KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s prime minister on Saturday told local media the country’s Malay, or Bumiputera, community, must realise that it is by “doing business that they can alleviate their economic standing”.
Mahathir Mohamad was referring to the lower economic standing of the Bumiputeras—largely Muslims who make up around 60 percent of the population—compared to their fellow ethnic Chinese and Indian citizens. Bumiputeras earned a median monthly gross household income of 6,267 Malaysian ringgit ($1,541) in 2016, compared to 8,750 ringgit ($2,152) for ethnic Chinese and 7,150 ringgit ($1,759) for Indians, according to most recent available data from the Economic Planning Unit.
Discussions surrounding the economic disparity between the majority Malays and the Chinese, especially, is not a new one by any means.
Following Malaysia’s independence from British rule in 1957, disparity between the more rural, poorer Malays and the more urban, richer Chinese reached a boiling point in 1969 when the largely non-Malay opposition made gains at the expense of the ruling coalition. Tensions led to race riots and since then, successive Malaysian governments have practised affirmative action giving the Malays privileges and handouts in areas such as business, housing, and education. Even then, a large proportion of Malays still remain lower on the economic rung.
One citizen is adding his efforts to boost Muslims’ share of the economic pie in Malaysia, arguing that better visibility will help their businesses.
In early 2018, Ahmad Hafizuddin Mohammad started a directory for Muslim-owned businesses online. The feedback from users was so positive, he said, that he’s now ready to launch the app for Kedai Muslim, which is Bahasa Malaysia for ‘Muslim shop’.
“95 percent of the site viewers surf the website from their mobile, so I decided to work on the app late last year,” Ahmad told Salaam Gateway.
He will launch the app in early April as an extension of the website, which now lists more than 1,000 Muslim-owned businesses.
The idea for Kedai Muslim started in early 2017 when Ahmad started planning to renovate his house. “I was looking around for a hardware store that is owned by Muslims. It was very hard, I could not find one. Only after a while I found there’s one just across my apartment.
“This shows the visibility of Muslim businesses is very low, even in a Muslim-majority country,” said Ahmad, who works full-time in the oil and gas sector.
He believes many Muslims would support and prioritise supporting fellow Muslims in business, if they could better locate them to begin with.
“For example in a commercial building, the non-Muslim’s premises might be located at the main block or front row, because they can afford a higher rental rate, while the Muslims’ businesses may be located further at the rear block, making them less visible to potential customers,” Ahmad explained.
Supporting Muslim-owned companies will in turn uplift their supply chains, believes Ahmad, who said that many products manufactured or sold by Muslim businesses have very limited reach.
“This is largely a problem of distribution and marketing. Muslims also do not control the supply chain in their local market,” he said.
Businesses can list on Kedai Muslim for free to reach users. In February, 73,000 users visited the site, according to web analytics service SimilarWeb.
For the first phase, Kedai Muslim will allow users to choose by businesses category and preferred location.
Ahmad is working on expanding Kedai Muslim’s database, saying that he will turn to partnerships to boost the list after the launch of the app.
“We are looking into partnerships from Muslim business associations, co-operatives as well as the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM). We need more businesses to be featured in our database,” he said.
He hopes Kedai Muslim will serve both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) needs.
Most of the companies on the database are automotive, hardware and pharmacy businesses, he said.
“We are also looking to have user and business log-in features as well as screening the owners of the businesses that would be included in the database,” he added.
Businesses are screened to ensure they are really owned by Muslims, and Kedai Muslim will not even accept companies that produce halal-certified products that are owned by non-Muslims.
The app will be further developed with plans for a community forum, customer review and rating features, said Ahmad.
He does not make money from the app and all expenses have come out of pocket.
He has been managing the website by himself, but enlisted help from several people with “programming and IT backgrounds” to develop the app.
“We forked out our own money to develop this app. So far we have spent 9,000 ringgit ($2,214),” said Ahmad.
Maintenance costs will also be borne entirely by the Kedai Muslim team.
(Reporting by Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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