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Sun 13 Jan 2008 12:04 AM

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Muslim banking goes global

Arabian Business turns the spotlight on Noor Islamic Bank, the UAE's sixth Islamic bank.

I hear there's a new player coming up in the UAE's financial sector...

You must be talking about Noor Islamic Bank which started operations last week with ten new branches across the UAE as part of a plan to create a global sharia-compliant bank to meet the needs of the billions of Muslims around the world.

Yes, that's the one. So what's all the fuss about then? There are lots of banks in the UAE.

You're right. Noor Islamic Bank is the UAE's 48th bank and the sixth Islamic bank with a capitalisation of US$860m, but this one has global aspirations.

It currently has six branches in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi, one in Al Ain and two in Sharjah but plans to double its branches in the UAE by the end of the year and aims to have a presence in major Islamic countries as part of its five year growth plan. According to the bank's deputy CEO, Ahmed Aljanahi, it also plans to expand "aggressively" and "ambitiously" into Europe, Africa and Asia over the next two years.

Wow - big ideas. So what's the plan for global domination then?

Although no plans have been revealed yet, the bank has said that it is in discussions with various parties.

It will also concentrate on a number of acquisitions, licenses and partnerships. It has a pretty strong team behind it. Dubai Holding's financial business division Dubai Group has a 25% stake in it as does Investment Corporation of Dubai.

The federal UAE government owns 5% and the rest comprises 15 private individual investors. Chairing the company is also none other than Emirates airline's chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

But what about that other bank that is about to launch, the one in Abu Dhabi?

You mean Al Hilal Islamic Bank? Noor is currently the UAE's largest sharia-compliant lender but once Al Hilal is launched it could be overtaken as its start-up capital is US$1bn. The Abu Dhabi bank was established in October 2007 but it has yet to announce a launch date. Besides, Noor's CEO Hussain Al Qemzi, has already told reporters that hes welcomes competition as it gives more value to the industry.

I like the sound of him. So, how can I get involved?

Well you could open a bank account there. The bank will initially focus on consumer and corporate services and having fully consulted its customers has promised to offer the best possible customer service. So far, the bank has approved 144 sharia-compliant products through its sharia board.

Sharia-compliant banking is pretty popular now, isn't it?

Yes, Islamic banking is huge and not just in this part of the world. According to US management consultants McKinsey & Company, Islamic banks controlled assets worth around US$750bn at the end of 2006, which could rise to US$1trillion by 2010 as it continues to grow in popularity. Islam bans the receipt of interest, equating it with usury, and instead encourages banks to share more in the profit or loss of investors.

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