Bitcoin: The Islamic discussion arrives - some aspects!

Gassner's picture

Dear Readers,

Following up on my previous posts on Bitcoin, this one is an attempt to gather and link up with the increasing discussion on the subject matter from an Islamic perspective.

My latest post was:
http://www.islamicfinance.de/?q=node/10303

My personal view is critical on bitcoin, as I do not see any other use than payments, hence no intrinsic value. Value does not come from costs creating something but in my understanding from utility, rather than price and appreciation - but may be this point is more my thinking than a Shariah argument...

Further light on Fiqhi points are given in this paper:

http://darulfiqh.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Research-Paper-on-Bitcoi...

Please check the following sources and my initial attempt for some comment, well taking in account that any summary will be deficient due to time constraints:

Diyanet, the Turkish religiouos authority has spoken out against bitcoin. See

http://www.euronews.com/2017/11/28/bitcoin-is-not-compatible-with-islam-...

Key reasons cited are "open to speculation, ease of use for illegal activities like money laundering and lack of state audit and surveillance." A full text of the reasoning seems not yet to be public - hints welcome.

Similarly the view of Egypt's grand mufti Shawki Allam, but giving a few more arguments to review, among the missing state surveillance, being intangible, undermining Egypt's own currency (!) potentially, ease in money laundering and some negative effects on its dealers legal safety.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/3/12/286399/Business/Economy/Bit...

A Saudi Sheikh, Assim al Hakeem was also voicing his view against Bitcoin, due to money laundering issue, and the argument that virtual currencies are not dealt with hand to hand, a pre-condition [I mention with reservation, as not clear to me].

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/blog/2017/12/6/digital-currency-bitcoi...

The well-known Scholar in the Islamic banking world, Dr Mohd Daud Bakar opines much more favorably, as Blockchain can be helpful to fight money laundering (meaning to imply one should regulate not prohibit), and the fluctuations are per se a common feature also with other currencies:

https://vulcanpost.com/632153/haram-cryptocurrency-syariah-advisory-coun...

And here the full speech on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaJJ8w3AIBM

Other scholars again are less open:

http://www.wifaqululama.co.uk/images/Fatwa/wifaq-onecoin.pdf

The UK based Sh Dr Haitham al-Haddad has spoken out against bitcoin. His article is for the time being only avalaible in Arabic

https://dorar.net/article/1982

and a summary on video:

https://www.islam21c.com/islamic-law/fatwa-bitcoin-cryptocurrencies/

Dr Harris Irfan in turn has criticised the view of Sh Haddah and other scholars declaring bitcoin impermissible:

https://islamicbanker.com/articles/an-open-plea-to-the-scholars-who-have...

One of the topics was the nature of fiat money as legal tender as invented by Kublai Khan. Even today Islamic scholars are willing to credit the sovereign with the policy right, so that the sovereign can force us to accept fiat money, but this is no permission that does not extend to the relations between us without the sovereigns order.

Harris Irfan refutes assumptions on the nature of fiat money made by Sh Haddad, e.g. that in UK not even mandatory acceptance is given (may I add: but still for the Euro and no way out to pay your taxes except for the legal tender).

However, putting aside the differences on how to give a simplified explanation of fiat money versus cryptocurrency in a video, the two main points appear again 1. use for crime and money laundering and further 2. creation of money out of nothing.

1. Background on illicit usage

Bitcoin is among the favoured digital currencies for illegal activity:

https://bitcoinmagazine.com/articles/study-suggests-25-percent-bitcoin-u...

This clearly supports the views of the many scholars opposing it out of money laundering concerns. Myself I agree to these concerns, some time agoI did a brief visit to the so-called darknet and found a donation call to pay bitcoin to certain organisation in Syria and Iraq. As banks globally increase ever harder controls against money laundering, terrorist finance and tax evasion all those criminals end up using other means, like art and digital currencies. This has to lead to regulation; wether declaring participation 'haram' can be debated; but seriously who wants to do mining and authenticating transactions for criminal purposes if they reach 1 out of 4?

2. Fiat Money

To discuss the merits of virtual currencies as a mean to abolish the fractional reserve banking system is a bit lengthy subject for one post. Herewith some thoughts:

2.1. Scholars often are permissive in the sense that deposit taking as loan and investing them onward is explicitly being practised by companions of the Prophet (pbuh) and scholars like Imam Hanifah.
2.2 The key difference to the early times of Islam is the scale of it and that if a bank fails, the state has de facto to bail out, taking the losses to the public, while the profits are retained private - a severe violation of justice.
2.3. Can bitcoin mitigate this? For the use of the current account, may be: as no need to lend to banks (money account is a loan to a bank) for using the payment system. But similar effect may soon be reached by Apple, Samsung, or smaller Fintech disrupting the payment sector without being a lending institution. BUT: As we see derivatives being created on bitcoin, a money market will likely be added - this leads, if unregulated, to an even worse 'no reserve banking'. More instable, more fragile.
2.4. The alternative could be a full reserve banking system, as considered in Switzerland by a public initiative, the sovereign money initiative, https://www.vollgeld-initiative.ch ; the British succeeded in their public vote for Brexit - hence those convinced should struggle and convince their countrymen and could copy paste the initiative to UK.

Charles Evans wrote a paper on bitcoin back in 2015, blockchain with a wider view about how it fits into Islamic finance and economics

http://jibfnet.com/journals/jibf/Vol_3_No_1_June_2015/1.pdf

We shall keep looking in various blockchain applications for Islamic finance to find solutions for the greater good, being sadaqa for mining etc. - a general halal / haram can never be ruled, only case by case.

May the discussion flourish, with constructive critics and polite corrections where needed!

Best regards,

Michael Gassner

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