The importance of leaders and Islamic banking

The importance of leaders and Islamic banking

Each one of us has a life mission that guides us through our work experiences and the people we meet. Just the country in which we are born predetermines our direction to a certain extent.

Mr. Maher Al Kaabi is a rare example of a successful man who stood in the background of American banks, built a bank system in UAE and at the same time built successful and efficient international companies. On the basis of traditional values, he changes the banking system in countries, he is a part of the board committee in important companies, establishes schools and helps people and much more. His high values and goals are changing countries and the world step by step.

Le Globless:Maher, You are a member of the board of one of the most important family companies in the UAE, Al Serkal Group of Companies. How did the company build its prominent position in the UAE political sphere before transitioning to business?


Maher Al Kaabi: In the beginning, the family had a political role for 70 years and after that they ventured in to business. The group was established in 1947, and the first thing the founder had done was to see which things are missing in people’s lives, and how he can improve the life of people.

He started bringing matters connected to people’s lives. Family brought the first generator to the country, that eliminated people’s life and houses. That led to the development of the Dubai Water Electricity, co-founded by the family. Similarly, they brought the first telephone in 1957 that led to the development of the Dubai Telephone Company. They co-founded many other entities such as Etisalat (emanated from Dubai Telephone Company), Pepsi, Dubai Insurance, Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority, Emirates NBD, Commercial Bank of Dubai, Bait Al Khair, Dubai Autism Center, Alserkal Avenue, Heritage House,  Alserkal Cultural Foundation, Stal Gallery & Studio, and many other companies. In most of these companies, we hold shareholding  and/or board membership. Then the business started pivoting and opening other line of businesses.

We will be a company in Q2 2024, which converts used cooking oil into biofuel. Something that can be used by to power up cars, trucks, machinery, and so forth. We have opened another plant of Envirol, which is treating food, fat, oil and grease (FOG) waste from food establishments in Northern Emirates. Family has a rich history in various business verticals.


,,I have known the chairman for a very long time. He’s a kind person. As a family, they’re all extremely nice and humble people. You usually will not see them, hear about them in the country because they always want to keep a low profile.”


Le Globless:You are on the supervisory boards of several companies, you are also a visionary leader and a seasoned banker with more than 29 years of experience in the banking and IT industry. How did your career start and how did You become a leader?


Maher Al Kaabi: I joined the board on February 07, 2020, and started restructuring with senior leadership team, making sure all verticals are profitable, put a governance structure, a board in a place, worked on our culture along with the management team (which is a continuous process), and commenced with our digital journey, how do we digitize our processes.

I studied software engineering even though there were some slight peer pressure to study medicine. I love to play with data. I joined a company that is both a software engineering company and a hardware company, where I became a co-owner accidentally in very short time. I got an interview at Citibank and started working there. Citibank was a university. So many things were done there, in technology, in risk, collection, in policies, SME banking, wholesale banking, retail banking was the most over there. And around 2000, I wanted to move to Islamic Banking from faith perspective. Islamic banking is based on the rules of Sharia which are created from the teaching of the Quran and Sunnah.


Le Globless: Why is Islamic banking so important to You, and how did You start to work in this field?


Maher Al Kaabi: Some scholars said, “look, you can continue to work with the bank as long as you don’t have an Islamic job at your hands. So don’t quit the job, continue working, because you need to make your ends meet. But look for an Islamic job. “So I started looking for an Islamic job, and in 2008 I signed up with one Islamic Bank, but got an offer in another Islamic Bank as well. So ended up joining Dubai Bank (which was an Islamic Bank).

During the financial crises, we had to restructure the bank, which most banks had to go through such an exercise globally. Amid crises, we have created a committee of three members to govern and operate the bank and I was one of the member of the committee as Chief Risk Officer along with CEO and CFO. In 2012 the bank was acquired by Emirates NBD, which Alserkal family co-founded in 1963. Dubai Bank was merged with Emirates Islamic Bank which is a 100% subsidiary of Emirates NBD. However, Emirates NBD also had an Islamic Window, which I was requested to lead. The portfolio size was relatively very small. Which we’ve grown it more than 31 times in about five years.

I was also requested to double hat and take over the position of Wholesales Banking Group Chief Operating Officer. I did state that:,, I do not want to mix conventional and Islamic jobs because I want to do only Islamic. I had to check with a scholar whether I can do both jobs together. The scholar advised, “Look, you can add conventional job as long as you don’t take a salary for the new job, just get the salary for the Islamic job. “

 “Yes, I don’t want to take money because it’s not permitted for me.  It’s forbidden.

I want to take money only from the Islamic. “


How is Islamic banking different?

One of the primary differences between conventional banking systems and Islamic banking is that Islamic banking prohibits usury and speculation. Shariah strictly prohibits any form of speculation or gambling, which is referred to as maisir. Shariah also prohibits taking interest on loans. Islamic banking is built on four key principles: no usury, no speculating, no gambling, and ethical investing. For a fee, both sorts of institutions provide funding to productive channels.


Le Globless: Maher, what is Your life mission ?


Maher Al Kaabi: I love to work and change things. I do not like things to be monotonous for a life. I always tell people that we reached one height. We only need to look for the next height all the time, because this is how the world is constantly changing. I think our always motto at home was: ,,it comes from our faith, from our religion, what our Peace Be Upon Him Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Allayhi Wa Salaam taught us is you need to make sure that you fix your family first.”

And also how can you leave an impact in your life, to the world, and to the people that you deal with, so the people in humanity can benefit. I teach my children this almost on a daily basis: ,,Always do something where you leave an impact on humanity, where humans will benefit out of it in a positive way.”

Also, how can you leave an impact in your life, to the world, to the people that you deal with, so the humanity can benefit. I teach my children this almost on a daily basis.

How can we share knowledge and help people?

There are six programs I’m trying to develop for schools that I chair is board of governance. And I think it’s missing today: 

–  that one is financial freedom.

1. How do we teach our children that they should be financially free? And they should not be in debt, and how can they start their life?

2. Understanding of digital economy, what are the new technological trends.

3. Understanding of environment (circular economy). How do you make sure that people are focusing on environment from a faith perspective. It comes from our faith, that we need to preserve our environment. What makes us look after our environment, is not the double standard. Unfortunately, we witness so much of double standard in the Wester World. Our prophet teaches us that we need to take care of every single thing around us in the environment, whether it is a tree, whether it is an animal, whether it’s a human being, every day, we have to take care of them.

 4. Teaching them about entrepreneurship. A report from KPMG states, in the coming 15 years 40% of university graduates will actually be entrepreneurs. In my humble opinion, entrepreneurship it’s not necessarily that you open up a business. Entrepreneurship is about mindset. So we need to build that mindset.

5. Understanding family businesses, the good, the challenges of our family businesses, because family business is the fabric of any economy. SMEs are part and parcel of family business. Last, and the most important one is the overarching of everything.

6. What are the values that we need to equip our children with? If you look at the world today, there’s a lot of westernized things are coming up. And maybe 50 years ago, even less, those values were not there. So, the world was in a better place. And I’m open about it.


Le Globless: Is there a leader who is your role model?


Maher Al Kaabi: I always think about the life of our Peace Be Upon Him Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Allayhi Wa Salaam. He is the only prophet who did everything in life when it comes to economy, to running a country, running a military, running people, religious belief, everything. He is the best role model of all time.

I’m blessed by God with both of my parents. My father used to say: ,,You  know, I’m building my bank records towards God. So when I go to God, I will have a bank account. So I want to build it while I’m alive, which is by doing good deeds.

,, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, the more you give out, Oh my God, it’s so beautiful that you get so much back without asking for it, without knowing it, because God gives you blessing and barakah. So even with the little you have, you’re able to do many things.”  Maher Al Kaabi



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