The world of crypto has been a trending topic for a few years now and with the rate that it’s currently growing, it seems it will become mainstream in the next few years. The debate surrounding crypto and its ethics has been dominating headlines, with some countries even going as far as banning it. Earlier this year, Indonesia joined the list of countries that have warned financial firms about offering and/or facilitating sales of crypto assets with regulators in Singapore and Thailand also doing the same.
However, that’s not stopped the growing interest in crypto and companies like MRHB DeFi are making sure they’re part of this massive financial change. They aim to do this by making crypto more accessible to the Muslim community without compromising on core Islamic principles. MRHB DeFi is the world’s first ethical & Islamic DeFi ecosystem built to aim to bring many communities who are excluded into the opportunities of the Blockchain world and help drive the biggest revolution in finance since banks were invented.
Core to the MRHB platform is that riba or interest-based lending is considered haram and unethical but are a frequent part of the cryptoverse. To address this, MRHB has eliminated such practices from all their products and the entire ecosystem making it ‘halal.’ This aspect of the platform is governed by highly experienced and qualified in-house Shariah advisors providing an additional sense of comfort to the community.
Naquib Mohammed is 34-years-old and describes himself as “a technology enthusiast” who is passionate about the possibilities that Distributed Ledger Technologies can bring to the society. A certified compliance and blockchain forensics professional, he’s also the CEO of Marhaba, and he sat down with Omar DaCosta-Shahid at MVSLIM to discuss all things crypto as well as the future of his own business.
Technology is your expertise. Does that refer to the term quite broadly? Or is there anything within technology that you want to be known for?
I want to be known as a business architect, as a solution architect. My job was to understand the business requirements of the clients or customers and create products that provide solutions for them. I am applying the same expertise in this domain as well as at Marhaba. I keep on researching market sentiments and about what kind of products come out, then evaluating what people want.
This is how I position new products and new ideas within the team. I mean, the initial set of products that we have in Marhaba is mostly my vision but now obviously when the team is growing, we have more and more ideas coming in. So, just referring back to the question, I want to be able to explore as much technology as I can, knowing just how important it is in our society.
So where in your overall career did that shift in focus move towards Blockchain?
So when I was working as a business architect in Huawei, it was a core customer journey analytics domain within telecom. I was working in the big data analytics sector and we were tapping on network traffic data of Saudi Arabia and we were creating business solutions out of it and creating product ideas. This is how data mining works. So you tap on raw data and you create new product ideas out of it. So I was doing this, and I wanted to explore where the technology side was moving, so I took up courses on digital transformation.
I touched briefly on all those technologies that did not interest me but when I finally got into Blockchain, it was amazing. So I said okay, let me do everything I can to see what could make this better.
I just continued learning more and more over the next six months. I was spending almost seven to eight hours every day learning Blockchain so I intentionally did not look into the financial use cases. Finance was never my interest at that time. So being a technologist was more attractive because I was learning about the technology itself.
At first, I was keeping myself away from cryptocurrencies, trading and all of those things, especially because I wasn’t sure about the Sharia compliance aspect of it. I read a lot of blogs, some people were saying it was okay, some people were saying it wasn’t, so I didn’t want to get involved in the debate. Instead, I put all my focus into learning about technology and that’s how my journey started.
I did 17 certifications in a short span of 6 months in Blockchain. Not that I did to get certifications, but because I wanted to use the certifications as a means of a milestone completion to move to the next one.
You’ve obviously taken a very keen interest in blockchain. What do you feel is the future of blockchain? What do you think is going to happen? And how do you think this might impact the world at large?
Blockchain in itself is a very simple technology.
It’s nothing new that Satoshi did when he actually released his white paper on Bitcoin. He’s simply taken up lots of pre-existing technologies, combined them together into one package, and named it ‘Blockchain.’
So the basics are very simple. Any Blockchain itself is a shared database, just like any other database, SQL, Hadoop, etc. So in any database, the four functions are, create, read, update, delete [CRUD].
In Blockchain, you have to create and you have read, but you don’t have to update and delete. So once it’s entered, data can never be changed or deleted and on a public chain it’s a single version viewable by everyone so this is the basic property of Blockchain. Based on this, you can imagine an immense amount of use cases.
So everyday the innovation that we see, is because of this creative thinking that comes across developers and solution architects who keep on thinking of new ways to use this technology across different sectors ie. in supply chain, health care, pharmacy, agriculture, NFTs, in everything. So, anything that needs trust, anything that needs frictionless transactions will use Blockchain in the future. And this is regarding the technology when we talk about tokenisation, which is taking the world by storm. Every new startup is thinking about tokenising their assets in some form or the other because it is easier for them to reach across borders and across jurisdictions.
Do you have any examples?
So in 2019, Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase, said that in the next 10 years, every startup will have some aspect of crypto in them. And this is what we see today. I think he’s exploring Real Estate Organisation because it’s easier to reach across a wider mass. Even in Marhaba, if you have tried to raise funds within Australia probably would have been struggling for a year or more. But because of the property of ITO (Initial Token offering), we reached out to every corner of the world, so anyone from across the world participated in funding the project.
So that’s the beauty that this sector brings.
So, Marhaba has largely been created for Muslims and communities looking for ethical crypto to engage in decentralised finance. Why do you think it’s important for Muslims to be engaged and to be involved in decentralised finance versus the current fiat system?
We are trying to bring financial solutions onto the Blockchain via the Marhaba token in itself. So the Marhaba token in itself is what powers the system. That’s it. If we have good products, good solutions that people need, people will use this. This will grow the community and create both network and utility value that is effectively held by the token. That’s it. It’s that simple.
There are a lot of extremely good projects that I’m personally invested in but since the last almost seven, eight months, there has been no fluctuation – the price is not going up.
But what is really important about the project that we are building for Muslims is that there is no other Sharia-compliant – truly Sharia-compliant – DeFi solution out there. I mean it, because we work with our internal Sharia scholars day in and day out. They are involved in everything that we do right from the beginning and are a core part of the team. They are monitoring everything that we do. And only with their consent, we’re able to move ahead. I can say this with a conviction that you cannot develop a halal crypto project without active participation of the scholars. Crypto is new, everyone is learning, and so the shariah experts have to learn along with you and then provide you with solutions.
We believe that the next era of finance, and the next era of technology, will be dominated by Blockchain and cryptocurrencies. So we are trying to give safe solutions to the community for them to start using it.
When you were younger, what did you imagine you would be doing as a job?
So when I was very young, I wanted to be a pilot. I still want to be a pilot. My son will be a pilot. But when I started growing older, entrepreneurship always excited me but obviously, I don’t come from an entrepreneur background.
Nobody in my family is an entrepreneur so I wanted to venture out into that sector. I also had this in my mind when I read a Hadith somewhere that stated if you do business the right way, you will be one of the favoured people on the day of Qiyama. I believe that in business you have to be honest and dedicated and you have to be sincere to earn halal money and to make sure all your income is halal.
What type of setbacks have you faced along the way to get to where Marhaba is today?
Marhaba did have a lot of challenges and still is having a lot of challenges, just like any startups can have. I don’t want to be a complaining sort of guy. But alhamdulillah now when I look back, everything was a lesson very well learned. Everything made me grow into who I am today. I’m thankful for everything that happened in the past, rather than complaining about it.
One ongoing challenge is always to maintain the trust of the community. It seems many times people are impatient, quick to criticise and rapidly create negative noise without full understanding. It’s often easier to highlight the flaws in someone else’s project rather than build something yourself. We have a pretty big mission ahead, it’s very tough and long road. We are far from perfect but we always strive to be open about our goals and motives and hope this is enough to get the community behind us and give us time to deliver value.
Omar, you are a founder as well, you would have started from zero. At some points, it was easy to quit and just go back to whatever I was doing.
But Alhamdulillah, the team that we have, that’s what helped make Marhaba successful. I will never credit the success of Marhaba to myself. Never and that’s because of the team. And I’m not trying to be humble. It’s just a fact.
For example, if people say that I’m a good CEO, or I’m a good founder, it’s because of what my team has made me. They have trained me to be a good CEO. They have trained me to be a good leader. So it’s what the team has made me into.
What type of legacy would you like to leave? What would you like people to remember you for? And what would you like people to remember Marhaba for achieving?
So Marhaba is trying to do something that has never been done before. We’re trying to be the gateway for Islamic and ethically-minded communities to get into the world of Blockchain and crypto. Nobody has done it before. There are failed examples in the past.
So this is what I want to be remembered for myself, as well as for the Marhaba – that we were the first ones to do it successfully. We want to be remembered for the efforts we have put in and to be a reference point and an inspiration for all of the projects that will come beyond this. I mean since December, I think I’ve heard about four different initiatives that are being done in the world of Islamic Finance and crypto even from non-Islamic organisations as well. They are seeing this experiment as a success and now they want to try it.
We don’t want to compete against anyone because we want to do things the right way. It’s always about the intention and if we keep them good, then Insha’Allah we will be successful.
And the final question, where is Marhaba going to be in five years’ time?
Marhaba in five years’ time will be a self-sustaining and self-governed ecosystem where a community of halal and ethically minded people can participate safely in the opportunities of the cryptoverse.
We expect that the institutional side will be active and a key part of the $3 trillion Islamic Finance sector. Now we are focusing on retail, but institutionalDeFI will drive tremendous volumes into our ecosystem and hugely benefit our token-holders if we do it right..
If we want to have stability within the community, then we have to abide by the laws and regulations that are coming into DeFi.
My personal target is to value the institutional wing of Marhaba as a unicorn in the 14th month of its operation, so that’s my personal target, Insha’Allah.
And I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to achieve it.