Islamic scholars cashing in

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Pay may be down for the average agnostic banker this year, but Islamic scholars are on a roll.

Just how much of a roll isn't entirely clear, given that most people involved in the Islamic finance industry seem unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet with any firm figures.

Garry Envis, a consultant with Dar Al Istithmar Institute, a London-based agency which rents out four scholars as required, assures us the profession is "very lucrative".

Last year the Financial Times ran an article claiming Islamic scholars were earning six-figure sums for their pronouncements on whether Islamic finance products adhere to Sharia law.

Given the FT says the market for Sharia-compliant financial products has risen 30% since then, and that the global supply of top Islamic scholars has apparently stagnated at 50, we deduce that the fees they collect for their services must have increased exponentially.

As a measure of their scarcity, Envis says there are no Islamic scholars at all based in the UK - most reside in the Middle East and fly in (allegedly on private jets) as required. This is despite the proliferation of Sharia-compliant products at the likes of HSBC, BNP Paribas and Merrill Lynch, and the launch of new organizations such as the Islamic Bank of Britain.

Unfortunately, becoming an Islamic scholar is no easy matter. Mohammad Khan, Director of Takaful, ReTakaful and Islamic Financial services at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP says it's all down to reputation: "You need someone who combines an understanding of Islam with modern finance and economics and, where relevant, complex financial products."

Most people aspiring to work in Islamic finance will need to go for something a little less high powered. Bill Allen, a consultant at search firm Napier Scott, says there's plenty of demand for people who can structure Sharia-compliant products or work as CFOs, CEOs, treasurers or traders at Islamic banks.

Allen says a Sharia structurer in London can command 100k as a salary, plus multiples of this as a bonus.