RAS AL KHAIMAH // Young women entering the local work force are turning away from commercial banks in favour of their Islamic counterparts because of their religious beliefs, despite the prospect of lower wages.
An increasing number of female students are saying they want to work for Islamic banks or the government or not at all. The sector remains attractive to women in RAK because many cannot work in Abu Dhabi or Dubai as easily as their male relatives.
Though commercial banking was one of the most popular sectors 10 years ago, some students are now refusing to work there outright, said Khadija al Tenaiji, the work placement co-ordinator at the RAK Women’s College. Students are making clearer distinctions between what they consider halal, or lawful, and haraam, or forbidden, under Islamic law.
“The female students are now rejecting the commercial banking sector,” said Ms al Tenaiji. “The salary is high and the hours are good but I believe it’s a kind of ‘halal and haraam’ issue.
“I think it’s something that’s only in the northern emirates because those students who move to Dubai or Abu Dhabi will accept work in one of those banks.”
Commercial banks said that they had lost employees to Islamic rivals even though they were leaving behind a better compensation package.
“Even if the salary is less they still prefer Islamic banking,” said Shaikha al Naqbi, a human resources assistant manager for RAK Bank. “It’s the first option. Most of them prefer Islamic banking because it is matching the religion. If they don’t have that option they will go for the commercial.”
The change is related to greater awareness of the distinction between the commercial and Islamic banking sectors, Ms al Tenaiji said, as well as a growing tendency towards conservatism in the area.
Fatema al Yaqooti is one worker who has vowed not to return to commercial banking. The Women’s College graduate worked in that end of the industry for four years before eventually moving to the National Bank of Umm al Qawain on the condition that she work exclusively in its Islamic section.
“I would not work in commercial. No chance,” said Ms al Yaqooti. “I want to be in Islamic banking only because in Islamic banking I feel that I am comfortable. This is Sharia and in future nobody will say my company is forbidden or haraam.
“Now that I am in Islamic [banking] I will not go back to commercial. A lot of people think like this.”
There are still some graduates, regardless of gender, who are willing to move into the commercial side of the industry because of the benefits. Ahmed Rashid, 32, left the Islamic banking sector after four years to join the commercial side for a better compensation package.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Islamic or commercial,” said Mr Rashid. “For me, all are the same. It is only called Islamic by name but if you check the procedures the policy is the same.”
Mouza al Duhoori, a 22-year-old business student at the Women’s College, was lucky enough to land an internship at Al Hilal Islamic Bank but said she her first priority was to use her degree, even if it meant taking a job in a commercial bank.
“I have money but in my free time I don’t want to sit at home. I just work for enjoyment,” said Ms al Duhoori. “If I don’t have the chance to work in Islamic banking, I will work in commercial. I wouldn’t plan to go anywhere outside RAK.”