This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

Of Islamic Banks

Back when I was a student in dental college, we had a student fromPondicherry in South India joined classes rather late. I’ll call him Khalil, which is not his real name. He was a Muslim of Tamil ethnic origin and spoke, at the time, no Hindi (the local language in Lucknow, where we were) and relatively little English.
Within minutes of him arriving in the student hostel, two Muslim students, whom I will call Alauddin and Mazhar (because those are their real names) turned up to talk to him. I have no idea how word got out so quickly that a Muslim student had joined, or why it should have got out at all in the first place. After all, it’s not as if Khalil was the only Muslim student there, and Alauddin and Mazhar weren’t even from the same class. But they were there to “welcome” him and to ask him how much Islamic lore he knew, whether he did namaz five times a day, and so on.
(Unfortunately for everyone who knew him, Khalil turned out to be one of those extremely unpleasant people who enjoy creating controversies and igniting feuds between friends. I’m sure you know the type. Soon enough I wasn’t interacting with him at all, in self-defence, and I was one of the fortunate ones. Pretty soon after that Mazhar and Alauddin were no longer on talking terms with each other. But that’s not what I want to talk about here.)
As I found out soon, the Muslims – well, almost all - seemed to think themselves a breed apart from the rest of us. Yeah, sure, they’d eat with us, attend classes with us, and occasionally go watch the flicks with us. But ask them who their closest friends were, or who their “seniors” (people further along the course, usually from their hometowns) were, and they would always take the names of Muslims – even if they had nothing at all in common.
This was certainly not the case with Christians, Sikhs, or the occasional Buddhist, none of whom – though more in the minority than Muslims – had any such hang-ups. I put it aside as just “one of those things”. I was, and am, secular and a believer in allowing each individual to choose his own individual path to hell, so I didn’t give a damn what they did. But the Muslim case seemed so extraordinary, so characteristic of Muslims as a religious group, that I couldn’t but wonder.
Now, in India, most Muslims are a poor and disadvantaged minority, with unspoken but systemic discrimination against them in employment, housing, education, you name it. Just like the black underclass in the US who are driven to crime for lack of any other option, Muslims tend to be over-represented in the ranks of criminals, and are blamed accordingly and punished en masse, which has the effect of driving them further together for self-protection, which makes them even easier to discriminate against because they can then be called a fifth column. I don’t think any of this will be difficult for any of you to understand.
Now yesterday I was reading in the paper about “Islamic banking.” Apparently, back in the early 600s of the current era, the Prophet Muhammad had banned usury for Muslims. In effect he had also banned the entire structure of credit – meaning he’d banned all of modern commerce, simply because he wanted to save poor Muslims from extortion at the hands of greedy moneylenders. Think about that.
All right, so the average urban middle class Muslim in India (the Islamic countries have gone into all sorts of bizarre convoluted stratagems to get round this ban, but it’s India I’m discussing here)  isn’t bothered by the prohibition of interest, just as he isn’t bothered about the prohibition of wine (the world’s greatest paean of praise to booze is The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur), but this matters a lot to the ghetto Muslim whose life is ruled by his local mullah’s opinions on anything and everything, no matter how ridiculous those opinions may be. Under those circumstances, he doesn’t even want to put his money in the bank because that money would earn him interest, which is haram(forbidden). Nor does he want to keep it at home under his mattress because he can’t keep it safe there from thieves, fire, termites, flood, whatever. So what to do?
Enter the Islamic banker, a sharp customer who is always a rich Muslim (since the ghetto Muslim is conditioned to trust only other Muslims and imagines himself their equal because he prays with them). This guy opens a “bank” where Muslims can deposit their money and keep it in his safe custody. He, naturally, lends out this money and makes a tidy amount in interest. If the depositor wants his money, he gets what he put in, no more. Sometimes he’s even asked to pay a “service tax” – which means he’s paying to make the rich Muslim richer.
So there’s what Islamic brotherhood gets you. After Khalil, I'm far from surprised.

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