Why Muslim entrepreneurs can give Islam a much needed image boost

EDITOR'S BLOG: There's a wealth of Muslim business talent out there. Perhaps they can help change British perceptions of Islam.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 29 Apr 2016

A recent YouGov survey on British attitudes towards Islam made disturbing reading. The researchers asked 6,640 people which three words or phrases they most associated with the term 'Muslim'. Some 12% said 'terror', 'terrorist' or 'terrorism' - the most frequently reported phrase - ahead of 'faith' (11%), 'mosque' (9%), 'Koran' (8%) and 'religious' (8%). The number who said 'business' or 'entrepreneur' was zero. And even 'beard' got 1%.

And yet we have a business secretary, Sajid Javid, with an Islamic heritage - albeit one who answered that if he had to live in the Middle East he'd choose Israel to reside - plus a Muslim odds-on favourite to become London mayor in Sadiq Khan. (Both their dads, incidentally, drove buses.) So having halal ready meal pioneer Shazia Saleem on our cover this month is a step in the right direction. No more tuna mayonnaise sandwiches. Go, Shazia!

I used to be fascinated by advertising 30 years ago. The smartest kids when I left university went into the ad game rather than investment banking. (Now they join neither.) Advertising has lost its sex appeal. Gone are the water-cooler conversations about the latest slick and witty Hamlet or Levi's 501 advert we all saw during the News at Ten commercial break. In the splintered world of 21st-century media, it's all about data in the scramble for customers. (Can you think of any less of a come on than the deeply depressing 'sponsored' right-hand column on Facebook?) And we know what Einstein said about data: 'Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.'

By contrast I remain fascinated - and seduced - by Italy. My family has owned a small house there since 2001 and my eight-year-old was baptised in the local village church beneath a beautiful 1478 Crivelli triptych. (Doing neither Islam nor Christianity, I was amused he endorsed Darwin by emitting juvenile baboon noises throughout the ceremony.)

However it's grazie a Dio that I don't have to run a business in Italy. It's one of the least meritocratic and entrepreneurial places around. Which doesn't mean its people don't work hard - quite the contrary. At our local restaurant, Angelica, the cook and owner, has one day off a week and takes a fortnight's holiday every January. The rest of the time she's alone in the kitchen. Hers is, of course, a family business as are most of those in my Italian Northern Powerhouse feature. If you thought scepticism about big business and the government runs high here, take a look at the heirs of Romulus and Remus.

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