Saleh Kamel’s Philanthropy

The concept of philanthropy is deeply engrained in Islamic thinking. Compassion and benevolence play an important part in being a true Muslim and, throughout his life, Saleh Kamel adhered enthusiastically to these principles. Former members of his staff tell of his numerous random acts of kindness and generosity – ranging from acts as simple providing financial assistance through to things of more personal nature such as giving up of his personal time.

With a charity group on a trip to Africa.

Saleh was never one to talk about his charity work, nor did he allow those who worked with him to speak of it. Indeed, nobody appears to have known the full scope of his commitment until after his death in 2020, when it was discovered that the number of charity related files – some dating back to 1969 – were equal to the amount of all the files relating to his various business and investment portfolios put together. A large number of monthly or annual stipends to former employees were also discovered, settled from his personal bank account regularly. Philanthropy was an enormous part of who Saleh Kamel was. 

Some attribute his benevolent attitude to his upbringing in Makkan society, where local people generally stay close, living as part of one large, cohesive family. His early career as a pilgrim guide taught him the meaning of brotherhood and expanded his understanding of people’s needs and requirements on both the micro and macro scale.

In the 1970s Saleh Kamel launched the Iqraa Charity Foundation with his brother-in-law and lifelong friend, also from the dusty old streets of Makkah, Dr Mohammad Abdu Yamani – a scholar and former government minister. The Iqraa Foundation has since built numerous schools, hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as provided disaster support in areas struck by earthquakes, landslides or other natural disasters.

Saleh’s nephew, Yassir Yamani, who currently heads Iqraa, explained:

“Saleh Kamel’s main concern was always that Iqraa money be used wisely to benefit all of those in need, not only Muslims. We have partnerships in Africa, India and across Asia and Europe. As Sheikh Saleh insisted, we are very particular about who we partner with. We deal only with people who are totally law abiding and have ‘clean’ books that have been professionally audited.”

In his will, Saleh Kamel left one third of his personal wealth to the Iqraa Foundation.

Another important aspect of his work was his fresh thinking on Islamic alms-giving. Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, demands that Muslims should pay a percentage of their income (usually 2.5%) towards supporting those less fortunate. Zakat funds are frequently channeled into schemes to feed the hungry, clothe the poor or meet other immediate needs. However, Saleh Kamel, in keeping with the old adage ‘give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life,’ believed much greater good was to be achieved by funding schemes to help the needy help themselves. In his personal life he worked tirelessly towards this end, speaking at many conferences and forums on the benefits of putting zakat funds to work rather than simply dispensing.

Not all Islamic scholars agreed with his philosophy on this but many did and, as a result of his influence, today there are many zakat-funded farms and crop cultivation schemes in operation around the world, helping feed the hungry on a sustainable annual basis.