Whenever someone has contacted me for advice in the past regarding what is the best qualification for them to take if they want to learn more about applied Shariah in the contemporary Islamic finance industry, I have always recommended that they consider taking the AAOIFI Certified Shariah Adviser and Auditor (CSAA) exam. I have also made the same recommendation to juniors in Shariah Departments that I have worked in. I have been meaning to write a brief post on this qualification for sometime now.
Every Shariah Department that I have worked in has encouraged me to take CSAA, however, due to various other commitments, I never actually got round to it, until recently. At the beginning of 2020, I finally registered, however Corona came into the equation and the exam was delayed until late last year. Behind every delay there is wisdom.
In a previous post, I discussed the role of AAOIFI and its Shariah Standards (Islamic Economics/Finance Reading List (#1) – AAOIFI Shariah Standards | RIZQONOMICS). The exam is currently primarily based on the first 48 of these Shariah Standards, as well as 4 Standards from the AAOIFI Governance Standards and another book on Shariah Audit. The Shariah Standards are available in English and so are the Governance Standards. With regards to the Shariah Audit book, as far as I am aware, it is available only in Arabic and I am not sure if there is a translation of it available.
Cost & Registration
The current cost of the exam which covers registration, study materials, mock exams, certificate costs etc. is USD1200 for Developed Islamic Finance GCC Markets and USD800 for Developing Islamic Finance non-GCC Markets. There is an ongoing membership fee of USD100, although the first year is covered within the registration fee. The membership fee gives members access to some benefits from AAOIFI such as preferential rates to events and access to their Standards. AAOIFI is not a profit driven entity and should be supported.
AAOIFI also scholarships and fee reductions from time to time (Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (aaoifi.com).
The exam is usually held 3 times a year and to register you should contact AAOIFI (Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (aaoifi.com).
The original language of the exam is Arabic, although you can register to sit for a translated version of the exam in English, if you prefer. However, if you are comfortable in both languages, I recommend that you take it in Arabic, as the original language would be clearer than a translation.
Early on in my career, I was once advised by a Senior that I deeply respect, that when referring to the AAOIFI Standards it is always better to go back to the original language which means that for the Shariah Standards it would be Arabic and for other Standards it would be English. This is because a translation can never be perfect. I always remember his advice until this day and advise others the same.
The exam is currently a 3 hour exam consisting of at least 100 questions consisting of MCQs and True/False type questions. You will be required to write the exam at an exam centre in your country and the exam is usually paper based, although I have heard of computer based exams being offered at some exam centres.
Who should take it?
Anyone who wants to learn more about the AAOIFI Shariah Standards and their application in the contemporary Islamic finance industry including regulators, academics etc. In my experience people working in Shariah Advisory & Audit roles usually take end up taking this qualification. I also know of people working in product development as well as legal departments who have taken it in order to give them a good grounding of AAOIFI Shariah Standards as it assists them to perform their own functions.
AAOIFI Shariah Standards play an important role in the industry and even those working in Shariah who have decided not to take this qualification for whatever reason, usually refer to these Standards very often in their work. Furthermore, more and more jurisdictions are adopting AAOIFI Shariah Standards, the UAE is a recent example.
How long do I need to study?
This depends on each individual and their background. For those with a Shariah background/experience in Shariah, they usually need a month or less although some may need more time. Sometimes a challenge for these types of individuals is more to do with if they have been following or implementing an opinion different to that of AAOIFIs Shariah Standards or if their experience has been more on Shariah Advisory than Shariah Audit or vice versa.
For those without the background above, it will probably take them longer to come to grips with the Shariah Standards, especially if it is a completely new area to them.
In some countries there is also an option to register for preparation courses offered by centres or companies, if you feel that you need it, in which a trainer will take you through the Standards and try to prepare you for the exam.
What happens if I fail?
Its not the end of the world, you can study harder and try again for a resit fee. However, you may need to register and pay again if the exam format changes (see end of post).
Will I get a job if I take it?
If you are asking this question, please read my previous post on the topic ( Islamic Finance Qualifications (#1) – Islamic Finance Career Opportunities | RIZQONOMICS). There is no qualification which guarantees you a job in the Islamic finance industry.
AAOIFI is in the process of revamping this qualification and splitting it into two separate fellowships, hence the exam will only be offered in its current format while the revamping is taking place. I will update this post inshaAllah, once AAOIFI completes the exercise.