Helping the Growth of Muslim Businesses
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
The economic development of the
immigrant communities in the West has generally followed the
following course: first, the immigrants take up jobs as skilled or
unskilled workers or as professionals; then some of them open
community-oriented businesses (e.g. specialty food stores); finally
they enter into a variety of other small businesses leading into big
business. The economic development of the Muslim immigrant community
in the West is also following the same course.
In North America, where the immigration
of Muslims started in earnest about a quarter of a century ago,
Muslim communities are just entering, in the big cities at least,
the third stage mentioned above. They have just begun to open small
businesses (other than specialty food stores), i.e. wholesale or
retail garment or fabric businesses, dry cleaning shops, printing
presses, electrical goods stores, computer software shops, etc.
It hardly needs to be said that the
growth of all kinds of Muslim businesses is good for the future of
Islam and Muslims. The Islamic principle of brotherhood requires
that we do whatever we can to help in this growth.
STRONG AND HEALTHY
One of the things that will greatly help
the growth of our businesses is that we build durable partnerships
among ourselves. At present, Muslim partnerships are just not
proving to be durable. The story of two Muslim friends starting a
business together and then, a few years or months later, fighting
with each other to the great detriment of their business, is now
becoming a familiar one. The main reason for this is that we often
keep in our hearts what needs to be openly discussed.
A successful and lasting partnership is
possible only if the prospective partners discuss beforehand all
their respective obligations and method of profit sharing in a
spirit of frankness and trust. But trust and frankness are
not enough. It is important that terms of partnership are committed
to writing. The Holy Qur`an says:
"O you who believe!
Whenever you enter into deals with one another involving future
obligations for a certain term, write it down." (2:282)
The Qur`anic passage goes on to say that
the writing of the deal should be done before witnesses. In our
times, notarization would serve the same purpose. Many Muslims are
very shy to write down the terms of partnership. They feel that
among good friends there should be no need for this.
There is something cute and lovable about this
attitude but unfortunately, observation shows that such an attitude
is good neither for business nor for friendship, for it often
destroys both. So the Qur`anic passage stresses:
"And do not consider it
below your dignity to write (your contract) for a future period,
whether it be small or big: this is just in the sight of God,
more suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts
As we said, it is unfortunate that
Muslim partnerships too often end up in failure and hard feelings.
But it would be doubly unfortunate if examples of such failures
discouraged us from entering into partnerships altogether or made us
overcautious. For, without partnerships a community cannot go far in
economic development and over cautiousness often leads to the very
problems one wishes to avoid. Therefore let Muslim businessmen
continue to seek partnerships with other Muslims. The only thing
that previous examples of failed partnerships in the community
should teach us is to become more frank, honest and business-like in
our partnerships and to make all deals in the form of legal
documents (except those that involve on-the-spot transactions(1)).
BEING A UNITED COMMUNITY
In addition to
healthy partnerships, another thing that is good for the growth of
Muslim businesses is the unity of our community as a whole.
An organized and united community can help its businesses and ensure
their stability and security. But if, on the other hand, a community
is disorganized and disunited, then its businesses will likely
remain shaky and insecure.
And how can our community be united and
organized? As we have said many times in this publication, the first
and crucial step in this direction, according to Islam, is the
formation of an elective body that represents the entire
Qur`anic passage mentioned above states:
"But in case of a transaction
that you carry out among yourselves on the spot (without involving
any future obligations), there is no blame if you do not put it in