Faith and finance

The following is guest post by Hakim Dyer, CEO of DyerBermingham.

DyerBermingham is a Baltimore-DC consulting firm specializing in small and medium-sized businesses focused on success in global markets.


I’ve always had a problem with so-called “religion.” Fortunately, my experience of Islam is that the dogma, the rituals, or what anyone would see as the outward expressions of religion really only exist to support who it is you are striving to BE. The word “Islam” itself describes not a person or a tribe but a state of the soul. For you grammar nerds, Islam is the verbal noun for “surrender.” It refers to the peacefulness of the soul found in surrendering to what I shall just call God’s Will. Imagine, peace as a verb and being called to BE peace! So how do I incorporate peacefulness through surrender in my day-to-day working in finance?

I am a business person, not a scholar. As such, I will only attempt to share from my training as a banker, financial accountant, and venture partner. That includes the basic notion of economy and the Islamic notion of provision.

Economy, Provision & Wealth Circulation

At its root, economics is about household management. Does a household have what it needs? What are the means by which it can take possession of what it needs? What influences its ability to take care of itself whether that be on a micro scale or on a macro scale?

At the same time, there is only so much air anyone will ever breathe, only so much water anyone will ever drink, only so much food they will every eat, etc. From an Islamic perspective, that is your provision. It is the sum total of all the resources you will ever need in this life. Note, I am distinguishing between needs and consumption or wants.

Some people wind up with more than their provision. No problem. We call that wealth. Let’s be clear, Muslims have no problem with wealth. As the tradition goes, there is nothing wrong with having a spacious house or a nice ride. The tradition also tempers this by underscoring that what you really need is food, shelter and clothing. You should be ready to justify the rest of your possessions to God.

Knowing these points, God provides even deeper guidance in the Qur’an with regard to collective economics. That is that wealth should not circulate only among the wealthy.

What God has Put in Trust with You

If you have your provision, and let’s say you have the spacious house and the nice ride, and you still have more leftover, then consider that what you really have, since it is wealth you can never consume, is custody of someone else’s provision. Lucky you! God has made you a trustee for wealth distribution. You are holding someone else’s food, shelter, and clothing in trust for them.

In practical terms we can all relate to, maybe that extra provision is for your spouse or kids or your aging parents. Maybe it is for your faith community, and maybe it is for your local school. You get the idea. You, wealthy one, have a duty to yourself to honor the gift of wealth by giving it away. In this context, it is easy to understand why the Islamic mind considers hoarding a sin. Moreover, from an economic standpoint, it is clear why God’s guidance to circulate wealth is so important.

But, take it deeper to a more uncomfortable place. What if you are living with the condition of relative wealth and your own neighbor silently goes hungry? What if you live with the condition of unarguable wealth and your city is scarred by vast tracts of poverty? Clearly, you must act. Yes, you can volunteer at the food shelter, and you can make donations to hardworking non-profits; but, what can you do that makes a lasting, strategic difference?

Faith, Wealth, Inequality, and Action

We are currently living with the what may be the worst wealth inequality in recorded history. That means the wealth is only circulating among the wealthy. There is a point at which, if we wait too long to act on this, we will only have economic collapse left as an option. The tectonic plates of economy have shifted. Perpetuating tired 18th, 19th and 20th century notions of privilege and industry will by no means push them back into place.

My faith asks me to consider, and I invite everyone to consider first, that basic provision is a human right. As a society, allowing poverty to even exist actually holds us all back. Tipping the wealth scales even a little goes a long way to countering the injustice of poverty, if we have the courage to go there.

Secondly, my faith drives my work in that I believe we, as a nation, need to muster the courage to confront head-on – the structural failure of economy. Currents of economy flow differently over the shifted plates. It is a universal principle that economic vibrancy depends on circulation of wealth. However, in our time and place it now requires a new era of equitable capital distribution to drive the movement and creation of wealth across all sectors of the economy.

This takes creative thinking, and here still it is faith that drives me to see creative, conscious capital as one solution. My work, for example, has included community development venture capital, training and advising angel investors who are unafraid of stretching outside of their cultural lane to tap new talent, and connecting non-traditional capital markets to non-traditional domestic emerging markets to yield new economic results. These are activities that have proven move capital and circulate wealth. They also give voice to profitable, new opportunities to which intransigent traditionalism would have us remain blind,

For me, therefore, faith and finance are inextricably tied. Faith, rooted in universal values, sets a context for action as well as for collaboration toward economic ends that benefit us all.

Anything incorrect or unclear herein is from me. Trust that any benefit you take away from this work is from God, Allah (SWT).

The ICJS Entrepreneurs Lunchtime Series (ELS) brings together local entrepreneurial leaders to discuss the role that religion and ethics can play in building healthy communities. In this initiative, the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about religion and ethics in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome and lift up this diversity of perspectives.
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