Azerbaijan’s “Guerrilla” Islamic Finance

The Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy’s Fuad Aliyev writes on Islamic banking practices, which are expanding under the noses of regulators who attempt to ban these practices. A case study in how local culture can make issues of regulation and transparency fiendishly complex.

“Guerrilla Islamic Finance:” Islamic Banking the Azerbaijani Way

By Fuad Aliyev
Project Manager & Research Fellow, Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

Despite government suspicions about the threat any religion-based activities may have for secularism, an increasing number of Azerbaijanis are exploring ways to introduce Islamic banking into the country, within the existing legal and normative framework, however unfriendly to such efforts those arrangements are. This article considers some of the challenges these efforts face and analyzes what some call “Guerilla Islamic Finance” as a possible harbinger of future trends.

At the present time, there are two levels in Azerbaijan’s banking system, a central national bank (NBA) and a number of commercial private banks. Both are regulated by national legislation, with the banks performing most of the functions familiar to students of banking in Western countries and banned from getting involved in trade, manufacturing and other businesses as owners or operators. The system has suffered on occasion through the lack of sufficient prudential regulation and supervision, but the government has gradually moved to tighten its monitoring of liquidity and liabilities in line with Basel principles and thus improved public confidence in banks.

Could Islamic banking fit into this system? In principle, yes, because Islamic banking represents a system of financial intermediation that avoids interest-based transactions based on Islamic teaching concerning halal and haraam and intended to ensure justice and equity. By so doing, such banking makes use of profit and loss sharing (PLS) transactions, an arrangement that can allow Islamic banks to function alongside non-Islamic ones.
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