The passing of an icon

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Epilogue for Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a man who built lives, developed communities and redefined Islamic finance.

By Vaseehar Hassan*

Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel (1941-2020)

On the 19th of May, the 26th day of Ramadan, I received a call from a friend from Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, to verify if Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a prominent Islamic banker, had passed on. It was shocking news to me as I had only spoken to Saleh Kamel just two days prior when he called me to check on the political situation in Malaysia. Having been a good friend of all our political leaders from all divides, he was always concerned about Malaysia, which he considered the best Islamic country in the world – a view commonly held by many Muslims in GCC and elsewhere.

A little shaken, I called Jeddah. My worst fears were confirmed when I was told my chairman of twenty years (from 1990 to 2010), a mentor,  a friend and associate for 30 years, had passed on while performing his terawih prayers during Ramadan.

Saleh Abdullah Kamel was no ordinary Muslim.  His life bears so many examples which deserve emulating at a time we are struggling as a community globally. A self-made businessman, who ventured into several fields successfully, Sheikh Saleh was always working tirelessly to create wealth for the good of the society. Through his entrepreneurship skills and leadership, his multinational business holding, Dallah Albaraka Group, ranked among the top five companies in Saudi Arabia with business interests across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Over the thirty years of association with him, I learnt a lot about Islamic finance, zakat, entrepreneurship, leadership and, above all, humility from a man who did not need to depend on anyone for his livelihood. Yet every time I was with him, I am reminded of how our lives are so fragile, and no matter how much we may have been blessed with by the Almighty, it could just be taken at a bat of an eye.  I was managing his portfolio of businesses in Malaysia. He treated me more like a brother than an employee. I will illustrate two examples of how his leadership brand was not just about making money but creating wealth for humanity.

In the early 1990s when we had just established Dallah Albaraka office in Malaysia, I was given 100 million ringgit as initial funds to invest in Malaysia (the company would invest more than 500 million ringgit in Malaysia until 2010). Pending identifying viable projects in Malaysia, I decided to invest the funds in Bursa Malaysia instead of keeping them idle. As our good fortune would have it (coupled with Tan Sri Rashid Hussain’s shrewd investment strategy), over a period of twelve months I was able to return 100 per cent profit the on investment.

When I mentioned this proudly to Saleh Kamel, his reaction was, “ Vaseehar, I am happy you made money for Dallah Albaraka, but this is not how I want you to invest. Please invest in industries and businesses where you can create wealth.” After we exited the market, Malaysia’s stock market crashed in the years 1993 and 1994.

On another occasion, my late chairman told me about an incident involving the Saudi Stock Exchange. During the booming market in Saudi Arabia, one of Dallah AlBaraka’s listed companies was trading at 300 riyal per share, a high premium. The group’s chief financial officer (CFO) approached Saleh Kamel and, as a responsible CFO, recommended that the group divests five per cent of its subsidiary’s shares which would raise sufficient funds to completely pare down the group’s borrowings making the group debt free. Saleh Kamel asked the CFO, “Do you think our shares are worth 300 riyal each?” The CFO responded, “Well that’s the price the market is placing on our share.” After listening to the CFO, Saleh Kamel took no action to sell. After the meltdown of the Saudi Stock Exchange, the same subsidiary’s share was trading at 75 riyal.

My chairman in his wisdom explained to me, “I could have sold the shares at the peak and settled my borrowings but can you imagine an ordinary investor who bought my share at 300 riyal would be cursing me if he had lost money. That’s why I do not believe in stock market values. It’s no different than gambling.” It may sound harsh but he only considered the stock market for long-term investments and not short-term trading.

He was a responsible leader and businessman who wanted to create wealth through real production and not paper trading. There are many similar stories I could share on how Saleh Kamel was a man who did not believe in making money through impoverishing others but rather through real production using the earth’s resources responsibly. He had many dreams, which were left unfulfilled by his passing.

He was the first proponent of a global mega-Islamic bank in which he was prepared to invest $500 million. However he did not succeed in securing investors who shared a similar long-term vision. Another of his dreams was to set up a global news channel to present world views in a fair and unbiased manner. He thought Malaysia would be the best place to house such a project as the country had a good reputation globally. Furthermore, he had great admiration for Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia, for raising the profile of Malaysia internationally and especially amongst the Muslim nations.

To promote Malaysia as a preferred destination for tourism, he personally supervised the production of a twelve-segment TV series on Malaysia including interviews with Mahathir in the 19990s, which was broadcasted on his television channel Arab Radio Television. Malaysia too had a great respect for him as he was bestowed the title of “Dato Seri” by the state government of Sarawak. He was also the first recipient of the Royal Award for Finance by the government of Malaysia. In his last visit to Malaysia in November 2019, he met many leaders from both sides of the aisle as he believed despite the ideological differences, the wellbeing of humanity and the country must always be placed front and center. He never took sides, but always tried to steer on the side of trust, integrity and dignity.

While Muslims consider his passing during the last week of Ramadan as a blessing, Saleh Kamel would had achieved more if he had been in better health. He endured untold pains and humiliation in his later years, which he took in his own stride.

The world is orphaned of a great icon, an admirable and inimitable business leader, and I grief for the loss of a great friend who had a large impact on who I am today. Muslims in particular have lost a great personality with the passing of Sheikh Saleh Kamel. May Allah place him with the righteous and reward him in the hereafter for all his efforts to create a better world for humanity.  For those of us who were granted the opportunity to walk in his path, though for a while, we owe it to our own conscience to keep alive his value system which was founded on integrity and self-respect.

*Dato’ Dr Vaseehar Hassan is former CEO of Dallah Albaraka Malaysia and presently Malaysia and South East Asia Representative for Dallah Albaraka Group.The author can be contacted through [email protected]

Epilogue for Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a man who built lives, developed communities and redefined Islamic finance. By Vaseehar Hassan* Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel (1941-2020) On the 19th of May, the 26th day of Ramadan, I received a call from a friend from Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, to verify if Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a prominent Islamic banker, had passed on. It was shocking news to me as I had only spoken to Saleh Kamel just two days prior when he called me to check on the political situation in Malaysia. Having been a...

Epilogue for Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a man who built lives, developed communities and redefined Islamic finance.

By Vaseehar Hassan*

Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel (1941-2020)

On the 19th of May, the 26th day of Ramadan, I received a call from a friend from Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, to verify if Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a prominent Islamic banker, had passed on. It was shocking news to me as I had only spoken to Saleh Kamel just two days prior when he called me to check on the political situation in Malaysia. Having been a good friend of all our political leaders from all divides, he was always concerned about Malaysia, which he considered the best Islamic country in the world – a view commonly held by many Muslims in GCC and elsewhere.

A little shaken, I called Jeddah. My worst fears were confirmed when I was told my chairman of twenty years (from 1990 to 2010), a mentor,  a friend and associate for 30 years, had passed on while performing his terawih prayers during Ramadan.

Saleh Abdullah Kamel was no ordinary Muslim.  His life bears so many examples which deserve emulating at a time we are struggling as a community globally. A self-made businessman, who ventured into several fields successfully, Sheikh Saleh was always working tirelessly to create wealth for the good of the society. Through his entrepreneurship skills and leadership, his multinational business holding, Dallah Albaraka Group, ranked among the top five companies in Saudi Arabia with business interests across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Over the thirty years of association with him, I learnt a lot about Islamic finance, zakat, entrepreneurship, leadership and, above all, humility from a man who did not need to depend on anyone for his livelihood. Yet every time I was with him, I am reminded of how our lives are so fragile, and no matter how much we may have been blessed with by the Almighty, it could just be taken at a bat of an eye.  I was managing his portfolio of businesses in Malaysia. He treated me more like a brother than an employee. I will illustrate two examples of how his leadership brand was not just about making money but creating wealth for humanity.

In the early 1990s when we had just established Dallah Albaraka office in Malaysia, I was given 100 million ringgit as initial funds to invest in Malaysia (the company would invest more than 500 million ringgit in Malaysia until 2010). Pending identifying viable projects in Malaysia, I decided to invest the funds in Bursa Malaysia instead of keeping them idle. As our good fortune would have it (coupled with Tan Sri Rashid Hussain’s shrewd investment strategy), over a period of twelve months I was able to return 100 per cent profit the on investment.

When I mentioned this proudly to Saleh Kamel, his reaction was, “ Vaseehar, I am happy you made money for Dallah Albaraka, but this is not how I want you to invest. Please invest in industries and businesses where you can create wealth.” After we exited the market, Malaysia’s stock market crashed in the years 1993 and 1994.

On another occasion, my late chairman told me about an incident involving the Saudi Stock Exchange. During the booming market in Saudi Arabia, one of Dallah AlBaraka’s listed companies was trading at 300 riyal per share, a high premium. The group’s chief financial officer (CFO) approached Saleh Kamel and, as a responsible CFO, recommended that the group divests five per cent of its subsidiary’s shares which would raise sufficient funds to completely pare down the group’s borrowings making the group debt free. Saleh Kamel asked the CFO, “Do you think our shares are worth 300 riyal each?” The CFO responded, “Well that’s the price the market is placing on our share.” After listening to the CFO, Saleh Kamel took no action to sell. After the meltdown of the Saudi Stock Exchange, the same subsidiary’s share was trading at 75 riyal.

My chairman in his wisdom explained to me, “I could have sold the shares at the peak and settled my borrowings but can you imagine an ordinary investor who bought my share at 300 riyal would be cursing me if he had lost money. That’s why I do not believe in stock market values. It’s no different than gambling.” It may sound harsh but he only considered the stock market for long-term investments and not short-term trading.

He was a responsible leader and businessman who wanted to create wealth through real production and not paper trading. There are many similar stories I could share on how Saleh Kamel was a man who did not believe in making money through impoverishing others but rather through real production using the earth’s resources responsibly. He had many dreams, which were left unfulfilled by his passing.

He was the first proponent of a global mega-Islamic bank in which he was prepared to invest $500 million. However he did not succeed in securing investors who shared a similar long-term vision. Another of his dreams was to set up a global news channel to present world views in a fair and unbiased manner. He thought Malaysia would be the best place to house such a project as the country had a good reputation globally. Furthermore, he had great admiration for Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia, for raising the profile of Malaysia internationally and especially amongst the Muslim nations.

To promote Malaysia as a preferred destination for tourism, he personally supervised the production of a twelve-segment TV series on Malaysia including interviews with Mahathir in the 19990s, which was broadcasted on his television channel Arab Radio Television. Malaysia too had a great respect for him as he was bestowed the title of “Dato Seri” by the state government of Sarawak. He was also the first recipient of the Royal Award for Finance by the government of Malaysia. In his last visit to Malaysia in November 2019, he met many leaders from both sides of the aisle as he believed despite the ideological differences, the wellbeing of humanity and the country must always be placed front and center. He never took sides, but always tried to steer on the side of trust, integrity and dignity.

While Muslims consider his passing during the last week of Ramadan as a blessing, Saleh Kamel would had achieved more if he had been in better health. He endured untold pains and humiliation in his later years, which he took in his own stride.

The world is orphaned of a great icon, an admirable and inimitable business leader, and I grief for the loss of a great friend who had a large impact on who I am today. Muslims in particular have lost a great personality with the passing of Sheikh Saleh Kamel. May Allah place him with the righteous and reward him in the hereafter for all his efforts to create a better world for humanity.  For those of us who were granted the opportunity to walk in his path, though for a while, we owe it to our own conscience to keep alive his value system which was founded on integrity and self-respect.

*Dato’ Dr Vaseehar Hassan is former CEO of Dallah Albaraka Malaysia and presently Malaysia and South East Asia Representative for Dallah Albaraka Group.The author can be contacted through [email protected]

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