Islamic Finance As A Complex System: The story behind the book


Karamo NM Sonko, Heeno Occasional Postings, No. 41, August 7, 2020

I have many incredible stories in my life. They have enriched my experience and taught me not to worry about what I do not have! They have helped me to realise that I will never miss what is meant for me, nor will I have what is never mine. Nevertheless, they have also helped me to realise that my responsibilities in the pursuit of success (even for getting into heaven!) are to pray (as a believer) and work for what I desire (as a creature). The story of my latest book project, on Islamic finance, is one of those stories of my life.

It started in Abidjan, with an Ivorian minister (I had requested an appointment with in October, 2016) asking me to meet her at an Islamic finance conference I was unaware of. From there, I went on an unexpected and sometimes very challenging three-year intellectual journey that took me from the Ivory Coast to Saudi Arabia, The Gambia, Malaysia, Norway, Pakistan, USA and several other countries.


The journey ended in Lanham, MD, USA, where I found the most engaging publishing team I have ever worked with. The production manager/production editor is an Indian Hindu with a unique spiritual name, who bade us farewell, after finishing his job in June last year, by describing our product as a “wonderful book”. The team steered us with courage and efficiency through the turbulent waves of Covid-19 to a successful docking at port.

I must admit that (like most Muslims!) I knew very little or nothing about Islamic finance (although it is essential for us to know about it) until recently. Therefore, I had never imagined writing on the subject before Abidjan. I became greatly interested in it only since discovering it in Mauritania in the late 2000s.

Islamic Finance as a Complex System: New Insights is co-edited and co-authoured with the chairman of my PhD Committee, Haider A Khan, John Evans Distinguished University Professor, University of Denver. Khan is a multilingual economist, mathematician, poet and musician; a man of incredible intellect with more than 14,000 Google Scholar citations. Practitioners and other prominent scholars of Islamic and development finance contributed chapters. They come from different academic and financial institutions, such as the IDB, Harvard, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, Chr Michelsen Institute, the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics and World Bank.

The foreword is written by 2016 IDB Laureate, Professor M Kabir Hassan, University of New Orleans. He holds multiple professorships in business, economics and finance. It has also been endorsed by Professor Iftikhar Ahmed, former editor-in-chief of the International Labour Review and director of the ILO’s Bureau of Publications, now a Swiss parliamentarian. In a third endorsement, by Professor Azahari Jamaludin, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Geomatika University College in Kuala Lumpur, it is observed that the book “provides insightful responses to topical questions in Islamic finance that the practitioners, scholars, researchers, and students of Islamic finance will find refreshing and relevant.”

The publication is dedicated to the memory of the late eminent Gambian American scholar, Professor Sulayman S Nyang of Howard University in Washington, DC. He was a promoter of inter-faith dialogue, whom I have met only once, in 1990 when I worked at the IMF in Washington.

I found each of the contributors in very telling ways. As an example, I saw the World Bank’s Vice President of Ethics and Business Conduct and Chief Ethics Officer, then Ousmane Diagana, 2009 Good Manager Awardee of the Bank, eloquently delivering a speech at the opening ceremony of the conference in Abidjan. When I had the idea of the book later, I thought of requesting a chapter from him. Therefore, I called his office. A lady (whom I found to be very helpful) picked up the phone and said she was “only a temporary replacement” for the VP’s secretary whom (I think she said) was on leave. We spoke very briefly about life and she promised to get back to me, although she was nearing the end of her assignment. Three days later, the VP himself wrote to me directly.

When I called to thank the lady, I could tell that there was something I said in my first call which she seemed to have appreciated much. This reminds me of an experience on an Emirates Airlines flight 0733 from Dubai to Sudan on January 5, 2020. As I walked into the plane to my seat, I saw an attendant struggling to put a bag in an overhead bin. Without ado, I took the advantage of my height to help her. She (Hungarian – I found out later) came back later to give a little, but very sincere, appreciation speech which attracted the attention and approval of all the passengers nearby. I was treated like a small hero and fed like a baby on that flight until we got to Khartoum – all for something I thought was only a very small natural response.

Little kindnesses can sometimes touch people’s hearts (especially those who appreciate) in very big ways! In initiating and editing this book, I have learnt about a new subject but (even more importantly) about people and life.

I am very pleased that the book is coming out at a historic epoch. The economic consequences of Covid-19 (in addition to earlier financial crises), have clearly demonstrated the need for authentic and dynamic Islamic finance in the global economy. The more authentic and dynamic Islamic finance becomes, the more attractive it would be to both Muslims and non- Muslims; the better it would also be in promoting global progress, equity, stability, inclusion and resilience.

For ordering this modest contribution to the literature on Islamic finance, which was released on August 15, 2020, please go to: System-Insights/dp/1793608652