On Tuesday, President Obama announced the appointment of this year’s “White House Fellows,” a prestigious program in which outstanding Americans are chosen to work in the White House and receive “first hand, high-level experience with the workings of the Federal government.” According to a White House Press release, one of this year’s Fellows is a young lawyer named Samar Ali:
Samar Ali is an Associate with the firm Hogan Lovells US LLP. She is responsible for counseling clients on mergers & acquisitions, cross-border transactions, Shari’a compliant transactions, project finance, and international business matters.
Left out of the press release is that she also previously worked as an intern and received training at the Islamic International Arab Bank; according to her staff bio at the Hogan Lovells law firm,
Samar’s experience includes advising a Middle Eastern university in the potential establishment of a Foreign Aid Conventional and Shari’ah Compliant Student Loan Program. … Before joining Hogan & Hartson, Samar worked as a summer associate for the firm and as a legal intern for the Islamic International Arab Bank.
For those who have never heard of it, the Islamic International Arab Bank “commenced its banking operations in accordance with Islamic Sharia rules on the twelfth day of Shawal 1418 AH, corresponding to 9 February 1998, to meet the growing demand for Islamic banking services and products.”
What exactly is “shariah-compliant finance”? Essentially, it’s the practice of conducting all monetary matters to be in full compliance with all aspects of Islamic law. This entails such trivial details as not banking on the Muslim sabbath and holy days, but more importantly forbids paying or receiving interest of any kind (something which is the bedrock of “western” finance); modern interpretations of Islamic law prohibit “making money from money” and thus the payment of “interest” on deposits, so Shariah-compliant banks must devise all sorts of convoluted ways to redefine interest as something else altogether — such as “profits,” “dividends,” and so on. Shariah-compliance also means only investing in or loaning to companies which themselves adhere to Islamic law, or which at least don’t generate profits from any activities forbidden by the Qur’an — such as drinking alcohol, gambling, or anything involving sexuality. And (one of the little-discussed rules you’re not supposed to know about) most shariah-complaint banks refuse on principle to invest in any company doing business in Israel — which, obviously, could not be specifically stipulated in the Qur’an, but the excuse is that companies doing business in Israel must be assumed to violate Islamic law somehow.
(Many analysts also claim, such as in the comprehensive pdf report visible here, that shariah finance is simply one aspect in a global multi-pronged assault on the West, and is essentially a euphemism for the economic side of jihad. Hmmmmm….)