Islamic Finance

‘It’s beyond our dreams to have Islamic banks all over the world’ – Shaikh Saleh Kamel, 1941 – May 18, 2020


Shaikh Saleh Kamel, founder of Al Baraka Banking Group, passed away on May 18.

He was one of the pioneers of Islamic banking, having set up one of the first of the modern-day Shariah-compliant banks in the late 1970s that became the sprawling multi-country Al Baraka Banking Group today.

Shaikh Saleh was also President of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and he served as the Chair of the General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions.

I had the privilege of interviewing Shaikh Saleh in 2013 for a book I was writing about Islamic finance. He was a busy man and very hard to pin down; I chased him for an interview for five months before we finally met at his home in Cairo on February 8.

On that day, Shaikh Saleh told me that it was beyond his dreams to see Islamic banks all over the world, considering the challenges he and other first-movers faced, referring to Dubai Islamic Bank’s Haj Saeed Lootah and Faisal Islamic Bank’s Prince Mohamed Al Faisal Al Saud.

But while he considered the “quantity” side of things a success, he was very vocal expressing his disappointment about the lack of “quality”.

“I am happy from the quantity side but on the quality side, I’m still making jihad,” he said, referring to what he considered to be a lack of alignment with Maqasid al Shariah.

Most people working in Islamic banks don’t know about Islamic banking, he said.

“They take it as a business, they don’t take it as a message.”

I prompted him to elaborate, to which he said: “It should be the two together … risalah and business.”

Is that what he’s been trying to do, I asked.

“I try, and I will try till I die,” was his answer.

I don’t doubt that he did.

Beyond banking, Shaikh Saleh had his fingers in many other pursuits and he assumed many different leadership positions. In business, he was the chairperson of the company he built, Dallah Al Baraka Group, one of the Middle East’s largest conglomerates. His business portfolio was diversified; in 1993 he set up the Arab Radio and Television Network (ART), which Iqra TV falls under.

Shaikh Saleh said this satellite and internet channel, which he opened in 1998 and that largely presents religious content, was one of the things in his life he was most proud of.

I had asked him what he would say were the best things that had happened for him, looking back at the last 40 years.

“To start Islamic banks was a good sign on the road, for me to start Iqra channel was one of the good things that Allah subhana wa taala gave to me,” he said.

“One of the good things, which Allah subhana wa taala if He loves someone, He gives him good sons and daughters, and alhamdu lillah, that He gave me.”

May Allah bless your soul, Shaikh.

Shaikh Saleh also gave his time to many social, charitable and cultural societies and foundations, such as the Arab Thought Foundations, King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for the Gifted, Islamic Solidarity Fund, and the Arab Academy for Finance and Banking, according to Al Baraka Banking Group in its announcement on May 19.

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Emmy Abdul Alim