The Intelligent Robo Shariah Advisor

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What is IRSHAD?

IRSHAD stands for Intelligent Robo Shariah Advisor. This term signifies “guidance” or “the  guiding hand”. In line with this connotation, Irshad is a system that emulates, or acts in all respects, with the advisory and guidance capabilities of a human Shariah Advisor. This project is being led by the Singapore based IBF DigiLabs.

Why do we need to create an artificially intelligent Shariah expert, if a human expert can solve the same problem? Some answers to this question may be rooted in behavioral factors.

Have you ever had a burning question in your head and needed an immediate answer to it? Who do you turn to at this time of the night? You know very well that the Shariah scholar that you know cannot be contacted at this time. Human Shariah experts are expected to be available for consultation only during stipulated hours or time periods. Irshad will be available 24/7 with high reliability. 

Humans experts are vulnerable to external factors like the environment that they operate in, political situations, or other biases that might have an impact on their decisions. Irshad will be immune to such external factors and aims to essentially clone the experts. Irshad will not forget, while human experts may. Human experts are influenced by recency effects (most recent information having a disproportionate impact on judgment). They are also influenced by primacy effects (early information dominates the judgment). Irshad will be free from such effects. Irshad will be consistent. It would explain the reasoning without any bias or attitude problems. 

This is not to say that Irshad aims to completely replace Shariah experts. Rather, Irshad will help complement the Shariah experts by handling a lot of the repetitive and time consuming tasks as they focus on more areas of research and debate.

Phases of Development

The system in different phases of development seeks to be functionally equivalent to an Islamic legal expert in tackling specific problem domains of reasonable complexity. In the first phase of development, Irshad will be focusing to work as a Zakat and Inheritance Advisor. For zakat, Irshad will offer a channel of communication with potential zakat payers through which the latter can seek guidance regarding their zakat liability accompanied by explanations and how best to pay the zakat due. For inheritance, and Islamic wills, users seek guidance regarding how best they should distribute their wealth and assets in accordance with the Shariah.  

Irshad will be an extremely important resource for people living in Muslim-minority countries where the laws of intestacy are not based on the Shariah. In these countries, it is important to have a will in conformity with Shariah, else, the assets of a deceased Muslim will be distributed according to domestic law, and not Islamic law. Other than these two areas of focus, Irshad will also tackle and provide solutions for the routine Shariah-legal matters in Islamic finance with an extended mandate.  

Updated Rulings: It is not everyday that scholars would change their rulings on a given matter as a lot of the methodologies and procedures are already chalked out and refined across the years. But with the global landscape expanding at a lightning pace, there are times that certain rulings have to be altered or changed to factor in these new developments. Irshad will update its users on such new or updated rulings if the users have interacted with it on similar issues. 

In the next phase of development, Irshad aims to be a wise investment advisor for socially responsible Islamic organizations and financial institutions seeking to operationalize the SDGs in the light of the Maqasid Al-Shariah. In addition to risk and expected return from investments, the impact – environmental and social, on the people and the planet – of investment decisions has long been globally recognized as a major governing factor. At the same time, it poses serious measurement challenges, even today. 

The Question of Efficiency

The first thought that comes to mind is: Will Irshad increase efficiency in terms of better analysis of complex rules and improved decisions? 

If there is a maze of rules (as usually the case with Shariah rulings), then the Irshad system can unravel the maze with greater diligence. Human expertise in such cases is likely to be scarce and costly. One look at the complexities and calculations involved in inheritance and estate distribution as per the Shariah will show the need for such a solution. 

A computer-based system like Irshad can provide permanent documentation of the decision process. It will do a better job in terms of completeness. It can review all the transactions, while a human expert can only review a sample. It can produce more timely results, faster decisions and would be better at preventing fraud and/or errors. Most importantly, it will use cutting-edge knowledge and the combined wisdom of multiple human Shariah experts. 

Will Irshad increase efficiency in terms of costs? Irshad can be cloned easily without any upper limit on reproduction. One can make multiple copies of its system with further customization if required, while training new human experts is usually time-consuming and expensive. Although the Irshad system may be expensive to build and maintain, it will be inexpensive to operate. Its development and maintenance costs can be spread over many users. 

For the initial phase, Irshad will have its limitations to begin with. However, it will learn to acquire more and more artificial intelligence as it increasingly interacts with humans. It may not be able to respond creatively to unusual situations. And of course, it will fail to produce an answer when the problem is outside its area of expertise. Notwithstanding these limitations, the promise of Irshad is going to be irresistible. 

The Messenger of Allah said, “Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a reward like one who did it.” [Muslim]

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