Islamic Economics

No Interest and Diminishing Returns

Moroccan Francs
Islamic Economics : No Interest and Diminishing Returns - Kelly Isom & Niki Masghati


Islamic economics (IE) provides an alternative economic model to today’s Western system. Interest in this newfound field stems from its success in remaining relatively unaffected after the 2008 financial crisis. Proponents include financiers interested in attracting new business from a growing portion of the population and Islamic scholars hoping to utilize it as a tool in Muslim identity. Competing interests from these differing sectors of society has led the original intention of IE astray. But does it matter if IE is simply a reworked form of Western financial products and its framework guised under another name? This paper examines a brief history of IE followed by an analysis of its theory, goals, and operations. Finally, a comparison of implementation in three Islamic states highlights the challenges of IE and Islamic finance, and concludes with a short summary of IE’s potential legacy.


Born of the twentieth century, Islamic economics (IE) provides a new Islamic orthopraxy to help substantiate and unify the collective Muslim identity across borders while simultaneously reconciling tradition with modernity. Although this recent development in economics manifests Westernization under the guise of a “return to Islam,”[1] its function in identity politics for Muslims serves an important purpose in today’s Islamic political agenda. Examination of the various forms of IE in nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Malaysia elucidates the differences in theory versus practice. This divergence highlights the Islamic market’s shortcomings as an economic model and questionable success as a corollary to Muslim identity, but nonetheless its increasingly integral role in today’s Islamic political landscape.

History of Islamic Economics

IE originated during the Golden Age of Islam, 622-661 CE, when the Prophet Muhammad and the Rashidun practiced “brotherly cooperation”[1] in economics. The ummah operated under the same codes of conduct, and resources were allocated efficiently to ensure a high standard of living[2]. It is believed that as ties to Islam weakened, so did global economic growth in Islamic institutions.[3] Islamic social thinkers Sayyid Abdul-Ala Mawdudi, as well as Sayyed Qutb and Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, popularized the concepts behind IE in modern times based on their own experiences and explained the civilization clash between Islamists and perceived Westernization. IE is seen as a practical counteroffensive against Western aggression.[4] A few decades passed before the current form of IE was brought to Muslim society, starting with Egypt.

Principles of Islamic Economics

What brought the reemergence of IE in the mid-twentieth century? An Islamic financial system is not a recent concept, having existed for centuries prior,[1] but its newfound popularity rests in its relation to identity and politics. Timur Kuran, a Professor Economics and Law at the University of Southern California, explains that the initial form of IE differs from what it is commonly thought of today: “at least initially, the economics of ‘Islamic economics’ was merely incidental to its Islamic character.”[2] Simply, it was Islam first and foremost; economics was merely part of the complete, ideal Islamic nation.[3]

Orthopraxy vs. Orthodoxy

Economics provided the vehicle to manipulate Islam’s orthopraxy. While other religions judge observance based upon doctrinal adherence, or orthodoxy, Islam believes devotion results from orthopraxy, the correct conduct. To be identifiably Muslim meant one could be observed as practicing the principles of Islam through all actions of daily life – enter economics. As Western influence continued to seep into India (pre-partition, which included modern day Pakistan), economic change inevitably crept into society as well. To combat this fear of potential cultural hegemony, Mawdudi reasoned that Muslims needed a way to make economic decisions that were recognizably Islamic or else risk the loss of communal identity. While this agenda was a “return to Islam, it was, in an important sense, a manifestation of Westernization.”[4] This attempt to reconcile the traditionalism of Islamic orthopraxy with modernity inescapably meant inculcating parts of Westernization, such as creating a distinct branch of economics.

Goals of Islamic Economics

Official Goals

The stated two goals of economic justice, equality and fairness, buttress the foundation of IE; equality focusing on the outcome of economic processes (e.g. the distribution of wealth cannot be grossly unequal) and fairness focusing on the processes itself (e.g. economic transactions should be fair).[1] Through the issuance of numerous Islamic injunctions, all of which have a basis in the one or more of the four operational mandates (avoiding riba, gharar, and transactions involved maysir and/or prohibited commodities) Islamic economists and scholars believe that equality and fairness can be achieved. Yet in practice, despite these injunctions, problems permeate at the functional levels that undermine its effectiveness as a source of identity and as a branch of economics.

Unofficial Goal

The unofficially declared purpose of IE was to “to identify and establish an economic order that conforms to Islamic scripture and traditions.”[2] In the late twentieth  century, petrodollars amassed in huge quantities when oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia found themselves on the favorable side of a world commodity supply and demand chain. This newfound wealth allowed such nations to focus their attention on how to make their booming financial sectors comply with the teachings of the Quran.[3] Such a goal required establishing a clear bifurcation between Islamic culture and Westernization: “economics as a vehicle for accentuating the uniqueness of Islamic civilization and its incompatibility with other civilizations, even the emerging global civilization.”[4]As noted earlier, economics as a science was secondary in the development of IE; the real matter concerned its Islamic character.

Equally important are the goals not included in IE. Such topics that are noticeably absent include “the economic effects of gender discrimination, the productivity implications of replacing secular schools by Islamic schools, the role of Islamic law in the emerging global economy, and the institutional determinants of scientific creativity.”[5] These purposeful omissions can potentially have grave consequences, and “may contribute to global economic instability. In hindering institutional reforms necessary for healthy economic development, they contribute to social despair. As important, they allow Islamic militants to rationalize crimes as serving a sacred cause.”[6] Critics partly fault Saudi Arabia for these shortcomings of the Islamic economic model since they provide significant funding for the Islamic Development Bank (one of the centers for Islamic economic policy), yet remain sensitive to policy criticisms.

Saudi Arabia’s sensitivity has limited IE,but they are not wholly to blame. Kuran identifies four main reasons for the hindrance of Islamic economic goals. First, due to the many differences within IE, each respective political system can embrace whichever works best for one’s purposes, i.e. “whatever meaning seems least threatening to the status quo.”[7]  Second, the principal of risk sharing, evident in avoidance of gharar and maysir, conflicts with human nature, which is inherently risk averse. Third, reality conflicts with religion – people have not adhered to IE in part because of conflicting social realities; e.g. “continuing prevalence of tax evasion has made it imprudent for bankers to engage in profit and loss sharing.”[8] Finally, there exists a lack of standardization and skills.

Theoretical and Operational Problems of Islamic Economics

The theory behind IE is simple enough – create a universal Islamic community by keeping religion in public view via an updated orthopraxy.[1] But what does this orthopraxy entail and who ultimately decides what should be adopted? For example, the two tenets necessary for economic justice, equality and fairness, are concepts with subjective meaning. As a result, despite the sharing of “substantive objectives, [Islamic economists] disagree as to the procedures needed to reach them.”[2] This divergence in theory leads to a divergence in Islamic injunctions and Islamic economic priorities, and the inconsistencies remain unsolved because of adherence of to the philosophical argument style known as intuitionist, or “using intuition to strike a balance among different principles.”[3] Islamic economists, however, would disagree with this criticism, claiming that they use qiyas, or analogical reasoning, to approach these problems.

The serious design flaw however, within IE resides with the overestimation of human ability. Islamic economists, believing Islamic thought to be divinely inspired, “ignore that, like the doctrines they indict, Islamic economics rests on human reasoning and interpretation.”[4] If the human element were removed, dispute would disappear since the divine is infallible; but this reliance upon interpretation opens the door to exponential problems in practice since what one rules acceptable in country X could easily be deemed unacceptable in country Y. Kuran further explains this claim by illuminating that too much faith in the qiyas system blinds scholars and economists to their own differences in opinion, which is ultimately the source of the inconsistencies: “proposed injunctions are riddled with inconsistencies, and their convictions that Islam’s consensus mechanism would eliminate these collides with their own divisions over many crucial matters.”[5] By assigning too much credit to the qiyas system and by extension the abilities of the scholars who utilize it, IE continues to be an inconsistent theory that provides little practical operational guidance.

Exploring the shortcomings on the operational side of IE presents a different set of problems. For instance, Turkish economic historian Murat Cizakca believes that the limits to “credit opportunities for entrepreneurs,” which violates maysir (gambling), contributes to the economic backwardness in the Islamic world and explains the need for the “establishment of vast numbers of venture capital firms.”[6] Cizakca extends his criticism to Islamic banks, which have essentially the same objective as venture capital firms, but different practices. In Cizakca’s view “Islamic banks should be in the vanguard of genuine venture capitalism.”[7] Another interesting example includes investment portfolios. Since transactions involving prohibited commodities must be avoided, care must be taken when designing a portfolio to ensure it complies with al-syariat al-Islamiyyah (Islamic law).[8] This law dictates that investment in such industries as defense and alcohol, to name a few, must be excluded. A recent study by BinMahfouz and Hassan provides insight into this issue on two fronts.[9] First, operational problems, like the creation of socially responsible investment portfolios that adhere to Islamic law, can be designed. Second, IE appears to be a manifestation, to some extent, of Westernization, as previously argued and articulated by Kuran. The effort to embrace and imitate modern financial products under the blessing of Islamic law mitigates the idea of IE as a source of unifying identity.

The above examples validate Kuran’s skepticism of the Islamic economic system. Namely, that it “has fueled the illusion that Muslims can solve a wide range of social problems simply by embracing Islam and resisting Mammon – the evils associated with immoral forms of economic gain.”[10] Yet the Islamic market avoids addressing some its most pressing issues, like gender inequity, and potentially contributes to the stagnation of its own economic advancement, such as by denying venture capital to entrepreneurs due to the risk involved. While a theory exists – identity creation via a publically visible religious practice in the form of economics – it remains inconsistent because of human interpretation. The theory of IE informs general operational structures, but it often proves of little practical use since varying theoretical interpretations result in differing manifestations of IE and thus an overall lack of standardization.

Islamic Finance in Context: a Subset of Islamic Economics

In the world of investment and financial crises, many proponents of Islamic finance (a related branch of IE) believe Islamic banking is a more stable institution, as it relies on the “real” economy, unlike conventional finance, which relies on money creation.[1] Islamic banks were virtually unaffected by the financial crisis of 2008; however, because Islamic firms invest heavily in real estate and private equity, the collapse of Lehman Brothers led Islamic institutions to experience a drop in valuation in those specific sectors.[2] Moreover, Islamic finance enjoys a recent success in the financial market that has awakened the interest of investors both inside and outside of the Islamic community. A 2015 study by Deloitte assessed that “Islamic finance represents 1% to 2% of the global financial assets worldwide.”[3] Sukuk sales are also gaining in popularity, with “outstanding sukuks, or Islamic bonds, [growing] by an annual 20.7 percent between 2008 and 2013, amounting to $294.7 billion at the end of September 2014.”[4]

Islamic Economics Case Studies

Saudi Arabia

Modern day IE began in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s with King Faisal as a result of the Saudis’ attempt to create an international Islamic coalition. King Faisal carried out the coalition’s message of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, and focused many resources towards IE. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was established by Saudi Arabia in 1960, and succeeded in not only bringing in vast wealth to participating nations, but also in helping to unify Muslim countries in the Middle East and North African region. In 1969, Saudi Arabia created the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in order to promote Islam on an international scale and unite the Islamic states. Furthermore, the Arab loss in the 1973 Yom Kippur War inspired re-Islamitization, leading OPEC to initiate its first oil embargo the same year. The earliest Islamic bank still in operation today is a private commercial bank that opened in Dubai in 1975. The OIC voted on the creation of the Islamic Development Bank, located in Saudi Arabia, which began activities the same year[1]. The Islamic Development Bank facilitated the transfer of petrodollars earned through OPEC post-embargo to Muslim countries through interest-free instruments.[2] These first Islamic banks were meant not only to establish an Islamic-focused banking method that outlawed the Quranic standard of usury, but were also a response to calls for Islamic ideals to be upheld throughout all sections and sectors of society.

Additionally, King Faisal saw Islamic banking as a way to control the invasion of Saudi Islamic ideas by the Muslim Brotherhood. During the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt under Gamal Nasser and Anwar Sadat, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided money and refuge to many fleeing members. Muslim Brotherhood members even served as teachers for the newly formed madrasahs (schools) in Saudi Arabia. Because of their role in the Saudi education system, the Muslim Brotherhood began to gain leadership and control in Saudi Arabian society. By creating an Islamic financial institution run by the Kingdom, King Faisal reined in some of the influence garnered by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Furthermore, King Faisal, although initially friendly with Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, began to see the Shah’s modernization of Iran’s military and dominance in the Middle East region as a threat both to Saudi security, and to the continuation of Islamic influence. Islamic banks in Saudi Arabia and beyond stood in contrast to the Shah’s anti-Islamic military regime. IE furthered Saudi Arabia’s goal of Islamic unification in the face of outside Western influence and threats to Islamic states.

Today, the Saudi Arabian model for IE is considered the baseline of orthopraxy for Muslim countries across the Middle East and South East Asia, as well as non-Muslim countries that have incorporated Islamic banks, such as the Bank of London and the Middle East and the American Finance House LARIBA.[3] The basis for IE in Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia relies on Sharia law established by the four schools of thought: Malaki, Hanafi, Shafii, and Hanbali.[4]

In addition, the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), established in 1990, publishes standards and norms for all Islamic institutions to follow, which nearly all Muslim countries strive to do, with the notable exception of Iran.


Four years after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the new Islamic government established the Riba-Free Banking Act, which created a national system of IE.[5] The leaders of the Iranian revolution stressed the importance of restoring Islam’s role in Iranian societal identity,[6] with Islamic banking being one of many ways by which the Islamic Republic aimed to establish a universally Islamic society.[7] The Shah notoriously led a lavish lifestyle, and conventional banks were seen as exploiting society and spurring poverty. The new Islamic government made a point to emphasize austerity, and believed that Islamic banking, at least to an extent, should be consistent in restoring the centrality of Islamic orthopraxy in the lives of Iranian citizens.[8] IE was a way for the new Islamic Republic of Iran to further establish Islamic control throughout Iranian society.

Iran’s form of Islamic banking is different from almost every other Muslim country. While most Islamic banks outlaw usury, Iranian banks prefer interest-free transactions along with other accounting standards used in traditional banking.[9] Once a year, the central bank of Iran establishes a pre-set rate for that year as the single rate of return.[10] [11] Although all Muslim countries with Islamic banking adhere to standards established by the AAOIFI, Iranian banks do not follow such standards and instead rely on the vali-e-faqih (the “Guardian Jurist”, Ayatollah Khamenei) to establish Islamic banking rules.[12] [13] Sunni Islamic countries reject these rules and instead rely on the Sharia schools of thought to establish Islamic banking laws.[14] This is particularly true for Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, who consistently criticize Iranian banks. According to the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), Iranian banks “are merely carrying Islamic labels and are rather dummy version [sic] of Islamic banks.”[15] The reliance on the vali-e-faqih to form Islamic law further divides Shia and Sunni forms of Islam, and could very well be a political move by the Islamic Republic to use economics as a way to establish a Shia Islamic Iranian identity in the Muslim world.

Years of economic isolation due to sanctions have led to a form of IE in Iran that differs greatly from the rest of the Islamic world. These differences have hindered the creation of a universal Islamic banking system. Many Sunni scholars believe Iranian Islamic institutions will continue to remain segregated from the rest of the Islamic financial market because of the lack of reliance on Sharia schools of thought.[16] However, Iranian analysts remain optimistic as Iranian banks move to create alternative sukuk products (i.e. Islamic bonds), [17] as well as negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, which will open Iranian markets and possibly lead standardization.


Following Malaysia’s independence in 1957, the Malay government looked to create economic stability in a country reeling from war, as well as to firmly establish the Malaysian society upon Islamic ideals. Islamic banking was first introduced to Malaysia in 1963, with the formation of the Perbadanan Wang Simpanan Bakal-Bakal Haji (PWSBH), or Pilgrims Savings Fund Corporation, which allowed Muslims in Malaysia to save money interest-free in order to perform the hajj (pilgrimage). Established a decade later in 1976, the Islamic Economic Development Foundation of Malaysia combined amal (charity) and investment under Sharia guidance,[18] an attempt by the Malaysian government to promote Islamic ideals of brotherhood while also spurring economic growth through inspiration to its predominantly Muslim populace.[19] Not long after, the Maybank Islam Berhad was established in 1983 as the first Sharia-compliant bank in Malaysia, replacing all interest bearing transactions with Islamic alternatives.[20]  Today, Maybank ranks the highest for best Islamic institution in Asia.[21]

Malaysia’s form of IE is quite unique compared to its Islamic counterparts. While countries such as Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan sought a complete Islamization of their banking systems, Malaysia instead established a “dual banking” system in which Islamic banks and conventional banks operate side-by-side, similar to Saudi Arabia.[22] This model was later adopted by Sudan and Pakistan, looking to Malaysia for their example. Today, Malaysia seeks to establish Kuala Lumpur as the world center for IE,[23] with the data showing such efforts: Islamic banks currently compromise 20.7% of Malaysian banks[24] and two-thirds of globally issued sukuks originate in Malaysia.[25] As a result, Malaysia has been the subject of many case studies on the successful implementation of IE[26].

Islamic Economics in Non-Islamic Countries

Islamic banking exists beyond the Muslim world and has recently gained traction in the Western market. France and the United Kingdom have contributed heavily to the global assets in Islamic finance as has the United States. In 2013, the British government established the Islamic Finance Task Force with the goal of making London a base for Islamic finance outside of the Muslim world. It is unsurprising then, that in June 2014, the UK issued 200 million pounds in sukuk.[27] In France, the Islamic Finance Commission was opened in 2007,[28] and current financial holdings in Islamic assets for France total 147.2 million USD.[29] Across the Atlantic, the American Finance House LARIBA, which opened in 1987, offers Sharia-complaint products.[30] LARIBA, along with the Bank of London and the Middle East, are ranked among the best Islamic financial institutions in the world.[31] Such influence of Islamic banking in the UK, France, and US likely stems from the large Muslim populations that reside in each country. A 2010 Pew Report states the Muslim population in France at 4.7 million, 2.9 million in the UK, and 2.6 million within the US. While these numbers represent only a fraction of the larger population (only about one percent in the US), the economic mobilization that exists within these communities allows the creation of separate financial institutions.


Mawdudi resurfaced the popularity of IE as a tool for identity formation, but implied in all of its iterations is the importance as a prescription for cognitive dissonance between traditionalism (Islam) and modernity (Westernization). The monetary gains from Islamic economics remain disputable, as does the success of these economic tools in contributing to a modern Muslim identity. As for its future, Kuran summarizes the legacy of IE as one potentially allowing Muslims to overcome suspicions of Western intentions; an addition to the political goals of Islam; comfort to modern Muslims trying to navigate today’s globalized world; or “paradoxically, its revitalization of the goal, taken for granted by leading Muslim thinkers during much of the twentieth century, of keeping economic ideas, practices, policies, and institutions outside the realm of religion.”[1] With the power of petrodollars weakening, the number of Muslims growing, the recovery of the world market after the 2008 financial crisis, and the increased attention to Islamic politics by Western nations, research into the function of IE as orthopraxy and as an alternative economic model will only continue to rise. Yet it remains to be seen if Islamic economics can continue to maintain its original objective of unifying the Muslim population.


1 Timur Kuran. 2004. Islam & Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism. Third printing, and first paperback printing ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 89. 

2 Ibid, 3. 

3 Ibid. 

4 Ibid. 

5 Ibid. 

Islamic Banking and Finance: New Perspectives on Profit-Sharing and Risk, 2002. , eds. Munawar Iqbal, David 

T. Llewellyn. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 1. 

7 Kuran, 82. 

8 Islamic nation, not Muslim nation. Kuran makes the point that Mawdudi sought an Islamic state that adhered to Islamic principle and not a Muslim state where the citizens are predominantly Muslim, but do not necessarily adhere properly to Islamic law. 

9 Kuran, 89. 

10 Ibid, 105. 

11 Ibid, 82. 

12 Dettoni, Jacopo. “Iran and the Islamic Finance Crown.” The Diplomat, June 16, 2015. Web accessed: October 22, 2015: iran-and-the-islamic-finance-crown/. 

13 Kuran, xvi. 

14 Ibid, xiv. 

15 Ibid, xv. 

16 Ibid, 34. 

17 Ibid, 35. 

18 This was an essential part of Mawdudi’s philosophy on attainment of the ummah

19 Kuran, 112. 

20 Ibid, 116. 

21 Ibid, 120. 

22 Ibid. 

23 Ibid, 53. 

24 Ibid, 54. 

25 Dr Aznan Bin Hasan. Fundamentals of Islamic Banking: Products & Instruments, 7. 

26 BinMahfouz and Hassan, 181. 

27 Kuran, ix. 

28 Rudnyskyj, Daromir. “Economy in Practice: Islamic finance and the problem of market reason.” Journal of the American Ethnological Society, 2014; Volume 41, Number. 1, P. 110–127. 

29“Size of Market and Growth.” Islamic Finance. Web accessed: October 22, 2015: 

30 Deloitte, 5. 

31 Dettoni. 

32 Henry, Clement M. and Rodney Wilson. The Politics of Islamic Finance. Edinburgh University Press, 2004. P.38. 

33 Kuran, 101-102. 

34 Chris, Giarraputo. “World’s Best Islamic Financial Institutions 2013.” Global Finance, April 24, 2013. Web accessed October 22, 2015: https://www. best-islamic-financial-institutions-2013. 

35 Dettoni. 

36 Ibid. 

37 Kuran, 99. 

38 Islamic nation, not Muslim nation. Kuran makes the point that Mawdudi sought an Islamic state that adhered to Islamic principle and not a Muslim state where the citizens are predominantly Muslim, but do not necessarily adhere properly to Islamic law. 

39 Kuran, 99. 

40 Bernardo, Vizcaino. “Iran’s isolated banks may have slow, painful return to global system.” Reuters, May 12, 2015. Web accessed: October 22, 2015: http:// iran-banks idUSL5N0Y32LS20150512. 

41 Siddiqi, M.N. Riba, Bank Interest and Rationale of its Prohibition. Islamic Development Bank, 2004. P.55-56. 

42 Kuran, 18 

43 Bernardo, Vizcaino. “Iran’s isolated banks may have slow, painful return to global system.” Reuters, May 12, 2015. Web accessed: October 22, 2015: http:// iran-banks-idUSL5N0Y32LS20150512. 

44 Dettoni. 

45 Ibid. 

46 Ibid. 

47 Ibid. 

48 Vizcaino. 

49 Nathan K.S. and Mohammad Hashim Kamali. Islam in Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005, 89. 

50 Rudnyskyj, Daromir. Economy in Practice: Islamic finance and the problem of market reason. Journal of the American Ethnological Society, 2014; Volume 41, Number. 1, P. 110–127. 

51 Nathan K.S. and Mohammad Hashim Kamali. Islam in Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005. P. 89. 

52 Giarraputo. 

53 Rudnyskyj, Daromir. “Economy in Practice: Islamic finance and the problem of market reason.” Journal of the American Ethnological Society, 2014; Volume 41, Number. 1, P. 110–127. 

54 Ibid. 

55 “World Islamic Banking Competitiveness Report 2014-2015.” EY Publications. Web accessed: October 22, 2015: vwLUAssets/EY-world-islamic-banking-competitiveness-report-2014-15/$FILE/EY-world-islamic-banking-competitiveness-report-2014-15.pdf. 

56 Rudnyskyj, Daromir. “Economy in Practice: Islamic finance and the problem of market reason.” Journal of the American Ethnological Society, 2014; Volume 41, Number. 1, P. 110–127. 

57 Ibid. 

58 Yueh, Linda. “Islamic banking: Growing fast but can it be more than a niche market?” BBC, July 18, 2014. Web accessed: October 22, 2015: http://www. 

59 “Islamic Banking and Finance in France.” Islamic Economy, Jul 17, 2014. Web accessed: October 22, 2015: 

60 Ibid. 

61 American Finance House – LARIBA, “Knowledge Center.” Web accessed: October 22, 2015: http:// articles/us-islamic-financing.htm. 

62 Giarraputo. 

63 Kuran, 54.

Niki Masghati graduated on the Dean’s List from the University of Virginia in 2012 with a B.A. in Foreign Affairs and a concentration in the Middle East. She worked as a paralegal specialist at the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Middle East Studies with an economic specialization in Economic Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She will graduate in May 2017. Kelly Isom graduated magna cum laude from the University of Virginia in 2009 with a B.A. in History. She worked in Japan for two years followed by time on Capitol Hill and at a DC think tank. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies with a minor in Japan Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She will graduate in May 2017.