At the age of 92, Sheikh Sulaiman bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Rajhi, the Arab worlds fifth richest man and 116th in the world, has his own unique approach to life and believes in a spiritual wealth that money cannot buy. The Islamic banking tycoon-turned-philanthropist whose family net worth is estimated at $5.9 billion represents a lifetime of first-class success achieved through hard work, determination, courage and above all, honesty---a value close to Al-Rajhis heart: Honesty in ones behavior, perception, interaction and above all ones relationship with Allah.
Veneration is synthesis. In recognition of his philanthropic activities and lifetime dedication to Islam, Al-Rajhi was honored in January with the King Faisal International Prize for Services to Islam. The achievements which landed him this coveted award include outstanding contribution to Islamic banking, humanitarian activities and religious development for the Saudi people. Added to this is Al-Rajhis plethora of initiatives related to Islam and the strengthening of ties across the Islamic world, with a focus on private sector participation and Saudi Arabias youth.
But, as honorable and worthy as these actions may be, the move that grabbed headlines across the Gulf and beyond was Al-Rajhis unprecedented decision announced in May 2011 to relinquish his fortune; distributing two thirds of his wealth to his family and the remaining third to charity. According to Rashid Mohammed Al Fawzan General Manager of CNBC Saudi Arabia, this act made Al -Rajhi the first high profile Arab Muslim to take such a step, ascending the already highly-esteemed Saudi figure to new heights and making him a role model for businessmen in Saudi Arabia and across the world.
A will written, covering more than one third of a persons total wealth purposed for charity is deemed haraam, explains Sheikh Mohammed Ahmed Al Zamil, consultant lawyer involved in supervising Al-Rajhis Hiba transactions. In order to ensure fairness between beneficiaries, the Quran provides a set of pre-determined guidelines which allow for the giving of gifts or Hiba. But even then, these gifts must be given fairly, as Islam dictates. As a devout Muslim, Al-Rajhi was careful to conduct his affairs in line with his religion. Distributing his fortune in a manner regarded as halal, Al-Rajhi gave two Hiba, one to his family and the other to charity in the maximum proportions permitted under Islam.
Al Zamil understands the intricacies and legal implications of re-distributing such a fortune. Notably, he played a critical role in advising Al-Rajhi in the establishment of companies created for charity purposes a move known as Wakf in Islam. This is not a quick process Al Zamil explains his fortune is huge, so it has taken months, but its now 90% done.
Al Fawzan, one of the few people in the media industry to hold a face-to-face interview with Al- Rajhi, explains that it took the Saudi role model two years or more to reach his decision. Understandably, this groundbreaking decision was not one that he took lightly, enlisting the help of professional consultants and auditors from both legal and religious (Sharia) standpoints. By the act of placing his purpose-made companies into the hands of Saudi Arabias Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Awqaf, Al-Rajhi conceded all ownership with no chance to back-track in line with Sharia fundamentals. Under the ministrys close supervision, all revenues from the company will be used for charitable purposes, with Al-Rajhi himself receiving a modest salary.
According to Sheikh Al Zamil, transferring ownership of assets to family and charitable causes during ones life is fast becoming regarded as the better option, avoiding many of the common problems that arise under traditional inheritance. Al Zamil believes that, thanks to Al-Rajhi, Saudi Arabia is witnessing an increasing trend for distribution of assets in a similar way. However, Faisal Al Quraishi, Vice Chairman of Ali Zaid Al Quraishi & Brothers Co. Ltd thinks otherwise Im not sure its going to be a trend. You might see one or two cases but if it happens it wont be public. But Al Zamil admits to working with a growing number of Saudi businessmen looking to follow Al-Rajhis move, though his professional position and respect for confidentiality do not allow him to divulge names. However, he shares with us that Al-Rajhis brother Mohammed, ranked 29th richest man in the Arab world (854th in the world) with $1.5 billion, has taken a similar route under Al Zamils legal guidance, opting to allocate shares in his company to family members.
So what do the nearest and dearest of Saudis most generous man make of his choice? They welcome the decision and accept it. They see this as a courageous step explains Al Zamil who was present at the private meeting attended by Al-Rajhi and his beneficiaries where the decision was discussed. Now even some of Al-Rajhis children are looking to do the same he adds.
From facile, indigenous and primordial banking and trading activities, Al-Rajhi went on to develop his empire with his brothers Saleh, Abdullah and Mohammed. From the late 50s onwards, they expanded to include a number of family enterprises consolidated under Al-Rajhi Trading and Exchange Corporation in 1978. In the same year, Al Rajhi Bank, founded on strong Islamic principles, was established as a Saudi share holding company. Today the bank stands as the largest Islamic bank in the world.
When asked if he is lucky and happy in his life he said that he does not know of anyone who can possibly be happier than him. I am in constant search of charitable work, and thank Allah that I am happy, that my children are happy and I like that all of my family is happy. This response is unmistakably adequate to lighten the hearts of any person. With uncommon valiance and fortitude comes great fortune and acclaim. Al-Rajhi has led an exemplary life, yet a simple one according to Al Fawzan, underpinned by meritocracy and meekness. Unprovoked by the billions of dollars hes made and now given completely away, when a young college student asked him a question about loans, he responded by saying why borrow if you are not in need of it, you must lend feet to the maximum of your bed only, and not to borrow except in the case of necessity.
A man that has earned his wealth and risen to respectability, Al-Rajhi is always quick to revert to honesty as being the basic tenet for his success. He believes that only when a man is honest with himself, family and country first can he then purposefully serve his neighbor, which in effect will make him a successful individual. How can you satisfy your hunger while your neighbor is spending the night hungry? he once said. Now, in the third cycle of his life, Al-Rajhi is prepared for a new and more important role the heroicized role of altruism.