Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I trained with Allen & Overy (A&O) in London before qualifying in the International Capital Markets department in 1999. From 2002, I spent two years in the firm’s Frankfurt office where I assisted in the development of the firm’s debt capital markets practice in Germany before returning to London in early 2004. It was upon my return that I increased my focus on Islamic finance and Sukuk transactions in particular, advising on, for example, the debut sovereign Sukuk issue by the Government of Pakistan, which was the catalyst for the Sukuk market in Pakistan. In the late 2006 I relocated to the Middle East to establish our international capital markets practice in the region and to play a greater role in further developing our global Islamic finance practice.
What does your role involve?
I have overall responsibility for the firm’s global Islamic finance practice. I work very closely with other members of the firm’s Global Islamic Finance Group, spread across A&O’s 30-office global network in not only structuring and documenting innovative Islamic financing transactions but also helping to shape regulatory developments across the world by working closely with regulatory bodies, governments and trade associations. I am also responsible for the firm’s international capital markets practice in the Middle East.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
To focus on the firm, which is our real strength, A&O has advised on the vast majority of the sovereign Sukuk transactions to date (including the world’s first international Sukuk issue for the Government of Malaysia in 2002) and more international Sukuk transactions than any other law firm, which culminated in the firm being recognized earlier this year by Islamic Finance news, collecting 11 awards. More recently, following independent research, IFLR recognized eight A&O lawyers in its survey of the world’s leading Islamic finance lawyers which, again, was more than any other law firm. This demonstrates the strength in depth of A&O’s global Islamic finance practice and our unwavering focus on the team rather than the individual.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
As lawyers, we are judged quite rightly on the quality of the advice that we offer, and the quality of service that we deliver, to our clients. Our Islamic finance lawyers are able to combine a deep understanding of Shariah principles and concepts with first class knowledge of law and practice to advise on innovative transactions across a wide variety of Shariah compliant product areas.
What are the strengths of your business?
The global reach of A&O and the related spread of our Islamic finance specialists across the network ensure that, as a firm and as a team, we are able to offer a truly integrated global service regardless of where our clients are based or the nature of the specialist advice they require. As Islamic finance continues to develop on a global level, the ability to service clients’ ever-changing needs on a multi-jurisdictional basis has never been more important.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Given that the practice of law is a people business, it is without question the quality of our lawyers and in the Islamic finance area, the specialists are part of the firm’s Global Islamic Finance Group. The ability of our Islamic finance specialists to innovate and lead the market in their respective areas of specialization means that we can assist our clients in developing innovative Shariah compliant products that the market not only recognizes but also treats as a benchmark.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
Aside from well-publicized concerns regarding the shortage in quality lawyers specializing in this field and the excessive demands placed on esteemed Shariah scholars who are the bedrock of the industry, the regulatory framework in a number of jurisdictions needs to be modified or, in some cases, overhauled in order to allow Islamic finance to prosper in non-traditional jurisdictions.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years?
When one evaluates how the industry has developed significantly in the last five years, it is very difficult to accurately predict what will happen. However, we have seen a plethora of Islamic finance institutions being established or, in some cases, conventional institutions converting to become Shariah compliant ones. While this is very encouraging, I suspect we will see a degree of consolidation that ultimately will create truly global players.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
The widespread misconception, notably in the non-Muslim world, that Islamic finance is reserved for followers of the Islamic faith. An investment based on ethics and which offers genuine risk and reward is, and certainly should continue to be, available to all.