The Muslim Student Association hosted the first ever Islamic Finance Symposium at Columbia on Thursday—debating Islamic finance and its relevance in the global economy at the Diana Center Event Oval.
The event, sponsored in part by the Barnard Office of Career Development, featured Umar Moghul, a professor in Islamic law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, and Taha Abdul-Basser, a former researcher in Islamic ethics and law at the Harvard Islamic Finance Information Program and current Muslim chaplain at Harvard University.
Barnard President Debora Spar emphasized the importance of learning about Islamic finances in her welcoming address.
"As our economic system takes a downturn, it's important to consider other economic systems and the fundamental connections between belief system and their economic system," Spar said.
Islamic law forbids interest-bearing transactions and subjects its financial laws to religious ethics, Abdul-Basser said. Islamic finances aim to develop creative solutions to create profitable and feasible mechanisms around these legal and ethical issues, he said.
Islamic finances have emerged as a "religio-social movement, commercial sector and academic field of inquiry," Abdul-Basser added.
Moghul in the discussion said that Islamic finances are intimately connected to its faith. "Islamic finance system looks to preserve five values: the preservation and protection of faith, life, lineage, intellect and property. It aims to please the creator with economic and financial activity," Moghul said.
He continued, "Islamic finances challenge the status quo that ethics and morality have no place in economic systems and growth. … Ethical review panel and codes of ethics are innovations that Islamic finances brings to customary finances."
Some in the audience agreed that Islamic finances do have global implications.
"This is not just related to Islam, its part of a larger discussion of economics, religion and spirituality and has a lot of intellectual interest," Taimur Malik CC '11, MSA board member and co-organizer of the event, said.
Haroon Moghul, a Ph.D. candidate in Columbia's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, said, "It's positive to see people engaging this topic as a serious discourse and system of thought that is demanding and part of a larger conversation, as opposed to presenting something in a narrow sphere."
Muzna Ansari, BC '10 and MSA president, said, "As I consider loans post-college, I will take Islamic finances into consideration." She also reflected on the ways in which Islamic finances have grown, dating back to the 1970s, when her parents came to the U.S. and Islamic finances were not an option. "Its great to be part of a growing movement," she said.