, the former Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (UIAM) academic admitted, had preferred to avoid any open engagements with other stakeholders which had even raised negative insinuations.

The book, published by Amanie Media, aims to “clear the dust” on this aspect and sets out to “inspire” a new generation of syariah scholars by providing tips from the author’s two-decade experience in the industry.

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