A couple months ago I completed a decade working full-time in Shariah within the Islamic finance industry. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that I have been blessed with especially in an area where it is not so easy to get practical experience. I have had the honour of working with Shariah experts who have graduated from reputable Islamic universities/seminaries of the Muslim world. Discussing and researching various Shariah issues in contemporary finance on a daily basis is interesting and it is common to discuss new issues/products with peers working in Shariah in various Islamic financial institutions and jurisdictions. I have also had the honour of benefiting from and working with the IF industry’s Senior Shariah Scholars, some of whom have passed away (May Allah grant them Jannah).
Respect to Dr. Humayon Dar who gave me my first opportunity a very long time ago. Even though I had limited practical experience, within my first few months he had already exposed me to various advanced structures and made me present to Sheikh Nizam Yaqubi, one of the Senior Shariah Scholars of the IF industry. As mentioned earlier, you may have great academic qualifications but the IF industry is hard to get opportunities in. Dr. Humayon Dar and others like him are always willing to try and help.
Below are a few things that I have learnt along the way that I wanted to share:
1. The more you learn, the more you realise how little you know. More knowledge should make you more humble.
2. Theory and Practice of Islamic finance can be very different.
3. While you do learn from books and classes, the more products/structures and documentation that you are exposed to, the more your overall understanding increases.
4. Reading the opinions and research papers of various Shariah experts is essential. Just because you can’t find a particular topic in English, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been written about in Arabic.
5. Don’t rush to give an opinion without fully understanding all aspects of an issue, product, structure etc.
6. There is nothing wrong with opinions changing.
7. Islamic financial institutions are primarily profit driven and not social institutions.
8. A lack of alternative social institutions places unrealistic expectations on Islamic financial institutions. You cannot expect privately funded Islamic financial institutions to solve all economic woes.
9. It is easier working with those in product development who try to understand Shariah requirements rather than those who are not willing to understand Shariah requirements.
10. Constructive criticism of certain unhealthy practices/products in the Islamic finance industry is healthy. Blanket statements and personal attacks on Shariah Advisors don’t achieve anything.
11. The vast majority of Shariah Boards/Departments are aware of what they are approving.
12. While Shariah Advisory may appear to be more glamorous, Shariah Audit is just as important.
13. Every Islamic financial institution is different. The differences are even more profound when comparing IFIs in different jurisdictions.
14. Those unhappy with the current practices of IF (especially IB), should come up with workable alternatives. I have met those with great ideas but execution is key.
15. Islamic economics is not limited to banking, there is a need to think beyond.
16. Islamic fintech start-ups need to think out of the box and attempt different things.
17. Don’t believe all the hype on social media.
18. If you can’t find a job with an IFI don’t despair, look at starting your own initiative after identifying a gap.
19. Be humble no matter your position or knowledge. No one likes arrogance.
Allah knows best