Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Muslim businessmen of India

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    • By Aakar Patel
    • The Ansaris of Mid Day did not make their money from weaving, but from newspapers. The founder was Abdul Hamid Ansari, who wrote and published the Urdu weekly Inquilab. Its website refers to him as "mujahid-e-azadi" or freedom-fighter. Ansari was a Congressman who joined the Muslim League as did most of Bombay's Muslims. But he did not accept Jinnah's invitation to move to Pakistan.

      His cause, he wrote Jinnah in a letter of which the Ansaris are proud, was India's Muslims, and he and his press would remain here.
    • Muslims should be attracted to tijarat, because the prophet of Islam was also a trader. But because few Indian Muslims are converted from trading castes, they are not particularly good at business. They tend to be tradesmen instead: carpenters, butchers, plumbers and so on.

      The Indian exception is the Shia from Gujarat. Though it is a tiny community, perhaps no more than a half a million people, it totally dominates India's other 160 million Muslims in matters of business. So it isn't so much religion that makes a difference so far as the ability to trade is concerned, but the linguistic community an Indian belongs to, and his caste.

      Wipro's Azim Premji, India's second richest man, is a Khoja. An electrical engineer from Stanford University, Premji is part of Bombay's Khoja elite, whose most famous member was of course Jinnah.

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