In October, 2016, during a visit to Abidjan, a Minister I had requested an appointment with, asked me to meet her at an international conference on Islamic finance in the city. Whilst waiting for the Minister in the conference room, an ordinary participant stood up and started complaining: "What is Islamic finance? Nobody knows!!"

Later, over lunch with a friend of the Minister, I drew attention to the words of the critic. He agreed that there was still very much work to be done and added that the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has a research institute (IRTI) which might be richer than the World Bank's Research Institute. He clicked on the website. I saw an announcement for a scholarly research competition on Islamic finance. I was very much interested in the subject, but I was definitively not a scholar of Islamic finance, very very far from it. Nevertheless, the words of the unhappy participant gave me food for thought. Inspired by him, I decided to plunge into a river I was not sure how to swim in. I prepared a proposal: "Promoting Islamic finance in Africa: Top Bottom or Bottom Up?" and sent it to the IRTI. A few months later, came the unexpected good news!

Consequently, I hired research assistants to work with me on an economic, financial and statistical case study of The Gambia, which lasted for nearly a year. The output was accepted last week for publication by the IRTI. It has also been included as a chapter in a forthcoming book on Islamic finance, which I co-edited with Haider A. Khan, John Evans Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of Denver, Colorado. Other contributors come from the World Bank, IsDB and universities in Europe, Pakistan and the US. Professor Khan is ranked among the top five percent of the world's economic thinkers.

In addition to money that went to the Heeno Foundation, about 40 students and other assistants directly benefitted financially from the study.

I learnt a few things from this experience:

  1. Adventure and creativity are keys for opening the gates to success.
  2. Opportunities sometimes come with more questions than we can answer. Why did the Minister ask me to meet her at a conference rather than in her office? Why did I visit Abidjan at the time of a rather rare conference, I was unaware of until the Minister told me? Why did the critic get up to speak just when I got down to listen? Why did the Minister’s friend click on the IRTI website? Why was the research competition taking place at that time? Etc.
  3. Most Muslims worldwide (including MBA and PhD holders in finance and until very recently myself) know nothing or very little about Islamic finance.
  4. Some non-Muslims and non-Muslim governments are more interested in and/more knowledgeable about Islamic finance than many Muslims.
  5. In spite of its name, Islamic finance is for both Muslims and non-Muslims, particularly those who are risk averse and/or interested in ethical business. In a world where money has become the primary motivation for almost everything, Islamic finance can build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims, at a time when good relations between the two have become essential for world peace.
  6. Inspiration does not only come from success and successful people, as we seem to think. It can also come out of failure, ignorance, curiosity and from an ordinary person.