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A Fatwa concerning the Cordoba Gold Card

All praise and recognition is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds; and His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet, Muhammad, his family, and all his Companions.

I have been recently approached by the Cordoba Financial Group in a request to comment on the (Islamic) legality of the Cordoba Gold CashPlus prepaid MasterCard. Proceeding a detailed investigation of the product as well as thorough discussions with Cordoba’s senior executives, I have concluded that the abovementioned scheme complies with the requirements of Shari‘ah and is therefore permissible for the use of purchasing goods and withdrawing cash. However, it must be noted that the card should not to be used for buying gold, silver, stocks, foreign currencies or withdrawing money in other currencies as such transactions are known as sarf, and in accordance with Islamic law the exchange of two counter-commodities must be physical and prompt according to a hadith (prophetic statement) narrated by Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri, that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Do not trade gold for gold unless it be like for like (in quantity), let not the quantity of one exceed the other. Do not trade silver for silver unless it be like for like (in quantity), let not the quantity of one exceed the other. Do not trade that which is absent for that which is present”.

The card operates as follows:

The user first purchases the card from the Cordoba Financial Group for a small price which contributes to the administration costs of processing the user’s application, the opening of a bank account with The American Express Bank, the costs of producing the card, and other administrative functions.

Once the card is purchased, the cardholder must top-up the card at a top-up point. The value of the top-up is deposited into the cardholder’s bank account at the AFL Bank within 24 hours. AFL bank is a specific vehicle set up for this purpose and is regulated by the Bank of England. This bank account is an escrow account and AFL Bank therefore treats it as a trust – it is shown on the bank’s balance sheet as an amount due to a specific individual whereas other forms of current accounts are treated as loans made to the bank. As a trust, AFL Bank is contractually obliged to segregate the underlying funds, and so, may not use them to finance other projects or give loans to other clients.

When the card is used to make a purchase, the amount of the purchase along with a transaction fee will immediately be deducted from the escrow account (a similar process operates when cash is withdrawn). As a trust, the cardholder cannot use the card for purchases or withdrawals that exceed the balance held within his/her account and any request to make a transaction the value of which is beyond that balance will be declined at the point of purchase. Thus, no credit-based transaction can take place through the use of this card.

As a result of the above process, the balance of the trust account increases when topped-up and decreases when a purchase or money withdrawal occurs, the entire process taking the normal time frame required for processing transactions through the banking system.

The initial fees paid to obtain the card as well as the transaction fees do not render the product impermissible as the Shari‘ah allows a trustee to be paid to administer a trust and I hold both MasterCard and Cordoba Financial Group to be acting as trustees in this context. The trust concept is widely accepted by Muslim scholars who have allowed for a trustee to be compensated for his effort.

An important issue to take note of is the requirement of funds in each account to be segregated as a trust for the sole access, and benefit, of the account holder. Unfortunately, the use of electronic money and pooled funds is all pervasive in the current financial system. Therefore, cardholders’ funds cannot be physically isolated in the way that we would prefer. Given this context, the minimum we require is that the escrow balances not be included in the total assets of the bank which means that the bank can neither claim the right to use such funds nor can carry out activities based on such a claim.

As it is based upon the trust concept, the Cordoba Gold CashPlus prepaid MasterCard complies with the requirements of Shari‘ah. However, any alteration to the above described contractual processes as well as any contractual agreements or arrangements that contradict the essence of trust may violate the (Islamic) legal permissibility of the card. Such violations include altering the account from a trust to a loan basis and/or use of the trust money for financing other products or activities. It is of paramount importance to note that this fatwa (legal ruling) is not based on my personal preference or leaning towards a particular opinion among the various legal opinions, but is founded on precepts generally accepted by scholars from all school of thoughts which are based on the Qur’an and Sunnah (prophetic tradition).

In conclusion, I pray that Allah grant the individuals in charge of this project success, as well as to aid them to further His cause. Authentic Islamic finance has a key role to play in maintaining justice for the whole of humanity in this disturbed world.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind all Muslims that using credit cards for purchasing items is completely impermissible as they are usury-based loans offered to the client. Few can claim to be adequately certain of re-paying the loan before the given deadline so as not to incur any (interest-based) increase on the loan. A normal credit card contract contains a form of riba which the credit-card provider stipulates to charge from the very outset rendering the contract impermissible. The Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Muslims are bound by their conditions, except for conditions which forbid something that is permitted or permit something that is forbidden.” Undoubtedly, a large proportion of people who are now heavily indebted to credit card companies were initially confident that they could pay off their debts on time thereby avoiding compounded interest charges.

The same ruling has been given by the International Islamic Fiqh Council, belonging to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in its statement: number 108 (2/12).

With Allah lies all success and may He convey prayers and salutations upon our Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him), his family, and his companions.

Shaikh Haitham Al-Haddad
Muslim Research and Development Foundation.
www.mrdf.co.uk

11th Rabi’ Al Thaani 1430/ 4th April 2009.


Notes:

source: www.islam21c.com

About Shaikh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad

Dr. Haitham al-Haddad is a jurist and serves as a judge for the Islamic Sharia Council (UK & Eire). He has studied the Islamic sciences for over 20 years under the tutelage of renowned scholars such as the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia as well as the retired Head of the Kingdom's Higher Judiciary Council. He specialises in many of the Islamic sciences and submitted his doctoral thesis on Islamic jurisprudence concerning Muslim minorities. Shaikh Haitham is highly respected having specialised knowledge in the field of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, maqasid al-shari'ah, ulum al-Qur’an, tafsir, aqidah, and fiqh al-hadith. He provides complex theories which address the role of Islamic jurisprudence within a western environment whilst also critically re-analysing the approach of Islamic jurists in forming legal rulings (ifta’) within a western socio-political context. He has many well known students most of whom are active in dawah and teaching in the West. The shaikh is an Islamic jurist (faqih) and as such is qualified to deliver verdicts as a judge under Islamic law, a role he undertakes at the Islamic Sharia Council as Islamic judge and treasurer. Dr Haitham al-Haddad also sits on various the boards of advisors for Islamic organisations, mainly in the United Kingdom but also around the world.

12 comments

  1. Money out of money?
    Dear anon,

    I’m assuming as the article suggests and as ahmad has alluded to, that the money is made from the service that they provide, be that for money or any other way that they serve the customer.

    Can anyone clarify if this is incorrect.

  2. so is it permissible for the trust/bank to make money out of my money/transactions – is that not then making money out of money?

  3. A high street Debit Card – such as VISA DELTA – behaves just like a Credit Card. Any transactions are instantly deducted from your account – even buying other currencies / withdrawing cash abroad. So it seems a much better (more shariah compliant) alternative to this… W’Allahu A’lam… Saying that, its a good step for Halal Banking

  4. Jazakallah Khair. Shaykh you may want to expand further on the impermissability of buying gold, silver or foreign exchange with this particular or similar cards.

  5. ahm@gmail.com
    The company/bank makes money on transactions. So you are paying them to hold your money and provide the service of being able to pay with a card anywhere at anytime. Its like paying a servant to carry your money and go with you everywhere and buy stuff. The bank is that servant or ‘trust’.

  6. I have a card and the company charge a fee which is permissible according to the Shaykh, but they also give money to charity , I can only assume that they are expecting to make money on a volume, this is the first time I ahve seen a sharia finance product that is the same price as the non-sharia ones – well done to the company

  7. so how does a company make any profits out of this service??

  8. Correction?
    Is the last line of the first paragraph meant to read ‘do NOT trade the absent for the present’?

  9. Thank you
    Jzk Shaikh for this piece.

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