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Murabaḥah, murabaḥa or murâbaḥah (Arabic مرابحة) is a term of Islamic fiqh or jurisprudence for a sale where the buyer and seller agree on the markup for the item(s) being sold. In recent decades it has become a term for a form of Islamic (i.e. "shariah compliant") financing, and involves the buyer using Murabahah as a mechanism to borrow money, paying the seller (who serves as a lender) the marked up price with deferred payments. It has been called "the most prevalent" or "default" type of Islamic finance.
Because the buyer/borrower pays the seller/lender at an agreed upon higher price, instead of interest charges (which would be forbidden as riba), the contract involves "a profit on the sale of goods", which is permissible in Islam. Some conservative Islamic finance scholars consider murabaha as a "transitory step" towards a "true profit-and-loss-sharing mode of financing", and a form to be used where profit-and-loss-sharing is "not practicable." 
The basis of Murabaha financing has been called "cost-plus" and is similar to a rent-to-own arrangement, with the intermediary (i.e. the lending bank) retaining ownership of the property until the loan is paid in full.
A murâbaḥah differs from conventional loans in a number of other ways. After the murâbaḥah contract is signed, the "amount being financed cannot be increased in case of late payment or default, nor can a penalty be imposed, unless the buyer has deliberately refused to make a payment". The seller also has to assume "any liability from delivering defective goods". Sources differ as to whether charges for late payments are allowed, with some authors stating late fees ought to be donated to charity. Proper Murâbaḥah involves guidelines, (such as the bank taking actual possession of the good before selling it to the customer), to ensure that a Murâbaḥah transaction is based on trade between the bank and the customer and not merely a financing transaction.
Critics/skeptics complain/note that in practice most transactions are merely cash-flows between banks, brokers and borrowers, with no buying or selling of commodities; that the profit or mark-up is based on the prevailing interest rate used in haram lending by the non-Muslim world; that "the financial outlook" of Islamic Murabaha financing and conventional debt/loan financing is "the same", as is most everything else besides the terminology used.
Islamic finance, use, varieties
Murâbaḥah is one of three types of bayu-al-amanah (fiduciary sale), requiring an "honest declaration of cost". The other two types are tawliyah (sale at cost) and wadiah (sale at specified loss).
The accounting treatment of Murâbaḥah, and its disclosure and presentation in financial statements, vary from bank to bank. If the exact cost of the item(s) cannot be or are not ascertained, they are sold on the basis of musawamah (bargaining). Different banks use this instrument in varying ratios. Typically, banks use murabahah in asset financing, property, microfinance and commodity import-export.
Many scholars believe that the seller may not use Murâbaḥah if profit-sharing modes of financing such as mudarabah or musharakah are practicable. But since those involve risks, they cannot guarantee banks income. Murabahah, with its fixed margin, offers the seller (i.e. the bank) a more predictable income stream.
One estimate is that 80% of Islamic lending is by Murabahah. The International Monetary Fund reports that, Murâbaḥah transactions are "widely used to finance international trade, as well as for interbank financing and liquidity management through a multistep transaction known as tawarruq, often using commodities traded on the London Metal Exchange" (LME). Author Harris Ifran writes that use of hurabaha "has become so distorted from its original intent that it has become the single most common method of funding inter-bank liquidity and corporate loans in the Islamic finance industry." A number of economists have noted the dominance of Murabahah in Islamic finance, despite its theological inferiority to profit and loss sharing. One scholar has coined the term "the murabaha syndrome" to describe this.
One simple form of Murabahah, known as bay al-ina was used by a number of modern Islamic financial institutions despite condemnation by jurists but its usage is "very much limited nowadays".
Tawarruq (also called commodity murabaha) differes from bay al-ina by involving a third party in addition to the borrower and Islamic bank. As compared to the example above, the borrower would buy $10,000 worth of a commodity (such as copper, gold, etc.) from the bank to be paid in installments over the next two years and sell that commodity on the sport market (that buyer being the third party) for an immediate $10,000 which it would use to buy the car. According to Irfan, this complication has "not persuaded the majority of scholars that this series of transactions is valid in the Sharia." The IMF states that "tawarruq has become controversial among Shari’ah scholars because of its divergence of its use from the spirit of Islamic finance". But some prominent scholars have tolerated commodity murabaha "for the growth of the [Islamic finance] industry". Harris Irfan states that (at least as of 2015) Sharia boards of some banks (such as Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank), have taken a state against Tawarruq and were "looking at 'purer' forms of funding" (such as mudarabah).
Challenges and criticism
Murâbaḥah has been criticised by Islamic Scholars who say it should only be used as a structure of last resort where no other structure is available. In practice, in most transactions the commodities never change hands (the commodity never appears on the bank's balance sheet) and usually there are no commodities at all, merely cash-flows between banks, brokers and borrowers. Often the commodity is completely irrelevant to the borrower's business and not even enough of the relevant commodities are in existence in the world to account for all the transactions taking place.
Islamic banking enthusiast Harris Irfan bemoans the fact that "not only is the murabaha money market insufficiently well developed and illiquid, but the very sharia compliance of it has come to be questioned", often by Islamic scholars not known for their strictness.
The following is an example of a Murabaha contract: Adam approaches a Murabaha bank in order to finance the purchase of a $10,000 automobile from “Cash-Only-Automobiles”. The bank agrees to purchase the automobile from “Cash-Only-Automobiles” for $10,000 and then sell it to Adam for $12,000 which is to be paid by Adam in equal installments over the next two years.
Islamic banks that use this product say that it’s not interest because the amount that Adam owes is fixed and does not increase if he is delinquent on payments. Therefore, we are simply looking at a standard sale wherein a trader buys an item for one price and sells it for an increased price. Put differently, the argument for Murabaha is:
Does Islam allow someone to buy a car for $10,000 and sell it for $12,000? Yes. Does Islam allow someone to make a purchase on a deferred payment basis? Yes. From 1 and 2, Neither the bank nor Adam has done anything wrong and Murabaha is permissible in Islam.
However, not mentioned here is the fact that the same car that is being sold for $12,000 on a deferred payment basis is being sold for $10,000 on a cash basis. So basically Adam has two options:
1. “Cash-Only-Automobiles” will sell him the car for $10,000 but are not willing to wait to receive the full price. 2. The Murabaha Bank will sell him the car for $12,000 and is willing to wait two years to receive the full price. Adam’s choice to purchase from the Murabaha Bank reflects his desire to not pay the full price of the car today. In other words, he prefers to pay part of the price today and be indebted with the rest.
The Murabaha Bank agrees to be owed by Adam the price of his car in return for the amount that it is owed being $2,000 more than the price of the car today.
Did the bank charge Adam a predetermined return for the use of its money [interest]? Yes. The bank charged $2,000 in return for Adam’s use of its $10,000 to buy a car.
The fact that no penalties are assessed if Adam is delinquent on his payments simply means that the amount of interest in the Murabaha contract is fixed at $2,000. This amounts to a hilah or legal "trick" to defeat the intent of shariah.
- Islamic banking and finance
- FINCA Afghanistan, a Murâbaḥah-compliant microfinance institution (MFI)
- Shariah investments
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Therefore, it [Murabahah] should neither be taken as an ideal Islamic mode of financing, nor a universal instrument for all sorts of financing. It should be taken as a transitory step towards the ideal Islamic system of financing based on musharakah or mudarabah.
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The prevalent position, however, seems to be that creditors may impose penalties for late payments, which have to be donated, whether by the creditor or directly by the client, to a charity, but a flat fee to be paid to the creditor as a recompense for the cost of collection is also acceptable to many fuqaha.
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The bank can only impose penalties for late payment by agreeing to `purify` them by donating them to charity.
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