CAIRO - Making inroads into America's financial hub of Wall Street, Muslims are caught in practices that run counter with their religious teachings.
Wall Street is basically blind to religion, Rushdi Siddiqui, global head of Islamic finance at Thomson Reuters, told The New York Times on Sunday, April 15.
What it's concerned about is deal flow, assets under management and transactions.
Rushdi is one of many Muslims taking executive positions in banks on Wall Street, who are facing many hurdles to abide by their religious teachings.
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For instance, they do not have dedicated prayer rooms at work to perform prayers.
They also have to deal with interest (Riba), which is banned under Islam.
We have a concept called law of necessity, Rushdi said.
You have to, at one level, abide by the laws of the land that you happen to reside in, whether it's the formal laws or the unwritten laws.
Aisha Jakaku, a former health care analyst at Goldman Sachs and a freelance financial consultant, also faces difficulties in abiding by her religious teachings.
Jukaku, who dons a hijab since she was 11, avoids physical contact with men outside her family.
She makes exceptions for handshakes extended to her in a business setting that would be awkward to decline.
It's not something I want to do, she says of shaking hands with men.
But that's the common American way of doing business.
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For Ali Akbar, a Pakistan-born managing director at RBC Capital Markets, it is almost difficult to perform his five daily prayers on time.
You can't just get up in the middle of a deal and say, I have to go spend two hours in a mosque,' Akbar, 34, said.
Despite the difficulties, Muslim bankers see their religion as an asset in their career advancement.
Rightly or wrongly, if you're religious, you're considered to have a reasonable degree of integrity, said Sohail Khan, a managing principal at StormHarbour Securities and former trader at Citigroup.
Having less business expenses than colleagues, Khan considers his lifestyle an asset in negotiating deals.
When you're the only guy at the table that's not drunk, it's a great weapon, he said.
You know more than anyone else at the table the next morning.
Akbar of RBC agrees.
Being a good Muslim helps you be a good banker, he said.
He, however, acknowledges that the union of his religious beliefs and his work in finance has been less than perfect.
When I made a decision to pursue a career on Wall Street, there were certain things I knew I would have trouble reconciling with my faith, he said.
I did some research, and I gained comfort that God is all-forgiving.
To ease these challenges, three Muslim young men formed an organization, Muslim Urban Professionals, nicknamed Muppies, in 2006 to help fellow young professionals negotiate issues that arise.
The Muppies fill an amazing need in the community, said Iftikar A. Ahmed, a general partner at the venture capital firm Oak Investment Partners.It's telling them that you can follow an American way of life while not denying the fact that you happen to be a Muslim.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net