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Friday, April 25, 2014

Brunei Holds Off on Implementing New Islamic Laws

Brunei has deferred implementing a set of harsh Islamic criminal laws, including stoning for Muslim adulterers, after the move drew criticism from human rights group and the United Nations.
The criminal laws known as Sharia were originally scheduled to take effect Tuesday but their implementation was moved due to “unavoidable circumstances,” the Brunei Times reported, citing Jauyah Md. Zaini, assistant director of the government’s Islamic Legal Unit. No new implementation date was specified.
Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah delivers a speech on Islamic law in Bandar Seri Begawan on Oct. 22.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
However, Ms. Jauyah was quoted as saying that the enforcement was slated to take place “in the very near future.”
Islam has long been the official religion of this tiny, tropical kingdom, which practices a more conservative version of the faith than its Muslim-majority neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia.
Brunei, with a population of more than 400,000, has one of the highest per-capita incomes in Southeast Asia, thanks to its offshore oil reserves in the South China Sea.
The Sharia criminal laws unveiled in October and expected to come into force Tuesday would deepen the role of Islam in the country’s judiciary. At present, Sharia laws are limited to personal and family issues, such as marriage disputes.
The new laws will apply to a much broader range of offences, including robbery and extramarital sexual relations, which could be punishable by death. Rape and adultery will be punishable by stoning.
The laws and their punishments have raised concerns among human rights groups, who say they are a step back for Brunei.
“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement earlier this month. The International Commission of Jurists meanwhile has said the prescribed capital punishment is “a particularly horrific form of torture and execution.”
The new laws have also drawn rare criticism in Brunei, where citizens rarely publicly challenge the all-powerful sultan who has ruled for nearly five decades. In early February, following criticism of the Islamic regulations on blog posts and social media, the reigning monarch, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the prime minister and controls the defense and finance ministries, issued a stern warning to critics to stop what he referred to as insults.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Malaysia is center of reference for Islamic Banking

PIONEER: Syariah-compliant system serves as model for other countries, says Najib.
THE government has succeeded in developing the Islamic financial system,   as the country has become the   centre of reference for others around the world, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
He said Malaysia was not only known for pioneering the Islamic banking and financial system, but also as the only nation that had developed such a system through a holistic approach.
Najib said the nation's Islamic financial system offered syariah-compliant products and fulfilled the community's needs, as the nation had developed an infrastructure for the system to run well.
"Alhamdulillah (praise to God), the government's initiatives have been fruitful, as the country is now an international referral centre for a syariah-compliant Islamic financial system," he said at the launch of the week-long Malaysian Unit Trust Week 2014, themed "PNB 360 Investment", at the Rural Transformation Centre in Tunjong here yesterday. More than 5,000 people attended the event.
Najib said Malaysia continued to be a global leader in the international sukuk market, accounting for more than US$82.4 billion (RM266 billion), or 68.8 per cent, of the total international sukuk issuances last year.
"Islamic bank assets showed a growth of up to 16.5 per cent, with a market share of 25.7 per cent, of the total banking system assets last year," he said, adding that total transactions involving foreign exchanges managed by international Islamic banks had increased to RM18.1 billion last year, compared with RM14.6 billion in 2012.
He said the figures showed that syariah-compliant Islamic financial transactions had gained a foothold not only in Malaysia, but also at the international level.
Najib, who is also finance minister, said the government, through Bank Negara, had allocated RM500 million to establish a special university to nurture quality talent, with the aim of expanding the Islamic banking and financial industry.
He said another RM200 million had been channeled to set up an international-standard syariah research centre to ensure all components of Islamic finances strictly complied with syariah principles.
"The government's seriousness in empowering and raising the standards of the Islamic financial system can been seen from various governing and legal initiatives."
Under the legislation, he said, syariah was placed high up in the Islamic Financial Service Act 2013, whereby any financial institution found to have breached syariah principles in its business transactions faces a jail term of up to eight years, fine of up to RM25 million, or both, upon conviction.
Najib said the implementation of the initiatives to develop the system was among the key factors that caused the nation to receive the world's attention.
"What we envision is an Islamic financial system that is truly respectable, not only in its label and logo, but also for fulfilling the true essence of Islam."
He said in the latest development, the World Bank had indicated its interest to open a branch office in the country, with one of its main objectives being to gain experience and learn from Malaysia to develop the Islamic financial system.
"This is another endorsement for the country, which is a model, driver and pioneer in the agenda to raise the standards of the financial system, based on syariah, on the international stage."
Najib said Permodalan Nasional Bhd's (PNB) role in empowering the Bumiputera economy could not be denied, as it successfully managed investors' funds from the public, especially the lower-income group.
He said 75 per cent of Bumiputeras were living below the poverty line at the beginning of Malaysia's independence and held only two per cent in equity in the 1970s.
"The formation of PNB as an important New Economic Policy instrument has helped the national affirmative policy to restructure society through Bumiputera-share ownership in the corporate sector.
"This has provided an opportunity to Bumiputera professionals to contribute directly to the country's wealth creation and management.
"After 36 years, more than RM267 billion in the people's funds was managed excellently by PNB, through trust funds such as Amanah Saham Nasional, Amanah Saham Bumiputera, Amanah Saham Malaysia, AS1Malaysia and proprietary funds."
Najib said this had led the way for Bumiputeras to venture into strategic sectors, which they had never dreamed of doing.
"This innovation, allowing the rakyat to be shareholders with as low as RM10, has made PNB the most successful public institution, becoming a model to the world.
"This proves the government's commitment to realising the spirit of 'Maqasid al-Syariah' in the context of wealth management, fulfilling the principles underlined by Allah SWT."
He lauded PNB's initiative to expand the syariah-compliant portfolio.
He said one of PNB's most important portfolios, Maybank, had shown tremendous Islamic banking asset growth through Maybank Islamik, which expanded from RM3.6 billion to RM127 billion in assets.
"Maybank operates as the third-largest Islamic commercial bank in the world in terms of assets and is the largest in Southeast Asia."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dubai among 'Best 25 Places to go in the World'

Dubai has been named as one of the top 25 places to visit worldwide in the Travellers' Choice Awards 2014 by TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel site.

The entry highlighted 646 activities to try in Dubai.

Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, attractions and restaurants in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period.

"We are honoured to have been chosen for the first time ever as one of the top 25 destinations as part of TripAdvisor's Travellers' Choice Awards," said IssamKazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

Kazim said this year the city has already witnessed the launch of the Dubai Food Festival, a range of world-class events in music, culture and sport and more hospitality openings.

Travellers' Choice Destinations honour top travel spots worldwide based on the millions of valuable reviews and opinions from TripAdvisor travellers.

Hotels add Muslim food

Emirates Airline’s launch last month of a direct flight between Taipei and Dubai has motivated more five-star hotels to offer Muslim-friendly cuisine to welcome tourists from the Middle East, with seven hotels receiving halal certification from the Tourism Bureau yesterday — four in Taipei, one in New Taipei City, one in Hualien and one in Chiayi. Thirteen other hotels and restaurants received certifications yesterday.
Halal refers to an object or an action that is acceptable for use according to Islamic law. To be certified, a restaurant must use ingredients from certified halal food suppliers, among other requirements.
The Taipei-based Chinese Muslim Association, which certifies businesses for the bureau, said the Taipei-Dubai direct flight was a great incentive for five-star hotels to provide Muslim-friendly dining.
“Because of the direct flight service, the airline will start seeking partner hotels in Taiwan,” association secretary-general Salahuding Ma (馬超彥) said.
“The Tourism Bureau met with the management of some of these five-star hotels and talked about the business potential brought by Muslim tourists. We believe that it is an important milestone that more five-star hotels are tapping into the Muslim tourism market,” Ma said.
He also said that Taiwan is the only country in the region with Muslim-friendly food in one of its international airports — in both terminals of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, he added.
China has about 100 million Muslims, he said, but travelers cannot find halal food in Beijing Capital International Airport.
Ma said that another reason behind the Taipei-Dubai flight was that Dubai aims to become a halal products trading center and sees Taiwan as an important halal food supply hub in Northeast Asia.
“China has food-safety issues. Both Japan and South Korea support the development of big corporations, which leaves them with little flexibility to reach small niche markets. It is relatively easier to set up a halal food supply chain in Taiwan, with many of its small and medium-sized businesses,” Ma said.
Taiwan has 50 certified halal restaurants, including those receiving certification yesterday.
Bureau Deputy Director-General Wayne Liu (劉喜臨) said there are about 1.7 billion Muslims around the world, who spend about US$14 billion a year on tourism.
Liu said that Taiwan received about 160,000 Muslim tourists last year, bringing US$256 million in revenue. Prior to the launch of the direct flight to Dubai, Liu said Muslim tourists came from Muslim countries in Asia, such as Malaysia.
Liu said the nation hoped to attract about 200,000 Muslim tourists this year, which could generate tourism revenue of about US$300 million.
Hotels such as Regent Taipei and Landis Taipei have also added facilities such as signs pointing in the direction of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that Muslims should face during prayers and prayer schedules.

Hong Kong, Malaysia Spread The Word On Islamic Finance

On April 14, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) held a joint Islamic finance conference in Hong Kong, to raise the level of interest in sukuk as a viable financing and investment instrument amongst the business and financial community in Hong Kong and Mainland China.

The conference saw regulators and market leaders in the Islamic finance field discuss a wide range of issues, from the latest trends in the global sukuk market to business opportunities for Islamic finance in Hong Kong, the practical issues in structuring sukuk and the Islamic market's investment appetite.
In his opening remarks, Peter Pang, Deputy Chief Executive of the HKMA, said: "With the tax framework for sukuk in place, Hong Kong's financial platform is ready for sukuk issuance. We highly welcome local and overseas entities to make use of Hong Kong's platform to issue sukuk."

He confirmed that, "to play a lead-off role for this market, we are working closely with the Hong Kong Government to prepare for the inaugural issuance of Government sukuk under the Government Bond Program and, thereby, promote the further development of the sukuk market in Hong Kong. We very much appreciate the close partnership we have established with Malaysia in developing Islamic finance and look forward to more co-operation opportunities in the future."

Muhammad Ibrahim, BNM's Deputy Governor, added that "this inaugural conference is set to mark a significant step to enhance collaboration and deepen financial linkages in Islamic finance between Malaysia and Hong Kong. We look forward to sharing our Islamic finance marketplace with Hong Kong in terms of expertise in structuring, managing and distributing sukuk, as well as providing advice on legal and Shariah matters."

He emphasized the importance of adopting international standards and best practices in new markets, with a proper governance framework to facilitate the execution of transactions and instill investors' confidence in the industry. Potential areas of collaboration between Hong Kong and Malaysia will therefore include the dual listing of sukuk, leveraging on Malaysia's Shariah governance framework and arbitration platform.

The conference followed the first meeting of the private-sector led Joint Forum on Islamic Finance between Hong Kong and Malaysia held in December 2013. Its next meeting will be held in Kuala Lumpur in the second half of this year.

Hong Kong's tax framework for sukuk, compared with conventional bonds, went into operation in July 2013. Amendments have given tax and stamp duty relief for transactions underpinning the structure of sukuk products, which cannot involve the payment or receipt of interest, and might, otherwise, attract additional profits or property tax exposures, or stamp duty charges.

It has not been intended that Hong Kong should confer special tax favors on sukuk, but that financial instruments of similar economic substance should be afforded similar tax treatment. On the other hand, Malaysia, which has established itself as the major Islamic financial hub in the region, has gone beyond the provision of a level playing field, and has established tax exemptions for income derived from Islamic financial products and structures.

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