Scholarly article on topic 'Risk sharing and risk shifting: An historical perspective'

Risk sharing and risk shifting: An historical perspective Academic research paper on "History and archaeology"

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Borsa Istanbul Review
OECD Field of science
{"Risk sharing" / "Risk shifting" / "Islamic finance" / "Commercial revolution" / "Gerschenkron hypothesis" / "Venture capital" / Gharar}

Abstract of research paper on History and archaeology, author of scientific article — Murat Çizakça

Abstract Islam prohibits risk shifting and encourages risk sharing. Consequently, Muslims have developed over the centuries a highly sophisticated know-how of risk sharing partnerships which was the envy of the world. When Europe borrowed this know-how from the 10th century onwards, it entered into the era of “commercial revolution”. 13th century Venice, 19th century Germany and the 20th century United States are the three western cases presented in this article, which demonstrate the dramatic achievements of risk sharing in the West. Thus, the wisdom of the Islamic prohibition is confirmed by these Western examples. The paper then examines how Muslims can re-introduce risk sharing techniques into the modern Islamic finance.

Academic research paper on topic "Risk sharing and risk shifting: An historical perspective"

Accepted Manuscript

Risk Sharing and Risk Shifting: An Historical Perspective

Murat Cizakca

S2214-8450(14)00025-8 10.1016/j.bir.2014.06.001

Reference: BIR 31

To appear in: Borsa istanbul Review

Please cite this article as: CizakcaM., Risk Sharing and Risk Shifting: An Historical Perspective, Borsa istanbul Review (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.bir.2014.06.001.

This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to our customers we are providing this early version of the manuscript. The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resulting proof before it is published in its final form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain.



An earlier version of this paper "Origins and Evolution of Risk Sharing in Islam" was submitted at the Islamic Finance Conference Series-I, convened at the Istanbul Stock Exchange on March 3 rd and 4 th, 2014. The author is grateful to the participants of this conference for their valuable comments.

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Islam prohibits risk shifting and encourages risk sharing. Consequently, Muslims have developed over the centuries a highly sophisticated know-how of risk sharing partnerships which was the envy of the world. When Europe borrowed this know-how from the 10th century onwards, it entered into the era of "commercial revolution". 13 th century Venice, 19th century Germany and the 20th century United States are the three western cases presented in this article, which demonstrate the dramatic achievements of risk sharing in the West. Thus, the wisdom of the Islamic prohibition is confirmed by these Western examples. The paper then examines how Muslims can re-introduce risk sharing techniques into the modern Islamic finance.


Classical sources of Islam prohibit interest transactions but encourage business partnerships and trade. While interest transactions shift risks from the capitalist to the entrepreneur, partnerships lead the two to share them. Thus, it follows that Islam prefers risk sharing to risk shifting.1

Since it is the risks which generate profits and losses, it follows that when risks are shared, profits and losses are also shared. Therefore, risk sharing leads to a share economy, that's what an Islamic economy is supposed to be all about.

But all of this is theory. What about application? In all cultures economic theory is translated into application via institutions. If so, which institutions are we talking about? We start with the interest prohibition and business partnerships. Everything boils down to how the capital of the capitalist is combined with the work and talent of the entrepreneur. In the conventional system this is done with credit transactions and the rate of interest. In an Islamic economy it is done by business partnerships.

Two questions come to mind here:

1) Which partnerships ?

2) Are these partnerships specific to a locality or are they universal?

In Islamic economic history, the most important partnerships observed were the mudaraba and its derivatives. Mudaraba was born in the Middle East and then spread to the whole of the Islamic world from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

With the crusaders, it even spread to Europe. During the late 12th century Eleanor of Aquitane, the Queen of France, brought the Islamic law of Partnerships, as well as the Admiralty Law, from Jerusalem to France. In France, at the Island of Oleron, these laws were then incorporated into the Lex Mercatoria - the medieval European law of commerce. During this incorporation, Islamic mudaraba was called commenda by the Europeans.

1 For substantial evidence on this see; Abbas Mirakhor and et.all, Risk Sharing in Finance, the Islamic Finance Alternative (Singapore: John Wiley and Sons, 2012), pp. 52-53.

2 Daniel Panzac, "Le Contrat d'Affrement maritime en Mediterranee ", Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 351-8; Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitane, p.1, 318; Hassan S. Khalilieh, Admiralty and Maritime Laws in the Mediterranean, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2006).

Borrowing the Islamic risk sharing partnerships appears to have had a huge impact on European economic, financial and even political history. To start with, soon after the incorporation, Europe entered into a period of massive increase in commerce, known as the "commercial revolution". Put differently, it was the risk sharing mudaraba/commenda contract which financed this massive increase of trade both within Europe and across the Mediterranean.

Two Italian city-states Genoa and Venice specialized in trade between Europe and the Islamic world. Acemoglu and Robinson have demonstrated definitively that Venice became a super power of the period thanks to its new merchant class using the mudaraba/commenda. But when the old elite began to fear the rising new merchant class and decided to prohibit mudaraba/commenda, during the late 13th century, this was the beginning of decline for Venice.3 Indeed, for as long as the young men of Venice could freely practice the mudaraba/commenda in foreign trade, Venice prospered and became powerful. But when this risk sharing contract was banned and the rising new mercantile class was ousted from the decision making process, the city began to decline.

To this 13 th century Venetian example we can also add the late 19th century example from Germany. Recently, the well-known Gerschenkron hypothesis stating that the "peculiar character of Germany's financial institutions played a critical role in industrialization and in overtaking of England" has been confirmed.4 The "peculiar character" refers to the fact that stock markets in Germany replaced loan markets as the major source of capital.5 In the terminology of this paper, this means that risk sharing had replaced risk shifting as the most important method of finance in Germany and, according to Gerschenkron as confirmed by Lehmann, this replacement played a critical role in the industrialization of Germany and its success in overtaking England, where loan markets continued to predominate.

These two European cases, one from the 13 th and the other from the late 19th centuries, demonstrate without any doubt whatsoever the power of risk-sharing finance. In what follows, I will refer to a third case as well, the American venture capital of the late 20th century, which will also confirm the basic

3 Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail, (New York: Crown Business, 2012), pp. 152156.

4 Sibylle H. Lehmann, "Taking Firms to the Stock Market: IPOs and the Importance of Large Banks in Imperial Germany, 1896-1913", Economic History Review, Vol. 67, No. 1, 2014, 92-122.

5 Ibid., p. 93.

argument here. But before doing so, we need to go back to the Islamic world and study risk sharing in Islam further.

1. Resilience of Islamic Partnerships

Another remarkable feature of the classical Islamic partnerships is their resilience. A thousand years after their birth, they can be observed in Ottoman finances without any change in their structure.6

There is one financial instrument, however, which can be considered as typical Ottoman. These were the Cash Waqfs. Cash waqfs were charitable foundations established with cash. In brief, their modus operandi was as follows:

A wealthy person donated a certain amount of cash for a charitable purpose. The money was invested and the revenue it generated was spent for the charitable purpose of the donation. When Imam Zufar was asked during the 8th century how a cash waqf should function, he said, the cash capital should be invested with mudaraba.

But when Ottoman cash waqfs were studied, it became clear that they did not apply mudaraba. Had they done so, they would have become risk sharing instruments. Instead, they applied istiglal, a basically risk shifting instrument.

We wonder at this point why the Ottoman cash waqfs failed to apply Imam Zufar's ruling and in the process became risk shifting institutions. The most plausible explanation is the profit limits imposed by the Ottoman state. As it is well known, mudaraba is a risky instrument and it may end up with losses. Such losses can be tolerated only if there is no upper limit imposed on profits so as to compensate the losses with the high profits generated. But maximum profit limits in the range of 5 to 20 percent was the rule in the Ottoman economy. With such profit controls waqf trustees refused to apply the risky mudaraba and preferred istiglal. Thus, profit limits imposed by the state killed any potential for risk sharing by cash waqfs. So, the relevance of all this for us today is that risk sharing and profit limits imposed by an authority are simply incompatible.

6 Murat Qizakga, Comparative Evolution of Business Partnerships (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996).

7 Murat Qizakga, A History of Philanthropic Foundations: Islamic World from the Seventh Century to the Present (Istanbul: Bogazici University Press, 2000). Also available at and .

All of this pertains to private finance. What about state finance? Indeed, all governments need to borrow money from the public. But how does an Islamic government do this? Obviously it cannot borrow with interest.

The earliest solution found was tax-farming. The origins of tax-farming can be traced back to the early centuries of Islam. The Ottoman version of this system was called iltizam. In iltizam taxes were collected by the private enterprise and entrepreneurs were delegated the right to collect taxes. So, can we consider this arrangement as risk sharing? Not really, the state was shifting all the risks upon the agent or the entrepreneur. Indeed, the entrepreneur not only paid a fixed amount to the state, but he also did not have any guarantee that he would be allowed to collect taxes for a certain period.

Moreover, with so much uncertainty and risk shifting, iltizam also contained elements of gharar.8 The consequence of all this risk shifting and gharar was that the state was not earning much. This became obvious in 1683, when Ottoman armies were defeated at the gates of Vienna and the state budget began to exhibit substantial deficits.

In 1695 a new system, the malikane, had to be introduced. Now the tenure of the entrepreneur increased to his life-time. In return for this increased reliability of the tenure, the entrepreneurs began to compete in the auctions yielding much higher revenues to the state.

Malikane can be considered as a system of risk sharing. The entrepreneur took a great risk and made a very large lump-sum payment up front. Now the risks were shared fairly: If the entrepreneur lived a long life, he would make substantial profits, and the state would lose. If he lived a short life, the state could take back the tax-farm at his death and re-sell it again at a new auction making substantial profits. With such risk sharing, the gharar was eliminated as well.

As a result of all this, the Ottoman state was able to increase its revenues by 1400%.9 This is a dramatic confirmation of the relative efficiency of risk sharing vis a vis risk shifting in Islamic state finance.

8 Gharar is a level of unshared uncertainty that Islamic law prohibits. What makes gharar illegal is not only the

level of uncertainty but also the fact that risk is not shared among the contracting parties.

Mehmet Geng, "Osmanli Maliyesinde malikane Sistemi", in Osman Okyar (ed.), Türkiye Iktisat Tarihi Semineri (Ankara: Hacettepe Üniversitesi Yayinlari, 1975), s. 249.

But even such financial successes could not protect the Ottoman state from the aggression of Imperial Russia, which was enjoying a population explosion and had doubled its population during the 18th century. Ottoman armies suffered a disastrous defeat in 1774 and a huge war indemnity had to be paid. A new system that would be able to collect this amount, rapidly and legally was needed.

The solution found was the esham.10 In this system, the state set aside an asset, which yielded a regular annual revenue. It then allocated a certain fraction of this revenue for esham. This revenue fraction was then securitized into equal shares and offered for sale to the public. Each share authorized its purchaser, the investor, to receive his share of the allocated annual revenue pro rata. This was a fixed amount. The investor received his annuity for as long as he lived. Each share was sold at a certain multiple of the annuity it was to yield to the investor. Usually, the price of a share was determined as 5 to 12 times the annuity it yielded. Once bought, each sehm was negotiable and could be sold in secondary markets.

Two questions would be relevant here.

1) Was esham usurious?

2) Was it an instrument of risk sharing?

The answer to the first question is negative: It was not usurious. What makes esham non-usurious, riba free, was the fact that first, redemption was at the discretion of the state. Put differently, the borrower, i.e., the state, paid back the principal at its convenience. There was no pre-fixed and obligatory date of redemption. Second, there was uncertainty and risk sharing. This was a result of the uncertainty of the life-span of the investor, as well as, the fluctuating economic conjuncture. As was the case with malikane, in esham also, if the investor enjoyed longevity, the state would lose, and if he lived a short life it would gain. So, the risk with regard to the life-span was shared.

10 Murat £izak9a . "Esham: A Shari'ah Based Yet Fixed Return Instrument for Investment" Global Islamic Finance Review, 2013, pp. 91-93.

Profit/loss sharing reflecting the economic conjuncture also occurred when the investor sold his share in secondary markets at current prices. In short, esham system involved risk sharing as well as profit and loss sharing.

Finally, we may ask, was esham successful in meeting the financial needs of the Ottoman state? The new system succeeded in raising one-third of the war indemnity within less than a year. Within ten years of its establishment, in 1785, Esham generated 11.500.000 gru§ revenue, which was more than half of the entire revenue of the state. It has been calculated that what the previous malikane system was able to generate in 90 years, Esham succeeded to generate in only 10 years.11 On the down side, total annuity payments reached 10% of the total expenditure of the state.

Basically a risk-sharing system, Esham came to dominate the Ottoman public finance for the next century or so and played a decisive role in the survival of the Ottoman state until the 20th century.

2. Twentieth Century Developments and the Present

The most important development of the 20th century in Islamic finance was the establishment of the first Islamic bank in Mit Ghamr in Egypt by Dr. Ahmed el-Naggar. El-Naggar's bank was based on a two layer multiple mudaraba. In other words, both the liability and the asset sides were designed as multiple


Consequently, It was a truly risk sharing system. But it did not last and all the other Islamic banks established later on applied murabaha rather than mudaraba in their asset sides. Thus they abandoned risk sharing and focused on trade financing based on the murabaha mark-up.

3. What Needs to be Done?

Replacement of mudaraba by murabaha has caused great disappointment with the Islamic banks. This is because, murabaha is a simple mark-up and is not based upon risk sharing.

So, how can the Islamic banks be encouraged to focus on mudaraba financing, which was the original design of Dr. Ahmed el-Naggar? Very briefly, the following observations may be made: Half a century of experience since 1963

11 Mehmet Geng, "Esham", Islam Ansiklopedisi (Diyanet), c. 11, s. 378.

has taught us that it is unrealistic to expect Islamic Banks to be involved in risk sharing with their depositors, who demand fixed returns.

Private sector risk sharing needs to be undertaken by non-bank financial institutions. Western experience since the Second World War indicates to venture capital as the most pertinent non-bank financial institution. It has been shown that venture capital is in perfect harmony with the teachings of the classical sources of Islam. Indeed, this American institution, the financier of such companies as Apple, Fed Ex, Amazon etc., has a structure that is remarkably similar to the classical Islamic multiple mudaraba}2

If a western institution is highly successful and it is also practically identical to a classical Islamic institution, then it is obvious that Muslims should do their utmost to re-introduce it.13

4. Introducing Venture Capital (VC)

The following simple principles must be remembered while establishing a venture capital sector.

1) The heart of VC is the venture capital company. So, the state must make the establishment of these companies as easy as possible. Insisting on a high threshold minimum paid-in capital would be wrong. This was the mistake that the Turkish Capital Market Board did during the 1990s. A venture capital firm should not be confused with banks. Such a firm does not collect deposits, therefore, it does not create risks for the public. If it becomes bankrupt, it would only hurt its own shareholders. So, no paid-in capital requirement should be imposed at all.

2) Venture Capital is a private sector activity. Some state support might be needed initially, but this must be strictly for the short term and of secondary importance.

3) Initial state support should be in the form of fund matching. This means, the government can declare that if a venture capital company has decided to finance an entrepreneur, the state shall also buy the shares of that

12 Murat Qizakga, Comparative Evolution of Business Partnerships (Leiden: Brill, 1996), chs. 2 and 6.For a more detailed and upto date treatment of the topic see; Murat Qizakga, Islamic Capitalism and Finance: Origins, Evolution and the Future (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2011), ch. 15.

13 For a detailed treatment of this topic, the reader is recommended to look at, Murat Cizakca, Islamic Capitalism and Finance, ch. 15; id. "Introducing Venture Capital to Islamic Countries", or Murat Qizakga ve Tansu Ciller, Türk Finans Kesiminde Sorunlar ve Reform Önerileri (istanbul: Istanbul Sanayi Odasi, 1989).

entrepreneur at a maximum rate of 49%, so that the VC company would have the final say in the management.

4) Tax breaks can also be important. Capital Gains Tax should be zero percent. Inheritances if invested in equities can also be taxed at zero percent.

5) Pension funds can be a very important source for venture capital companies. If these funds are given the permission to invest even a small percentage of their funds in VC, that would be a great support. In the US the 1974 ERISA Act did just that with a huge impact.

On the Asset Side, the main principle to be remembered is this: the ultimate goal of the venture capitalist is to sell the shares of the entrepreneurial firm he has financed, preferably with great profits. For this;

6) A well-functioning "over the counter market" needs to be established.

7) Professors and their research students are the ideal potential entrepreneurs. Venture capital-university linkages are very important. Universities must give professors and their students the freedom to establish their own companies. Only then can the venture capital companies become actively engaged with universities.

8) If research is financed with government money, patents obtained should not be in the name of the state but in the name of the research team. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 did precisely this in the US, with very impressive results. This is essential to make the most out of the university technoparks.

9) Since VC is simply impossible without entrepreneurs and the domestic pool of entrepreneurs may be insufficient, immigration rules can be relaxed for skilled foreign entrepreneurs.

5. Conclusion

By prohibiting the rate of interest, Islam has condemned risk shifting and made risk sharing the definitive mode of finance for Muslims. The economic rationale and wisdom of this prohibition has been demonstrated by three cases from the

West, the 13th century Venice, the late 19th century Germany and the 20th century United States.

Muslims possess the know-how to establish and conduct risk sharing financial institutions. This Islamic know-how was so rich that the 13th century European commercial revolution was made possible only by borrowing and incorporating it into the Lex Mercatoria. The crucial question is therefore, whether Muslims of the 21st century will be able to draw upon their rich heritage and re-orient themselves from risk shifting to risk sharing.


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