Photo by seier+seier+seier
I've found myself drawn again and again to discussions of Islamic finance in recent months. I'm reading a great paper now that lays the foundation for what I hope will be my better appreciation of its contribution and continuing role in the modern world. Timur Kuran was kind enough to share with us through SSRN his fascinating paper, The Scale of Entrepreneurship in Middle Eastern History: Inhibitive Roles of Islamic Institutions. This is not the short-sighted, xenophobic rant that one has come to expect of western commentary on Islamic institutions in the post-9/11 world (indeed, I apologize for revealing that the title gave me that impression). Instead, Prof. Kuran lays out a level-headed exploration of how and why Islamic law facilitated early entrepreneurialism, based as it was on personal, short-lived business arrangements, but it impeded modern entrepreneurialism after the transition to more impersonal, longer-term business arrangements. I'm not finished with the paper yet, but its central argument seems to be one I've seen before: the central role played by the corporate form in collecting and locking in long-term capital, catapulting European (and U.S.) commerce, was not available in Islamic law until much later, thus critically inhibiting growth.
We in the West obviously have much to learn about Islam and its role in facilitating and restricting business and commerce (the amount of money flowing through Islamic law-compliant banks and funds is impressive and growing). Prof. Kuran's paper helps novices like me to take a comfortable first step in the direction of better objective, non-judgmental understanding. Check it out!