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Islamic finance: what is it and how does it work?

Islamic finance is a way of managing money in accordance with the principles of Islam and Sharia law.

Discover more about what it is, how it works and how to find an Islamic financial advisor below.


Islamic or Sharia bank accounts work in their own particular way. Since Islamic law does not permit the earning of interest, a Sharia-compliant bank must operate in a different way from a regular bank, and Islamic finance products must follow similar rules. Maintaining your finances according to this law can have many other implications too. There are a number of specialist financial advisers who are expert in Sharia finance.

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How does Sharia finance work?

There are several types of banking and finance arrangements under Islamic law, governing everything from saving and investing money to taking out loans.

  • Wakala – Your bank uses your cash to invest in Sharia-compliant ventures to generate a return for you.
  • Musharaka – A form of investment, this allows you to contribute funding to a venture (for instance) alongside your bank, and then you and the bank share both the risks and the returns.
  • Ijara – Your bank buys an asset (e.g. a car) for you and then leases it back to you. Your payments may include instalments towards fully purchasing the item.
  • Murabaha – This is the Sharia version of a mortgage. Your bank buys the property and allows you to buy it from them instalments (plus a small margin) while registering you as the buyer from the start.
  • Mudaraba – An equity financing partnership, in which one party provides the capital and the other provides the labour.
  • Salam – A contract for advance payment on goods that will be delivered later.
  • Sukuk – A type of bond for investing in assets
  • Takaful – A mutual insurance contract that allows the sharing of risk between business partners

In all these arrangements, a board of advisers will ensure compliance with Islamic law, and avoid any investments in tobacco, alcohol or other prohibited substances or activities such as gambling. For additional information on buying property, you can read our helpful guide on Islamic mortgages here.

What qualifications will an Islamic financial adviser have?

Ideally, you will want to look for an adviser who holds the Islamic Finance Qualification (IFQ). The IFQ is an international qualification that covers both the technical and Sharia aspects of financial planning, accounting, insurance and business.

However, the IFQ is a relatively recent qualification, so not all financial advisers who are able to advise on Islamic finance will necessarily have it. This does not mean that they will be any less competent, but when you first speak to the adviser you should ask them to explain how and why they are qualified to offer you Sharia financial advice.

Furthermore, an experienced Islamic IFA working in the UK should be suitably qualified in Western financial advice also. There is a large variety of IFA qualifications in the UK, covering many specialist areas, and most of these will overlap at least partly with key areas of Sharia finance and demonstrate your adviser’s knowhow in these disciplines. Look for an adviser with qualifications that cover the areas of expertise that you need. See a list of standard IFA qualifications.

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How to find the right Islamic financial adviser for you

When you search for a financial adviser using Unbiased, you can ask specifically to find advisers who are able to advise you on Islamic finance. There are two ways to do this.

The simplest and quickest way is to click Find me an expert. Choose ‘Financial adviser’, then click the button ‘Something else’. You will see a button marked ‘Sharia Finance’. Click that, and proceed with your enquiry as normal.

Another way is to browse a list of financial advisers who can provide Sharia advice. Click Browse professionals and enter your postcode, and you’ll see a list of all financial advisers near you. On the left you’ll see a heading, ‘What would you like advice on?’ Under this, click the box marked ‘Sharia finance’ (and any others you want) and the list will show only those who are able to offer this service.


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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.