Pursuing Careers in the Conventional Finance Industry

The following question and answer by Sheikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo attendees of the Dow Jones University Courses on Islamic Investement.Question:: I am employed in an insurance company (my whole career of 28 years) in the capacity of an M&A analyst and management professional. Is there guidance around theacceptability of this employment --- in context of the exclusion of insurance industry from Shariah acceptable companies? Does my salary have to be purified? If so, how --- your lessons are focused on shareholders, not employees? What if, after so many years and having reached an older age, I am not easily employable at even 30% of my income if I shift industries?Answer: Much the same question was asked of Shaykh Muhammad al Ghazali, may Allah bless his soul, in my presence over twenty years ago. The answer he gave was the answer given by his teacher, Shaykh Hasan al Banna, to someone who had asked the same question.Allow me to attempt to answer your question by reproducing a summary of that answer. TheShaykh began by explaining that the message of Islam is one that was sent to liberate humanity at the level of both the individual and society, and on the material as well as the spiritual plane. This is clear to anyone who reads the Qur'an and ponders its meanings. Now, banking and finance (including insurance) are key elements in modern economic life;and economics are at the heart of social justice. Every Muslim understands the importance ofjustice, and certainly social justice and the equitable distribution of weath are very mucha part of the liberating message of Islam. The actual situation of the Muslim Ummah today,however, is far removed from the ideal envisioned for society by Islam. Obviously, the improvement of the economic situation of Muslims will go a long way towardbettering conditions in general, and toward bringing about the social justice that is emphasized in the Qur'an. Then, it is crucial that Muslims that make every effort to improve their economic situations, in every Muslim country, and in every Muslim minority community as well. The only way that this can be accomplished is through education, and then through specialized training, and then through years of hard work and dedication; all of that in the name of Allah. Obviously, when the sector in need of improvement is the economy, then Muslims will have to learn everything about it before they can become effective in it. The same is true of every sector in which the Ummah is lagging. Now, in regard to the economic sector, the Ummah requires people to understand it at thetheoretical level and the philosophical, and others to understand and work with it at thepractical level. If the economic system is malfunctioning, then we need people to tell uswhy. And then we need people to help in correcting it, and bringing it into compliance withour religious ideals and principles. That being the case or, in other words, in view of the Ummah's need for expertise in thefields of finance, economics, accounting, insurance, and banking, no Muslim should hesitateto pursue studies in those fields, or a career, for the reason that the system is presentlyflawed, or sullied by the element of riba. On the contrary, if a Muslim is concerned, thens/he should undertake to lend a helping hand in bringing about the necessary improvements.Under the circumstances at present, it would appear to be a fard kifayah, or thesort of obligation that must be borne by the Ummah as a collectivity; such that if some ofits members engage in it, then the others will be freed of the responsibility. Therefore,you may certainly follow a career in insurance. In doing so, however, there are severalimportant things for you to remember. Firstly, you must remember to keep your intentions pure, i.e., you must work for thesake of Allah, and for the improvement of conditions in the Ummah. Secondly, you must work with the intention of learning as much as you possibly canabout your profession. Thirdly, you must work with the intention of becoming an expert in your field, sothat you may share your knowledge and ideas with other Muslims. And finally, you must continue to study and learn about the Shari`ah perspective onthe operations that you are involved in at your place of work. This is so that one dayyou will be able to contribute to bringing about Shari`ah-based solutions to the financialproblems of the Ummah. Now that, briefly, was what the Shaykh told the questioner. Over the past twenty years we have been fortunate to have many Muslims excel in thefields of economics and finance, and increasingly, Muslim economists and bankers have beenable to outline and then implement Shari`ah compliant models and institutions. Islamic finance has proliferated and prospered, and continues to do so. And now we are witnessing the rise of an Islamic investment sector. But, obviously, there is still much to be accomplished. The situation in nearly every Muslim country is that the conventional banks and financial institutions are the most important ones. Islamic banking and insurance are still in their infancy, and need the support of a new generation of educated and motivated workers at every level. Therefore, it is all the more important that you learn everything that you can about the field you have chosen for yourself, and that you excel in it, so that through your knowledge and experience you may help to build a new future. Finally, you are entitled to every cent of the income you derive from your profession;except, of course, what is due in Zakah. But, otherwise, there is no need to "purify"your wages. You have obviously worked long and hard to be qualify for those earnings, and they are your right because your intentions in doing so have been pure.