Mon, 22 Dec 2003

MUI allays fears over interest edict

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In a bid to allay fears and confusion, the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) has moved to assure the public that the ban against bank interest issued by the council's edict commission was not yet final.

MUI chairman Sahal Mahfudz emphasized over the weekend that the edict needed approval from the MUI board of executives before it could take effect.

"When it becomes an edict, then MUI is the authority that will issue it, not the edict commission," Sahal was quoted by Antara as saying during a post-Idul Fitri gathering in Semarang, Central Java.

He said the MUI would hold another meeting to discuss the edict, which was announced at the conclusion of an MUI national meeting in Jakarta last Wednesday. Sahal was absent from the meeting.

Sahal said the edict on bank interest was a non-binding agreement among ulemas and the MUI edict commission.

Opposition voices were rife following the announcement of the edict, including from Muhammadiyah chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif who said the edict would not be realistic. Some have suggested that the edict was issued to help sharia banks win in their ever tighter competition for customers with conventional banks.

Bank authorities have also questioned the readiness of sharia banks to meet the public's banking needs, considering that syaria banks have only a limited number of outlets across the country.

According to Sahal, an edict would only be legally binding if it was approved by the National Sharia Council and the MUI.

Sahal, however, said the edict would not necessarily be revoked as it would not affect the entire banking system.

"The edict will only be applicable in areas where there are sharia banks. So, it shouldn't be a big deal," he said.

He urged the sharia banking sector to intensify the promotion of its existence so that the public were made better aware of it.

He said that before a legitimate edict was issued, it would be up to the public to consider whether bank interest was haram (unlawful according to Islamic law) as the public had the right to choose according to their beliefs.