The passing away of Prince Mohammad Al Faisal a month ago truly will leave an un-fillable void in the hearts of all those who knew him, a space of echoes and memories that was once occupied by a vital yet modest man. It was a very personal loss for me as well, as over the years I began to know him more, being enriched with knowledge and insight while sitting in amiable companionship either in his house in Jeddah or elsewhere.
From the time he was the chairman of the Saline Water Corporation to setting up the Islamic banking industry Prince Mohammad was a personality worthy of observation.
Over several decades, I have met many leaders and personalities in many different walks of life from the mighty to the humblest. For me, he would stand tall next to the best of them.
He was a quiet unsung hero and should have got the credit for many of the things he did that went unrecorded. He pioneered many projects. He was humble, approachable, down to earth and a prince amongst men in the real sense of the world. His pleasant face would never change into a scowl even if he were angry, and he projected a calmness that encouraged genuine communication.
In the discussions over various issues ranging from the important to the mundane, he was both realistic and critical I can safely state that it was because of him that Islamic banking nurtured and grew. He pioneered it almost single-handedly. He quietly and resolutely pushed for it in Turkey and Egypt at a time when investment and trade environment were not the best. To do so was a Herculean task. It took negotiations, education, and the sometimes uphill task of convincing others. He did because he believed in his mission.
Opening up Islamic banking in Switzerland and Luxemburg amidst hostile settings was no easy task. This tireless man however, with the famous twinkle in eyes that I always remember, achieved it.
In the manner of great men, Prince Mohammad was despite his authority and position was essentially a simple and modest man. I was impressed. Here was a man who asked me to jump in a London cab as we are going to visit a contact; no pomp, no show, just a practical and simple man.
On one occasion at Dubai Airport while I was waiting with the editor of the Islamic Banker, Mushtaq Parker a plane arrived and out came a “famous personality” with 20 prancing retainers and a glittering show worthy of Busby Berkeley.
Half an hour later Mohammad Al Faisal’s plane arrived and he walked out, anonymous in the scrimmage of airport passengers with only a personal secretary as company.
That was his style.
Once at his residence in Jeddah, I recall he left his seat to attend to a personal phone call. An ordinary person with a petition entered the gathering and sat in the vacant seat. . Prince Mohammad returned and seeing the petitioner, gestured gently to him not to get off the seat, and took one near by. Even after the man left he retained the same place. Such was his character.
People of wealth or power adopt at times postures of pretence at times they exhibit a patronizing attitude. Prince Mohammad never did that. He gave everyone the respect due to them. His understanding of history was admirable. At times I would provoke him to answer questions, some of which he did. At times he would look at me and smile and say “we will leave that for next time.”
Sadly for all who encountered Prince Mohammad even slightly, there’s not going to be a next time. The time I spent with him over the years I treasure and count it as a gift.
In this world, there are people who by sheer personality and character enrich the quality of life of those whom they meet. Prince Mohammad Al Faisal belonged in that very select category.