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Is Bitcoin Halal? What Islamic Scholars Around the World Are Saying

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Islam is not only the world’s second-largest religion but also fastest growing religion globally. Today, there are more than 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Islam is also one of the religions where financial systems have clear guidelines based on religious principles. With the soaring adoption of bitcoin in markets such as the Middle East, which is a predominantly Muslim region, the question on whether bitcoin is acceptable in the Islamic religion has given rise to the debate on whether bitcoin is halal or not.

Currency in Islam

Islam is one of the few religions where Muslims believe that the religion is a complete code for life. This means that the followers look up and live their lives according to the Sharia law.

According to Teaching Tolerance, Sharia – which is an Arabic word – means “the way” or the path to water”. The Sharia law is based on the Quran – Islam’s holy book – as well as the life of Prophet Mohammed. It encompasses laws on how Muslims can practice Islam ensuring that people are treated justly, that financial systems are fair, and has laws on marriage, inheritance, punishment, and divorce.

Sharia law, therefore, has various rules regarding what a currency is. In trying to understand whether bitcoin should be considered halal by Muslims, it is important to first understand how currency is viewed in the Islam religion. For a currency to be acceptable in Islam, it must have intrinsic value – this is the value or worth that something has – and should be difficult to get. Additionally, according to Muslim scholars, currency or money, is defined as a means of use in the purchase of an object of sale. For instance, gold and silver in Islam are considered as halal as they were used historically as legal tender in the form of gold Dinar and silver Dirham.

Islam also requires that a currency should not be linked to any debt. That is because the religion believes money should be used as a means of exchange and not as a product. To this extent, bitcoin can be viewed as a currency as it is used as a means to pay for goods in different countries with various people earning their salaries in the form of bitcoin.

The Islamic banking principles also forbid the acceptance of interest of any kind. While charging interest benefits the lender, it does not do the same for the borrower and is thus not halal. Currencies should not be affected by inflation and should have a stable market price. Furthermore, a currency according to the Sharia law should have proof of existence and be tangible.

Islamic View on Bitcoin

While bitcoin’s existence can be proven, the digital currency is not tangible like other currencies such as the dollar or Euro. However, there are certain similarities between bitcoin with gold and silver. They are all mined, the supply and demand dictate its value, they can both be used as currencies on their own and are also scarce.

Still, for a currency to be considered halal in Islam, it needs to be acceptable by a considerable number of people in any given community or demography which is not the case (yet) for decentralised digital currencies. In Islam, the fuqaha (body of scholars), define people living in a community as government. With this view, cryptocurrencies differ in their qualifications for the stature as most governments in different countries are not accepting bitcoin as a legal tender. A good example is in countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other African nations, where investing in cryptocurrencies has been warned against but citizens still invest in them.

Most people view bitcoin as a form of money. When people think of spending bitcoin, investing or trading in it, they are usually doing so to make money. This was evident in the last year when the digital currency went mainstream and the prices soared to an all-time high of $20,000 before dropping to a low of $6,000 earlier this year. To this extent, the volatile nature of bitcoin also has some level of speculation. In this sense, bitcoin has some elements of gharar (risk) and Qimar (speculation) which contradicts the Sharia law.

As mentioned, the Sharia law also teaches about the fairness of financial systems. Most Islamic scholars and jurists agree on the fact that bitcoin is blockchain-based which prevents any level of exploitation or unfairness. To this extent, the digital currency is permissible in Islamic. However, the same scholars believe that bitcoin can be manipulated in closed circles as there have been allegations of multiple market manipulations and bitcoin exchanges faking the trading volume in the past year. In this aspect, some scholars view bitcoin as haram.

Fintech Based on Sharia Law

When it comes to banking and finance, Muslims unlike other religions, have interesting needs since the Sharia law has guidelines on financial systems. As such, acceptance of any interest is considered illegal in the Islamic religion as well as investing in the alcohol, tobacco, pornography, pork, and sex industries. An increased interest in Islamic Banking has led to the first ever discussion on Islamic banking by the executive board of the International Monetary Fund. This growing demand has led to the use of blockchain technology by various entrepreneurs to meet the needs of the Islamic banking.

One such company is Blossom Finance, an Indonesian fintech startup that was established to provide microfinance services to small businesses and Muslim entrepreneurs. The Fintech startup collects capital from different investors globally using the cost-saving bitcoin transactions and provides the funds to microfinance units for different investments. After a 12-month period, the company issues the profit made back to the investors. Blossom Finance clearly demonstrates how blockchain transactions and bitcoin obey the Sharia law. How so? It is because the company does not get or distribute interest and it ensures that the microfinance institutions getting funded do not invest in haram businesses. The business model is also built on Mudharaba (risk-sharing) which is permissible according to the Sharia law.

Moreover, with bitcoin, the transactions are transparent and are recorded on the blockchain, which is open to anyone for scrutiny. In this regard, Matthew J. Martin, Founder and CEO of Blossom Finance said, “Bitcoin guarantees that the money invested into small Islamic businesses is not done on margin, and that its existence as a real asset is publicly verifiable using the blockchain. Bitcoin ensures ownership of underlying assets with 100% mathematical certainty.”

And Blossom Finance is not the only fintech company to offer solutions in Islamic countries. Goldmoney Inc, a company based in Toronto, implemented the halal gold standard and got certified as Sharia-compliant for its gold-based financial product. This puts the company on the list of Islamic finance institutions that are utilising the blockchain for Islamic finance transactions.

In order to gain access to millions of Muslim clients in Malaysia, HelloGold introduced an online platform that is both blockchain-based and Sharia-compliant to enable customers to make direct transactions while incurring low costs for gold trading.

Is Bitcoin Halal?

This is one question where Muslim scholars have differing opinions. While some scholars view it as halal, some see it as haram. The latter make their argument based on the fact that its price volatility makes it a speculative currency, hence not compliant with Sharia law. Also, in Islam, a currency has to be tangible which is not the case with bitcoin or any other digital currency for that matter. On this point, another group of scholars argues that although money is tangible, its paper is worth close to nothing and is prone to damage, theft, illegal duplication, and loss. This is not the case with bitcoin.

In that regard, they see bitcoin as having proper value compared to money. Moreover, fiat currency is debt-based as most of the money in circulation is on loan which earns interest. Unlike fiat currency, bitcoin is asset-based making it abide by the Islamic finance principles. To this extent, most scholars believe that cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are actually more halal than fiat currency.

The above argument shows the differing takes that scholars have concerning the halal nature of bitcoin. With these differing views from Muslim scholars, it is hard to decide whether bitcoin is indeed halal or haram. And while there are differing views, some Muslim scholars have only warned their Muslim counterparts to be wary of the digital currency due to its price volatility but have not declared it as impermissible according to Islam. Although there is still an ongoing debate on this, Muslims who want to invest in bitcoin or any other digital currency for that matter should look at the risks involved and tread carefully before making any investments. As digital currencies continue to soar in demand, it remains to be seen on whether Muslim scholars will eventually reach a consensus on the halal nature of bitcoin.

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A Blessing and a Curse: Cryptocurrency Opens Doors to Both Investments and Scams in SA

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Investments and Scams in SA

Over the past year or so, cryptocurrencies have certainly made their mark across the globe. From the spread of information to the introduction of various rules and regulations, country after country appear to be building up their own ideas on just how to handle the cryptocurrencies gracing the world today. South Africa is certainly no exception. More and more businesses within the region are starting to accept cryptocurrencies and as mass adoption seems to become more and more likely, crypto enthusiasts are starting to rejoice at the thought that SA could soon be a region ready to utilise these currencies to their fullest.

However, with all good things come the bad and for cryptocurrencies, that means scams. Here, we’re taking a look just what cryptocurrency adoption could mean for South Africa.

Cryptocurrency Capital

For those living in South Africa, the cryptocurrency revolution has certainly been leaving its mark. Most surprisingly, perhaps, is the simple fact that it isn’t just financial experts that are taking an interest in these coins here. In fact, everyday use of these digital assets has been rife.

South Africa has been following cryptocurrency adoption for quite some time now and as a result, more and more businesses are beginning to boom with improved access to funds that might otherwise not have been available in fiat form. A huge variety of businesses have been picking up on this trend. Online banking, trading, gambling, sports betting and even physical stores are capitalising on these trends. In fact, sportsbooks were some of the very first companies to start to accept bitcoin, some opting for even bitcoin-exclusive payment options, and even schools are now accepting crypto to help the fulfillment of education gaps. With tourism and South African trade also benefiting from the spread of crypto, South Africa has truly been capitalising on cryptocurrencies in a way that no other country in the world has dared try.

For this reason, it’s clear that the interest in cryptocurrency use goes far beyond the experts and instead, often emanates from the residents. As a result, the South African Treasury introduced taxation on cryptocurrency funds as a new, yet traditional form of bringing in capital for the country. From April 2018, it was made clear that any profits made by cryptocurrencies for companies and businesses operating in South Africa would have to come under taxable law and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) had even offered to provide support and advice to those who weren’t clear on what this would entail.

In July 2018, however, amendments were proposed via the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (TLAB) that would change the definition that digital assets were taxable financial instruments. They would become a financial instrument by the Income Tax Act standards and a financial service by the VAT Act standards, meaning that all crypto trades would then be exempt from VAT. These proposals, should they be successful, could encourage more and more businesses to pick up cryptocurrencies as a form of payment and further integrate these digital coins into everyday life in SA.

South African Scams

south africaHowever, while things seem to be going well, for the most part, there are of course negatives to take into consideration and unfortunately, those negatives are manifesting themselves in scams. The introduction of SAFCOIN – a cryptocurrency designed entirely to bring more and more South African’s safely into the world of crypto – has led to a high volume of investors and spenders entering the markets which, for hackers and scammers, is a new found gold mine.

One of the most recent and perhaps more terrifying scams for a low of Africans is the Nigerian Bitcoin Scam in April 2018. This scam saw thousands of people lose their entire life savings in some cases after a bitcoin trading company disappeared with practically billions of Naira. With both offices in Kenya and Nigeria both seemingly disappearing overnight, people were left confused, poor and scammed. March also saw a cryptocurrency scam, with around 28,000 virtual currency investors falling victim to BTC Global’s theft of over $80 million worth of cryptocurrencies.

These scams have opened up SA’s eyes to the potential risks associated with cryptocurrencies, though the debate is still rife as to whether this will actually make a difference as to how quickly and how eagerly they are adopting virtual currencies within the region. With further education and awareness, this could potentially become much safer but only time will truly tell.

What Do The Experts Think?

While Africa isn’t often thought to be at the forefront of any technological innovations, cryptocurrencies could be the market to change that – at least according to Rakesh Sharma, a business and technology journalist. Claiming that Africa could be the next leading frontier for cryptocurrencies, he said that SA “may be set to steal a march over other markets” namely due to the fact that Africa is suffering from such high inflation of their usual fiat currency. With an unstable economy, more and more people are likely to reach for a decentralised alternative to ensure that their funds are kept safe from the potential of corruption or disaster from central banks.

CEO of Liquid Crypto-Money, an SA cryptocurrency consulting firm, also predicted that Africa is likely to have government-issued cryptocurrencies in the near future. As a potential solution for governments seeking an answer to catastrophic inflation rates, cryptocurrencies aren’t to be ignored but with debate still suggesting that cryptocurrencies in Africa are dependent on speculation and an uncontrollable volatility, it’s difficult to determine just where things could go in the future.

As with most cryptocurrency markets, it’s undeniably complicated to determine whether or not South Africa could really be the country to adopt cryptocurrencies on a mass and stable scale. The potential they could hold, however, is promising enough for most and with government support and treasury regulation, the potential risks could, in time, be reduced.

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Almost a Quarter of High-Tech Consumers in South Africa Now Own Cryptocurrency

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High-Tech Consumers in South Africa

A new study titled “Digital Lifestyle Measure report” conducted by MBIT found that 23 percent of high-tech consumers in South Africa own at least one cryptocurrency, with bitcoin being the most common holding. 

New Report Shows High-Tech Consumers Hold Crypto

In the”Digital Lifestyle Measure report” report, each level of tech consumer (high, medium, and low) was grouped according to DM segmentation. A high-tech consumer is identified and tagged as a “DLM5 consumer”, and for the low-tech consumers, a “DLM1 consumer” was used. 

To place each of the participants in the right groups, the survey made use of a question and answer (Q&A) method. Each person was categorised according to how well they were able to answer the provided questions. The questions mostly focused on their private digital lifestyle and technological gadgets they own and can operate well.

The result of this survey shows that only six percent of the low-tech consumers (DLM 1) own crypto, while 23 percent of high tech consumers own cryptocurrencies. The remaining percentage was then shared in the order: DLM 2: seven percent, DLM 3: twelve percent, and DLM 4: eight percent.

cryptoThe report also stated that of the DML5 population, about 42 perfect of them are of the notion that cryptocurrencies are here to stay. Same goes for 30 percent of the DLM 4 consumers group.

Conversely, 41 percent of the low-tech consumers (DLM1 consumers) did not know what cryptocurrencies are all about, according to IOL

From the DLM 3 consumer group, about 34 percent of them cannot say what the future looks like for cryptocurrencies but 26 percent of them claimed cryptocurrencies to be the “future of financial transacting.”

The report has further shown that high tech consumers who are continually paying for something electronically, are more likely to buy crypto in the long run.

Based on the google trends data, South Africa currently has the highest levels of interest in bitcoin across the world. Hence, it should come as no surprise that tech-savvy South Africans are the ones investing in digital currencies and tokens. 

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Ecobank Report: Most African Regulators Are Taking a “Wait and See” Approach to Cryptocurrency Regulation

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African Regulators

While there has been a substantial increase in the adoption of cryptocurrencies in Africa compared to three years ago, there has been minimal effort from African countries to try and regulate cryptocurrencies despite their increased use in various African nations according to a new report by Ecobank.

Ecobank tracked “the current state of cryptocurrency regulation in all markets in Sub-Saharan Africa” through the regulatory responses that have been issued by central banks or financial regulators. In the report, the pan-African bank found that most African regulators are taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to cryptocurrency regulation.

The report stated: “Many African governments and regulators recognise both the risks and the potential positive impacts of cryptocurrencies, and some also appreciate the difference between cryptocurrencies and the underlying blockchain technology. But they have been reticent in authorising cryptocurrency transactions, and mostly remain apprehensive about the potential risks. African countries appear to be looking to their neighbours to regulate and innovate first, and learn from their mistakes, rather than being the first mover.”

The reported noted that the main reason why African governments were being skeptical about licensing the use of cryptocurrencies was their citizens getting overexposed to cryptocurrency investments and there being a future crash that would cause a ripple effect in the broader economy.

African Regulators’ Stance

African RegulatorsOut of the 39 jurisdictions surveyed, more than 21 countries in the region are yet to make a public declaration on the use of cryptocurrencies.

So far, there have been three countries that have taken a stance on cryptocurrency. Namibia tops the list having banned the commercial use of digital currencies. However, South Africa and Swaziland are the only two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have adopted “a generally favourable and permissive stance, but without full legality”.

The remaining countries fall somewhere in between and “refuse” to directly regulate cryptocurrencies claiming that bitcoin and other digital currencies “operate in the grey area between legality and illegality” and have issued warnings to their citizens and investors against using or investing in them. The bank also noted that conversations regarding the speculative nature and instability of cryptocurrency prices have overshadowed their benefits and the potential they bring.

The bank went ahead to note: “Unfortunately, the spectacular rise and fall in the traded value of cryptocurrencies has drowned out broader discussion on the potential benefits this new technology could bring. The transformational impact that could be delivered by tokenising products and services on the blockchain has been compared to that of the Internet. Crypto tokens and currencies could enable consumers to transact instantly, cross-border and for free, provide them with KYC-compliant digital IDs, and incentivise their behaviour and change the way they engage with governments & service providers.”

Ecobank will continue to track cryptocurrency regulation in Sub-Saharan Africa and provide regular updates that will reflect the regulation progress in the African nations.

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