The next generation of British Muslims could lose out on as much as $18 billion over the course of their lives because of workplace discrimination that prevents Muslims from taking advantage of government-backed pension schemes.
According to a legal opinion obtained by top Islamic finance advisers, employers could be unwittingly breaking anti-discrimination legislation introduced in 2010 by failing to give Muslims the option of a Sharia-compliant pension fund.
In 2012, the British government made it mandatory for employees to be automatically enrolled in workplace pension schemes that see employers match their employees’ contributions toward their retirement funds.
However, according to halal investment advisers, Islamic Finance Guru (IFG), as many as one in three Muslims are still not enrolled in a pension scheme — and this could end up costing the community nearly £13 billion ($18 billion).
The main reasons that they had opted-out, according to research carried out by IFG, were twofold: Employers either did not offer a Sharia-compliant fund as part of the company pension plan at all, or employees did not have enough information about the funds to be sure they were halal.
It is forbidden in Islam to earn or pay interest on loans, excluding many of Britain’s three million or so Muslims from mainstream pension funds, which invest peoples’ money in interest-bearing assets such as bonds.
Instead, Muslim investors often choose to invest in special funds constructed to ensure compliance with Islamic law — however, sometimes these funds are not made available by employers, or workers do not even know they exist.
A legal opinion obtained by IFG found that any employer not offering a Sharia-compliant pension fund could be breaking Britain’s Equality Act, which came into law in 2010 and outlawed discrimination on the basis of “protected characteristics” such as race, gender and religion.
“The vast majority of investment funds used by defined contribution pension schemes will not be compliant with Sharia, because they invest in assets which generate interest or involve industries considered haram,” said Paul Newman, of Wilberforce Chambers.
“It is therefore not possible for Muslim employees to become members of their employer’s scheme if it does not offer the option of halal investment funds,” Newman said.
He continued: “Amongst the acts prohibited by the 2010 (Equality) Act is indirect discrimination, which is concerned with acts . . . which, in practice, have the effect of disadvantaging a group of people with a particular protected characteristic.”
Ibrahim Khan, co-founder of Islamic Finance Guru, told Arab News that the inability of many to access pensions will cost the Muslim community a “huge amount of money.”
Khan said: “This is bad for the Muslim community, but it’s also bad the taxpayers. If you’ve got a pensioner who doesn’t have the money to live, who’s going to pay for it? The taxpayer is going to pay for it.”
He explained that two things need to happen to rectify the situation.
“First, huge amounts of education needs to be done. Muslims don’t know that there’s now some Sharia-compliant pensions available. There’s loads of people working that could enrol in a pension, but they don’t because they dont know it’s Sharia-compliant.
“Second, every employer needs to make sure they are offering a Sharia-compliant pension fund.”
Khan also said that people may not realize that they are being discriminated against with an issue such as pensions, but that this form of prejudice can have a real impact on peoples’ lives.
“Contravention of the Equality Act, when it comes to pensions, from a legal perpspective it’s very clear — but to the average person they might not realize it’s discrimination happening.”
Khan added that he “doesn’t think there is anything nefarious going on,” but said that people “haven’t fully realized that we are walking into a big mess, not just for the Muslim community but for everyone.”
In related developments Prince Harry has spoken in detail over the trauma of losing his mother in a new TV documentary series, adding that the fear of also losing his wife Meghan was one of the main reasons the couple quit their royal duties and moved to California last year.
“My mother was chased to her death when she was in a relationship with someone who wasn’t white, and now look what’s happened. You’re talking about history repeating itself? They’re not going to stop until she dies,” Harry says in the mental health documentary series “The Me You Can’t See.”
“It’s incredibly triggering to potentially lose another woman in my life,” he added, referring to Meghan. The “Me You Can’t See” series, which Harry produced with US talk show host Oprah Winfrey, is released on Apple TV+ on Friday.
Princess Diana died in 1997 at age 36 in a crash in Paris after the car in which she was traveling with her Egyptian-born boyfriend Dodi Fayed was chased by paparazzi. Harry was 12 years old.
Harry, whose American wife Meghan is bi-racial, spoke of racist reporting in the mainstream British press about his wife, as well as abuse on social media. Meghan has said her experience in Britain drove her to thoughts of suicide when she was pregnant with their first son Archie.
In the documentary, Harry spoke of walking behind Diana’s coffin through the streets of London with his brother William, father Prince Charles and uncle Charles Spencer.
“The thing I remember most was the sound of the horses’ hooves going along the Mall,” he said. “It was like I was outside of my body, just walking along, doing what was expected of me, showing one tenth of the emotion that everyone was showing.”
Years earlier, he recalled sitting in the back of his mother’s car while she, in tears, was pursued by photographers.
“One of the feelings that comes up for me always is the helplessness. Being a guy and being too young to help a woman, in this case your mother, and that happened every single day,” he said.
Harry said he buried his feelings, but drank heavily and suffered panic attacks and anxiety in his 20s, and still freaks out when he sees cameras.
“I was so angry with what happened to her (Diana) and the fact there was no justice at all… the same people that chased her through that tunnel photographed her dying on the back seat of that car,” he said.
“The clicking of cameras, and the flash of cameras makes my blood boil. It makes me angry. It takes me back to what happened to my mum, what I experienced as a kid.”
Even now, at age 36, he said that returning to London makes him feel tense and hunted.
Harry said he started serious therapy almost five years ago, when he met Meghan.
“I quickly established that if this relationship was going to work, I had to deal with my past,” he said. The couple married in May 2018.
Source: Arab News