THE myth and misconception that Islamic finance is only for Muslims and a front to finance terrorism must change to drive the industry forward, said Hong Leong Islamic Bank Bhd (HLIB).
In reality, Islamic finance is a genuine, legitimate business, offering syariah-compliant financial products as an alternative, said its chief Raja Teh Maimunah Raja Abdul Aziz.
She said the Malaysian Islamic finance market is growing by 15 to 20 per cent annually but it could expand at a faster rate with changing mindsets.
"Islamic finance is for everyone and it does not fund terrorism. Islamic banks are subject to the same rules and regulations as our conventional banking counterparts. There is no way we can operate outside the international financial framework," she said.
Raja Teh Maimunah said there are people who are uncomfortable with the term "Islamic financing".
She called on sceptics to look beyond the term Islam and call it participation, as it has been adopted by non-Muslim countries such as the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and Singapore.
"I personally belief we should not be apologetic about the Islamic branding. It can be propagated to fit anyone's culture. My take is that if you want to introduce Islamic finance, it should be for everybody," she told Business Times, here, recently.
For HLIB, half of its clients are non-Muslims and this is expected to increase as companies see the underlying value in Islamic finance, she said.
"They like the value proposition that our Islamic products offer. The structures are clear, equitable and just. We don't invest in toxic assets like derivatives. We have to be a bank for everyone to be sustainable.
"We cover all sectors and areas, except those that are non-permissible such as gambling, tobacco, alcohol, military and non-halal food products," she said.
Raja Teh Maimunah said HLIB, which is 100 per cent-Malaysian-focused, is looking at regional expansion in the longer term. She said HLIB will go to countries that have Islamic banking and tax laws.
The global Islamic finance market is currently worth about US$1.14 trillion (RM3.59 trillion) and this is expected to hit US$2.6 trillion by 2017.