By Abu Zakariya
Handing back my employee magnetic card, which had been in my pocket every day for almost three years, I walked out of the grand, gleaming gates of the largest bank in the world. With my parents’ voices still in my head, urging me to explore my options before taking any rash decisions, I stood on the pavement of one of London’s busiest streets in the heart of the financial district and felt completely lost and alone. The decision had not seemed rash when I had made it but now, in the cold light of day, having resigned from a job for which only twenty candidates had been selected out of 2500 applicants, I wondered whether I had done the right thing.
The events, which had led to my decision, seemed fairly straightforward. I had joined the bank straight out of University as an analyst in the project finance department, where I worked in a team to provide financing for large infrastructure projects. At the heart of these transactions was interest. The implications of this became clear to me through interactions with other Muslims at the mosque where I went for Zuhr prayers. I realized the dangers of working with Riba, a word I was not previously acquainted with. The following Ayah made a serious impact on me: “O you who believe! Be afraid of Allah and give up what remains (due to you) from Riba (usury) (from now onward), if you are (really) believers. And if you do not do it, then take a notice of war from Allah and His Messenger.” (Al-Baqarah 2:278-279)
This was also my introduction to the Quran as a book of guidance from Allah (swt). I read it with interest and gradually realized the depth of what I was learning. As a Muslim, born into a Muslim family, I had thought I knew all I needed to know about being a Muslim.
Now, having quit my job, although I felt alone, I strangely felt good about the decision Allah (swt) had helped me make. I felt that I had done this for the pleasure of Allah (swt) and that it would lead to some good. The next few months involved a lot of soul searching and considerations about what to do next. I met some of my old professors from university and asked for their advice. I was considering information technology or management consultancy as options, but realized that any career I chose now would be based on the ethics defined by Allah (swt).
With spare time on my hands, I started preparing for the GMAT, an aptitude test necessary to get into an MBA programme. This seemed like a natural thing to do after my investment banking experience. It bothered me, however, that as an employee in a management consulting company, I would not be able to choose the projects I worked on, and a lot of management consulting work dealt with banks. Once again, Allah (swt) guided me to keep coming back to the idea of pursuing information technology instead of an MBA, and, on a whim, I applied to a couple of universities for a post-graduate course in computer science.
A month later, I received a call from the University of Cambridge, saying that I had been accepted into their programme. Surprised at what had happened and, needless to say, overjoyed at being accepted by one of the most reputed universities in the world, I arrived at Cambridge to be met by some extremely helpful people, among which was the secretary of the computer science department, who prompted me to fill out a form for a scholarship. A couple of days later, I was informed that my application for scholarship had been accepted, and as I connected the dots between my decision to leave the banking job and the opportunities being given to me, my eyes filled up with submission and thankfulness to Allah (swt).
Since that day, whenever I have had to make tough decisions about my future and my family’s future, I have always tried to take the path where Allah’s (swt) pleasure is to be found, regardless of whether I seemingly faced losses or hardship by not taking what is often the quick and easy road. There have been many occasions, from being asked for bribes for an electricity meter for the company I formed upon returning to Pakistan to being harassed by the various tax authorities, who are happy to accept bribes to go away and not even bother to collect what is actually due. On all such occasions, my team members and I have chosen to take the difficult path which we hope would lead to Allah’s (swt) pleasure. We operated without an electricity connection for three years and survived on generators. One day, the KESC officials finally gave up and installed our meter. The tax men, who wanted to turn a blind eye in return for bribes, have had to contend with letters we have written, demanding that they should come to collect the correct amounts with duly filled forms. To our surprise, they have had to be chased to come to collect what is rightfully owed to them.
Today, I run a software development company, which is providing a Halal means of earning a living not just for me but for everyone else who works there. We have never done a project which involves gambling, music or interest calculations, and we always state this in our agreements with clients. This has often led to tough questions from clients abroad, who do not deem interest or music to be vices. We patiently explain things to them and, in the end, they always respect us more because of our principles and our strength in sticking to them.
I hope that anyone who has faced similar tough decisions will remember that pleasing Allah (swt) with our choices will lead to better opportunities; however, patience will inevitably be needed once the tough choices are made. A verse I discovered later summed up my experience well: “…And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide for him (sources) he never could imagine…” (At-Talaq 65:2-3)
We must remember that Rizq has been ordained by Allah (swt), and regardless of how we choose to earn it, Halal or Haram, our bank balance will be the same. It is just a matter of faith. “…And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose…” (At-Talaq 65:3)