An estimated 72 percent of people living in Muslim-majority countries do not use formal financial services (Honohon 2007). Even when financial services are available, some people view conventional products as incompatible with the financial principles set forth in Islamic law. In recent years, some microfinance institutions (MFIs) have stepped in to service low-income Muslim clients who demand products consistent with Islamic financial principles—leading to the emergence of Islamic microfinance as a new market niche.
Islamic microfinance represents the confluence of two rapidly growing industries: microfinance and Islamic finance. It has the potential to not only respond to unmet demand but also to combine the Islamic social principle of caring for the less fortunate with microfinance’s power to provide financial access to the poor. Unlocking this potential could be the key to providing financial access to millions of Muslim poor who currently reject microfinance products that do not comply with Islamic law. Islamic microfinance is still in its infancy, and business models are just emerging.
In a 2007 global survey on Islamic microfinance, CGAP collected information on over 125 institutions and contacted experts from 19 Muslim countries. The survey and a synthesis of other available data revealed that Islamic microfinance has a total estimated global outreach of only 380,000 customers and accounts for only an estimated one-half of one percent of total microfinance outreach.
The supply of Islamic microfinance is very concentrated in a few countries, with the top three countries (Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan) accounting for 80 percent of global outreach. Nevertheless, demand for Islamic microfinance products is strong. Surveys in Jordan, Algeria, and Syria, for example, revealed that 20–40 percent of respondents cite religious reasons for not accessing conventional microloans.
This Focus Note provides an overview of the current state of the Islamic microfinance sector and identifies possible challenges to its growth. It is intended as an introduction to Islamic microfinance primarily for the donor community and other potential entrants into the market.