Skills and Experiences needed to be an Islamic finance lawyer

Ashley Freeman – President Gateway

To perform effectively as an IF lawyer, you will need to combine expertise across three separate disciplines: Islam, finance and law. But because you are holding yourself out as a “lawyer” this must be your core expertise. Simply having expertise of Islam and/or finance and a bit of rudimentary knowledge of legal rules won’t really cut it! So you will need to get yourself a recognised legal qualification which, in the UK, means becoming a Solicitor or a Barrister. Having a law degree alone is not enough – a law degree does not prepare you for legal practice. Nowadays, because of the complexity of law, it’s unlikely you can make much impact as an IF lawyer until you have been qualified for at least 5 years – and only then if you have acquired experience in the right areas of law. Which brings us to the question of “finance” – the second discipline you must know well.

Finance comes in many different forms and it is important you understand how the various markets work and how transactions are structured and executed within them. Many budding young IF lawyers make the mistake of believing they can study Islamic finance in isolation from the mainstream market. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, it is essential to study how riba-based systems work and the characteristics they display. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, it is a sad fact that much contemporary Islamic finance is about replicating the mainstream market (and therefore you will need to know these techniques in order to survive in the sector). Secondly, only by understanding the entire corpus and “universality” of finance, with all its many deficiencies (and superficial attractions) will you gain greater insight into the Divinely-inspired Islamic method.

Which brings us to Islam. Clearly anyone who claims to be an adviser on Islamic finance law (as opposed to someone who is just trading Shari’ah-compliant money) ought to have at least working knowledge of Qur’an and Sunna, the rulings of the various madhabs, the opinions of the most influential contemporary scholars, as well as the rules of Shari’ah standard setting bodies like AAOIFI. It helps if one’s historical knowledge of Islamic fiqh is orientated towards mu’amalet.

Finally, having a sense of worldly perspective also helps. I was once taught an important lesson by an experienced Islamic financier when he said: “you have to remember that Islamic finance is not Islam”. It’s a simple statement, but it carries so much truth. Islamic finance law as a profession may (or may not) provide a way of putting into practice one’s values and ethos as a Muslim, insh’Allah. But it is not, certainly not in the modern world, an accurate reflection of the Divine exemplar. Those who think otherwise are likely to be disappointed. That said, if you can master all three disciplines, it is a wonderful career to have!


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