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Rulings of Employment in the Finance Industry in the USA

Dr. Main Khalid Al-Qudah

Member of AMJA fatwa committee

Part Two

 

Chapter Two

Job Positions Available in this Field

It is evident that banking, insurance and loan services strongly intertwine; similar is the condition of the job positions available in this industry. At a deeper glance, one will realize that it is impractical to disassociate administrative work that directly deals with prohibited transactions from positions that facilitate the logistics such as maintenance or security. The financial industry is ever growing and the available job positions deal with interest at varying degrees.

This section will assess the job positions available in two major financial corporations, namely Bank of America and Chase. The assessment will conclude with a summary of the most significant observations. These two corporations cover most of the financial services available in the industry. Therefore, studying their corporate hierarchy will help develop a broad outlook on the job market in this field.

Section One: Job Positions in Chase

Retail Banking

The jobs will be listed from lower to higher grade:

1)    Bank Teller: A teller directly deals with the bank patrons’ deposits and withdrawals from checking and savings accounts.

2)    Customer Service Representative: A representative provides advice regarding opening checking and savings accounts as well as Certificates of Deposits (CDs).

3)    Banker:  A banker opens checking and savings accounts, handles investment management and issues debit cards.

4)    Financial Advisor: If the patron requests the investment department, he will be assisted by a financial advisor who will clarify the bank’s investment policies and speculation in stocks and bonds. He can also help set up annuities as part of a retirement strategy.

5)    Loan officer: A loan officer helps patrons with the procedures of purchasing a home or receiving an equity loan.

6)    Business Banker: A business banker deals with major investors who invest a minimum of $250,000 in the name of a business or entity they own. He offers all of the previously mentioned services for these patrons. Hence, the last four mentioned job descriptions are all at the same level in the corporate hierarchy.

7)    Branch Manager: A branch manager is accountable for all of the administrative responsibilities at one branch.

8)    District Manager: A district manager is accountable for all of the administrative responsibilities at no more than 13 branches.

9)    Market Manager: A market manager is responsible for supervising no more than four districts.

10) Area Manager: An area manager supervises the work of 6-10 market managers.

11) Head of Retail Banking: The head of retail banking represents the board of directors in supervising the financial services of the company.

12) Chief Executive Officer (CEO): The executive manages the various divisions of the company.

Mortgage Lending Department

1)    Loan Officer: A loan officer helps patrons with the procedures of purchasing a home or receiving an equity loan.  

2)    Supervisor: A supervisor in this division supervises 10-20 loan officers

3)    Area Manager: An area manager supervises 6-10 supervisors

4)    Regional Manager: Supervises the work of a number of area managers

5)    Head of Mortgage Lending: The head of mortgage lending is responsible for the entire mortgage division in the corporation, and he reports directly to the CEO in the executive committee meetings.

Investment Banking Department

1)    Financial Advisor: He clarifies investment options and speculation in stocks and bonds to the bank’s patrons and assists in setting up annuities.

2)    Area Manager

3)    Market Manager

4)    Regional Manager

5)    Head of Investment Banking

Business Banking Department

This department starts with a business banker and has the same hierarchy as previous departments.

Section Two: Job Positions in Bank of America

Medial and Senior Administrative Departments

These departments usually report directly to the CEO and do not communicate with the general populous. Their functions revolve around supervision, performance enhancement and enforcing the corporation bylaws and corporate strategy.

There are a number of subdivisions in these departments, each subdivision has a number of job positions, and each position has its own unique job description. The subdivisions are:

1)    Change Management: This subdivision’s focus is helping the employees and departments transition from one phase to the next.

2)    Corporate Executives: This subdivision is responsible for developing long term corporate strategies and planning corporate communications with other organizations.

3)    Corporate Work Place: This subdivision develops the corporate portfolio for speculation of the money market. It submits its reports to the senior level administration.

4)    Learning and Leadership Development: This subdivision analyzes the efforts of corporate competitors and it also hosts courses and workshops for human resource development. It also develops innovative outreach methods.

5)    Risk Management: This subdivision consists of a legal advisory panel that provides legal representation for the bank in the court of law, and it reviews the bank’s paperwork to ensure that it complies with legal ordinance.

6)    Public Relations: This subdivision works toward meeting customer demands. It develops the company product to meet customer appeal and maintains the company’s public image. It issues employee regulations and guidelines.

Communications Department

This department focuses on enhancing communications and facilitating the information flow throughout the corporate hierarchy and to the front desk employees who directly deal with the bank patrons. It also regularly upgrades the bank’s communications efficiency to improve internal communication and markets the bank’s products through various media channels.

Retail Banking Department

This department consists of front desk employees that directly deal with the bank’s patrons. The job roles are the same as Chase.

Customer Care Department

This department focuses on the changing needs and demands of the bank’s customers. It directly supervises employee-customer interaction and focuses on human resource development.

This department contains a number of subdivisions:

1)    Corporate Workplace: This subdivision communicates with other competing corporations

2)    Customer Services: This subdivision handles the bank’s customer hotline and addresses their questions and concerns.

3)    Relationship Management: This subdivision focuses on meeting the needs of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) with accounts no less than $250,000.

Finance Department

This department develops the bank’s general finance and investment strategies. It also specifies the reasonable degree of financial risk the bank can take with its customers while maintaining its corporate image. It also works directly with bank customers regarding finance and investment opportunities. 

This department contains a number of subdivisions:

1)    Credit Management: A credit manager controls and collects payments from customers. He also keeps records of the financial operations and monitors the company’s high risk accounts.

2)    Investment Banking: This subdivision monitors the financial development of individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401 (K), mutual funds and annuities. It also offers financial advisory to high net worth investors to increase their revenue and to legally avoid taxation.

Human Resources

This department works on defining the job descriptions in the bank and specifies all necessary credentials for the positions. It also interviews employment candidates and completes all relating procedures, and it develops employee training workshops.

Operations

This department assesses the bank’s day to day performance as well as its various transactions minimizing losses and salvaging gains. This department directly supervises the bank’s workflow and its legal matters as well as the customer care department.

Risk Evaluation

This department directly reports to the corporation’s senior administration. Its key focus is keeping tabs on risk assessment and loss forecasts. These reports include fraud risk assessment which basically analyzes the effects of fraud on the company’s success and on customer approval ratings. The department is also responsible for periodic audits.

Sales

This department focuses on promoting the bank’s products to the public such as unique banking services, mortgage loans and credit card advantages.

Information Technology (IT)

This department secures the bank’s IT infrastructure which includes the customer information database, transaction details and the software and networks that maintain the bank’s services.

Chapter Summary

After explaining the available jobs in this field, the following conclusions present a degree of significance in addressing the fiqh nuances:

1)    The jobs in this field are not limited to the ones mentioned; other companies may have a different setup for their corporate hierarchy because this is not a matter mandated by law; it is left to the discretion of each corporation. It is noteworthy that some of these job titles may have varying job descriptions between companies.

2)    These job positions all formulate a supportive network by which they achieve corporate goals collectively. Each department in a sense is dependent on the proper function of the other departments; if one department fails to perform its responsibility that will take a heavy toll on corporate productivity.

3)    These departments and job positions deal with interest (riba) at varying degrees. For example, the corporate executive officer (CEO) does not deal with the public, let alone handle a transaction. Although he does not directly deal with interest, he is the brains behind corporate operations and he makes the critical decisions. To hold such an important position, he would usually make his way up the chain and have his share of what the Qur’an described {as one stands who is being beaten by Satan into insanity} (al-Baqarah: 275), for those who deal in interest.

Similarly, customer service representatives do not usually open accounts; they would forward the customer to a banker. So, the representative directs the customers to the services.

4)    Some financial corporations do offer non-financial services. The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers auto repair and driver’s education and Fidelity controls other businesses such as telecommunications, hotels, commercial lumber and building materials and newspapers.

5)    Technically, an employee can remain in a single department for the duration of his employment. For example, one can work as a mechanic in an AAA car care center or as a commercial lumber and building materials salesman with Fidelity or an IT technician with Chase.

Similarly, employees in the communications department or customer care would not perform a different department’s task because that is not where they are needed.

When applying for a job in this field, some Muslims try to make an agreement with their employers to work exclusively in information technology assuming that this would relieve them of sin. Nonetheless, even this is not always available by simple request; discretion is left to the company’s administration. 

6)    It is noteworthy that some companies contract the responsibilities of an entire department to an individual agency. In the United States, it is prevalent for a corporation to contract a human resources agency to handle the employment recruitment process or an information technology agency to set up its IT infrastructure.

Chapter Three

The Ruling of Working in this Field

After explaining the intricacies of the financial industry and the services it offers as well as the employment possibilities, it is now suitable to present the religious edicts involved.

The section will separate the permissible (mubah) from the abhorred (makruh)-if applicable- and the prohibited (haram). It will also address cases that are forbidden for its own sake (haram li dhatih) and cases that are prohibited due to another cause (haram li ghayrih); that is, a prohibition of means. The section will conclude by addressing the suitability of applying the objectives of Islamic law (maqasid) pertaining to necessity (daroora) and need (haja) to bring ease and alleviate hardship.

Jobs Permissible or Prohibited by Default Ruling

As explained in chapter one, there are a multitude of financial corporations that aren’t strictly limited to financial services. These other non-financial services do not contain interest (riba), and hence, aren’t included in its prohibition.

There are countless examples of non-financial services offered by corporations. Some of these include: Auto repair, driver’s education, telecommunications, transportation, construction, pharmaceuticals, computer technology, dining and lodging, car and property sales, etc.

Every business that is permissible by default ruling is initially deemed a lawful workplace and remains so as long as there aren’t external causes of prohibition such as stipulating an invalid requisite (shart fasid), interest (riba) or monopolizing the product (Ihtikar) or dealing fraudulently or dealing in excess uncertainty (gharar fahish).

Even though these unlawful stipulations and tactics may be part and parcel to the finance industry, some may be employed to carry out tasks that are purely lawful, regardless of the source of their income. There is great hardship in requiring people to discern that their wealth comes from a pure source.

In this regard, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim says:

“Prohibition does not cling to the dirham itself; rather, the prohibition lies in the way it has been earned.” (al-Jawziyya) 

That is, money doesn’t become forbidden in and of itself; rather, it becomes forbidden due to the way it was earned.

In some cases, the money may be unlawful for the giver - if he is legally liable for subsidiary laws (furu’) of shari’a- but lawful (halal) for the taker.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) requested from Bareera, the emancipated slave of ‘A’isha (may Allah bepleased with her), to feed him from the meat she received from charity. Someone commented: This is charity given to Bareera. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “For her it is deemed charity, and (from her) to us it is considered a gift”. (Al-Bukhari)

A more evident testimony to this concept is the Prophet’s dealings with the polytheists of Quraysh before hijra and with the Jews of Madinah after hijra, and his acceptance of a gift from Cyrus of Alexandria with his full knowledge that they all deal in usury.

It is also permissible (mubah) by default ruling to work in finance corporations that function according to Islamic law, whether it is in mutual funds, mortgage lending companies or etc. whether it is run by Muslims or non-Muslims. This also includes being employed by independent institutions or by subsidiaries of interest-dealing banks.

However, it is required that an eminent scholar declares that the dealings of this company are indeed shari’a compliant. Reason being it has become commonplace for companies in the United States to claim to be shari’a compliant, whereas they do not consult qualified scholars, let alone employ a supervisory shari’a committee (al-Qudah).

Similarly, it is permissible for one to take up an internship in a company with unlawful practices if it is needed for academic requirements because there is a great need for that. If a Muslim gains any wealth from this internship, he should discard it from his possession by giving it to general Muslim causes.

In the following sections, the default ruling of permissibility will not be used to justify employment in the finance industry.

Jobs that are Abhorred or Forbidden

Deeds either fall under the general sense of permissibility, which comprises obligations (wajib), recommendations (mandub) and lawful deeds (mubah), or under the general sense of prohibitions (nahy), which comprises abhorred (makruh) or forbidden (haram) acts.

The majority of scholars of Usul al-fiqh define makruh as a non-binding demand from the Legislator to avoid an act (al-San'ani).

Al-Shawkani’s definition of makruh:

“Makruh is an act which its abandoner gains praise and its engager doesn’t receive blame. This definition of the term implicates three different matters:

1.    Acts with a non-binding prohibition (makruh tanzeehi): These are deeds that are better avoided than performed.

2.    Abandoning a preferred act (tark al-awla)

3.    Binding prohibitions (haram)” (al-Shawkani , 24)

Al-Shawkani’s definition of haram:

“Haram is an act which its performer incurs blame and its abandoner gains praise”.

However, al-Shawkani’s definitions are problematic in that prohibition, based on his definition, would not be inclusive of makruh because according to him a prohibition only refers to an act which its performer incurs blame and its abandoner gains praise.

Hence, Imam al-Subki clarified this inconsistency in his book al-Ibhaj:

“There are three terms implicated in the word makruh: The first is a binding prohibition (haram). Imam al-Shafi’i would say ‘I dislike such and such’, and he would intend that it is bindingly prohibited (haram). This is the common reference of the earlier scholars so as to avoid falling into the act prohibited in the verse {And do not utter what your tongues wrongfully describe this is halal and this is haram} (al-Nahl: 116). So, they avoided the word haram.” (al-Subki)

Imam al-Subki goes on to mention the other two terms which are non-binding prohibitions (makruh tanzeehi) and abandoning a preferred act (tark al-awla).

In brief, a makruh act may be permissible (mubah) in its origin, but becomes makruh due to another cause, just as a haram act may downgrade to makruh due to another cause. The upcoming sections will examine if this dynamic plays any role in the ruling of holding job positions in the money market.

The previous section already examined the jobs that are permissible by default ruling. As for the rest of the jobs in the market, they either directly deal interest (riba) or indirectly support it by supervision, logistic support, strategy or otherwise helping to maintain the corporations that facilitate unlawful practices. The services that purely engage in interest and those that indirectly contribute or lead to interest have already been detailed in previous chapters.

Therefore, it is difficult to describe these job positions as simply being makruh unless the term is used to refer to binding prohibitions (haram), as Imam al-Shafi’i and the earlier scholars used it. The only suitable description for these job positions is that they are haram.

This conclusion is supported by the fiqh maxim of dhara’i (Saddal-dhari'i i.e. blocking the means), which basically states that the means are given the ruling of the objective. Hence, the means to an obligation are obligatory and the means to a prohibition are prohibited. There are of course academic nuances pertaining to the maxim in the books of Usul al-fiqh; however, it may be sufficient for the purpose of this research to mention a brief quote on the issue by Imam al-Qurtubi relayed by Imam al-Shawkani.

Imam al-Shawkani said:

“Al-Qurtubi said: ‘you should know that matters that lead to committing a prohibition either have certain or probable potential to lead to that result. If the matter certainly leads to a prohibition, it isn’t addressed in this maxim; rather, it is mentioned in another maxim which dictates that ‘matters necessary for the fulfillment of an obligation are themselves obligatory’ (ma la yatimu al-wajibu illa bihi fahuwa wajib), because one can only circumvent the prohibition by abandoning those means.

As for means with the potential of leading to a prohibition, they may either have:

1.    A high probability of leading to prohibitions

2.    A medial probability

3.    A miniscule probability

This is what we refer to as the maxim of dhari’i. The first category (i.e. high probability) must definitely be regarded by the maxim. As for the second and third category (i.e. medial or miniscule probability), the scholars of the school (madhab) have differed as to whether they are included in the maxim or not. Some of them also include it in the maxim and name it a weak or implausible cause”. (al-Shawkani , 411-412)

Accordingly, employment in the operations level and lower administration that directly deals with the public would be prohibited based on the maxim that states: “Matters that must be avoided in order to circumvent a prohibition are also prohibited”(ma la khalasa min alharam illa b'ijtinabi fafi'luhu haram).

The rest of the departments that deal with communications, customer care, finance, human resources, etc. all lead to unlawful practices, as earlier mentioned. At best, these roles usually lead to unlawful practices, and hence, it would be included in the dhara’i maxim and it would be given the ruling of matters that definitely lead to unlawful practices, as indicated by al-Qurtubi. Matters that usually lead to prohibitions are treated as matters that definitely lead to prohibitions.  

Forbidden for its own Sake Vs.  Forbidden for another Cause

Haramrefers to a matter that the Wise Legislator bindingly demands to be avoided. It denotes a matter which its abandoner gains reward and the performer earns reprimand (al-Amidi).

Scholars divide prohibitions into two degrees:

1)    Forbidden for its own sake (haram li dhatih): This denotes matters prohibited by Islamic law due to certain or highly plausible harm that cannot be disassociated from the act such as fornication, murder and intoxication. This is also referred to as tahreem maqasid.

2)    Prohibited for another cause (haram li ghayrih): This denotes matters prohibited by Islamic law due to external factors, although the matter is permissible in its origin. Examples of this are the marriage of a muhallil[1], looking at the private areas (‘awra) of another and conducting business during the call to Friday prayers. This is also referred to as a prohibition of means (tahreem wasa’il) (al-Qarafi).

By examining the cause of prohibition, Imam Ibn Taymiyya divided prohibitions into two categories:

1)    Prohibited due to its description: Examples of this would be eating a dead animal (i.e. one improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering), pork or eating blood. This is similar to the definition of haram li dhatih.

2)    Prohibited due to its source: Examples would be stolen wealth or wealth earned by invalid transactions. This category can also be divided into prohibited for its own sake and prohibited for another cause based on the degree of prohibition emphasized on the particular unlawful practice (A. I. Taymiyya).

In this chapter, it is important that we examine the ruling of giving or taking interest and the ruling of working in interest-based institutions and whether it is prohibited in itself or for another cause.

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said:

“There are two kinds of interest: riba jali (obvious riba)and riba  khafi (hidden riba). Obvious ribais prohibited because of the extensive harm it incurs, and hidden ribais prohibited because it is a means to obvious riba.

Hence, the first kind is prohibited in itself and the second is prohibited for another cause. Obvious ribais known as riba al-nasee’a[2], and it is the one applied in Jahiliyya. The Arabs would practice that if one delays the payment of his debt he would be required to increase the amount; the longer the delay, the greater the increase to the extent that a debt of one hundred would become thousands.

Hence, by Allah’s infinite mercy and wisdom, He forbade interest and damned its giver, its taker, its clerk and its witness, and He warned those who do not abandon it of an impending war declared by Him and His prophet. As for riba al-fadl[3], it is forbidden for another cause (haram li ghayrih)”. (al-Jawziya)

The Reason riba al-fadl is forbidden for another cause is because if it was allowed to instantly exchange $90 for $100 but prohibited when the same transaction was deferred (i.e. nasee’ah), instant transactions of this kind would merely become a ruse for deferred transactions. That is, buyers and sellers would circumvent the prohibition by using instant transactions as a pretext while agreeing to defer the compensation. Thus, riba al-fadl would become a pretext to riba al-nasee’a.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do not sell a Dinar for two Dinars or a Dirham for two Dirhams; I indeed fear for you the interest (riba)”[4]. (Hanbal)

Hence, the Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade riba al-fadl, which is to sell one dinar for two or one dirham for two, because he feared that it would be a pretext to riba al-nasee’a. Therefore, the prophetic tradition proves that riba al-nasee’a was prohibited in itself and riba al-fadl was prohibited for another cause.

Generation after generation, scholars have relayed the consensus (ijma’) on the prohibition of riba al-nasee’a.

In modern times, one of the first fiqh assemblies to address the matter was the Assembly for Islamic Research in Cairo the year 1385 A.H. The assembly expressed in its decisions:

“Interest bearing loans are prohibited on the lender and aren’t made permissible on the basis of need (haja) or necessity (daroora). This prohibition is also applicable to the borrower, and he isn’t relieved of sin unless he is in a state of necessity. Every individual is left to his good faith in calculating his own necessity”. 

That being said, the interest-based financial services provided in the United States such as mortgage, savings accounts, Certificates of Deposit (CDs), insurance, refinance, loans, annuities and credit cards are all categorized as riba al-nasee’a in that the lender generates profit from the original loan. Therefore, these transactions are merely modern forms of the interest prevalent in Jahiliyya, and thus, are prohibited in itself by scholarly consensus.

Ibn Rushd al-Hafeed said:

“The scholars are in agreement that interest can be present in two matters:

1.    Transactions

2.    Deferred financial liabilities which include deferred payments, loans,etc.

The presence of interest in deferred financial liabilities can be divided into two categories: One category is prohibited by consensus and that is the one regulated in Jahiliyya. The Arabs would loan large amounts of wealth and allow the borrower to defer the payment. The borrower would request to defer payment in exchange for a larger payout. This type of interest is exactly what the Prophet (peace be upon him) referred to in his farewell sermon: ‘Indeed, the interest of Jahiliyya is now annulled, and the first interest I cancel is that of al-‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib’.

The second category is for the borrower to request reprieve from part of the loan, and in return he will instantly pay off the rest. This category is an area of difference between the scholars”. (al-Hafeed)

None of the modern transactions contain the instant exchange of varying amounts of the same currency; rather, they all stipulate a deferred increase in compensation, and hence, they are replications of the interest prevalent in Jahiliyya.

The second category that ibn Rushd briefly mentions can be likened to a modern transaction in which a borrower makes a down payment to a mortgage company, and in return the company removes the interest rate on the capital that is paid up front and makes him pay a penalty instead.

In any case, the area of difference ibn Rushd mentions does not relate to what is being addressed because the type of interest that is the basis of the finance industry is riba al-nasee’a. Making a down payment on a mortgage does not remove the stipulated interest rate from the equation. The mortgage will have a fixed interest rate; the down payment can only decrease the amount of interest the borrower is required to pay on the rest of the mortgage because of the lower Loan to Value ratio (LTV).

After clarifying that the employment options in the finance industry cannot be disassociated with interest, even if involvement is at varying degrees, it is evident that working in this industry is prohibited in itself. The only exception to this ruling is working in non-financial services that in no way relate to interest, working in companies that are shari’a compliant or taking on an internship as a requisite for graduation.

This verdict is also upheld by the Permanent Fatwa Committee of Saudi Arabia. The committee did not mention the degree of prohibition, however. Its answer was also specifically addressing the ruling of working in interest-dealing banks. In that context, the committee said:

“Most of the current financial transactions are interest bearing, and this is prohibited by the Qur’an and Sunnah and by scholarly consensus. The Prophet (peace be upon him) ruled that one who aids the giver and taker of interest by recording the transaction or witnessing it is also deserving of divine damnation.

Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

‘The Prophet (peace be upon him) has invoked damnation upon the taker and giver of interest as well as its clerk and witness, and he said they are all equals’[5].

Employees support the system by supervising, clerking, witnessing the transactions, recording the information, submitting and receiving the money, etc. Therefore, this type of job is unlawful, and the Muslim must avoid such income and seek that which is lawful. There is a multitude of job opportunities that are lawful; the individual should fear Allah and avoid incurring His wrath and that of His Prophet (peace be upon him)”. (Fatawa al-Lajna al-Da'ima)

In another question posed to the committee on whether such a ruling differs between Muslim lands and non-Muslim lands and if there are departments in the bank that are exceptions, the committee responded:

“Firstly, working in interest-dealing banks is unlawful whether it is in a Muslim country or a non-Muslim country because it entails supporting unlawful practices that transgress the boundaries of Allah. Allah said: {And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.} (Al-Ma’idah: 2)

Secondly, there are no exceptions as far as we can see in Islamic law because the element of supporting unlawful practices is present in all bank employees”. (Fatawa al-Lajna al-Da'ima)

 

 


[1]A Muhallil is one who is complicit in the marriage of a woman who has been divorced by her first husband three times. The purpose of this second marriage would be for the woman to lawfully return to her first husband after consummating the second marriage and divorcing. Hence, the second marriage is temporal and for ulterior motives. (Translator)

[2]This refers to a type of interest in which the borrower agrees to increase the payoff on a loan in exchange for deferring its due date. This is also referred to as riba al-Jahiliyya. (Translator)

[3]This refers to a type of interest in which there is an exchange of money or interest-based commodities for a compensation identical in type but greater in amount. (Translator)

[4]Imam al-Zayla’i mentioned this hadeeth in Nasb al-Raya and he did not grade it weak. Dar al-Hadith: Volume 4 page 56. Imam Malik also mentioned this hadith in al-Muwatta’.

[5] Sahih Muslim