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Tap a Gulf with Islamic index
- BSE launches Shariah-compliant stock as New Year gift to community

New Delhi, Jan. 12: A Shariah-compliant stock index launched recently by the BSE could help draw trillions of dollars from oil-rich West Asia and prompt Indian Muslims to shed their aversion to shares, investment analysts from the community believe.

The analysts — most of whom have set up firms that channel investment into stocks — say they will rope in clerics to leverage their influence in the Gulf. One analyst claimed the countries of that region were not keen to invest in the US and Europe after 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed the attack.

The reluctance increased since 2008, when Western economies started tottering after the financial crisis.

The BSE Tasis Shariah 50, launched last week, consists of the 50 largest and most liquid Shariah-compliant stocks, including blue-chips Reliance Industries, Bharti Airtel, Tata Consultancy Services and Maruti Suzuki. The bourse has partnered Taqwaa Advisory and Shariah Investment Solutions (Tasis) for the index.

The index screens and lists companies that do not flout the canons of the Shariah. It excludes companies that profit from interests and sale of non-kosher products like alcohol, firearms, tobacco and pork.

Sources said the pressure for such an index came from Muslims who cited the Sachar committee’s findings to show that the community was largely out of the formal financial sector. “There was despair among those who felt they were losing out in the race to make it big,” said a member of the Muslim Personal Law Board.

Tasis founder Shariq Nisar said while he couldn’t yet quantify the response to the BSE’s “New Year gift” to the community, wealth management companies from states in the south and west were excited about it.

The Bangalore-based Nisar said he was looking at IT professionals and bankers as prospective stock market investors rather than businessmen who often tend to be “conservative”.

“They (the professionals) are a growing segment, have loads of disposable incomes despite inflation and are forward-looking,” Nisar said.

Nisar, who is from Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, said he was worried over the “passive” trends in the heartland where young people in cities and towns might not be vastly different from their peers in Bangalore and Mumbai financially but were wary of “taking risks” with their money.

“The wariness is rooted in traditional Islamic notions about haram (forbidden) investments. We need to open their minds,” he said.

Nisar had helped Aligarh Muslim University start a postgraduate diploma programme in Islamic banking and finance last year and initiated an MBA course in the same areas at Chennai’s BS Abdur Rahman University.

Zafar Sareshwala, the CEO of Mumbai’s Parsoli Corporation that was the first to make a list of Shariah-compliant stocks, said BSE officials “froze” when he approached them in 2006 to devise an Islamic index. “They equated it (the idea) with religion. We said it is another way of doing things but they seemed circumspect.”

But what changed minds at the BSE was the way the West had come up with ways to tap “more than a trillion dollars” from the Gulf. “India is much more Shariah-tolerant than Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bahrain and Malaysia. The US and the UK don’t have a Muslim population of more than 2 per cent. Yet, to lure investments from the Gulf, the New York and the London stock exchanges came up with Islamic indices long ago,” said Sareshwala.

Then came the 9/11 damper and the financial crisis, prompting the Gulf to scout for new avenues. “Where do they go with their trillion dollars generated by hyper-active oil-powered economies? India is one of the most attractive choices. The present BSE boss understood this and went ahead with the Islamic index,” Sareshwala said.

Not everyone is impressed, though. The RSS, in a recent statement, said: “Since India is a declared secular state, where is the need to have a share index based on Islam? Can we also please have separate ‘Gita’ and ‘Bible’ share indices?”

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