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People sometimes say that 'religion should not interfere with science', but if God has prohibited interest then which man has the right to contradict Him? Isn't it science that has interfered with religion? The secular economists may reject this line of reasoning without realising the extent to which religion has played a role in formulating their own ideas. When we examine Western economic thought from the last three centuries, we might reasonably argue that Classicism, Marxism, Keynesianism and Monetarism are its four leading schools. Yet we do not see these schools as representing the ideas of 'Jewish economics' even though Ricardo, Marx, Keynes and Friedman were Jews. Their ideas are presented simply as 'economics'. An economics in which the practice of interest goes largely unchallenged. Interest is the price of money, no justification required.

Islamic economics is different. We say who we are in the very title of our discipline. And there can be no doubt what we are aiming for. Ours is not a subset of the economics that is being taught in Western universities. A conventional professor who employed a proof that "God says so" would probably not remain employed as a professor for very long. Such is the gulf between our respective value judgements.

My message is that Islamic finance cannot function properly without an Islamic monetary system. This in turn requires a very different kind of banking system. Most modern money is manufactured by the banking system as the balance sheet counterpart to an interest-bearing loan. Because of this, usury now touches everything and everyone.

The intellectual threat posed by a strict implementation of Islam to the highly profitable business of money creation is one that the bankers have cleverly chosen to co-opt rather than suppress. Hence we have 'Islamic' banking departments. Simultaneously, the direction of both academic debate and business practice is being perverted from the inside. Those who disagree with the establishment line are marginalised, their work is not promoted, they are not invited to speak at the Islamic banking conferences. Facts on the ground that are created by Islamic banking executives, find their way into the academic literature as case studies. Students and practitioners alike digest them and conclude that this must be what Islamic banking is all about. But they have encountered the 'what is' not the 'what should be' of Islamic banking.

Our armies have been neutered, our governments entrapped in debt. The Muslims have few world-beating corporations, no manufacturers of jet-fighters, no internationally renowned consulting firms, no global news agencies. What wealth we have is too often in the hands of men who love yachts and race horses. Or NASDAQ. But there is one thing that remains undefeated. And that is the truth of God's revelation, teaching us that usury is haram. The interest-based financial establishment is an eloquent and intelligent adversary that wishes to stifle this truth and deliver us into a new Dark Age. They employ strategists, fund research, sponsor conferences, run marketing campaigns, establish mini-banks in schools and pay graduates very good starting salaries. We work late at night for free.

If only we could persuade our adversaries to give up the practices of economic oppression, the world would change for everyone's benefit. But which empire voluntarily gives up a cornerstone of its power? To forgive the debt of Pakistan, or Egypt or Indonesia releases these countries from their servitude. So I doubt that change will come about by gentle reason. The task of convincing the Western establishment of the truth in our possession is all the more difficult when we are unable to implement it ourselves. Perhaps this is where we have gone wrong. Perhaps we should devote our energies to improving ourselves as Muslims before designing grand models of the Islamic economy. Maybe then a distinct Islamic methodology would re-emerge among the people and their practices, rather than among the writings of the academics.

In centuries past the culturally bankrupt English nobility assumed the French language in a pompous attempt to emulate the opulence of France. Now in Egypt some of the young elite disdain Arabic and prefer to speak English, if possible with an American accent. Likewise in Islamic finance. Our papers read like extracts from the Journal of Finance, our visions are those of an intellectual parrot. "Bond market? Islamic bond market. Credit card? Islamic credit card." Whatever next? Islamic fornication?

Where once the core Islamic principles were the centre of attention, now they are relegated to the status of footnotes during the launch of a new 'Islamic' financial instrument. These instruments have in turn become not so much a different paradigm as just another member of the product range. Trade finance, corporate finance, project finance, and now Islamic finance. As increasing numbers of far-sighted commentators in the developed world are coming to realise that the conventional financial system is failing us, Islamic bankers go right on talking the same old tired language of compromise. What a humiliation this is for a great body of law.

18 October 2001, updated 13 January 2002