Professor Datuk Dr. Rifaat Ahmed Abdel Karim has an international reputation as a leader and authority in the Islamic financial services industry (IFSI), at both professional and academic levels. He has played a pioneering role in the development of Islamic finance globally. His leadership in the setting of accounting, auditing, governance, Shariah and regulatory standards, as well as in the development of high quality short-term financial instruments to facilitate liquidity management for Islamic financial institutions, has been highly instrumental. He is also a recipient of numerous globally accredited awards. In 2016, he was conferred the Royal Award for Islamic Finance by the King of Malaysia, His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The Banker has also identified him as one of the most respected figure in the Islamic financial sector, and Euromoney has named him as one of the top 20 individuals who have so far come to the forefront of the industry. With that, I-FIKR Digest is delighted to be able to publish excerpts from his interview conducted by Dr Shariq Nisar and Prof. Dr. Umar Farooq in Doha, Qatar.
Q1. Please tell us briefly about yourself.
Dr. Rifaat: I was educated at the University of Khartoum, Sudan from 1971-1975. I then went to the United Kingdom (UK) in 1976 for one-year Master’s Degree at University of Birmingham, which was fully funded by my illiterate mother. After going back to Sudan briefly after my Master’s Degree, I then received a scholarship from Kuwait-based University to do my Ph.D. at the University of Bath, UK which I completed in 1981. After serving University of Gezira for four years, I then went to Kuwait University in 1985, where I taught at the Department of Accounting until 1990, the year which Saddam Hussein decided to enter and conquer Kuwait. Due to the political instability there, I decided to take my wife (who was pregnant), our three children and domestic helper (who was from Sri Lanka) to Jordan by car. To do that, we had to cross Iraq. From there, my wife, children and our domestic helper took a plane provided by the Government of Sudan to Khartoum, Sudan. Both my wife’s cousin and I waited for a vessel to take us and our cars to Port Sudan where we gave our cars to a relative who then sent them back to Khartoum, Sudan. Even though my mother was illiterate, she ensured that my ten siblings and I all grew up according to the Islamic norms, and education has always been her top-most priority. Unfortunately, my father passed away when I was only 12 years old.
Q2. What brought you into Islamic finance? Were you always interested in the subject or was there some event?
Dr. Rifaat: When I finished my Ph.D. in 1981, which was in conventional accounting specifically on UK Price Control, I told myself that I will never go back to doing research in conventional accounting. This is because my passion has always been Islamic finance. I was greatly influenced by my father-in-law, who passed away in 1981. During that time, none of the infrastructure institutions were established except for only a few Islamic banks.
I remember the late Professor Trevor Gambling who taught me at University of Birmingham. After returning from University of Bath to University Gezira, I wrote to him and told him that in his book titled Societal Accounting where he defined accounting as culture and for which he was very famous for at that time will collapse if we introduced the factor of Islamic finance. He accepted my suggestion and asked me if we could develop a joint paper on this, which we did. The paper was published in one of the top journals in the UK, Journal of Business Finance & Accounting. When I went to Kuwait University, I was in correspondence with Professor Trevor and he wrote to ask if I would be interested in developing the paper into a book. I accepted Trevor’s offer. Being a young professor at that time, I wanted to learn and write more. Every time either of us wrote a chapter, we would send it to the other person and once we had completed the manuscript, we called it Business and Accounting Ethics in Islam. It was published by Mansell Publishing in UK on May 1991. This was my first book.
Q3. Being an instrumental figure for AAOIFI (Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions), please briefly explain some of your experiences in AAOIFI.