> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

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Islamic finance is expected to expand substantially in 2015, from 2014’s total of $2.1 trillion to $2.5 trillion, according to figures released last week by the Al-Huda Centre of Islamic Banking and Economics. In 2011, the industry had assets of about $1 trillion. Islamic microfinance, the segment of Sharia-compliant services targeting clients at the base of the pyramid, only occupies a small slice of the pie, at 1 percent of all Islamic finance globally. However this uptick in Sharia-compliant finance, as well as encouraging recent support for the 650 million Muslims living on less than 2 dollars a day, suggest a rising tide for Islamic microfinance.

The industry findings indicate that not only did Islamic finance surpass the $2 trillion landmark in 2014, it gained traction in nascent markets and entered new ones. Markets still green in offering Islamic finance that showed growth in 2014 include Morocco, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Libya, and several non-Muslim-majority countries including Nigeria, Tanzania, and South Africa. Among the new markets where Islamic finance took root last year are Australia, Brazil, and China. Globally, there are 1,500 organizations working in Islamic finance across 90 countries – 40 percent of which are non-Muslim-majority countries. The expansion of Islamic finance opens the door for the many Muslims whose beliefs preclude them from accepting finance with interest rates and fee structures outlawed by Sharia doctrine.

Islamic microfinance, which has typically grown slower than its mainstream microfinance counterpart, could be in for a big year. In 2013, Islamic microfinance had an estimated 1.28 million clients, about 82 percent of whom lived in three countries – Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Sudan. (Nevertheless, the number of Islamic microfinance clients in Muslim-majority Bangladesh is dwarfed by the 8 million conventional microfinance borrowers in the country.) Along with the Al-Huda estimation of 19 percent growth in 2015 for all Islamic finance, a report by TechNavio from November found that the Islamic microfinance market would grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 20 percent between 2014 and 2018. The current Microfinance Market Outlook forecasts 15-20 percent growth for 2015.

Strong government support, instrumental for financial inclusion efforts, has been demonstrated for Islamic microfinance in countries including Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, Malaysia, and Pakistan. As part of its larger Financial Inclusion Program, the State Bank of Pakistan launched the partially U.K.-funded 3rd Financial Innovation Challenge Fund, which focuses on Islamic microfinance. Until the application deadline of February 20, 2015, the bank will accept proposals for grants to test solutions for delivering low cost Islamic microfinance services to more markets. One aim of the challenge is to develop Pakistan’s base of Islamic finance professionals.

GIZ, the German government’s international development agency, is working with CGAP and others to develop model regulations, education, and trainings to expand Islamic microfinance in developing countries. A current GIZ study is exploring demand factors, while another is comparing Islamic finance regulations in five countries. A study by GIZ and CGAP on Islamic microfinance aims to find ways to lower costs – a key obstacle for product adoption. Difficulties in adapting traditional microfinance products to Islamic microfinance have limited product offerings, with the most popular being murabaha, a cost-plus-markup product for asset purchases. Last year’s CGAP Islamic Microfinance Challenge, a global contest to identify innovative Sharia-compliant products, was themed “Beyond Murabaha.”

We look forward to following the developments in Islamic microfinance throughout the year.

Have you read?

Sharia and Savings: Islamic Microfinance

Continuing the Conversation on Inclusion in the Arab World

Financial Inclusion of Disabled People in Bangladesh: The Broken Promises of MFIs