It is a well-known fact that the Islamic finance industry suffers from a shortage of adequate human capital, which is hindering its growth; this includes a scarcity of scholars who are skilled in both Shari’a and finance.
With some Shari’a scholars serving on over twenty Shari’a supervisory boards, spread across the globe, there have been concerns about the quality of Shari’a-compliance decisions and potential conflicts of interest. Calls have been made to accelerate the training of more Shari’a scholars.
One neglected resource is the female Islamic finance graduates who hold doctorates in Islamic finance from top universities in Malaysia, Australia, Europe and America. The female academicians specializing in Islamic banking and finance should be encouraged to learn Shari’a, to enter into an otherwise male-dominated Shari’a advisory sector.
Except for one rare case in the USA, there have been no known cases of the female becoming Muslim religious leaders who lead prayers in mosques, resolve conflicts, interpret Shari’a, or oversee contracts such as marriage agreements.
The current trend in the industry has been for men trained as Muslim priests to be hired as Shari’a scholars after learning about finance. However, the opposite is also possible, which means that men, or women, trained in Islamic finance could specialize in Islamic law.
Unfortunately the acceptance of a female Shari’a scholar might be doubtful at this point in time because it might be confused with a female Muslim priestess. However, a female Shari’a scholar would play a very different role in Islamic finance, where her technical skills would be utilized to certify the compliance with Shari’a of operations as well as products and services, and she could participate in product development. A female Shari’a scholar would be no different than a female surgeon, who is trained to be proficient in medicine, with her gender having no impact on her competence.
It is a fact that in the Muslim world there is still a high level of resistance to the idea of relying upon women to do difficult tasks or when hiring skilled professionals such as heart surgeons or criminal defense lawyers. Surprisingly, even Muslim women generally prefer to seek help from male professionals, particularly childbirth doctors.
Thus it would not be surprising to find Islamic financial institutions giving preference to the men when hiring Shari’a scholars, partly to avoid controversy.
One would expect Western financial institutions that have Islamic windows or those who deal with Islamic finance or related services to be pioneers in hiring women in Islamic finance even in positions less controversial than Shari’a scholarship. As usual Malaysia is a pioneer, it boasts having several female Shari’a scholars in contrast with the Middle East (that has none), in addition to having some of the most influential women occupying leadership positions in Islamic finance.
The Islamic finance industry has embraced the participation of non-Muslim financial experts in various areas such as product development, legal advice, and wealth management. Some non-Muslim Western financial experts have even been preaching about looking at the niyyat (intention) behind new Islamic financial products, and have faced no objection or criticism from the industry. So why would a Muslim woman be denied the opportunity to provide technical advice on Shari’a compliance?
I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we will have non-Muslims specializing in Shari’a law, in the same way that some of the top experts on the history of Islam are non-Muslims.