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Meethaq Islamic banking operations to begin on 21 Jan

MUSCAT, 14 January 2013 - Meethaq, the pioneer of Islamic banking in Oman from Bank Muscat, has received the final approval from the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) to begin  full-fledged operations. Coinciding with the auspicious occasion of the Prophet’s birth anniversary, Meethaq operations will begin on 21 January at the dedicated Al Ghubra branch.

Sulaiman Al Harthy, Group General Manager – Islamic Banking, said: “In compliance with all regulatory requirements, Meethaq has been granted the operational licence by CBO. Meethaq will operate as a bank within a bank with RO 150 million capital at its disposal which will be appropriated as and when required in step with the business growth opportunities.”

Al Harthy added: “Meethaq will offer a full suite of regulated Islamic banking products. The bank has invested in staff, systems and controls to ensure the service is delivered in a professional, segregated and fully compliant manner. Meethaq plans to open branches in all major cities and towns across Oman this year. Meethaq operations will be managed through separate and specialised branches to provide Shariah-compliant banking products and services.”

Al Harthy said: “Inspired by faith and a tradition of trust, Meethaq Islamic Banking will be available at the dedicated Ghubra Branch which will be inaugurated on the auspicious occasion coinciding the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) on 21st January. The first of many branches, the operations of Ghubra branch will be completely segregated from its conventional counterpart to offer Shariah-compliant products and services, including  Savings Account, Current Account, Home Finance, Auto Finance, Labbaik pre-paid card for Hajj and Umrah.”

Meethaq is well positioned to provide Islamic financial expertise to diverse segments and thereby promote the good of society as a whole. Over a year ago, the flagship financial services provider announced the decision of its Board of Directors to set up an independent Islamic banking window at the bank and launch Islamic banking operations in accordance with the injunctions of Sharia.

In the run-up to comply with the CBO requirements, Bank Muscat unveiled the logo of its Islamic banking window under the brand name ‘Meethaq’ at the Oman Islamic Economic Forum. Further, in line with CBO requirements, the bank announced the formation of a 3-member Shariah board to ensure the Meethaq operations are in compliance with Sharia. The bank has on board some of the brightest minds in Islamic finance to chart the way forward. The Sharia board is led by Sheikh Dr. Ali Qaradaghi, Chairman, and Sheikh Essam Muhammad Ishaq and Sheikh Majid Al Kindi as members.

During the year, Bank Muscat took major strides as part of its proposed Islamic banking operations and assigned RO 150 million capital for Meethaq Islamic Banking. The Shariah board of ‘Meethaq’ Islamic banking approved RO 150 million capital assigned by Bank Muscat for its Islamic banking window operations. From Shariah perspective, the board endorsed the authenticity of capital allocation from Bank Muscat shareholders’ fund for operations of independent Meethaq Islamic banking. Sheikh Dr. Ali Qaradaghi, Chairman of Shariah board, explained that the capital allocation is in line with injunctions of al-Quran and as-Sunnah and the fact that various contemporary Shariah scholars have endorsed the usage of shareholders' fund for Sharia compliant transactions.

Though Bank Muscat Board of Directors has assigned RO 150 million capital for Meethaq Islamic banking window operations, the final allocation will be determined by business opportunities in the market and the Board has indicated that the assigned amount may increase if required.

Al Harthy said: “Meethaq will reach out to customers with the promise of being true to their beliefs, offering all the advantages of banking by following the principles of Shariah law. The Meethaq suite of banking products which combine traditional values with modernity are in the pipeline to give the choice of staying true to one’s values. Inspired by faith and a tradition of trust, Meethaq will help customers stay true to their values.”

The Meethaq strategy is to attract customers through innovative products and services. Bank Muscat has always strived to fulfill the needs of customers with innovative solutions and the launch of Meethaq is yet another proof of its commitment and dedication to meet customer expectations for Islamic banking. The operations will be managed by an experienced team, separate from conventional banking.

Meethaq stands out for its independent Shariah Supervisory Board, separate capital, unique risk management tools, fund segregation, separate books of account, core banking system which supports Islamic banking operations, separate Islamic banking branches and proper profit distribution mechanism among investment account holders/depositors. The adoption of AAOIFI (Accounting & Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions) standards will boost and streamline the ‘Meethaq’ Islamic banking practices in terms of standardisation of products and services.

In preparation for the launch of operations, Meethaq hosted a series of seminars across Oman to raise awareness on Islamic banking. Shariah and Islamic banking experts addressed the seminars aimed at familiarizing people with the main characteristics of Islamic finance. The seminars shed light on important aspects of Islamic banking from the Shariah perspective.

Al Harthy said: “Since Islam is the religion of the Sultanate of Oman as stated in the Basic Law, Oman is ideally placed to play a leading role in Islamic finance. Omani commercial codes are completely supportive to Islamic banking structure without any conflict. The commercial code has a very strong Sharia foundation in the form of Article 2, 4 and 5 of Royal Decree 55/1990.”

Meethaq hosted a workshop on ‘Islamic Liquidity Management and Capital Market’ in association with International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM). Aimed at knowledge-sharing by leading Islamic finance industry representatives and regulators, the main objective of the workshop was to identify best Islamic finance practices that can be adopted in Oman. Patronised by the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) and Capital Market Authority, the workshop was attended by representatives of reputed global Islamic finance organisations and banks.

The workshop was well conceived, featuring relevant topics covering the regulatory, operational, liquidity and risk management issues, besides trends in Sukuk market and the extremely important topics on financial stability and credit enhancements.

Al Harthy said: “Islamic banking is fast growing globally but still evolving in terms of new ideas, standards and practices on regulatory and operational aspects. Regulators are trying to make the regulatory framework for Islamic banking as robust and practical as possible in Oman. While best possible adaptations may be made, they must also be acceptable to the market, hence it will be an evolving process.”

The workshop assumed importance against the backdrop of the global financial crisis, reiterating the fact that a strong capital base is necessary for banking and financial institutions, but on its own is not a sufficient condition to ensure stability. A strong capital base must be supplemented by strong liquidity tools. The workshop was premised on this scenario to further support the growth of Oman’s Islamic finance system to be a resilient and sustainable system.

The workshop focused on identifying instruments to facilitate liquidity management for Islamic banks as well as help achieve a reasonable commercial return and also fulfill their traditional role of financial intermediation between depositors and productive activity such as financing.

Meethaq hosted a ‘Women in Business’ forum attended by livewire businesswomen and successful entrepreneurs who highlighted the opportunities available for women entrepreneurs as well as the skills required to become effective business leaders. The rationale behind hosting the forum titled ‘Inspire, Challenge and Change’ stemmed from Bank Muscat’s commitment to support women empowerment.  In line with the progressive policies pursued by the government in empowering women, the bank offers key support to women development programmes. The bank acknowledges that the development of Oman significantly hinges on the role played by women and that they need to be provided the required support to realise their full potential. With women comprising a major customer segment, Bank Muscat offers unique products and services targeted at them.

Meethaq  organized a seminar on ‘In-Country Value Addition’  addressed by H.E Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who during his tenure as Prime Minister of Malaysia between 1981 – 2003, played a key role in generating in-country value from the industrial and service sectors in Malaysia.

The seminar stemmed from Bank Muscat’s commitment to creating in-country value vis-à-vis participation in the socio-economic development of Oman. The seminar focused on a vital topic in the context of Oman addressing the requirements of youth representing more than 50 per cent of the country’s population, and ensuring development benefiting communities in all parts of the country. The seminar also highlighted the importance of in-country value percolating to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as Oman’s economy is witnessing a gradual shift towards SMEs.

Meethaq, in association with Amanie Advisors, a leading global Shariah advisory firm in the field of Islamic finance, hosted the 2-day Muscat International Islamic Finance Forum, which served as a vibrant platform for industry leaders and experts to discuss new possibilities and collaborations in Islamic banking and finance. The forum was attended by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, who delivered the keynote address.

The forum helped in building up momentum for the launch of Islamic banking operations in Oman. The forum spotlighted Islamic banking and finance tools and the future of Islamic capital markets.
Over 500 senior industry figures, global investors, Takaful operators and bankers as well as top Shariah scholars attended the forum and shared their insights and knowledge on prevailing global best practices in Islamic banking and finance.

Specifically, discussions centred on the current state of Sukuk market, new opportunities for Takaful providers, winning strategies for distributing funds; and issues faced by new Islamic banks in Oman, such as asset-liability management, treasury and inter-bank money markets.

A key focus at the forum was on assessing the ‘Asset-Liability of Islamic Banks: The Issue of Islamic Liquidity Management’. Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, the forum also discussed how to manage new finance opportunities in the MENA region. Islamic finance in North Africa was another area highlighted in the forum.

Spotlighting on BancaTakaful, the forum provided a new dimension to Takaful distribution in the most cost-effective and profitable way to bring this product to markets. ‘Takaful in New Markets: Prospects and Challenges’ was another topic discussed in the forum which was designed to be practical with ideas and solutions to encourage participation and exchange of information.

Meethaq won the Pioneer of Islamic Banking in the Sultanate Award from Global Islamic Finance. The Global Islamic Finance Award (GIFA) is the first of its kind award in Islamic banking and finance. Based on an objective proprietary methodology – developed and operated by Edbiz Consulting – the awards recognize and celebrate success and contributions of individuals and institutions in the Islamic financial services industry.

Al Harthy said: “Bank Muscat is the first financial institution in the Sultanate to introduce Shariah compliant products to the public. Meethaq will adopt the best practices in Islamic banking and finance worldwide and combine a robust model which will protect customers and complement the Islamic banking industry. Meethaq will reach out to customers with the promise of being true to their beliefs, offering all the advantages of banking by following the principles of Shariah law and its requirements.”