Islamic social finance during economic uncertainty: special roles of Ar-Rahnu

Nor Fadilah Bahari, Mustafa Mohd Hanefah, and Zarina Shafi

14.1 Introduction

The pawnbroking industry in Malaysia has grown significantly, and it started prior to 1811 with the migration of Chinese citizens to Tanah Melayu (Skully, 1992). In the early years of its establishment, most pawn shops were privately owned and for-profit (Ismail & Ahmad, 1997). The majority of them were illegal and unlicenced institutions. Operated as informal credit institutions, pawnshops benefited those who were excluded from mainstream financial institutions. Similar evidence is reported by Caskey (1991) in the United States; pawnshops acts in the credit market. In developing countries, the rural economy still relies on informal financial intermediaries, including pawnbroking institutions that provide cheap financing options (Bouman & Houtman, 1988). Besides, the characteristics of pawnshops offering services without stringent procedures, easy access, and fast approval of loans provide advantages to the borrowers to meet their urgent needs. Discussions on the pawnbroking industry in the literature started in 1988 with ajournai article by Bouman and Houtman (1988). They highlight pawnshops as informal institutions that act as rural banks in developing countries. At the end of 1991, an estimated 194 conventional pawnshops operated in Malaysia under the supervision of the Ministry’ of Local Government and Housing (Skully, 1992). However, the system of conventional pawnshops has been criticized by the Muslim community for several reasons. Hence, Islamic pawnbroking institutions, formally known as Ar-Rabnu, have been established in the country’ and provide continuous advantages to society’. Therefore, this chapter highlights matters related to Ar-Rabnu, which are divided into four topics. These four topics are the historical development of Ar-Rabnu in Malaysia, the legality' of Ar-Rabnu financing based on the Quran and hadith, the specialities of Ar-Rabnu compared with their conventional counterparts, and the role of Ar-Rabnu during economic uncertainties.

14.2 Historical development of Ar-Rabnu in Malaysia

In Malaysia’s financial market, Islamic pawnbroking institutions are one of the Islamic financial institutions that are currently’ active in providing gold-based financing to their customers. The first Islamic pawnbroker was set up by the

Terengganu Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MAIDAM) in 1992, known as Muassasah Gadaian Islam Terengganu (MGIT). The MGIT played vital roles in the Terengganu community, especially for women and small entrepreneurs, by providing instant cash based on Islamic principles. The establishment of MGIT was to fulfil the demand from Muslim customers and indirectly to steer Muslim customers away from conventional pawnshops and illegal money lenders. A study by Othman et al. (2013) discovered that the total number of MGIT customers from 2007 to 2011 was 190,810 at a total of nine outlets. The establishment of Ar-Rahnu in Terengganu influenced Permodalan Kelantan Berhad (PKB) to set up Kedai Ar-Rahnu (KAR) in March 1992. The action was taken by the Kelantan state government to help their community, especially women entrepreneurs, to obtain microfinancing based on sharia rules. The Ar-Rahnu industry' continued to progress and thrive when the Ministry of Finance introduced ‘Skim Ar-Rahnu' (SAR) through the collaboration of three institutions: Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), Malaysian Islamic Economy' Development, Yayasan Pembangunan Ekonomi Islam Malaysia (YAPEIM), and Bank Kerjasama Rakyat Malaysia Berhad (Bank Rakyat) in August 1993.

YAPEIM was set up in 1976 by the federal government as a foundation under the Trustees (Incorporation) Act 1952. The objectives of its establishment was to facilitate in various types of economic activities, including pawnbroking services and real estate, and provide micro-financing to its clients, especially' to lower-and middle-income groups. A part of the profit generated from the businesses was used for welfare programs. Currently, YAPEIM serves its clients nationwide, including Sabah and Sarawak, with 203 branches (YAPEIM, n.d.).

Bank Rakyat is a cooperative bank established in the country' that actively provides Ar-Rahnu financing besides other bank products such as customer banking, commercial banking, and other investment products. In 2006, Bank Rakyat launched the Ar-Rahnu X’Change under the management of Rakyat Management Services Sdn. Bhd. (RMS). The establishment of RMS was to provide franchising opportunities under the Ar-Rahnu X’Change brand name. At present, Bank Rakyat is the largest Islamic cooperative bank in Malaysia, with 147 outlets and 183 outlets nationwide (Bank Rakyat, 2019).

The Ar-Rahnu industry' has been operating parallel with conventional pawnshops in Malaysia’s market. The number of both institutions increased over the years due to great support from society. Previous studies reveal that gold-based financing is considered to be the most popular gold-based financial product compared with gold investment (Yaacob et al., 2012). For the conventional pawnshop, business operations are supervised by' the Ministry' of Housing and Local Government (KPKT) and regulated under the Pawnbroking Act 1972. The introduction of this act was to ensure a healthy' pawnshop industry' and safeguard the interest of the customers. However, Ar-Rahnu is excluded from and not regulated by the Pawnbroker Act because a few sections in the act contradict shariah rules. In this act, the pawnbrokers are allowed to impose interest (riba) on the borrower, rendering this act incompatible with Ar-Rahnu (Nur Hayati

8c Markom, 2014). The distribution of pawnshops across the states in Malaysia is uneven, and this may be due to the differences in population densities and demand from the local community (Ismail & Ahmad, 1997).

The total number of Ar-Rahnu operators in the country cannot be ascertained. They are regulated and supervised by different regulators and various overlapping statutes and guidelines depending on the registration of the institutions (Nur Hayati & Markom, 2014). To date, Ar-Rahnu operators are served by various institutions, including banking institutions and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs). Under the banking institutions, rahnu financing is provided by Islamic commercial banks and cooperative banks. They are supervised under BNM. The NBFIs involve four categories of institution: government link companies (GLC), credit cooperatives, state link companies, and other private companies. They are supervised by different regulatory bodies. The Cooperative Societies Commission of Malaysia (SKM) is authorized to supervise credit cooperatives. Since its establishment, the business of Ar-Rahnu has been pioneered by NBFIs institutions. Several Ar-Rahnu operators that are currently active in serving rahnu financing are shown in Table 14.1.

The statistics and data on the performance of the pawnbroking industry were not collected by BNM in its statistics on total domestic credit. Nevertheless, by exploring the data provided by SKM and a few pawn shops, we can see that Ar-Rahnu has

Table 14.1 Ar-Rahnu operators

Commercial Banks

Cooperative Banks

Credit Cooperatives

State Cooperatives

Government Link Companies

Private Companies

  • • Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad (BIMB)
  • • Bank Muamalat
  • • Agrobank
  • • Affin Islamic Bank
  • • RHB Islamic Bank
  • • Bank Kerjasama Rakyat
  • • Rahnu X-Change Bank Rakyat
  • • Bank Koperasi Malaysia
  • • Koperasi MAS
  • • Koperasi KOJUTA
  • • Kakitangan Kementerian Pertanian Malaysia Berhad
  • • Koperasi Milik Perbadanan Baitulmal Negeri Sabah
  • • Koperasi Pengguna Pahang Berhad
  • • Koperasi Angkatan Tentera
  • • Ar-Rahnu MAIDAM (Terengganu)
  • • Rahnu Yayasan Bina Upaya (Perak)
  • • Permodalan Kelantan Berhad
  • • Rahnu Koperasi Kerajaan Negeri Kedah
  • • Koperasi Permodalan Melayu Johor
  • • Yayasan Pembangunan Ekonomi Islam Malaysia
  • • Ar-Rahnu TEKUN
  • • Ar-Rahnu Pos Malaysia
  • • Rahnu Express (Habib Jewel)

Source: Author’s own

Islamic social finance 217 grown tremendously in the country'. In 2019, Bank Rakyat dominated 38 per cent of Ar-Rahnu industry' in the country (Bank Rakyat, 2019). Additionally, SKM disclosed that the contribution of Ar-Rahnu in 2018 by credit cooperatives was about 14.30 per cent from the total income of all sectors in cooperatives (Suruhanjaya Koperasi Malaysia, n.d.). This evidence reveals that Ar-Rahnu is highly accepted by' Malaysia’s community' and stimulates positive growth in the country’s economy.

14.3 The legality' of the Ar-Rahnu contract and

comparisons between Ar-Rahnu operators and conventional pawnshops

The word Ar-Rahnu’ that is used to reflect Islamic pawnbroking institutions is derived from the Arabic noun ‘rahana’, which means either constancy and continuity' or holding and binding. Technically, ar-rahn, which also means pawning, mortgage, collateral, charge, lien, and pledge, refers to taking property' as security against a debt, whereby' the secured property' can be utilized to repay the debt in the case of non-payment. The application of ar-rahn started during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) and its legality is mentioned in the Holy Quran and hadith: ‘if you are on a journey' (and then you wish to have a contract of debt with one another) and cannot find a scribe, then let a pledge taken in hand (by the one who provides the debt)’ (Al-Quran, 2:283).

This verse indicates the alternative means of documenting the debt in the absence of a scribe, i.e., via pawning. Although it was revealed in the context of travelling, the majority' of jurists, except Mujahid and Zahiris, agree that ar-rahn is also permissible at home, based on the Sunnah of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) who permitted it without any' restriction.

In addition, the permissibility of ar-rahn is also mentioned in the following hadith: ‘A’ishah narrated that: “The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) bought some food (on credit) from a Jew, and he pawned his iron shield to him”’ (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith No.21 from Bukhari, 1966).

From the above evidence, the ar-rahn principle is permissible in Islam. Generally, ar-rahn is considered as a charitable contract as it does not require any' financial obligation on the part of the creditor. However, the parties in the contract are obligated to fulfil the pillars and several conditions in the contract in order for the ar-rahn contract to be valid. The pillars involve the contracting parties, sighah, pawning object (marhun), and the liability' or debt (marhun bih). Table 14.2 lists the descriptions of each pillar in the ar-rahn contract.

The basic structure of ar-rahn financing starts when the borrowers pawn their valuable asset to obtain finance from the Ar-Rahnu operators. Occasionally, Ar-Rahnu operators may' take an asset like jewellery, ornaments, or any' valuable item as collateral. However, currently, contemporary' applications may involve a form of paper, such as property' documents, vehicle papers, sukuk, shares, and others. The creditor or mortgage provider will provide financing according to the specific percentage from the value of the marhun. Practically, the margin of financing is up to 70%-80% of the value of the marhun. The borrowers are required to pay

Table 14.2 Pillars of ar-rahn

Borrower (al-rahin)



Pawn items (marhuri) Financing amount Contract (sighah')

A party that borrows money from another party by using a valuable asset as collateral.

A party that lends money to another party and is responsible for the safety of the asset pledged by the borrower. The contract should be accepted by both parties.

Items pawned as collateral.

The amount of financing needed by the borrower.

The agreement between the pledger and pledgee.

Source: Author’s own

safekeeping fees or storage fees to the creditors as a condition precedent to enter into the contract. The imposition of storage fees is for the risk of taking care of the marhun (Ahmad et al., 2019). The pledged items will be taken under the custody of Ar-Rahnu operators until the customers settle their debt and redeem the asset. At the end of the maturity period, the borrowers are required to pay back the debt, and the pawning asset is returned to the customers. In the event of a default, the asset will be liquidated by the creditors to settle the outstanding balance. In order to safeguard the operation, Ar-Rahnu operators provide their own guidelines and operating procedures. For example, SKM introduced 'Garis panduan Aktiviti Pajak Gadai Islam', GP 25, in 2013 as guidance to all credit cooperatives to conduct the business of Ar-Rahnu in an orderly and prudent manner.

In July 2019, BNM issued a policy document on Ar-Rahnu to strengthen the practice among the Islamic commercial banks to comply with the rules of shariah in the product and operationalization of Ar-Rahnu. This policy document sets out the shariah matters and operational requirements of Ar-Rahnu. For the shariah requirements, the silent features and optional practices of valid shariah contracts are highlighted in this policy. BNM, through the Shariah Advisor}' Council of BNM (SAC), in its 198th and 199th meeting in October 2019 continued to improve the current structure of Ar-Rahnu by introducing a ruling on Ar-Rahnu financing under the contract of tawarruq. This proposed product structure intended to replace the existing Ar-Rahnu product in the market.

Over the years, regulator}' bodies related to the Ar-Rahnu industry continuously kept an eye on the current business operations in Ar-Rahnu and on shariah matters. Although Ar-Rahnu and conventional pawnshops provide similar services, Ar-Rahnu has its own standard and unique features that cater to their customers, especially in the Muslim community.

14.4 Comparisons between Ar-Rahnu and conventional pawnshops

In Malaysia, conventional pawnshops predate Islamic pawnbroking by a few decades. The comparisons between both systems have been extensively discussed in the literature. The existence of shariah was the main element that distinguished Ar-Rahnu from conventional pawnshops, and it is the primary factor for customers’ acceptance of Ar-Rahnu (Razak, 2011; Hamid et al., 2014) Ar-Rahnu is trusted by its customers as one of the Islamic institutions that provide financing in accordance with shariah rules. The funds are derived from permissible sources and free from elements of riba. This is in contrast with the services provided by conventional pawnshops, which impose riba in loans and their sources of funds are controversial. The existence of riba elements increases the burden on customers to repay the loan, thus causing dissatisfaction among society (Ismail & Ahmed, 1997). The Muslim community gradually became aware that the conventional system was against the principles of Islam. The religious awareness and growth of Islamic finance in the country influenced Muslim customers to ask for Islamic pawnbroking institutions (Hanudin et al., 2007).

Besides the elements of shariah, Ar-Rahnu imposes a lower storage fee than conventional pawnshops. Studies by Appannan and Doris (2011) and Cheong and Sinnakkannu (2012) assert that lower storage charges are found to be one of the factors that influence customers to accept Ar-Rahnu. The service charge imposed by Ar-Rahnu is reasonable and much lower compared with conventional pawnshops. In conventional pawnshops, customers have been charged a minimum of 24 per cent a year for storage fees. This increases the burden on customers, primarily those in the lower-income group. In addition, in cases of default, conventional pawnshops impose extra charges on the borrower. This situation does not occur in Ar-Rahnu in which the storage fee (ujrah) imposed is reasonable and is in accordance with the rules of shariah. A study by Azman et al. (2016) mentions that service charges are among the main factors that influence women micro-entrepreneurs to choose Ar-Rahnu as their source of micro-credit.

Studies by Amin and Chong (2011), Ahmad et al. (2012), and Baharum et al. (2016) reported that management practices and quality services were the main factors for customers to prefer Ar-Rahnu. They claim Ar-Rahnu provides more ethical and better quality services. In the practice of conventional pawnshops, surplus from the auction process is not returned to the client. In some cases, pawned goods worth more than RM200 were auctioned by unethical pawnshops without notifying clients. There have been cases of pawnbrokers who do not auction goods off but takes possession of them instead. This is against Section 23(1) (b) of the Pawnbrokers Act, in which any collateral worth more than RM200 should be auctioned off by a licenced auctioneer (Razak, 2007). In contrast with the practice of Ar-Rahnu, if the customer is unable to pay back the loan at the maturity period, Ar-Rahnu provides more lenient terms by allowing customers to postpone the settlement period with lower fees. But in the event of a default, the pawned assets will be auctioned. Proceeds from the auction process will be used to pay debts, and the remaining balance from the auction will be returned to the client. Ar-Rahnu operators are permitted to take out only the equivalent amount of borrowed money. This action shows the practices of Ar-Rahnu to be transparent and accountable in providing services to the clients.

Prior studies have shown that Ar-Rabnu holds a special value and benefits their customers compared to its conventional counterparts. The core values of Ar-Rabnu are not only to make a profit but to achieve maqasid shariah (objectives of Islamic law). In parallel with its growth, the Ar-Rahnu industry’ has contributed significantly to Malaysia’s economy.

14.5 The role of Ar-Rahnu during economic uncertainty

In a broader perspective, Ar-Rahnu has been declared as one of the Islamic microfinance institutions in the country, and it has strong performance at the community level. Primarily, microfinance institutions are recognized as a tool of economic innovation in combating poverty and serving the lower-income community’. The evidence as seen in developing countries, where the rural economy’ still relies on informal financial intermediation like the pawnbroking system and significant instruments that minimize transaction costs (Bouman & Houtman, 1988). The existence of Ar-Rahnu provides an attractive alternative to the local banking system. The contribution of Ar-Rahnu as an Islamic pawnbroking institution in the country’s economy' is indisputable. At present, Ar-Rahnu serves two functions: as financial and social intermediation. The activities involve the provision of micro-financing, informal appraisal of borrowers and investments, collateral substitutes, streamlined loan disbursement and monitoring, and secure financing.

Traditionally, Ar-Rahnu operators were located in rural areas, and the majority’ of Ar-Rahnu clients were among rural communities, small-scale entrepreneurs, women, and middle-class borrowers (Razak, 2007; Ismail & Ahmad, 1997; Mokhtar & Zambahari, 2013). Furthermore, it had been used mainly’ by cash-strapped individuals and unbankable customers who had been excluded from mainstream financial institutions. There has been a higher demand by' local societies for Ar-Rahnu due to its flexibility’ compared to formal financial providers. Ar-Rahnu was the best credit alternative to overcome its customers’ money’ shortages. The flexible services, minimal credit evaluation, and fast credit approval were factors that made Ar-Rahnu the best choice for its customers (Skully, 1992). A customer can visit Ar-Rahnu to pawn their assets and leave with cash in hand within minutes without having a stringent credit assessment and enduring the waiting period required for the approval of financing. Furthermore, Ar-Rahnu provides means, especially’ during critical times (Shukor & Sabri, 2013). A study’ from Othman et al. (2012) found that more than 50 per cent of the respondents use Ar-Rahnu services to settle unexpected problems, 21 per cent for working capital requirements, and 11 per cent to set up new businesses and others. Formal financial institutions are only accessible to the most creditworthy borrowers that generally' belong to middle- and high-income groups (Sanusi & Johari, 2007; Ahmad et al., 2012).

Despite the financial intermediation role, Ar-Rahnu plays its social obligation in serving the community’ by' helping them to finance educational needs, medical cost, develop agricultural sectors and village industries (Nur Hayati & Markom,

2014). This is supported by Ahmad et al. (2012), who mention that about 14.2 per cent from 330 respondents pledged with Ar-Rahnu for education purposes. It is because of low-income salary and self-employment of some of the respondents. Moreover, the existence of small loans by pawnshops become imperatives in helping their customers to improve family wellbeing. Households with lower monthly incomes tend to visit pawnshops to cover health expenditures.

Furthermore, the minimal credit requirements and reasonable storage fees of Ar-Rahnu compared with the high-interest charge on loans by illegal businesses or unlicensed financial activities provide convenience to customers, especially to the rural community. In some cases, Ar-Rahnu, such as MAIDAM, provides financing without imposing any cost on the value of the asset pawned if it is worth less than RM2000. These elements attract more customers, mainly Muslim communities, to get financial assistance through Ar-Rahnu due to the application of the sadaqah concept and its social obligation towards the local community. The involvement of rural customers with Ar-Rahnu indirectly prevents them from being oppressed by illegal businesses such as loan sharks.

While the pawnshop industry is synonymous with lower-income groups, the current market segment of Ar-Rahnu not only serves those groups but also expands to the high-income group, especially businesses or corporations. Interviews with several Ar-Rahnu bank executives and gold dealers reveal that the market segment for Ar-Rahnu has expanded to serve high-class customers who are more educated and wealthier, especially gold buyers and business entities. For small and medium entrepreneurs, micro-financing from Ar-Rahnu is used to meet their liquidity purposes and sources of capital injection for their businesses (Ismail & Ahmad, 1997). Regarding this, Rafidah et al. (2017) mention that the majority from a sample of 206 customers prefer to use Ar-Rahnu to fulfil their needs in gold investment and business capital. Ar-Rahnu provides advantages to small scale entrepreneurs, primarily when they face financial difficulties in their business. Similar evidence by Zhou et al. (2016) shows that the pawnbroking industry will continue to contribute an essential role in financing SMEs in China in the foreseeable future.

14.6 Conclusion

The role of the pawnbroking industry will continue to be discussed and receive attention from society during the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic is not only related to a health crisis, but it is also affecting societies and the economy of the country. Recently, whole sectors worldwide, including Malaysia, were jeopardized by the crisis. The majority of sectors were unable to operate as usual due to the implementation of the movement control orders (MCO) by governments. This action increased the unemployment of Malaysia’s to 3.9 per cent, which is the highest rate since June 2010 (Department of Statistics of Malaysia, 2020). Jobs were lost, and small entrepreneurs were badly affected. For some individuals, employers stopped paying their employees’ salaries and did not provide any financial support to their employees. For small businesses, they were forced to stop business operations which led to declining profit. They had to find solutions to survive, and one of the actions taken was to turn to the pawnbroking system.

Several local newspapers reported long queues at pawnshops. Several customers started to visit conventional pawnshops and Ar-Rahnu as immediate sources of quick cash for several purposes, such as to support their daily needs, pay for medical expenses, for their festival season, and reserves for any unforeseen consequences in the future. Some customers went to the pawnshops to extend the financing period as they could not repay their debt. Besides that, some of the customers took advantage of the rising gold price in the global market. They utilized the pawnbroking services to gain profit. They started to pawn their assets, mostly jewellery, to get a higher amount of financing and invested in gold to gain profit. However, utilizing pawnshop services as tools for generating profit was not discovered much in the previous literature.

In summary, previous findings reveal that the industry of pawnbroking, including Ar-Rahnu, contributes an important role as a financial intermediary and has a social obligation in Malaysia’s economy. They provide credit assistance even during critical times. Previous studies have proven that the pawnshop industry is an essential tool to boost economic growth and counteract the economic instability in the country. It provides ways to solve financial exclusion in Malaysia’s economy. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the pawnbroking industry operates efficiently and is sustained in the market.


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