Monday, September 9, 2013


Ever since I was a child, I have always felt Aug 31, to be very special. As a Malaysian, I would wait eagerly every year on that day to watch the Merdeka Day celebratory procession, either attending it at Dataran Merdeka or glued in front of the TV like millions of other Malaysians.

The most memorable Merdeka Day for me was the year when I got the opportunity to sit next to the stage where the king, queen, prime minister and the whole Cabinet ministers were sitting during the procession. I was just a little lad following his father to work that day. I was really bitten big time by the patriotic bug then.

Meeting the men and women who served and fought to protect the sovereignty of an independent Malaysia, I was drowned in patriotic feelings and aspirations.

I was ready to take up arms and fight the communists who were still waging war against the country back then. The amused smiles of adults around me as I announced my intention loudly did not deter my enthusiasm. I made a promise to myself that I will fight endlessly to serve my country and protect her from harm, just like my father.

My enthusiasm has not dampened today but I did learn much later that I did not have to be in the military or the police to do it. I learnt that I could be just as effective in any line of work. As a Malaysian, I was born with the duty to be patriotic irrespective of the line of work that I choose to do. Even as a banker, more specifically an Islamic banker, today, I find myself in the front line fighting the good fight for Malaysia in a global financial market. Together with many others, I continuously battle to put forth our Islamic finance industry as a credible and viable value proposition and global marketplace for Islamic finance not just for Malaysians but for everyone.

It was 30 years ago that we made one of the most important choices of our young nation’s independent existence, which was the formation of Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd, the first Islamic bank in Malaysia and my first employer, 26 years after we achieved independence from the British. It was a historic moment to my mind to rival that of Merdeka Day for it was the day that marked the start of us achieving real independence.

Many do not realise that when we formed Bank Islam under a new legislation called the Islamic Banking Act 1983, we introduced the world’s first formal dual banking system, that helped bring about our eventual financial independence. Political and economic independence is worthless without financial independence. That one act cemented our sovereignty in the world.

Many Malaysians fought hard since Merdeka Day in shedding the colonial shackles that we found ourselves tied to in the effort to reintroduce and implement Islamic finance after 500 years of foreign occupation.

I see them all as patriots who fought the good fight in introducing the appropriate legislation, regulation, judicial and Shariah frameworks that enabled Islamic finance to coexist on a level playing field with conventional riba-based finance.

As a result, Malaysia has one of the most free and liberalised financial markets in the world and a force to be reckoned with in international finance.

In my opinion, Malaysia is arguably the most democratic financial market in the world, where no one is left out of the financial market with the availability of Islamic finance offerings; where core poverty has been eradicated; where everyone is able to be involved in mainstream economic activities; where we are second to none in the world in terms of optimal financial inclusion.

Malaysia is the only market in the world that allows a young Islamic bank like CIMB Islamic Bank Bhd to compete head on with conventional banks effectively to become the top 15 of the world’s largest Islamic banks by assets and deposits in less than seven years.

Malaysia is the only country that offers her citizens the full and real freedom of choice in choosing their preferred financial solutions where Islamic financial products and conventional riba-based financial products are offered side by side competitively.

I am a firm believer that there is no real sovereignty or true freedom in this world without financial freedom.

At the end of the day, the Malaysian patriots in the Islamic finance industry have not only served to protect and enhance Malaysia’s independence and sovereignty but have also contributed in making the world a better place. The memory of my childhood promise drives my commitment to serve my country but it is those patriots who have come and gone that continue to inspire me to do more.

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

[Badlisyah Abdul Ghani is the ED and CEO of CIMB Islamic Bank Bhd. This column appeared in the 2 September 2013 issue of The Malaysian Reserve]