Halal Money Matters

Episode 9: Ramadan Roundtable

Saturna Capital regional managers Owaiz Dadabhoy, Amjad Quadri, Haitham Al-Sayed, and Sameer Sarmast join the podcast to trade stories about working in Islamic finance and share points of inspiration.

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Halal Money Matters Podcast

Episode 09 – Ramadan Roundtable

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

MONEM SALAM: And I’m Monem Salam.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Welcome. We have a lot of people in the room. More than usual.

MONEM SALAM: Yeah, this is going to be a fun one.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: It’s going to get rowdy pretty quickly.

MONEM SALAM: I wanted to say to you first, Ramadan Mubarak.


MONEM SALAM: What I thought we would do is, because it’s Ramadan right now, I thought it would be an opportunity for us all to get together and just have a discussion about different stories that we’ve all kind of picked up. Now, all of us have been traveling for a very long time, Chris. You know, going to across the country, either conferences or speaking at mosques or those types of things and I’m sure each one of you has a story that he can tell. So, I want to introduce everybody. Why don’t you do that for us? Introduce everybody?

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Alright, we’re here today with some of our Regional Managers. Got Sameer Sarmast, here. Tell me about what you do.

SAMEER SARMAST: Yes. As-salamu alaykum. Hello, everybody. Ramadan Kareem. My name is Sameer Sarmast. I’m a Financial Planner and Regional Manager here at Saturna. I help our clients, you know, establish their goals and work towards them.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Alright. Going around the table, we’ve got Haitham Al-Sayed.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Yeah. Yes. As-salamu alaykum. Ramadan Mubarak to everybody. Haitham Al-Sayed. Regional Manager with Saturna Capital, advisors to the Amana Funds. I’ve been with the firm for a little over four years now. My role is working with the community advisors around the country that have access to our funds, that work at different financial institutions. I’m happy to be here.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: Haitham joined us on our episode about kind of making the switch from traditional finance to Islamic finance. And next, going around the table, we have Amjad Quadri.

AMJAD QUADRI: Ramadan Mubarak. Apkoo or apke pure khandan koo [to you and your entire family]. Happy to be on again, guys.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: You joined us for our halal mortgages episode... 


CHRISTOPHER PATTON: ...which I thought was very interesting. Happy to have you back.

MONEM SALAM: Amjad, I’ve got to put you on the spot, here, man. Okay, so you said that in Urdu. You have to say it in Arabic, now.

AMJAD QUADRI: ...we’ve got Haitham Al-Sayed on my right, here.

MONEM SALAM: Go for it, Haitham.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Kullu ‘aam wa antum bikhair [may you have good blessings all year].

MONEM SALAM: Mashallah. Okay. Owaiz?

OWAIZ DADABHOY: As-salamu alaykum, everyone. Ramadan Mubarak. My name is Owaiz Dadabhoy. I live in Southern California. I’ve been with Saturna’s Amana Mutual Funds for the last eleven years. I’m the Director of Islamic Investing. You may have seen me in one of your cities around the country.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: ...as well as on our “Investing for Retirement” episode, here. Most notably. I’m excited to dig into these road stories from you guys. Does anyone want to kick it off or Monem, maybe you have a question to pose to get things rolling.

MONEM SALAM: Yeah, you know, it’s Ramadan, a time for family to be together. I just wanted to ask you guys... if anyone wants to go first... with just one story that really sticks out. I’ll say, you know what, in all of your travels that you’ve done, what’s the one story that sticks out to you and says, “Wow, this is why I do what I do.”

SAMEER SARMAST: Well, I mean, I could kick it off. You know, as a Financial Planner, you meet with several clients and each of them has a unique goal, right? What they are trying to accomplish. Overall, everyone is looking to retire comfortably. But what strikes me during my travels is when I meet with the youngest... the youth, right? They have a keen interest in investing and savings for their future, right? Because I feel there’s like this shift, even with some role models... or let’s say celebrity culture, like hip hop artists, where they are talking about investing, right? So, just to name, like Jay-Z, you know, you have Diddy. So, these guys have all made a shift from wasting money into investing their money back into their communities. “Buying up the block,” meaning investing in real estate. So, this has trickled down to some of the youth, and the youth are very interested and, you know, making sure their future is secure. This is where we come in.

MONEM SALAM: Yeah, you know it’s funny you say that because when I was growing up, I remember the story of MC Hammer.

SAMEER SARMAST: Yeah, he went broke.

MONEM SALAM: He went broke, literally. But then also recently, I think Johnny Depp, there was a story out on Johnny Depp that basically, with all of the millions, tens of millions he made, that he went broke as well.


MONEM SALAM: So, it’s good that you have other examples.

SAMEER SARMAST: Yeah, you know, because I’m involved with different scenes, right? So, entertainment industry, food, all that, so I come across different people and I’m able to relate and bring it back to the core of investing and, you know, finance. So, my satisfaction, you know, when I go out there, is really educating folks and really helping them and give them an “Aha” moment of, “Oh yeah, you’re right,” because I want them to look down the line, let’s say ten, fifteen years or whatever, and go, “You know, that guy Sameer gave me some sound advice.” You never know who you’re going to influence or have a positive effect on.

MONEM SALAM: That’s awesome. Thank you for that. Anybody else want to share something?

OWAIZ DADABHOY: I’ll follow up on the last podcast that Chris mentioned. We were talking about retirement, specifically. So, that’s what I’m thinking about. When I started here in 2008, we were managing a handful, maybe ten 401(k)s across the country. And these are 401(k)s mostly for non-profits and mosques and schools and physicians and what not. We’ve started to do more physicians these days. And what I’ve learned is that many of the teachers and educators, in general, and even Imams and scholars across the country did not have a retirement plan for themselves. So, what we don’t want is for them to have to work until they’re 95. Or they may want to retire at some point but if they only have social security as their income and if it’s there for you, it’s not enough. So, what I have seen is, I was recently at an association for schools and one of the principals stood up and she told the group of 70 people that, look I’ve been doing this for the last three years and I’m convinced that everyone must do this. So, other people now are going out and, you know, mentioning to others about why to do this, so they’re hearing it from themselves instead of somebody else. I’ll give you another story. One of the largest charity organizations in the United States—Muslim-run organization—opened up their 401(k) a number of years ago. And, if somebody has a 401(k), I like for them to keep their money in their 401(k) for retirement, but in this case, I was still happy even though they withdrew it as a loan, because three of them within about two years of each other, after having their 401(k) for three or four years, had enough money to take out a 401(k) loan and pay themselves back and buy a home. You know, the American dream, right? We all want that, and for some people, especially in California and Virginia and New York and different parts of the country, it’s very difficult because the cost is so high, so it gave them an opportunity to buy their own home and have their own investment in their home.

MONEM SALAM: It’s interesting that you mention, Owaiz, about working until you’re 95 because... you know, they have to work. I remember a charitable organization that I was a part of, and we were always wondering why there were people in their 60s and 70s, working. And we always thought, Mashallah, they’re really dedicated to it. Those types of things. One time, I happened to ask them, “Mashallah, you’re really dedicated to this.” He said, “Brother, I’m not in it for this. I don’t have a retirement plan.” He didn’t have anything else to rely on and that’s why he was working that hard. And may Allah reward him for working even in his 70s and 80s for an Islamic cause, but there should always be something left for you in case something happens.

OWAIZ DADABHOY: I’ve had the same example... I don’t remember if I mentioned it last time but there was a lady in her late 60s. I had given a presentation to one of the organizations out there. And she came up to me afterwards and she said, “You’re right, social security doesn’t pay enough. I’m getting $350 a month. I’m still working for this Islamic organization. I love them, but I don’t want to work here anymore. But I have to because I live in Los Angeles.”

MONEM SALAM: So, I’ll jump in with a story. A few years back, I was sitting with somebody and we were just talking about opening their account and we had a very good conversation going back and forth. And I was just asking them about their own life. And what they really mentioned to me actually really speaks to when you do things the right way, then Allah, Subhanallah, takes care of you. Right? In that situation, this family, you know, they basically came here as immigrants—as a lot of our parents did, a lot of us did—and you know, they basically went out, got a mortgage on a loan, and were involved with the interest and all of those things, but this one lady had, you know, one of those “aha” moments where she was like, “You know what? I need to get out of this.” So, what she basically did was as they were buying the house, those types of things, she had actually put some money into a bank account and literally, she told me... you might think there’s no way this can happen. But this is from her mouth to my ears, that she basically said she had put some money into an account and over the years, she just forgot about it. It wasn’t that much money. They stopped sending statements. All of those different types of things. So, anyway, we go on. She takes some of the money from another bank account. She puts a down payment on a conventional mortgage. You know, about ten years or fifteen years into it, she decides she’s not going to do this anymore. So, she basically liquidates everything that she has from her regular accounts and basically refinances the house. Okay? When she does that, she has just enough money left over and she decides that in order to be able to start clean, she’s going to go and do Umrah. So, she basically, the rest of the money that she has, she buys a ticket, you know, with a tour group, she goes there, and in the entire time that she’s there, she’s basically making prayer to Allah, Subhanallah, that she has enough to be able to pay off whatever is remaining on the now-Islamic mortgage, but enough to be able to take care of her family. When she gets back, and this is maybe about... she said about two or three weeks, she started getting calls from a bank she had never even heard of. And then all of a sudden, she’s finally saying—after the fourth or fifth call—she calls them up and says, “What do you want?” And they say, “We’ve been trying to get ahold of you for the past twenty years.” And basically, what happened was that account that she had lost in touch with, that had $250,000 in that account now. However, it happened, she doesn’t know. But literally, she ended up with $250,000 in her bank account that she was able to use just because of the fact that she made herself clean and then she went and asked Allah, Subhanallah, for that. I was just sitting there like... I didn’t have any words.

OWAIZ DADABHOY: ... a Ramadan miracle. 


AMJAD QUADRI: It’s interesting you say that. It reminds me of one of our other clients, that, you know, he decided... he was doing well, and he decided, you know what, I really want to give back to the community. And he said, he realized when he came from India to America that the situation in India especially for women, as we know, it’s probably one of the worst places to live as a woman. He said, “I want to do something to at least save one woman.” That was his intention. “At least if I can save one woman before I pass away, then at least I’ll feel like I’ve done something.” So, he started a company where they take the supplies to the women’s homes. So, if they’re widows, or you know, if their family situation is bad, they take the supplies to their home and they do all of the work at home and then they turn around and they pick up the stuff that they do, so they’re a company that makes, you know, some type of accessories that you would have. And so, he started this and his company has grown so much that he’s won multiple awards, he has both Muslims and Hindus in India that work for him, but he’s gone from his intention of saving one woman to really saving almost, I think he has about 300 now that he’s doing, so that’s one of the stories that really inspires me. And that reminded me of a story... I sent this to him and a few of our other clients that really, they remind me of this... where there was this scholar that was talking about, you know, if you decide to do something, and he shared the story of Junaid Jamshed. Many people know him. When he first started his clothing business, it wasn’t doing well. So, he went to a scholar and he said, “You know, I started this, it’s not doing well.” And the scholar said, “Have you made Allah, Subhanallah, your partner?” And he’s just like, “No... what do you mean?” He’s like, “Well, decided how much and make Allah, Subhanallah, your partner,” and then Junaid Jamshed, “One fourth of whatever I’m getting, I’m giving in the cause of Allah,” and when he did that he said his business instantaneously boomed. And then the scholar continued to share stories over and over again, but this reminded me of several of our clients... If it’s a hospital facility, they make their intention, “I treat anyone that walks in the door. It doesn’t matter if they have money or not,” and you continuously see that business go. Because that intention is not for the money. Their intention is to do what they’re supposed to be doing.

MONEM SALAM: That’s awesome. Thank you that, Amjad.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: I’m going to take a non-traditional view on the question about, you know, describe a success story you had. So, you know, a lot of us in the community, we have this myth or taboo that, everything is going to be taken care of in case something happens... incapacity or death or what have you. And I think, more important than any performance of an investment, return of real estate, whatever you’re thinking about... is really, especially if you’re living in this country, is the protection, the risk management piece. And I’m talking about risk management from a family perspective. We all have kids under 18 or we have grandkids under 18. Everybody has, in our community. And I always refer to my good brother and friend, Owaiz, who always says, “When we think about colleges, is not about when are we going to go to college, it’s about what college we’re going to go to.” But having said that, it’s important in this country, personally for me, I don’t think I want the courts to decide which foster system my kids—if God forbid something happens to my wife and I—to go to, and how are they going to be raised in an Islamic environment? And a lot of us either have some family here or no family here. And that’s very important. We work—our team—works with estate planning attorneys across the country that work specifically with Islamic wills and inheritance but also asset protection for the kids and guardianship for the kids. And I think this is very important. And I’ll name a case. There was a family that, unfortunately, lost both husband and wife and the kids were left with a grandmother. And due to the fact that this happened overseas... they were US citizens, they had a home here, they couldn’t come back until the documents were proper because otherwise, if they had returned, immediately they would have been put in the foster care system. So, I think it’s very important for the families who are listening to this to really ask this question and have a plan in place. I’ve been doing this wealth management business and advisory business for multiple years and I’ve always given advice to clients and to advisors to do their wills and trusts and guardianship and I haven’t done it until, Hamdullah, this past year. I did and I can sleep well at night and I hope that a lot of you will do the same.

SAMEER SARMAST: Very important.

MONEM SALAM: Thanks for that man. And that actually reminds me of a story as well. When I was starting off in the industry, my second job, actually, was with a fairly large company and I was a financial advisor. And within a period of about six or seven months, I had two of the clients that I was dealing with pass away. Right? Both in the Muslim community. Both in the same city. So, one of the clients was working for a large company. Basically, like most of our relatives, you know, he was the breadwinner. He was the one who controlled the finances. His wife really knew nothing about anything. She actually didn’t even have a job when he passed away. But the thing was that he did leave behind his 401(k) balance, and with that and some other money that was left behind, although it took a while to be able to consolidate everything and those types of things, we were able to do that within about a year and a half of that happening, because there was no will, unfortunately. But really, what happened was, with that pool of money that was there, roughly at that time, back in 1999, I’ll probably say it was about $700,000. We’re thinking, “How are we going to make this work?” and all of those different types of things. But... we basically said, “What we are not going to do is just invest conventionally. We’re not going to put it in an annuity. We’re going to do something halal.” When we decided to do that, all of a sudden, all throughout the years, she basically, the only talent that she had was that she knew how to read the Quran really well. So, she put herself through school, through tajweed classes. She learned how to do it. And then, at her height of her teaching the Quran, she was teaching forty kids. And that’s how she paid for her lifestyle. I mean her living. She put all three kids through school. Two of them are married now. Now she’s a grandmother. And just with that amount of money, even now, she has enough to be able to retire on.


MONEM SALAM: It’s amazing, Mashallah, when you actually begin to, you know, invest, not only does it come back to you, but if you do it in the right way, Allah, Subhanallah, opens doors for you.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: And now, being in Ramadan time, when our families are all getting together, I think it’s really important to have these difficult conversations with the family. And it doesn’t have to be specific. Like, especially for the older generation. I’ve heard this from clients, “I don’t want my kids to know how much money they’re getting.” They don’t need to know how much money they’re getting. This is what they need to know: which advisor you’re working with and who your trusted financial person is, so that when, God forbid, the time happens, they know who to call and things will move in a smoother transition and process. So, you mentioned, about sharing some success stories. I have two that come to mind. One is from an advisor in California who is non-Muslim and a third of his book is in the Amana Funds. And when I asked him about... “Who your clients are?” He said, “None of them are Muslims.” So, I asked him, “How did you come about learning about this?” And he said, “You know, I was reading some articles back the early 90s,” and he came to learn about Amana and really believes us in and believes in our philosophy. He has seen the performances, and Hamdullah, it doesn’t really have to fit a religious box. It has to fix a box of aligning investments with clients’ values. And, you know, he continues to add to the funds and I’m really proud to see that out there, not just in the community but outside of the community. And I have a friend of mine who recently sold his practice for a good amount of money. I had met him before this happened. And his assistant in the firm, when I was visiting with him, when he introduced me as from Amana, she goes, “Amana? Amana Funds?” And I go, “Yes, Amana Funds.” And obviously, she is non-Muslim and she’s like, “Oh, I’ve been investing in Amana Funds for years.” And I said, “That’s interesting... How did you find it?” And same thing, she came across it through an article or she heard it through someone talking about these Funds, and she has built the majority of her 401(k) through the Amana Funds. So, I feel proud and great to be working for a firm where I can happily say that it’s built for the Muslim community, but it’s also used by a lot of non-Muslims for the fact that we’re also socially responsible funds and we are looking from a different lens every day on how to be ethical and so forth.

CHRISTOPHER PATTON: I have a question. Knowing that you all spend a lot of time on the road and going out in the community and—I would imagine—revisiting places repeatedly over time. Do you have the opportunity to observe personal growth in the stages from, like, somebody who’s just now kind of being educated on Islamic finance, going to actually implementing it? Do you have opportunities to see that process and revisit with people?

OWAIZ DADABHOY: So, we’ve had the opportunity to talk about individuals in the community. I’ll take this opportunity to answer about the... I guess I’ll call it the infrastructure of the community, right? Our institutions. So, what we’ve found over the years is when we’ve talked to mosque and charities and other organizations, when you go back and revisit them, they may have started with $50,000 and some of them have $1 million and a half or $2 million in their accounts now. They’re in a much better position to do what they need to do. And what did it take? It took intention in the beginning and just having a plan and getting started right? So, putting $50,000 that’s turned out to be $2 million. There was an endowment on the east coast where they had something like 3 or $400,000. It’s in perpetuity. They aren’t going to be able to use the principal, only the gains from it. But they had the intention of making an endowment which would last forever. They had the intention to grow it over time, and they wanted to do this for the local community. So, what ended up happening—this is one of the uplifting stories—is several years later... they did have some property on the side. Some property that was not really worth a lot. But the government came through and said, “We need to build a freeway here,” and they gave them $3 million and that went into the endowment. Now they have a legitimate endowment. So, for those that are thinking just for yourself or for your organization, locally, you know if you look back at it, Harvard has been around since the 1700s. Their endowment—most people know it—it’s $40.9 billion. But it was not started in the 1700s; it was started in 1974. So, yeah... we will not get to $40 billion in forty years... your local masjid or charity is not going to get there, but just getting it started, just like that masjid on the east coast. You know, you get it started and now you’re at $3.5 million and that’s going to throw off dividends and earnings that you’re going to be able to use to run your organization. So, take the first steps now and in ten years, twenty years down the road, your children and grandchildren will take the benefit from it. 

AMJAD QUADRI: So, when I was in the other Islamic finance life of mine, in the home mortgage industry, I remember there was an Imam that called me. And he really wanted to try to get a house for him and his family. And what he was looking at, you know, just didn’t meet the criteria. He wasn’t qualifying for Islamic finance and he didn’t want to go the conventional route. I told him, “You know, I’ve seen this before,” and it’s true, I had seen it before and I said, “You know when this happens, there’s a reason for it.” And he didn’t get the home he was looking at. He thought it was a really good deal. But not a couple of weeks or a couple of months later, he called back. Same neighborhood, same size. He got a similar house for almost $100,000 less. And he qualified. It was within his means. He was able to put a little bit more down for a down payment. So, every time, as you were saying before, when the intention is right, and you’re trying to stay away from riba, trying to stay away from companies that are in the haram sectors, I think Allah, Subhanallah, really opens doors. It comes back to your intentions and if they are pure, I think you will clearly see advantages to it.

SAMEER SARMAST: Yeah. I mean, I’ll just talk about why I’m probably even here today. So, many, many years ago, most of you have heard of AlMaghrib, my brother was the Emir of Durba, which was the New Jersey chapter. So, I got involved with AlMaghrib very heavily as a volunteer and as a student. So, throughout that, you obviously learn about things, riba, all of this, and you get a little more education. So, now you look at yourself as a culprit of riba because you’re working for a bank. So, one time I had a one-on-one conversation with one of the shuyuukh. And I said, “You know, I work in this industry and I know that most likely my earnings are not halal, because they’re coming from a bank. So, what should I do? Should I just quit?” So, his answer to me was, “No, don’t quit. But make the intention and start seeking out other options.” You know? And you know, inshallah the doors will open for you. It didn’t happen immediately, of course, but I started having this conflicting thing about working within the banking industry, especially with the practices going on and all of that comes full circle, right? So, and I think it’s because of that intention and other factors that I’m here working in halal finance. And Monem and I talked, a long time ago about this, too. He invited me out to Malaysia to stay with him and check it out. I remember we were having this conversation years ago, before this was a thought.

MONEM SALAM: That’s true; I remember that now.

SAMEER SARMAST: Yeah, you invited me to come stay with you and you were going to show me around. At least ten years ago.

MONEM SALAM: So, you know, like a lot of stories we’ve been telling, it’s one of the things that you can’t quantify it, but there’s something there. And I think each one of us has felt it. There’s some benefit that happens when you do what you do...


MONEM SALAM: ...whether it be on the client side or on our side, which, we’re out there educating, those types of things. And it’s very difficult to put it in numbers and say, “This is how it worked out,” but there is some greater force that’s able to do that. So, I wanted to thank all of you for joining today, on this day of Ramadan. And from myself, Ramadan Mubarak and Eid Mubarak when it comes around.

SAMEER SARMAST: Yeah. Ramadan Kareem. Enjoy. Eat well. Be merry.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: Kullu ‘aam wa antum bikhair. May Allah accept your fasting and duas and prayers. And thank you for this lovely conversation we’ve had.

AMJAD QUADRI: Ramadan Mubarak. In Ramadan, we’ve been doing this for the last few years, and we want to continue, so if anyone wants us to do it in your city: we like to do some iftars and invite our current clients and any of their friends to come join us. So, if that’s something that you’d like to do, please reach out.

OWAIZ DADABHOY: Have a great rest of the Ramadan and hope that you have a tremendous Eid as well. 

MONEM SALAM: Thank you for that, man, and it actually reminds me of another story, really quickly. I was, one time, in San Francisco, and this was Pakistan Day of all places. And so, I was actually doing... there was a bazaar, or a festival kind of Pakistan Day and so I had a booth out there. And as we were sitting there and all the Pakistanis were walking by, there was actually just like a regular resident of San Francisco just happened to walk by, saw what was going on, smelled the food, loved it, was walking by, and he looked at my booth and was like, “Hey, I’m a shareholder!” And we started having a long conversation about, about how he got involved and those types of things, but it was really cool to, you know, have a random person on the street actually be a shareholder of your funds and happen to bump into you in the middle of nowhere.

HAITHAM AL-SAYED: And people confuse us with the Amana refrigerators. You know, I have to tell them, “We’re not...”

MONEM SALAM: Actually, you say that as a joke but in the early days, a lot of shareholders... we used to joke that a lot of shareholders would call us and they initially called because they wanted to know about their refrigerators but then they figured out it was a fund and said, “Hey what are you guys about?”

SAMEER SARMAST: Yeah, you don’t get an Amana refrigerator if you open an account with us. It’s not the old days where they give you a toaster if you open an account.

MONEM SALAM: Thank you again, guys.


[music outro]


DISCLOSURES (read by Christopher Patton):

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