By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Those seeking to do business in the economically-expanding Arab world have to learn about the cultural mores and traditions of the countries in which they work.
But they also have to consider another, even more specialized matter: Islamic finance.
While the charging of interest is central to so many dealings in the U.S. and other Western nations, the practice is forbidden under Islamic Sharia law. Muslims also believe that investing should be socially responsible.
It is an ever-changing area in which a wealth of arrangements are reached to fit in with Islamic needs -- for example, some Muslim purchasers can buy goods in installments without interest, but for a higher overall price.
It is a complex process even for those living in Muslim societies, and now they have a business qualification to help them.
This month, Cass Business School in London, UK, announced the launch of an innovative new Executive MBA which is the first such program to include specialist streams in Islamic finance and energy.
The two-year course is being offered in association with the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), based in the economically thriving emirate, part of the United Arab Emirates.
"A real need has been identified in the market for education in Islamic finance and Cass is excited to be offering the first ever EMBA with a specialism in this area," said Meziane Lasfer, professor of finance at the school.
Islamic finance center
The first intake -- expected to mainly comprise of fund managers and other banking and finance executives -- will start this September, being taught by Cass academics in Dubai over one long weekend a month. Students will follow much of the same curriculum as those taking Cass's highly rated London-based EMBA.
While it might sound odd that faculty members from a UK school will be traveling to an Arab country to lecture in such a subject, London is well known as the largest home of Islamic finance outside the Islamic world.
Finance compliant with Sharia law is increasingly big business -- according to figures compiled by Cass, there are now around 270 Islamic banks operating globally with total assets exceeding $265 billion.
As well as executives seeking to operate in Islamic countries, the course aims to help Islamic fund managers working in an international environment where they must reconcile their own rules with international standards and practices.
"Whilst equipping you with the main tenets of Sharia-compliant financial dealings, the modules allow you to view Islamic finance in a holistic fashion and in the context of the modern and global financial system, of which it is increasingly an important part of," the course outline explains.
David Currie, dean of Cass, described the course as a logical move for a school based in one of the globe's main business hubs.
"It is ... a natural progression that we offer an MBA in a burgeoning financial center in the Middle East, in a similar way to the program we deliver in Shanghai, China's leading financial center," he said.
Omar bin Sulaiman, DIFC's governor, said the course was much needed: "The boom witnessed in the region has opened the doors to hundreds of thousands of jobs, and there is a dearth of qualified professionals in the financial sector," he said.
"As reforms accelerate further within the Islamic finance sector, there will be a requirement for talents at a level and scale never seen before."
Prophet Mohammad's Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
FACT BOXFT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006
FACT BOXEMBA SNAPSHOT
Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.
A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.
A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.