Islamic Voice
Rabi-ul-Akhir 1422H
July 2001
Volume 15-07 No:175

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What Ails Muslim Industry?

What Ails Muslim Industry?

What deters Muslims’ progress in industry and large business? Here is an insightful article analyzing the reasons for Muslim absence in big business and industry in India by Iqbal Ansari. It has been translated into English by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj. Except for addition of a fact here and there, we have tried to stay faithful to the text. Any discrepancies that might occur would be ours. Editor

Without advertising, strong distribution network, and public financing, 
big business is unthinkable

Muslims had been traditionally engaged in occupations where skill are involved. Yet barring a few, there are no Muslim industrial houses on the industrial scene in India.

Look at a few facts: Baking has been a traditional occupation for Muslims in Aligarh, yet the most modern bakery there was set up by a non-Muslim. Close to Aligarh, in Ferozabad, Rustam Bakhsh pioneered the making of glass bangles while Rustam Ali took the art of glass blowing to zenith of perfection. Yet most of the modern factories producing glasswork in Ferozabad today belong to the non-Muslim communities. Muslims of Bhadohi inherited the craft (or art?) of carpet weaving. They turn out masterpieces of art which adorn the mansions of elite all over the world. But when it comes to manufacturing carpets, it was the House of Modis that set up the most modern carpet-weaving plant in Rae Bareli. It were the Muslims of Calcutta who once dominated the soap making. But gradually they have been pushed out of business by giants such as Hindustan Lever Limited and the Tata Oil Mills. Muslims provided the skill base of several industries or craft in the country. Yet it were the non-Muslims who imparted them modern technology, marketing network and everything that goes with the large scale manufacturing.

Do we ever ponder as to why this happens? Why Muslim skills refuse to grow into industries? Why products manufactured by Muslims have limited reach? To certain extent, the communal riots and consequent insecurity were responsible for Muslim not throwing roots in industry and business. Muslim businesses were often the target of the hoodlums. This deterred Muslims, mainly in the Cow belt from entering these fields.

But there are a few more factors to be pondered. Any business venture set up by an individual entrepreneur and helped by several sons has to face the choice between splitting into smaller units and staying together when the brothers marry and raise families. Unity of purpose, labour distribution and a happy blend of talent and labour thus become crucial at this moment to keep the business united even while families split. But often it is seen that splitting families also split businesses and thereby damage future prospects. Often the division is odd. The one who has skills get assets and those who have experience are left without resources. Meerut’s famous Akhun Scissior Industries went into decline precisely due to such reasons. Bangalore’s chewing gum producers National Products(NP) and Bharat Products(BP) also became a victim of such circumstances.

The Mujawar Transport of Belgaum were the leading transporters of South India in 60s and 70s with a fleet of over 100 lorries, petrol bunks and auto spares agencies. The proprietorship concern could not graduate into limited concern. The business floundered with the death of the senior Mujawar. Assets were divided by the large family, none from whom is now a worthwhile name in the transport sector.

Secondly, children of these entrepreneurs get spoiled with the first flush of affluence. Opulence breeds arrogance. Traits such as tact, caution, politeness, transparency, minimization of costs and optimization of inputs take a back seat. Business suffers and rivals gain an edge. This is because hard-working fathers who belong to the first generation entrepreneurs mostly neglect guidance and grooming of their sons.

Most Muslim entrepreneurs do not attend to needs of a growing business. They think small. Expansion of offices, personnel, infrastructure etc remain unattended. They are afraid of advertising their products or enlarging their market network. Zinda Tilsimath, the Hyderabad based manufacturers of pain relieving lotions, spent a lot of money on advertising its products but could not lay down a firm network of distribution. Advertising did generate the demand, but absent network nullified the gains. As a result, the product awareness could not keep pace with product availability. The Hamdard Wakf Laboratories, the manufacturers of Unani medicine, generously spend on advertisement in the media and have paid equal attention on setting up strong distribution network.

Significanlty, India is still not a common market. Diversity of languages impedes uniform awareness of the product. It is generally overcome by opting for vernacular press and media for advertising. But a particular product has to strengthen its base in one region first in order to expand to other areas on that strength. Delhi’s Jalwa Horn, a very competent product, failed to capitalize on this strength elsewhere and had to ultimately lose the place to competitors in Delhi too.

The scope for goods and services produced by the people from the community is immense even within the community. A countrywide network could be established by compiling a business directory. Even the monthly Urdu journal Rahbar-e-Sanat-o-Tijarat (24C-Bright Street, Kolkata-700017) is serving as a link in this regard. The monthly needs to be popularized among the community people engaged in business and industry.

Muslim industrialists avoid seeking public funds through share market and remain cut off from the industrial mainstream. The Muslim educated youth should get into such companies floated by known and reputed Industrial houses and gain insight and know-how of these companies. Companies run on publicly raised finances enable one to cast a wide net for finances. If need be Muslims should include non-Muslim directors too in order to share their expertise.

(Coutesy Urdu Daily Inquilab)


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