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Banking on the divine: everyday Islamic banking practices in Malaysia

Muscat, Michaela (2015) Banking on the divine: everyday Islamic banking practices in Malaysia. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Islamic banking, a niche financial sector that has captured the imagination of the financial elite and ordinary consumers alike, is unique in its regulation through the shariah. Primarily, it presents an added-value derived from its prohibition of riba (interest) in favour of profit from trade (al Bay) or leasing (ijarah). This thesis aims to explain Malaysia’s success in promoting Islamic banking products to a critical mass of consumers. More specifically, it seeks to explain the development and growth ineveryday Islamic banking practices amongst the Malay community in Kuala Lumpur. The thesis is based on a sociological framework that does not aim to explain the development and growth of Islamic banking in terms that are principally about religion. I argue that the development of Islamic banking in Malaysia is the result of a top-down strategy driven by the economic and political interests of Malaysia’s ruling elites. Following the crisis of trust in the political-economic model of development deployed up to the crisis of 1997-1998, Islam’s vast repertoire of ideas, language and symbols are a powerful and dexterous foundation of a strategy that simultaneously problematises ‘conventional’ banking and offers an alternative course through Islamic banking. Nevertheless, Islamic banking practices are not given and cannot be taken-for-granted. Thus, in seeking to understand why increasingly consumers trust Islamic banking’s promise of economic advantage with the added value of religious compliance, the study seeks to interpret Islamic banking practices from the perspective of the ‘ordinary’ consumer. Everyday Islamic banking practices are viewed in this thesis, as embedded within broader, historically determined, closely intertwined, social, economic, cultural and political circumstances. This study views the aforementioned circumstances that consumers find themselves in, on the one hand, and the banking practices they participate in, on the other, as interacting elements of a socially determinate whole. Trust, I suggest, is the common thread underpinning the everyday banking practices within the interacting elements of a socially determinate whole. Three ideal types that emerged from the data, the virtuoso, pragmatist and sceptic, are a used as a heuristic device to characterise the various interests driving trust in Islamic banking, and illustrate the heterogeneity of Islamic banking practices. More specifically, based on an analysis of the consumers’ account of their Islamic banking practices, the choice of Islamic over ‘conventional’ banking is based on two important factors. First, for those who perceive and are attracted to the added value of Islamic banking, trust in the shariah regulation and expertise, as underwritten by the state, is the first condition to their choice. Trust lubricates their choice by reducing complexity, mitigating risk and bridging the gap between knowledge and faith. Second, the personalised trust that characterises thick social ties bolsters confidence in Islamic banking. In rating Islamic banking as the most socially acceptable choice, family and peers are signalling confidence in the value and values of Islamic banking and are unwitting allies of the state and banks. Last, the study notes that shariah regulation has contradictory corollary effects: it is both functional and dysfunctional. Whilst it functions in enabling the growth of Islamic banking, it also contributes to social fragmentation within Malaysian society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Michaela Muscat
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HG Finance
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Dodd, Nigel

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