Human beings can make any plans they want, but it’s God that decides our destiny. I never intended to be a banker, but ended up applying to Citibank on a recommendation – against all odds, I got the job. It was pretty hard to adjust into the corporate world initially, but my colleagues were very helpful and happy to give advice.
I decided to take the bull by the horns and fast-track my learning. In the 1980s I undertook banking diplomas in conventional banking, and then in the 1990s I took an Islamic banking diploma.
I stayed back late three times a week to study specific cases and scenarios and built up my understanding of how a transaction was initiated and completed. This was a huge learning curve – it was hard work, but it made my life easier in the long run. The other important step that I took was to get experience in different departments to learn the business from all angles.
Through sheer hard work I kept on moving up the ladder and I was soon known as a problem solver among my colleagues. This was certainly gratifying and rewarding for me. I also earned a Service Excellence Gold Award in recognition of my work.
Making my move
It was not until 1998 that I finally bid farewell to conventional banking and moved to Islamic banking, which was fast becoming a fashionable area in the financial services sector. I worked in this area promoting Islamic mortgages in the UK through IIBU, which was probably the first Islamic arm of a British conventional bank to take such an initiative.
It was pretty challenging to go around the country teaching about Islamic finance: it was one of the most daunting tasks I have ever dealt with. We finally started making progress with a consistent and persistent approach.
It was a great experience working with the financial services sector from a religious angle. I had started reviewing Islamic banking concepts during my days in Citibank in Dubai, but certain practices and the explanations did not convince me to make a move.
During my career in Islamic investment banking from 1998–2001, I took various practical steps to promote Islamic banking more from an ethical rather than religious standpoint. As a founding member of the Bank of England working party, I worked tirelessly and helped to bring in constitutional change to abolish double stamp duty on Islamic mortgages.
Establishing the Islamic Bank of Britain
It was in 2003 that God provided me with an opportunity to play a leading role in the establishment of the Islamic Bank of Britain. I had some sleepless nights, as I would wait for the Fajr prayers before heading off to Old Street where we built up the whole bank. The excitement of setting up the first Islamic bank in the UK/West overtook everything else in my life. It was a great experience that I really relished.
In 2006 I decided to move into consulting and, despite an ever-shrinking market, that’s where I am today.
What is a typical day like for you?
I am an early bird and normally don’t go back to bed after my first prayer before dawn. It’s then that I sit down with my laptop and tackle my ‘to do’ list. The work is never-ending, and I work practically 24/7.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the challenges. I have always taken risks (sometimes calculated) and challenges, in my career. It has worked many times, especially during my first job at Citibank.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Insist on getting proper professional training or on-the-job training before taking formal responsibility. Find the right area for you and get all the training and coaching that is available through the company you’re with. Focus on building up a good relationship with your colleagues, as this is where you’ll spend a substantial part of your time. Be honest to yourself and loyal to the entity that looks after you.