Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Conventional banking once dominated banking activity in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the exception of one bank that operated using Islamic banking tools. Conventional banking was based mostly on interest-based lending and borrowing that is forbidden by Islamic law. These banks were not accepted by various parts of Saudi society as it was (and still is) keen to conduct all transactions according to the provisions of Islamic Sharia law.
No matter how tempting, in such a society, no one would dare put his reputation at risk by dealing with conventional banks even if it were legitimate or sought legitimate goals.
But what if the person in question is a prominent Sheikh associated to the Council of Senior Ulama? It would certainly be a tougher ordeal for him as his colleagues and students would be the first to challenge him, not to mention his foes.
Nevertheless, this prominent Sheikh was ready to sacrifice everything to achieve the objectives of Islamic Sharia in which he believes, with no concern for any potential harm that could have been inflicted upon him. He kept in mind the examples set by prophets and virtuous figures and what they had to endure for the divine call. As if he was echoing the word of God as pronounced by prophet Shoaib: ‘I desire nothing but reform so far as I am able, and with none but Allah is the direction of my affair to a right issue; on Him do I rely and to Him do I turn,’ (Surat al Hud: 88)
It was only a short while after the Sheikh started working with conventional banks that bank executives confirmed the success of the halal [permitted] Islamic banking transactions. The transition towards Sharia-compliant operations gained momentum. Some banks fully transformed into Sharia-compliant operations, while others are still striving to reach this goal, thanks to the hard work of the Sheikh and the members of the jurisprudential authorities.
He is Sheikh Abdullah al Manee who, as well as members of jurisprudential authorities, continues to spare no effort in transforming all Saudi banks to become Sharia compliant.
Everybody acknowledges the efforts of this Sheikh even if they disagree with him.
With regards to Islamic banking within conventional banks, some members of society have misconceptions about those who work in conventional banks; that they approve and concur with the bank’s practices, and that they do not distinguish between halal [religiously permitted] and haram [religiously prohibited]. This is not particularly true since in many cases, especially amongst the lower middle-class workers, many employees are convinced that their work is haram, and this torments them, but their need for money leaves them with no choice.
I sensed and felt their suffering when I was working for the Saudi Bank Al Jazira, during the initial phases of the transition towards Islamic banking. Many employees were looking forward to this transition, and were urging us to push ahead with it. Therefore, many of those working in conventional banking would be keen to apply the rules of Sharia if they were to work for Islamic banking departments.
In fact, I know a banker who worked for a conventional bank who, when appointed head of the Islamic banking department, was by far the most enthusiastic to implement Shariah rulings in pursuit of integrity and out of fear of breach of trust and its consequences, which the reader may not see in some of executives of Islamic banks.