This is a fascinating little interview with Timur Kuran, an expert in Islamic finance. The point being made is that Islamic styles of finance aren’t, in fact, all that different from the “western” type that we are used to. And in fact, in certain situations, being “more Islamic” would actually be beneficial, work better than those traditional western systems.
The heart of the comments about the banking system are here:
Whether the Qur’an bans all forms of interest, or specifically its exploitative forms, was a matter of controversy in the early decades of Islam. It still remains in doubt. What is crystal clear is that what passes as Islamic finance is anything but interest-free. Almost all of the Islamic banks in existence, including those in Egypt, charge their borrowers what any economist would call interest; they also pay their depositors interest as a matter of course. This is not surprising, for interest continues to provide tangible benefits to both lenders and depositors.
In economic terms, while the banks don’t charge or pay what they call interest, the effects are that they do indeed charge and pay interest. Those of us who have dealt with such banks, in however minor a way in my own case, know this to be true. The really interesting, to me at least, point made is the following:
"Having suggested that in its present form Islamic banking would not solve any of Egypt’s pressing economic problems, let me acknowledge that Islamic banks might bring benefits by abiding by their stated mode of operation. The charters of Islamic banks instruct them to lend on the basis of “profit and loss sharing” rather than for a fixed return. They are to operate like the venture capital companies that have financed the global high-tech industry. Venture capital firms lend to promising entrepreneurs, for a share of any profits, without regard to collateral, track record, or connections. They take genuine risks, losing money when investments that they finance fail".
With its young population and high unemployment, Egypt desperately needs more venture capital. That is why genuine Islamic finance could bring major benefits to Egypt.
That is, it would be a good idea if these banks, or some of them, stopped copying the western model and actually moved over to the VC model they’re supposed to be based upon. (...)