As big Western financial institutions have teetered one after the other in the crisis of recent weeks, another financial sector is gaining new confidence: Islamic banking.
Proponents of the ancient practice, which looks to sharia law for guidance and bans interest and trading in debt, have been promoting Islamic finance as a cure for the global financial meltdown.
This week, Kuwait's commerce minister, Ahmad Baqer, was quoted as saying that the global crisis will prompt more countries to use Islamic principles in running their economies. U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmet, visiting Jiddah, said experts at his agency have been learning the features of Islamic banking.
Though the trillion-dollar Islamic banking industry faces challenges with the slump in real estate and stock prices, advocates say the system has built-in protection from the kind of runaway collapse that has afflicted so many institutions. For one thing, the use of financial instruments such as derivatives, blamed for the downfall of banking, insurance and investment giants, is banned. So is excessive risk-taking.