Change your glasses

In my Halaqa last week someone challenged me about the prohibition of interest-based finance and said, “There is no alternative, so what can we do? Without interest-based finance Muslims can never have a big business or industry.” I asked him, “No alternative to what? No alternative to making money, buying a house or whatever? Or no alternative to buying the enmity of Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ? Ask, ‘What am I buying? A house, or war with Allahﷻ and Rasoolullahﷺ? Allahﷻ said as we know:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَذَرُوا۟ مَا بَقِىَ مِنَ ٱلرِّبَوٰٓا۟ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

فَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلُوا۟ فَأْذَنُوا۟ بِحَرْبٍ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦ وَإِن تُبْتُمْ فَلَكُمْ رُءُوسُ أَمْوَٰلِكُمْ لَا تَظْلِمُونَ وَلَا تُظْلَمُونَ

Baqara 2: 278-9   O you who believe! Be afraid of Allah and give up what remains (due to you) from Riba (interest) (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 but if you repent, you shall have your capital sums. Deal not unjustly (by asking more than your capital sums), and you shall not be dealt with unjustly (by receiving less).

Nobody can say that the matter was not clear. Do we really want to live as Allahﷻ’s enemies? What do you call those you are at war with? Buying war with Allahﷻ is not an option for a Muslim. Nothing is worth that. Is there?

Let me give you some facts. Let me do a primer on this: we have two options:

Option 1: Get into interest-based transactions and write our name in the list of the enemies of Allahﷻ. Eat doubtful or Haraam stuff and get our Ibaadah and dua deleted.

Option 2: Choose to live our life with dignity as good Muslims and remain in the list of Allahﷻ’s Awlia and look forward to His Forgiveness. Whatever Allahﷻ decreed for us, will come to us. All the effort we make to get it, will be rewarded. And when we die, we hope to die with Allahﷻ’s Mercy.

Which is the better of the two? Let us get this settled once and for all and decide that we are not going to sacrifice our Aakhira for this life. About believing that there are no alternatives to interest-based finance, let me assure you that we have many alternatives. What we don’t have, is excuses to disobey Allahﷻ and indulge in Haraam.

What we must do therefore is to change the glasses through which we see the world. First, let us ask ourselves if we believe in resurrection and the meeting with Allahﷻ to give account for our lives. That is where we need to start. We are Muslim and that means that Allahﷻ’s Ridha (Pleasure) should be the basis and criterion for all our decision making. Fundamental to that is our faith in resurrection and accountability. For Muslims, all decision making must be based on that. And not on anything else. Because remember, our money, fame, family, wealth, business, authority, even knowledge will stay here when we die but the way we made all that will go with us.

That is why the title of my Khutba is, ‘Change your glasses.’ Just as, if our sight starts to go foggy and blurred, we go to an ophthalmologist to check if we need new glasses, so also, when our sight is getting blurred with the fog of Dunya, we must turn to Allahﷻ to clear our vision. The Sahaba looked at Dunya through the lens of the obedience of Allahﷻ, cleaned and polished daily in the Suhba (company) of Rasoolullahﷺ. Not only did they not have an alternative to obeying Allahﷻ, but they also did not even seek one. So, Allahﷻ gave them Dunya and Aakhira. We have turned that criterion upside down. We look at the obedience of Allahﷻ through the lens of our desires (Dunya) and our desires have no alternative for us. So, Allahﷻ does not give us Dunya and may Allahﷻ protect us from what will happen in the Aakhira if we die like this. When there are two things, one superior and one clearly inferior, which would you choose? It is that simple.

Sahl bin Sa’ad (R) narrated that Rasoolullah said: “If this world were equal to a mosquito’s wing in the sight of Allah then He would not have allowed the disbeliever to have a sip of water from it.” [Tirmidhi Kitab-ul-Zuhd, Hasan].

The word ‘Dunya’ doesn’t mean the geographical world. It means the intentional adoption of anything which causes one to become forgetful of Allahﷻ irrespective of what that thing may be. Thus, acquisition of wealth, power, fame, and seeking pleasure, is not evil, but Hubb-ud-Dunya (love for it at any cost) is evil. Allahﷻ made this world a place of cause and effect and gave us the freedom to choose the effects we want by creating the causes.

Narrated Thawban (R), Rasoolullah said: The people will soon summon one another to attack you as people when eating invite others to share their dish. Someone asked: Will that be because of our small numbers at that time? He replied: No, you will be numerous at that time: but you will be scum and rubbish like that carried down by a torrent, and Allah will take away fear of you from the breasts of your enemy and insert Wahn into your hearts. Someone asked: What is Wahn (enervation), Ya Rasoolullah? He replied: Hubb-ud-Dunya wa Karahiyatil Mawth (Love of the world and dislike of death).

Wealth, spouse, children, power, and desires are like the ocean and our heart is like a ship. The ship needs water to move but the water can also sink it. If the water remains outside the ship, it aids its sailing. But if the water enters the ship, it will sink it. So, it is not water, but where it exists, that counts. That is also the case with all the material things we love in life. They can be beneficial if they remain in the pocket and hand. But if their love enters the heart, it will destroy it. My brothers and sisters, our heart must love something. It can’t remain free of love. Our choice is what we choose to love. This must be an active conscious choice. That doesn’t mean we hate everything else. It just means we prioritize and give the thing we love, the most time, energy, and space in our lives. The rest is incidental. You pay attention to it when what you love gives you the time. When what or who you love, owns and controls everything, then how can you lose Stuff when you are connected to the Creator and Owner of Stuff? Don’t get stuck in stuff.

Hatim al-Asamm (RA) is reported to have said, “I saw that every person has an enemy, so I said I will check who my enemy is. As for one who backbites me, he is not my enemy, or one who takes something from me, he is not my enemy. Rather, my enemy is one who commands me to disobey Allah when I am obeying Him. This I saw was Shaytaan and his soldiers, so I took them as my enemy, and I waged war against them. I used my bow, shot my arrow, and never let him come near me.” That is the key. Recognize Shaytaan as our enemy and fight him. Instead, we treat Shaytaan as our friend and Allahﷻ as our enemy. Then we wonder why we are so stressed and fearful and struggling without success.

Let me now give you concrete examples in the corporate world of companies which have zero debt but are highly successful and are a secure investment.

Infosys (1981) operates in more than 50 countries, employing 345,218 employees, projected revenue for Q2FY23 US$ 4555 million (4.5 billion). Infosys is a debt-free company. CRISIL rating is AAA. Other debt free companies are SEIC, DOX, and PAYX. All excellent investments.

There are basically three sources of Halaal funds. Angel investors (people who will give you an interest free loan), Venture Capitalists and the Public. Even when you go to the Public and list your company, you will need Working Capital to develop it to the point when you can go public. Angel investors are not easy to get and are usually limited to smaller amounts. Over the past 30 years, venture capital has been a vital source of financing for high-growth start-ups. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Whole Foods, and countless other innovative companies owe their early success in part to the capital and coaching provided by VCs.

Jim Breyer, the founder of Breyer Capital and the first VC investor in Facebook, says that high-quality deal flow is essential to strong returns. Deal flow is defined as the number of quality investment opportunities with the company or investor at a given point in time. What is Jim Breyer’s primary source of leads? He says, “I’ve found that the best deals often come from my network of trusted friends, investors, entrepreneurs, and professors.” Think about this. What he is saying is that his first cut, first filter is his own friends and network. What does that mean if you are the guy with a brilliant product or service idea but no network? It means that you are highly likely to take your idea to your grave. The survey results reveal just how difficult it can be for entrepreneurs who are not connected to the right social and professional circles to get funding. Few deals are produced by founders who beat a path to a VC’s door without any connection. Now pause a minute and think about what happened in this community just a couple of weeks ago. We had the Fintech Bootcamp in WNEU which was designed to help youth get an insight into VC financing, startup challenges, building powerful networks, which pitch works best and so on. It was a free event with free lunch. All you needed to do was register. I know how much we tried to promote it. Reminder after reminder was sent out. Guess how many of our youth took advantage of this opportunity? Three. Nice number. Three.

There is a saying in English: you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink. What do you say about the horse to which water is brought but it still doesn’t drink? As you can see, the issue is not about a lack of alternatives, but a lack of initiative on the part of those who like to complain about a lack of alternatives. If you have a good idea, do your homework, create a prototype, test market it, and pitch for Halaal VC finance, you have a good chance of getting it provided you pitch to the right people and that depends on the network you are in. The survey found that for each deal a VC firm eventually closes, on average, they consider 101 opportunities. Twenty-eight of those opportunities will lead to a meeting with management; 10 will be reviewed at a partner meeting; 4.8 will make it to due diligence; 1.7 will move on to the negotiation of a term sheet with the start-up; and only one will be funded.

Some big names who secured VC financing: Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail), Vinod Khosla (Sun Microsystems). What does this tell us about VC funding? Hitech businesses with a strong growth prospect have a high chance of being funded. Traditional businesses with low growth prospects are not likely to make the grade. You must get out of your comfortable boxes, and fish in the sea if you want to catch big fish. Encourage your children to develop business ideas. Expose them to networks of the right people. For that you must free them up from standing at your cash register. On their part, they must use that time doing useful things for their careers, not hanging out with other airheads. There is almost no ceiling to what a VC will fund provided it excites him, but I have yet to find a VC who finds a gas station or convenience store exciting. Bottom line: Halaal sources of funds are available if you want to find them and want to do what it takes. Excuses don’t change reality. Being at war with Allahﷻ is not a great idea.

Going forward what must you do? Let me address the youth. Make a YouTube video which will easily get you at least 10,000 views on the first day. On a nice bright sunny day, take your Play Station Five out into the backyard. Place it on a flat rock and take a sledgehammer and smash it. Make sure you set up your camera in advance. I would recommend ‘Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N Roses’ as the background music as you pound the Play Station to powder. Then package the Play Station Powder in 5-gram packs and sell it on eBay. Then what should you do in your spare time? Watch Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den. Two of the best reality VC funding shows that I know. Take notes and imagine yourself in the place of those pitching for funds. What would you do differently and more powerfully? If you want a real time taste of Shark Tank/Dragon’s Den, I will be happy to set it up for you here. You will suffer. You will weep. And you will learn until you are ready to go to the real thing and power your way to success on Halal money.

To succeed you must first want to succeed. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Just see what you do with your spare time, and it will tell you if you are a winner or a loser. This is a society that supports deception. It tells you that you are amazing, fantastic, and fabulous. You are not. You are an ordinary person, like everyone else. Unless you do what nobody else does. Check what time you wake up, and what you do after you are awake. Ask yourself which are your most difficult and most unpleasant tasks. And then make them your priority daily. Do what you hate the most, first. That is the mental and spiritual gym that we need, to build real strength. Your success is right there, in your hands. But you need to change your glasses to see it.