Islamic Banking

Saleh Kamel accompanied by Sheikh Muhammad Metwalli Alsha’rawi, who was to be a defining influence on the moral underpinning of his banking empire.
Saleh Kamel – A Pioneer of Islamic Banking

Saleh Kamel’s mother is credited with opening his mind to the opportunities of Islamic banking. Just a few years after leaving his government position with the Ministry of Finance, he had already begun recording impressive successes as an independent businessman. One day, at around this time, his mother asked him if he worked with banks. On confirming that he did, he was confused and concerned as she told him decisively that to do so was, she felt, haram (prohibited in Islam).

From that point on, with the support and encouragement of his mother, Saleh Kamel became a pioneer in the field of Islamic finance, exploring the ways in which he might pursue a successful career while remaining true – in word and deed – to Islamic teachings, which explicitly prohibit the practice of usury, or the giving and taking of interest.

After consulting with a religious scholar and being told: “Allah will find a way for those who are mindful of him”, Saleh Kamel began his quest to find an Islamic solution, more specifically to find a bank that would deal with him using the principles of mudaraba. Simply put, mudaraba is a contract where one party provides the capital, while the other makes the investment, with both parties agreeing in advance how any future profits should be divided between them.

Although neither of them knew it at the time, his mother’s concerns opened up a wellspring that would engage Saleh Kamel’s intellectual curiosity and imagination for the rest of his life. In the years that followed, he would become one of the principle pioneers at the vanguard of introducing Islamic banking concepts – in a commercially translatable form – to the Arabian Peninsula and far beyond.

It was only a matter of time before Sheikh Saleh realised if he wanted a bank that catered for his religious commitment and his precise commercial needs, as well as returning a healthy profit, he should form his own. Through Bank Albaraka, Saleh Kamel found just such an instrument.

The complexities of Islamic finance and a desire to spread the word globally continued to captivate Saleh Kamel for the rest of his life. His nephew, Yasser Yamani, the CEO of the Iqraa Charitable foundation, established by Sheikh Saleh noted:

“My Uncle was interested in the intellectual aspects of the Islamic economy, but particularly in the way it runs parallel to our society. He spoke at many conferences and forums on this subject. He had the ability to look at any particular Islamic concept ‘in the round’ – to see things from a 360-degree vantage point and then to make a decision on how the concept should best be executed. Some would agree, others would disagree with his logic. The important point is that Sheikh Saleh was one of the first to encourage such debate on Islamic financing theories, which are very much open to interpretation. He was a true trailblazer in that regard and his quest for a deeper, broader knowledge of Islamic ethics remained with him all his life.”