Halal Money Matters

Episode 13: Barakah of Productivity

Halal Money Matters welcomes Mohammed Faris, Founder and CEO of The Productive Muslim Company, to discuss the blessings of productivity and balance.

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Halal Money Matters Podcast

Episode 13 – Barakah of Productivity

[music intro]

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Welcome to Halal Money Matters presented by Saturna Capital. I’m Christopher Patton.

MONEM SALAM: And I’m Monem Salam.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Our topic today is an interesting one that I didn’t know a ton about.

MONEM SALAM: Yeah, you know, it’s one of those things where you find some people who are super, super productive. They always find time to be able to do like 10,000 different things. There are people like that. And other people are like, “You know what? I can only get one thing done a day.”

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Yeah. [laughter]

MONEM SALAM: And so, I think this episode speaks to a little bit of that and how you put barakah into your time and your money.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: So, not just looking at how to become a more productive individual but what are the religious benefits of taking that kind of scientific approach to maximizing your productivity.

MONEM SALAM: Yeah, and we have a great guest today. His name is Mohammed Faris. He’s the Founder and Chief Productive Officer for The Productive Muslim Company. Funny, I’ve known him for a few years and initially—he’ll talk about this also—he started out doing this on the side and it became a company. Now, he speaks around the country at large companies, small companies, talking about this. Becoming more productive.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: I watched some of his talks online. He did a TED Talk about this. Super interesting. I’m exciting to speak with him.

[music interlude]

MONEM SALAM: Mohammed, thank you for joining us. I think this is a very important topic and what we wanted to discuss was a little bit about being productive from an overall—your life—perspective, but really because this is Halal Money Matters podcast, really talking about, you know, how a Muslim, and especially our shareholders, which are primarily Muslim, can be productive in their financial life as well. But before we get into that, I think Chris has a couple of good introductory questions. So, we’ll start there and then we’ll go on.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: So, I saw you kind of self-identify as a “productivity geek” in college. And I’m curious, what drove that? One. And two, was your interest in productivity... was it always through a faith lens or did those associations kind of come later on?

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah. Great questions. So, bismillah. Yeah, it started off... what got me into productivity was me being in college and being involved in a lot of stuff. I had two part-time jobs, I was doing a master’s degree and I was involved in the community. I felt busy. I felt overwhelmed, busy, stressed out. Like, man, I’m just a rinky dink student and here I am really being stressed out about how to manage all of this stuff. What will happen in five, ten years if I get married, have kids, and if I’m getting involved with work? So, I really felt like I needed to figure this out. And some of the best advice I ever got... one of my flat mates was like, “If you ever face a problem, someone somewhere wrote a book about.” I was like huh... that’s great. I was sure there was something out there about it. That’s when I sort of stumbled on this whole genre of getting things done, productivity, and you know, how to become more efficient. And also, I was a bit of an Apple boy, Mac geek, also, so I was using all this software to, you know, fly through my emails and try to, you know... anything that will get me more efficient, more productive. So, that’s when I sort of stumbled upon the science of productivity. Mainly from getting things done... life hacking. I loved lifehacker.com and Gadget. All of those blogs talk about how to become more efficient. And when I started the blog, I actually started it as me sharing what I was learning. So, I was kind of taking all of the knowledge I was getting from all of these books and websites and sharing with my Muslim community. Because a lot of my friends were like, “Hey, how do you do it? How do you balance everything else?” Let me just try to blog about it. I also was into writing and thought about a blog for a long time. This was in 2007. Everyone started a blog, right? But it was only a year later after blogging for a while that I started sort of... started asking the question. Wait a minute, this productivity thing is so cool and amazing. It makes my life better. Where in my faith... and for me, I feel like Islam offers us a complete way of life... but where in Islam does it talk about productivity? I don’t hear Imams and scholars talk about productivity as a concept. You don’t hear from the Friday sermons, and you don’t hear it from normal lectures. That’s when I started putting the productivity hat on and rereading verses in the Quran and saying of the Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and realizing, “Wait a second, there’s all this productivity stuff going on here that I just never thought of that way.” And that’s when the whole new approach with the faith-based approach took off, basically.

MONEM SALAM: So, what was your first hadith or Quranic verse that you came across... and you know, sometimes what happens is you read verses over and over again and you read it for the fifteenth time and go, “Wow, this is crazy, I never thought of it this way.”


MONEM SALAM: So, what was your first verse like that? 

MOHAMMED FARIS: I think it was a hadith, actually. It was the hadith that says, “Allah put barakah on my nation in the early hours.” And it’s not he hadith itself. It’s the commentary of the hadith. They say that the companion, his name was Sakhr Al Ghamidi, who heard this hadith. When he heard this saying, he started sending his trade early in the morning. He started going to the market early in the morning and became very wealthy as a result. So, if you just read the hadith at face value, okay... the Prophet is praying for you in the early hours. That’s nice. But this man was very smart and realized, “Wait a second, that’s a secret to basically becoming productive financially.” And basically, to grow his wealth, he started sending goods to the market early in the morning. And the funny thing is that every productivity book I was reading up until that point talks about, “Wake up early, wake up early, wake up early,” right? To be productive, you’ve got to wake up early. And that’s when I realized, “Wait a second. Here’s the hadith that tells us the secret of why we should wake up early,” which is this idea of barakah, something we talk a lot about at The Productive Muslim. It’s so important. This idea of tapping into this divine goodness. There are special times, special places, where there is more barakah that really helps you become a better version of yourself and also helps bring blessings upon blessings that you don’t even expect, basically.

MONEM SALAM: I’m trying to think about your career, also, because you did finance and economics and then went into the Islamic Development Bank right away. So, now I’m thinking about it. Was it that that kept you on that path first? Because of your finance background? Maybe it would have... if you were a biology major, would you have found another hadith on productivity?

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah, I was definitely a finance, also, geek, a little bit. I was finance student for my bachelor and master’s and I also always recognize... the funny thing wasn’t the perspective wasn’t, “Let me find out the secrets of becoming a millionaire at 25.” Right? It was more about recognizing that there is something in the early hours that all of the productivity geeks that I’m reading about talk about. They can’t pinpoint why. And here is a Muslim, almost like a clear explanation about what it is about this. What’s the secret of the early morning hours that brings that? You wake up in the morning and get so much done compared to late in the day. That’s barakah. That’s being productive in a very holistic sense, as well.

MONEM SALAM: So, why is it?

MOHAMMED FARIS: I think, for us. So, the way I define productivity is... to be honest, I try to avoid the kind of industry-based definition of output over input. Right? That’s the normal productivity definition. For me, it’s about how do you manage your energy, focus, and time. Right? How do you manage energy, focus, and time to be a better version of yourself to fulfill your purpose in life? And this idea of barakah... what happens is... Barakah, I feel, is like a secret sauce. It’s like a divine sort of secret that enters your energy, your focus, your time, your wealth, your children. Anything, right? The idea of barakah. Barakah means it can enter anything. And there’s almost an unexplained increase that happens. Unexplained growth. It’s not even almost logical but it’s there. And that’s the idea. They say barakah is where the divine world meets the human world. And we experience it. For example, when you wake up early. For example, when you give to charity. We also see it, for example, when you invite friends over. Let’s say you invited 10 people over and they decided to bring all of their friends and now you have 20 people show up at your house and somehow there’s enough food, even though you cooked just for 10 people, somehow there’s enough food. That’s barakah, right? There’s some unexplained growth that happens. So, we’ve all experienced that, some parts of barakah, but for me, I feel like that’s the... if we can tap into that, yes, you can improve your efficiency and productivity with these life hacks, but it’s more important for us to be more productive is to tap into this divine blessing called barakah by aligning our mindsets, our values, and rituals to attract the barakah in our lives, basically.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: At what point did you decide to pivot your career to pinpointing this idea?

MOHAMMED FARIS: I think it was 2008. So, I started in ’07, by 2011, when I started getting invited to do training and workshops and then I got a book deal to write a book about it. I realized, “Okay, this is getting a little bit serious. And at one point, in 2015, I had to make a decision. Either I shut the website down and just focus on my career as an Islamic banker or risk manager to be specific. Or, do I just jump into this full speed ahead and just see how far I can go with it? And honestly, the answer to me was pretty clear. This was more meaningful to me even though I enjoyed working in the Islamic finance industry. I enjoyed working at the Islamic Development Bank. I had a lot of great colleagues and friends, and I just enjoyed the world. But I felt this was more meaningful for me, hence I went straight in. 2016 is when I moved full speed ahead.

MONEM SALAM: So, and now, talking a little bit about this idea... because I think you’re right. There is kind of this unexplained phenomena. And you know, we see a lot of clients in our everyday lives, shareholders of the Funds and those types of things. And there are certain things that I tell people. When they ask me why I just say, “I don’t know. That’s what it is.” One of the ones, the biggest one I’ve realized is, like, having credit card debt. Once you basically pay off. Like, I’ve told people before, “Once you pay it off, you’re going to find so much more blessing,” and part of the blessing, what I find, is that when you have blessings, you know where your money is going. And you know, you have, no matter what happens, you’ll have money left over at the end of the day. Whereas if you don’t, you earn it, it spends, and you’re like, “What just happened? I have no idea where the money went but it’s disappearing. You know, those types of things. It’s unexplained phenomena that happens.

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah. It’s unexplained but it’s real. The challenge for us, of course, is how to explain it. I mean, it’s a real phenomenon and we firmly believe it as part of our faith, this idea of barakah. It traditionally has been spoken about. When you hear merchants in the souqs. Right? You go to any traditional souqs in Istanbul or Cairo or Morocco—until today... this whole idea of, you know, the first trade. Early mornings, you go in the market, and they open up their shops. Things like, for example, the idea of, “Don’t buy from me, buy from my brother.” We think that’s historic; that’s still today. And they understood where it might not make competition sense or logical sense. One of my favorite stories is, I don’t know if you know Albaik, the famous fried chicken company in Jeddah. The business owner of Albaik, his name is Shakour Abu Ghazalah. He opened a fried chicken restaurant in Jeddah in 1976. And he died two years later. He never saw the success of his business. But when he started his business, even though the first two years were terrible... he was losing money. Imagine the business losing money. He decided to give one riyal for every fried chicken he sold. Now, you think, that does not make any business sense. Bring in a BCG or McKinsey and tell them, “Hey I have a CSR program on a business that’s actually losing money.” Like, what are you doing? Make profit first, then you can, you know, give away some money. Especially for tax purposes. Right? But this guy is like, “No. I’m going to start from day one.” And even though he passed away and then his kids took over... It’s fascinating that this became one of the most beloved fried chicken brands in the Middle East and the fact that 20 years later, the Saudi government sort of chose Albaik and gave them prime real estate to serve fried chicken to millions of pilgrims. Right? And I’m thinking, “What is it?” There’s KFC. There are all the fried chicken companies. Why Albaik, specifically? And that, this idea of barakah. Sometimes it’s impact, even if you don’t see that impact in your own lifetime. In the case of Shakour, he never saw that impact in his own lifetime. He made the right decisions. He had the right values. He had taken the right rituals. He knew that something bigger than himself and his business. And the purpose of business was to serve. And that, for me, is fascinating. That’s something that I feel we’ve lost and we kind of don’t talk about. We talk about very logical, number-crunching lives. And I think it’s important to put barakah as part of the calculation. Whenever you think of your finances or your wealth or any parts of your life basically.

MONEM SALAM: You know, it’s interesting that you mention the thing about the marketplace. I remember... I don’t remember who it was. Maybe it was you. But I remember somebody mentioning that in the marketplace and maybe this still happens, when the merchants come out and there’s one person selling and then let’s say twenty people selling the same thing. When they have made their sustenance for the day, they’ll just wrap up and go home. Like, there’s no idea of marginal increases in their businesses. And I just found that to be really amazing. It’s such a different concept than “get as much as you can at the expense of others.”

MOHAMMED FARIS: Absolutely. My grandfather used to run... he had a shop in Dar es Salaam. He passed a couple of years ago. But I remember going to his shop growing up in the summer. In the shop, just seeing how he treated this business. And like you say, it’s just so relaxed, honestly. People passed by and he would give them money and I’m like, “Who’s that person?” He would say “Oh, no, no. He just comes and collects his money.” I’m like, “Do you owe him anything?” No, no, no. There’s competition of course. There’s no... just holding hands and singing kumbaya. There’s competition. But you can see that it’s not that cutthroat competition where he’s trying to put you down. To the point where if someone’s business fails, they will kind of chip in and support that person in any way, shape, or form. So, again, this concept, and again, it comes down to mindsets, values, and rituals. The way you think about business and money and how you approach life. The values you hold. And the rituals you kind of sort of choose to practice and those three things bring this barakah in your life beyond imagination. Whether it’s in your health, whether it’s in your children, whether it’s in your home. Whether it’s in your car, your laptop or smart phone. Or your business. And I think we really need to start tapping more into this whole idea. As part of being “productive,” beyond, in a spiritual sense. And also in a real sense as well.

MONEM SALAM: So, let’s break that down a little bit. You said mindset, values, and rituals, right? Let’s look at each of these and kind of define.

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah. First of all. Why I came up with these three terms is there was some research done in the University of Vienna, actually, Dr. Ali Gümüsay wrote an article, wrote a journal paper on why we should embrace religions in moral theories of leadership, in leadership theories, basically. And he said that if you think about religion, what religion brings to the table is that if someone subscribes to a religion, they have three main distinctive features. Number one, they believe in a deity. They believe in a god, in deity. Something beyond themselves. Number two, they believe in some kind of life after death. So, ultimate accountability to put it that way. And number three, they believe in some kind of sacred scripture. Some kind of guide to live your life. Right? So, believe in a deity, believe in life after death, and believe in sacred scriptures. And if someone comes with... when you’re doing coaching you’re talking about things like mental models. People come with their own mental models, worldview. If someone comes with that worldview where they believe in a deity, they believe in life after death, and they believe in sacred scriptures, that will inform their mindsets. How they think. The way they think. For example, the mindset of being God-conscious, being really conscious that God is watching over you in every small or big deal. The mindset of abundance mindset. There is enough for everybody. I don’t have to cut anyone’s... you don’t have to lose for me to win. We can both win. That’s an abundance mindset that comes from believing that God sustains me versus, “I gotta make sure I can get every bit of money out of you,” so to speak. So, that’s the mindset. Values is more of what we believe in, which is kind of like... almost like the market example. The value of mercy. The value of justice. The value of... and we see in today’s society where people are calling those values. There’s a great quote by the head of MBA graduate schools in western Europe. She said we’ve done a great job of graduating effective leaders. We did a terrible job of graduating ethical leaders. Right? And this idea of anything with... How do you teach ethics, right? Amana. Trustworthiness. Honesty. Like, these are the things that you grew up with. These are stories you grew up with. These are values that were instilled in you either by society or by parents or by school systems. These are values that are important to try to think about and kind of live up to. And finally, rituals. Rituals are the lifestyle choices, including prayers and fasting and all those more traditional worship rituals. But even things like helping people, volunteering. So, that’s where the sort of model I came up with. If you tap into the values, mindset, and rituals, it can really... basically, living this lifestyle where you’re conscious. The way you think, what you believe in, and your lifestyle choices... this attracts this divine goodness. This barakah, which enters and permeates all aspects of your life, basically.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: It’s interesting, on our show, we spend a lot of time breaking down finance and you see that a lot of the components are kind of just common sense things that could be applicable to anyone, so... when you say mindset, values, and rituals, that could apply to anybody. Those are just good ways to live your life.

MOHAMMED FARIS: Absolutely. And the beautiful thing about this that sometimes... when you might have these mindsets, values, and rituals and yep, I agree with them... but how sincere are you subscribing to them? That’s where the market comes. A lot of people say yes, I believe in justice. I believe in the abundance mindset. Makes sense. But when the rubber hits the road... when you are in a situation where your personal interest, perhaps, collides with these mindsets, values, and rituals, do you go the extra mile and say, “No, because I believe in a deity, because I believe in a hereafter, because I believe in sacred scriptures, I’m going to make that sacrifice, even though it does not make sense.” For example, the fried chicken story, right? Even if it doesn’t make sense. That’s where the difficulty is, and I think that’s why spirituality and religion in general come and give you that organized system to kind of help you and to be sincere and to commit to those mindsets, values, and rituals, even when you feel like, “Uh, I’m not so sure about this. I’m not sure where this is going.” And that’s our challenge and that’s what I feel like what spirituality and religion brings to the table when it comes to this concept.

MONEM SALAM: So, coming a little bit more now into let’s say the US versus maybe the rest of the world. We’re, as Muslims living in America, you know, we’re basically caught up in the hustle and the bustle. Right? Of every day. So, how do you kind of begin to balance? How do you make, for example, what you said about mindset, values, and rituals... you can put it into an Islamic context, and I’d say, “Oh yeah, that makes sense to me,” but how do I translate that to my non-Muslim boss?

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah. Love that. I did present this concept. I call it “barakah culture versus hustle culture,” and I made this presentation. I did this at Salesforce, American Airlines, Google, and I present to a Muslim and non-Muslim crowd and people get it. The way I define it is sort of this... Right now, if you think about productivity or productivity in the 21st century model... it’s the hustle culture model. You have got to hustle. If you’re not hustling, then you’re a loser. The whole Gary V. approach to life and hustle, which kind of, sometimes... it can only take you up so far. We have seen what happened with COVID, right? When everyone had to slow down and realized, “Wait a second,” and people don’t want to go back to that hustle lifestyle. We don’t want to go back to where we lose value, our families, and lose ourselves and become so obsessed with work, work, work and work becomes almost like a religion. There’s a great article in The Atlantic. A guy called Derek Thompson, he wrote an article saying why workism is making Americans miserable. And he defines workism where work has become to central piece of identity. Work has actually replaced religion because it gives us meaning and purpose, it gives a sense of community, and becomes like... almost like the definition. Think about from when you were young to school to college, you’ve been taught that you follow your passion. Follow your dream. We grew up into this kind of arc of becoming the next Elon Musk or the next Jeff Bezos, right? That’s the narrative. And the narrative is that you’ve got to hustle if you want to get there. You’ve got to hustle. But the alarm bells are sounding, now. I mean, the co-founder of Reddit wrote about, excuse the term, “hustle pornography,” basically. People are so obsessed with getting, you know, hustling. Wake up at 4:00 in the morning, hit the gym, check my email before breakfast. All that stuff. Where are you taking the anxiety? The depression? The suicide? Unfortunately, we’ve seen it in our society because it’s just a treadmill that, you know, if gets to you. Right? So, when I present this, this challenge... on hustle culture is that it’s very egocentric. It’s very me, myself, and I. It’s very materialistic in the sense that materialism... there’s a great book. I just finished reading it yesterday, called The High Price of Materialism by Professor Tim Kasser. Great book. It’s about if your orientation of life is simply wealth and possession, that’s what kind of your purpose in life, what you aim for, the research... he uses a lot of research and studies. It’s just depressing. You feel less connected. You feel less happy. Physical, psychological well-being. So, there is that side of it. And then, finally, so a egocentric, materialistic focus, and then very here-and-now versus thinking about what you offer to the world, the generations to come. And what I’m proposing... I talk about the idea of barakah culture, barakah culture that is more God-centric. And the reason why I put God in the center. People feel uncomfortable in a secular society. That’s the only way for you to get out of yourself because otherwise you will be trapped into some other deity. If it’s not yourself, you will worship some kind of celebrity, worship money, worship something else. The only way you let go of that and connect to a deity, to God himself, that’s when you can really be free, basically, that’s number one. Number two, a hereafter focus. Recognizing that there is a really long-term game, right? Stephen Covey talks about “begin with the end in mind.” I say, with the very end in mind. Right? When you think about that end, like, after death. And finally, about purpose and impact. Focus on purpose and impact. That is where we need to make the shift. Now, whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in Islam or not, even if you just move away from the egocentric to realize that there must be a way different way of living, a way that’s beyond myself, a way that’s more about purpose and impact. That’s important because the way we are taught or driven to be productive is just not sustainable. Unfortunately, our families, our children, and society is paying the price for that approach to productivity.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: It kind of reminds me of something... In one of your talks, you mention contentment as source of barakah. And it’s okay to be ambitious and work for things but to kind of, going back to the mindset, to try to maintain that. To me that’s kind of beautiful because it emphasizes gratitude along the way through your journey.

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah. Enjoy the ride, right? Enjoy the ride. And again, in hustle culture it’s almost like, “What’s next?” Right? You hit the million dollars, then it’s ten million. Hit the ten million, then it’s a billion. Versus being content. And you’re right. It’s not saying, “Don’t’ be ambitious.” Sometimes I get backlash. Some people say, “Oh, aren’t you encouraging laziness? Isn’t this the problem with the Muslim world today? Too much into the barakah culture. They aren’t doing much.” And I’m like, “No!” Again, that’s at the extreme, total chill out and do nothing as opposed to going all out and killing yourselves. There’s a balance here, guys. Look for the balance. Otherwise, it’s not sustainable for either side.

MONEM SALAM: And I think that, Chris, you mentioned about contentment and Mohammed, you can probably find a source for this, but I think it was that contentment is a treasure that has no bounds.

MOHAMMED FARIS: It’s funny because in this book, Tim Kasser, in the final chapter, he actually mentions a Prophet Muhammad hadith that says, you know, wealth is not having many possessions. Rather, true wealth is being content in your soul. And he actually mentions that he wrote this whole book trying to prove this statement. And this guy’s not a Muslim. The Prophet is saying this is what it is. Wealth is not about having a lot of stuff. Wealth is contentment of the soul. Think about it. I mean, I will always remember... I don’t know if you guys grew up as a student. And you didn’t have much, right? You go to college, you really don’t have much, but you’re happy. You go out and do stuff. And then suddenly when wealth becomes the main focus, you feel it’s never enough. You feel, “What’s happening?” I remember thinking, “If only I had a thousand bucks in my account, I’d be so happy.” And then you move forward to, “If only I had five thousand... ten thousand... a hundred thousand.” Where does it end right? Unless you’re content in your soul. And what does contentment come from? Again, it comes from those mindsets, values, and rituals, and you have to train yourself and discipline yourself as well as being proactive about it. You don’t just sit on the mount expecting something to hit you. You’ve got to practice and hold yourself accountable. You’ve got to say, “Hey, be content. You have enough. Yes, you want more. That’s fine, but enjoy the ride,” as Chris mentioned.

MONEM SALAM: So, it’s interesting, looking at it from a non-investment perspective. You know, it’s a lot about how do we eke out that extra marginal rate of return above the benchmark? And people come up with their spreadsheets and they’re like, “When do I retire? And do I need this? And how much do I save?” and that’s important but maybe you can talk a little bit about... where is that limit? Where is it something that’s productive and where does it become an obsession?

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great question. I mean, I’m in that stage of life now, right? I’ve got three kids. I’m having that conversation with my accountant about retirement and school and college and yes, you set up the plan, set up the accounts. You are there. You’re trying to work towards them. But, like you said, where do you draw the line between you... for me, the model is Prophet Yusuf. Prophet Yusuf, when he interpreted a dream of the king saying that you’ll have seven good years and seven famine years and basically during the good years make sure you save for the bad years, right? So, he was making a great economic decision, saying we need to save during the good years for the bad years. And that’s inspiration about budgeting, about saving something for rainy days, which is great, and also reinvesting and so on and so forth. When it comes, I guess to the question, when it becomes obsession, it’s when up every morning you get up... something I’ve done which helped me a lot is I deleted all of these apps on my phone where you can check your portfolio. Just deleted the apps because otherwise you just get up and the first thing you do is, “Oh, how is it doing today?” and it becomes an obsession. Again, our scholars talk about, “Don’t let wealth enter your heart.” Another thing which I’ve found is to really, kind of, push yourself to give and give and give, as much as possible. To really train yourself, even when you feel like it’s not enough, right? They say the most beloved charity is when you give even though you fear poverty. Right? I could say, “I know but I’ve saved this amount of money for my retirement, but... this is a really good cause and I need to push myself to give,” and have the mindset. I’m not saying to throw your retirement into each cause, but it’s kind of training yourself. Again, back to that idea of disciplining yourself and disciplining your soul. This is a test, to ask yourself, “Am I willing to give, knowing and believing that there is barakah in this, or there is goodness in this?” That’s when you know that you’re not obsessed. That you have that balance between preparing but at the same time, you have the right mindset, values, and rituals to know that sometimes you need to perhaps go against a bit of the logic and do give for the sake of giving, for the sake of God, basically.

MONEM SALAM: So, that’s interesting that you actually bring that up, because if you take the opposite approach which is, you know, “I need to be able to make as much money as possible, even my portfolio, so that the more money I make the more zakat I can give,” right? Because I’ve heard people saying that. So it’s...

MOHAMMED FARIS: It’s a practice.

MONEM SALAM: It’s a practice, right? So, I mean, you know, yes, at a million dollars, that 1% extra that you make is going to be $10,000 more dollars in zakat that you can give. Should I not maximize my portfolio to be optimum rather than not?

MOHAMMED FARIS: One of the scholars told me, that actually teaches some of this stuff... He said, don’t say, “I’m going to have to have a million dollars to give,” he said to get in the habit of giving and giving generously based wherever you are. If you’re this rinky dink student that only has $1,000 or $500 in the account, even $100 in the account, give at that level, whatever that amount is that’s reasonable for you. If you’re a millionaire, give at that level. It’s almost like the act of giving should not be dependent on how much is in the bank account. It’s more like I’m going to give because I’m going to develop the practice as a way of purifying your heart, purifying yourself, purifying your wealth. You need to give. Yes, zakat is the minimum, but at least go above and beyond that. So, I would say you might think, “My intention is good,” Right? “My intention is to maximize my portfolio to give really generously.” I’m saying don’t wait until that happens. Give while you try to maximize. This should not be... don’t be like, “I’m going to wait five years to maximize then I’m going to give.” No, give now and you’ll see the barakah, inshallah, as you grow it.

MONEM SALAM: That’s interesting. I always tell my kids, in their summer jobs and those types of things, to break your income into three, right? One third charity, one third savings, one third you can spend. And sometimes somebody’ll tell me, “That’s not sustainable in the long run.” I’m like... you’re right, but they’re not paying for rent and not paying for food. So, once they get to that... it might not be one third, one third, one third, but at least at every paycheck they’ll have a habit of doing something with that mindset of having three different goals. One is on yourself, one is on savings, one is on spending it on charities. So, hopefully it’ll work for them. I don’t know.

MOHAMMED FARIS: And also, the thing is that sometimes, there are certain, like you said, these barakah investments. This charity, these small things you do at an early age, they pay you back years later, right? It’s not an immediate ROI. It’s not like, “Oh I gave five bucks now I’m going to get five bucks in the mail the next morning.” Sometimes you make these small things. You might feel the barakah whether maybe perhaps in their education, in their grades, the type of friends who surround them. Right? We don’t know how barakah can manifest itself. Barakah is like this blessing that comes that we don’t expect. Could be a great set of friends, a great mentor you bump into, you know, inshallah long life for their parents. There are so many other ways you can experience barakah because of the act of giving. This a good act, that I know I’m not losing. Right? I’m not losing this game. Once the Prophet, peace be upon him, he went home because someone donated a piece of sort of meat, lamb, I think, for the Prophet, peace be upon him. And his wife, she donated all of it, most of it away. She gave most of it away except for the shoulder, which was the part that the Prophet used to like to eat. And so, the Prophet asked his wife how much of the lamb was left. And she said, “We gave away all of it except the shoulder,” and he said, “No, no, no.” Basically, the shoulder will go into our stomachs and that part will go away, but what was donated, that’s forever. That’s an investment in the hereafter. That is for us, forever. So, when you think that way, that I’m giving, not losing, money, almost like putting it in a bank account, that brings back this ROI which I cannot even fathom. It opens a whole different worldview which is, I feel, very healthy, when it comes to wealth management and how you run your finances instead of being that myopic, you know, spreadsheet one plus one equals two speak, basically.

MONEM SALAM: In your speeches that you’ve given in other places, and seminars you’ve given, what is a common thread when it comes to finance and investments that people keep questioning over and over again? What would be the most common? 

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah, a lot of it, again, comes to barakah. A lot of people struggle to make that leap between, you know, yes, I see, and I believe in the idea of barakah. I believe that if I invest in halal investments, if I make sure that I follow my faith values when it comes to how I manage my money, if I do give to charities, I believe that there is an ROI but I’m just not seeing... I can’t make logical sense of it. And this is where that leap of faith is needed. When you are sort of trained in a specific worldview to kind of switch worldviews, even if you believe in that second worldview, you just haven’t experienced it. So you need more of that experience and that’s kind of the biggest one that comes up.

MONEM SALAM: How to advise them to make that jump?

MOHAMMED FARIS: That’s a good question. Again, barakah is experiential. It’s not something you can teach. And it’s not something you also test, you know? People, God forbid use the term “test God,” like let’s see what happens. It’s something you’ve got to go, both feet in, and you might not see the ROI in the way you expected to see. I’m going to put it that way. Sometimes they think, “Oh but I lost my investment, or I didn’t make as much money as I thought I would,” but you might see, “Maybe you didn’t see barakah there...” but I’ll say the way you measure barakah is three ways. One is the increase or growth but sometimes it’s just stability. If you have stability, think about it. We went through a COVID year. If you had stability in your income, stability in your financial matters, wealth, that’s barakah. Right? Think about all of the people who lost their jobs and lost investments, or the business collapsed. The fact that you have stability, that’s a form of barakah. And finally, it’s continuity. The fact that something continues for a long period of time. For example, let’s say you have a small project or a small business that keeps on bringing a return. Something small that keeps on going. Continuity is also a form of barakah. We interviewed Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Ali Al-Madani, the previous president of ISDB. He was president for 40 years. We asked him what surprised him the most about leading the IDB for 40 years. He said the fact that it continued. He said he never expected that bank to last. He said the fact that it continued, he’s like, “I’m sort of surprised by it.” I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but he was surprised by it. For him, that’s a form of barakah, basically. So, you make that leap by going to jump in and by realizing that you are not losing in this game. That there will be some benefit beyond maybe how you expect that benefit. That’s faith. That’s where faith comes in. It’s all of those things where you leap with that faith mindset.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: You offered up one definition from one of your talks that was from a scholar and a linguist and I wrote it down because I want to offer it here, because when I heard you say it, to me it was very easy to apply this idea to finance, to me. And that is, that “barakah is the attachment of divine goodness to a thing that, if it occurs in something little, it increases it, and if it occurs in something abundant, it further increases the benefit,” and to me, that really stresses that, whatever level you’re at, you can do something, and it has meaning.

MOHAMMED FARIS: Beautiful. Love that. That’s from Imam Raghib Isfahani. He was a linguist and he brought up probably the most succinct definition of barakah. When I look up the definition of barakah, and it’s all over the place, right? But this is very succinct, very clear, and for me, there are four parts. One is it’s divine blessing, so it means it’s not from another person. It comes from God. It’s a divine blessing. Number two, it attaches itself to something. What is that thing? Your wealth, your health, your children, your apartment, your 1986 Corolla car. It attaches to something. And there’s an effect that happens. I call it the barakah effect. There’s an increase, a benefit. Something that grows. Or stability. It some kind of effect that comes and if you go further, it’s hard to explain. Right? This is where the part that it just doesn’t make logical sense. That’s barakah. It’s this incredible effect that goes above and beyond what we think is possible basically, as well.

MONEM SALAM: That’s really great. And it seems like, because I’ve known you for a long time now. It’s one of those things where you’re living it, right? Because you started off in one way and it’s grown to be so much more. So, and because you had your mind focused on the right thing, there’s barakah in it as well. And it goes back to what you said earlier with continuity. 

MOHAMMED FARIS: I was going to say continuity. I look back and when someone asks that question. Yeah, the fact that it continues would be my answer to it as well. 

MONEM SALAM: It’s really good. I do remember those blog days before 2015. It’s good. And it’s good to see where you’ve come and hopefully it continues because I think we do need it. And I think for a lot of people it’s the balance and they really need that. Do you have any final thoughts, Mohammed?

MOHAMMED FARIS: Yeah. I’ll just say that one of the things that, as we enter this phase of... we’ve reached a point now where the past 15-20 years, we’ve tested these ideas. Barakah and halal investments, right? And I think we’ve reached a point now where we need to be confident about these concepts and these sort of mindsets, values, and rituals approach to life that we need to start sharing with the world. I think sometimes, as Muslims, we tend to be in our own little corner, like, “Oh this is how we do things,” and we don’t feel comfortable. We feel maybe insecure about explaining how this stuff works and why it’s beneficial. We’ve reached a point where, whether it’s finance, whether it’s halal investments, whether it’s even halal foods, modest fashions, all of these areas in the Islamic economy. Entrepreneurs have been testing ideas the past 20 years, at least, and I think it’s time for us to kind of be very confident about to share a different faith-based worldview that actually adds value to the world and helps solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. I hope that people take this as a mission for themselves. That’s why we’ve actually shifted our mission to say, “It’s not just about being the best version of yourself but making an impact in society.” Don’t be in your own little corner and just feel like, “Okay, I’m good. I’m fine.” We need to go beyond the cells and offer the world what God has gifted us with.

[music outro]

DISCLOSURES (read by Christopher Patton):

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