Sulaiman Al-Rajhi: A Model for Nigerian Billionaires

08 June 2012

By Isa Ali Pantami 

One of the main reasons that always compel me to have a poor impression of most Nigerian Politicians, businessmen, technocrats and even some fellow clergymen is their mission of accumulating wealth without vision or any sound agenda of how to spend their wealth honestly, sincerely and religiously. Poverty, unemployment and ignorance are undoubtedly among the godfathers of social vices and crimes that have sunk our darling Nigeria in the ocean of disaster and they can be eliminated or reduced by using genuine wealth in genuine ways.  Wealth is a trust and we will definitely account for it- how we accumulate it and how we spend it. Sir Thomas Browne opined that "Be charitable before wealth makes you covetous".

Acquiring legal and legitimate wealth and spending it sincerely and honestly based on priority and need is one of the most successful and easiest ways of attaining Allah's Paradise or/and going to the Heavens. Our Lord says: "By no means shall you attain righteousness (Paradise) unless you give freely of that which you love; and whatever you give of a truth Allah knows it well" (Q3: 92). In this divine quotation which has been adopted as our framework of analysing charity, it has been proven that it is only with genuine and sincere charity that we can attain Paradise.  

A brief story of a Saudi billionaire and Philanthropist who chose to become poor financially for the benefit of orphans, widows, divorcees and paupers is a great lesson to wealthy people in Nigeria, who accumulate money without limit. Henry Fielding said it very nicely that, "A rich man without charity is a rogue; and perhaps it would be no difficult matter to prove that he is also a fool". 

Shaykh Alhaji Sulaiman Al-Rajhi is a world-renowned philanthropist, who had accumulated legitimate wealth starting from scratch to the position of multi-billionaire without holding any public or political office. He was praised as "Rags-to-Riches" billionaire.  He grew up in the Najd desert where he began his business by changing money for pilgrims and taking camel caravans across the desert to the cities of Makkah and Madinah together with his biological brother- Saleh. He is indeed the founder and chairman of Al-Rajhi Bank- the largest Islamic Bank today globally. Before he established Al-Rajhi, he intellectually succeeded in convincing chiefs of the leading central banks of the world, England inclusive, nearly 30 years ago that interest (Riba) is forbidden in both Islam and Christianity, and that Islamic banking is the most effective solution to activate Islamic financing in the world and make it a real boost to the global economy. He earlier applied for a license for the bank but was turned down, because the concerned British officials did not have any basic idea about Islamic Banking. He therefore, went to London and discussed with the leaders of the Bank of England, he told them that Muslims and Christians see interest as forbidden, and pious people are unwilling to make transactions with Banks based on interest and instead prefer to keep their cash and other valuables at home. They were later convinced, and he travelled to various countries with the same mission. In the end, this banking system was officially launched in Saudi Arabia and subsequently implemented in the United Kingdom. 

 Forbes estimated his wealth to be $7.7 billion, and this catapulted him to become the 120th richest man globally as of 2011. He is also the chairman of National Agricultural Development Company, the founder of Al-Watania agricultural company, which was established after his visit to a poultry project abroad, where he saw how chicken were slaughtered mercilessly.  The farm has now become an instrument of achieving food security and enjoys at least 40 percent market share in the Kingdom and it is the largest farm in the whole of the Middle East. He is also the pioneer in establishing modern organic farming in the whole of the Middle East. 

Sulaiman Al-Rajhi was born in 1920. Despite his age, he is very active physically and spiritually, and enjoys walking anytime. He always begins his work daily after the Morning Prayer (6:00am) and is active until Isha prayer (8:00pm) before going to bed early. He received his bachelor of art/science degree at King Abdul-Aziz University. He currently lives in Jeddah-Riyadh axis and has 23 children. Before his recent sacrifice he was considered as Saudi's wealthiest non-royals and among the leading philanthropists globally. 

In 2009, Sulaiman Al-Rajhi established a private non-profit research university at Bukayriyyah, Al-Qassim, Saudi Arabia, named as Sulaiman Al-Rajhi University, comprising three colleges-Medicine, Nursing and Applied Science as well as state-of-the-art Teaching Hospital.  The university was established by Sulaiman Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Rajhi Charitable Foundation (SAAR), which has been considered as the biggest in the Kingdom in terms of capital and charitable activities. 

Fortunately and interestingly, he is indeed an exceptional billionaire, who chose willingly to become poor without having any cash, estate, infrastructure or stock that he owned earlier. When he personally wished to become poor, he invited his children to the city of Makkah during the last ten days of Ramadhan and presented the idea to them which they unanimously accepted and seconded. 

Furthermore, he took a substantial amount from his wealth and distributed to his family in order to make them self-reliant and donated all the remaining to an established endowment for the sake of Allah. He spiritually threw away his huge wealth through two prestigious windows- distributed first portion to his children and the second and more than half portion to endowment, which is regarded as the largest endowment in the history of the Islamic world. Going Through his biography, he had to fight poverty and suffering during his childhood before becoming a billionaire through hard work and relentless efforts, and then leaving all his fortune to become penniless again. 

Sulaiman Al-Rajhi said that, "Now, I own only my clothes. I distributed my wealth among my children and set aside the greatest portion for endowment to run charity projects. As far as I am concerned, this situation is not a strange one. My financial condition reached zero point two times in my life, and therefore I have the feeling and understanding (about poverty) well. But now the feeling is accompanied by happiness, relaxation and peace of mind. The zero phase in life this time is purely because of my own decision and choice". He emphasised that, he chose this humble way of life because all wealth belongs to Almighty Allah, and we are only entrusted by Allah to take care of it.  

Sulaiman Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Rajhi Charitable Foundation (SAAR) now owns and controls more than half of Sulaiman Al-Rajhi's wealth, and executes so many charitable activities and humanitarian services in the world. As a result of that he was awarded with King Faisal Award Prize in the year-2012. 

Finally, orphans, widows, divorcees, paupers, unemployed-energetic youth, vulnerable children and many others eagerly and anxiously pray for another Sulaiman Al-Rajhi to emerge in Nigeria. We have many multi-billionaires in our country, but they lack sacrifice and sound mission. I Hope to hear of such sacrifice in my country soon. This is what is expected from wealthy people in our society. Here is a reminder to those who heed "Who is he that will lend to Allah a goodly loan so that He may multiply it..? Q64:17" I pray for Allah's blessings and success for you in this life and the life to come as you give from that which you love. 

 As I was concluding this piece, I read that Nigeria international footballer, John Mikel Obi of Chelsea is planning to launch his pet project today named as "The John Mikel Obi Foundation" whose mission is to bring succour to the homeless and displaced people across the nation especially "Almajirai". He said, "It was a dream for me when I was growing up. I know the way it feels, many are homeless and have no food to eat and it has always been in my mind to do something in this direction. I intend to make this a lifetime thing if it achieves the purpose". I really and sincerely give thumbs-up to Mikel Obi and I wish him Allah's guidance and protection in this world and in the next.


Isa Ali Pantami,

PhD Candidate (Computing & IT) in the United Kingdom,

Lecturer, ATB University, Bauchi, Nigeria.


17/07/1433H (08/06/2012G)



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