Business jihad: How Muslim firms can achieve a bigger global presence

By James Melik
Reporter, Business Daily, BBC World Service

image captionMr Hashim introduced the concept of corporate waqif to JCorp

Muhammad Ali Hashim is a man with a mission.

The chief executive of the giant Johor Corporation in Malaysia is calling for a "business jihad" to ensure more Muslim companies are included amongst the world's big corporate names.

"It is important for Muslims to be fully integrated into the global economic mainstream," he says.

"And the best way to achieve that is through business."

Some records suggest that as many as 90% of all Muslim businesses, from Morocco right across to Malaysia, are family-run enterprises, yet fewer than 10% continue past the third generation.

Mr Hashim points out that there are examples of family-owned businesses in the West, Japan and Korea, which have become international corporations.

"You need entrepreneurs who are futuristic in their thinking, who are prepared to change the way they do their business," he says.

The models are already there, he reasons, so it is just a question of adopting the best practices and copying the way business is done elsewhere.

Mr Hashim believes that through business, you can reach everybody by creating wealth and creating jobs and thus combat poverty.

Birth of an idea

The Johor conglomerate that Mr Hashim heads is composed of 280 companies dealing in everything from palm oil to healthcare, from the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Malaysia to shipping.

JCorp was first established in 1968 as a corporation owned by the Johor state government.

It started like any other state-owned enterprise and has been subject to government directives, bureaucratic injunctions and rules and regulations.

When Mr Hashim took the helm, he wanted to add value and create wealth to bridge economic divisions in Malaysian society, through "growing the size of the cake" for the benefit of all ethnic groups in the country.

Under his stewardship, he was able to convince the Johor government to consider "corporate waqaf" as an option.

"Waqaf is an early Islamic institution that had played a very significant and powerful rule in the days when Islam was at the peak of its glory," Mr Hashim says.

It entails shares and assets of a company being placed into the Western equivalent of a charitable trust. Mr Hashim became the founder chairman of Waqaf An Nur Corporation.

So far, about a quarter of the corporation is operated under waqaf principles and Mr Hashim hopes that figure will increase until all assets and shares are fully included.

"Fundamental in corporate waqaf is the avoidance of causing harm to society, diminishing the quality of life by destroying social institutions or creating divides," he says.

image captionAmong the JCorp group are medical facilities and hospitals

Future vision

"Business jihad" is about Mr Hashim's holistic vision of the role of business.

Although delivered through an institution that is rooted in Islam, "it is definitely not and cannot be exclusive to Muslims".

Most people understand jihad to be a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims, but it can also be any vigorous holy fight for an idea or principle.

"A Jihad cause, in its traditional context, is a source of abundant energy and empowerment," Mr Hashim explains.

"Indeed, a Jihad call has to be met with selfless, altruistic extraordinary effort that knows no bounds and limitation, with full submission to the will of Allah," he adds.

"Jihad cannot be allowed to be hijacked by the extremists and those who pursue violence," he says.

"Imagine if all the energy and motivational force of a jihadic war effort is harnessed, mobilised and channelled towards wealth creation to prosper the ummah (Islamic community) and the world," he enthuses.

In 2009 it was estimated that there were 1.8 billion Muslims in the world - over a quarter of the world's population.

"But many people do not see business in terms of a pursuit that meets their spiritual needs as well, so the concept of business jihad is to try to provide that bridge," he says.

He maintains that Muslims need a new concept of business.

"There are many ways to skin a cat, our 'business jihad' is one of those ways," he says.

"The only difference compared with the conventional extreme capitalism is the substitution of divisive greed and avarice with 'business jihad's' selfless altruism and positive Islamic values."

Historic precedent

"You have seen what Islamic civilisations have contributed to the past in the history of mankind. We need to relive that," he says.

He believes it is time for the Muslim mainstream, particularly in the business sector, to come forward and do their part.

image captionA UN report says only Malaysia and Turkey are potential technology leaders among Muslim states

"The world today is business-driven, and Islam is not anti-wealth creation," he insists.

"Islam teaches that to succeed, an enterprise must be led by the most able and competent, irrespective of whether he or she is a Muslim or not, and the fierce competition in the market demands exactly that."

Mr Hashim maintains that business jihad is therefore uncompromising in the pursuit of enterprise and whose end result must be economic prosperity for all.

"Not only must business pursue profits and add economic value. It must also result in enhancing the good through high ethical conduct and moral principles," he says.

He decrees that business, especially big business and corporations, must behave more responsibly and take a caring attitude towards its impact on society, life and human dignity.

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