Talha Ahsan questions whether Wahed Invest closed his account down without providing a reason because he was extradited to a United States death row prison on terrorism charges.
I was excited by the arrival of the Shariah-compliant robo-advisor Wahed Invest to the UK. Here was an ethical investment opportunity that predicted massive growth in a halal way backed by leading scholars like Sheikh Yasir Qadhi. Their aggressive portfolio predicted a threefold increase over 15 years. I signed up in the New Year with an intention to invest the maximum amount for their ISA.
Before I deposited my money, I had some enquiries about Brexit and recommendations on diversifying my portfolios. Their head of Investor Relations contacted me personally. He was particularly enthusiastic about my intention to be a maximum investor. It appeared most of their 3,000 or so investors only had the minimum £100 deposits. I told him about my fears over Brexit and he gave an analysis of future market trends that were ultimately optimistic. Our call ended on a positive note.
I had planned to pay the first instalment that week. The next day I got an email from Wahed Invest – my account had been closed following compliance checks.
I messaged their head of Investor Relations to arrange a call to discuss the decision.
He replied that he did not have the authority to speak about the matter and the decision was final.
The letter did not state why my account was closed. Wahed’s terms and conditions state they “reserve the right to close accounts without explanation”. I have been a compliant customer of other non-Shariah financial services for many years. By virtue of my faith, I had wanted to support a more halal form of banking. I suspect, ironically, it was my faith under trial that made Wahed close my account.
My extradition to a U.S. death row
In October 2012, I was extradited with five other men to the United States, a country I had never visited, to face an indictment for actions that occurred wholly lawfully in the UK. I had already spent six years in British high security prisons without trial contesting the grounds of my extradition.
At a British airbase, I was blindfolded and garbed in sound-proof ear muffs. FBI agents frogmarched me in hand-cuffs and leg shackles onto a private jet. That same night as I was taken across the Atlantic, my poem “Grieving”, that won the Koestler arts award for that year, was projected onto a wall at the Southbank centre. Two weeks later, another extradition contester, Gary Mckinnon, sharing my medical condition of Asperger’s syndrome, had his case dropped by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May.
Held in solitary confinement beside death row at a state maximum security prison, I conceded to a “plea bargain” with the American government to plead guilty in exchange for an expedited return home. Our arts-based family campaign, freetalha.org was shortlisted in 2013 for an award from Liberty, the civil rights organisation.
Despite my “guilty” plea, the chief Federal judge of Connecticut, Janet Hall, described me as “a moderate person who has peaceful views”. She had read expert reports and letters of support, including from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and novelist A. L. Kennedy.
She had in front of her all my emails, diaries and private writings since I was 14 to make her findings. Presumably, Wahed Invest would have also closed the account of that other terrorist also convicted by a mature democracy and long-standing ally of the UK, Nelson Mandela.
A second chance
Inmates from Muslim family backgrounds compose a disproportionally high number of the current UK prison population. I write to prisoners in the UK and the US for moral support. They all deserve a second chance and a future free of despair to contribute productively to their communities. The action of Wahed Invest does not inspire confidence.
I returned to the UK in August 2014 with only the clothes on my back and a signed piece of paper declaring my life-time ban from the US. I have donated those items along with all my prison papers to the Bishopsgate Institute archives. Since then, I have successfully managed rental properties. I have tutored students to get As in GCSE and A-Level Arabic. Currently, I am at the tail end of a master’s in history at SOAS. I have also given poetry readings across the country. I wanted to put my hard-gained earning and family gifts into a long-term saving plan. Wahed Invest appeared like a godsend.
I understand the pressures that Wahed Invest and similar organisations work under. Yet, with the sponsoring of the popular Freshly Grounded podcast, Wahed Invest’s social media marketing is aggressively targeting what I call the ‘Roadman Akhi’ demographic of practising Muslims. This is a class who not only value self-made financial success, but also value the principles of loyalty and support of the Ummah even more. The ‘Roadman Akhi’ has even less time for community cucks, and insha`allah flakes my family suffered during the ordeal of my imprisonment. Wahed owes me no explanation but for their own reputation they need to clear doubts from potential investors
Despite my experiences with Wahed Invest, I would still encourage others to support their ventures. Communities require institutions for sustained and healthy development. However, in a current environment where it only requires a wristband supporting the human dignity of Palestinian children to be flagged up to authorities, make sure you do not get more than you bargained for.
Wahed Invest told 5Pillars that they are not able to comment on the closure of specific accounts.
You can follow Talha Ahsan on Twitter @TalhaAhsanEsq