“I am interested in how you integrate your faith in your business,” Ali said.
“Why is this interesting to you?” I asked.
Living vs. Speaking One’s Faith
“I wondered if being transparent about your faith cost you business or the opportunity to hire the best people,” he replied.
Ali is part of a small Shia Muslim sect called Ismailis whose roots are predominantly found in India. I met Ali during the networking break after my keynote speech at the Ismaili Professional Network Startup Bootcamp Conference at Georgia Tech.
I said, “I am sure there were some people who chose not to do business with me. But that didn’t stop me from being successful while being clear on who I am and what I believe.”
Starting the Faith Discussion
He said, “I integrate my faith in my business by being the man and business leader my faith tells me to be.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “Many Christians I know feel the same way. Has your Muslim faith ever come up in business?”
“As a businessman here in the Atlanta area, most of my employees are Christians. One day one of my employees invited me to his home for dinner,” he said.
“Over dinner, the topic of religion came up. He and his wife explained their Christian faith and asked me to explain my Muslim faith. This turned into a very healthy discussion, and we walked away understanding each other better and knowing what to expect from one another,” he explained.
The Call for Transparency
Then it hit me. Most people in America know what to expect when they go to work for a company run by a Christian or a Jew. But most Americans don’t know what to expect when working for a company led by a Muslim.
Judeo-Christian values are fully integrated into our culture. They are well known and understood. These values are the basis for our constitution and laws, which find their roots in the Bible. But what about Islam?
After discussing this insight, I said, “I believe it is imperative you are more transparent in practicing your faith in your work. It is your responsibility to explain your faith to your employees so they are not left guessing.”
Faith Drives Behavior
“Our faith drives our behavior. You said you behave consistently with your beliefs. I get that. But why leave the employees on their own to discern your faith by extrapolating it from your behavior? Why not be up front about it?” I asked.
He said, “Based on the discussion I had over dinner with my employee and his wife, maybe you are right.”
“I believe it will improve your business and your employee retention. They really don’t understand what to expect working for a Muslim. Tell them and eliminate the guessing. If you don’t, the media will. And that is not fair to you or your faith,” I said.
Building the American Dream
The startup boot camp was filled with Ismailis who are first generation Americans, all in their early twenties. They are well educated in American universities and embrace the American ideals of freedom and capitalism. Their parents came with little, as my grandparents did, and built very successful businesses in retail, motels and real estate.
These entrepreneurs are fully integrated into our society. They now want to join their fellow Americans in keeping America strong and free. They want to leave a legacy of success for their children and their children’s children.
As multi-generation Americans, we can appreciate their goals. The Muslim business community can help us, one on one, company by company, better understand what they believe and how that translates into business.
I’m certain these leaders will do a better job of explaining their faith than the mass media has done.