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Targeting Muslim consumers requires more than a halal label. Fundamental approaches that build brand affinity are also relevant across the Islamic world. How is the merchandise positioned vis-à-vis competitors in the marketplace? Does the product line have a faith-based personality? Enthusiasm for the potential of halal-related profits is checked by commercial reality.

Sukuk are often called as “Islamic bonds” for simplicity. The designation, however, is technically incorrect. Profit on sukuk is driven by the cash flow of the underlying asset; interest on conventional bonds is function of the credit quality of the issuer. There is one important similarity between these two asset classes: Both are typically less volatile than publicly-traded stocks.

Shariah-compliant investments extend across the allocation spectrum. Levying or benefiting from interest is forbidden; some considerations are haram because of their speculative qualities. Geography itself is not a qualification or constraint. In Muslim-dominant nations, there can be both halal and haram alternatives within established sectors, such as banking and finance.

The Islamic world is not a monolith. There are disparate voices within the faith. The schism between Sunnis and Shiites may be the most pronounced to Westerners, but there are other differences. Within fiqh—human understanding of revealed law—there are at least four distinct Sunni schools. Views on jurisprudence can evolve because human effort is considered imperfect.

Islamic banks look to digital assets, including cryptocurrencies, to grow their businesses. Given their franchise in high-growth or well-populated nations, the implications for financial inclusion are substantial. Propelling the shift in priorities is the high degree of technological sophistication in emerging markets, despite fits-and-starts among national-market regulators.

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A shift from multilateralism to bilateralism has caused economic diplomacy to stumble. Instead of using finance and trade to harmonize viewpoints, some leaders weaponize them. This approach may be an extension of strongman politics, which will mitigate itself over time. Or it could lead to deeper fractures in the international order, with degraded outcomes.

Muslim travelers prioritize halal food and prayer facilities when structuring their itineraries. Meeting those requirements is now easier with mobile apps and internet-based research, but the faithful are still frustrated outside of the Muslim world. The hospitality industry increasingly caters to these requirements. Muslim-friendly hotels, for instance, are alcohol-free.

Burgeoning pools of capital across the Islamic world include institutional investors with Shariah-compliant mandates. Some of these players mirror institutions in conventional finance, such as venture capital funds. Others, like takaful, are unique to the Islamic world. Many are active cross-border investors because of the comparatively small size of their local economies.

The wide array of Islamic funds available in the open market affords investors the ability to construct a truly global, multi-asset class investment portfolio. A majority of Islamic products traditionally center on real estate, equity, and sukuk. Shariah-compliant exchange-traded funds and venture capital are growing in popularity.

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Attire in the Islamic world is based on concepts of modesty and humility. Aside from basic guidelines on coverage, the Quran says little about clothing. The debate on Islamic style—either nurturing oppression or fostering empowerment—lingers because many Western voices define Muslim fashion by the hijab or burqa. This rigid viewpoint runs counter to broad commercial opportunity.

At about 1.8 billion people, Muslims represent roughly a quarter of the global population. This diaspora is called the Ummah, an Arabic word meaning “community.” In descending order, the largest Muslim populations can be found in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. As much as 85%-to-90% of the Ummah is part of the Sunni branch of Islam.

Some entrepreneurs ascribe to faith principles outlined in the Quran. That angle impacts their working environments and product offerings. While a halal approach may limit funding and monetization strategies, it also can define the market for goods and services more precisely. Halal ventures are prominent in the Islamic world because of proximity to like-minded capital sources.

Used arbitrarily in the West, Islamophobia is a term describing irrational hatred toward Muslims. The word is problematic in its everyday use, especially when considered in the context of racial issues. Muslims come from many different ethnic backgrounds. The Egypt-founded Islamic Brotherhood first popularized Islamophobia as a parallel idea to antisemitism.

Banner Credit: Juan Alberto Casado at iStock by Getty Images.

History Corner

Early Islam and the Birth of Capitalism
Benedikt Koehler

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