• Kazi Shafiqur Rahman proudly shows off one of his aeroplanes. (SBS)Source: SBS
A new documentary follows the self-made businessman’s quest to create Britain’s first Sharia-friendly airline.
Jim Mitchell

18 Jan 2019 - 12:02 PM  UPDATED 18 Jan 2019 - 12:02 PM

In How to Start an Airline, entrepreneur Kazi Shafiqur Rahman attempts to enter the competitive UK airline market. With a huge investment and his reputation on the line, it’ll require a herculean effort if he’s to be successful, but the plucky Rahman is nothing if not determined. 

From humble beginnings an entrepreneur is born

The Bangladeshi-born entrepreneur immigrated to Britain in 1997 aged 11 where he and his parents, two sisters and five brothers lived in a three-bedroom flat in East London. Rahman didn’t finish high school and began his working life as a toilet cleaner, fittingly for the aviation enthusiast, at London City Airport.

With just £600 (about A$1,000) to his name, he went on to co-found the perfume import business Sunnamusk in 2009, graduating from selling fragrances at east London markets to a five-store chain employing over 50 staff. The company plans to open another four stores.

The successful business earned Rahman the mantle of the British Muslim Awards Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.


He calls himself the “halal Richard Branson”


It’s a lofty title to give yourself, and Rahman faces the biggest challenge of his entrepreneurial career to earn it. Filmed over 18 months, the documentary chronicles the ups and downs of the devout Muslim’s quest to get the UK’s first Sharia-friendly airline, Firnas Airways, up and running. 

The planned premium airline would join a small group of Sharia-compliant carriers around the world, operating with Islamic principles that include the forbidding of alcohol, non-halal foods and provocative dress.

“There’s a huge communication issue when it comes to Islam, Sharia, halal and things like this,” Rahman tells the Sun Online.

“But as an entrepreneur I feel passionate about it and it’s also my faith.

“If I was going to do something then why would I do something I don’t agree with or believe in?”

But first, the wheeling-and-dealing fledgling aviation entrepreneur will have to navigate his way through aeroplane shopping dramas, fragile business deals, money troubles and a barrage of Islamophobic trolling.


The philosophies of Kazi Shafiqur Rahman

Although his frustrations and vulnerabilities are laid bare in How to Start an Airline, Rahman is an ultra-positive evangelist on social media of self-belief and never giving up on your business dreams.

“I get asked a lot how are you so brave [to] take on such a big challenge of launching an airline especially when the industry is full of red tape, complexities and is very expensive especially when you are not a multimillionaire or your dad’s not a billionaire?” he tweeted last year.

“Most of the times I get a pat on my back for being daring, bold and challenging, but sometimes I also get called a fool!

“Well, my thinking is simple, if you are going to live life anyway whatever time you have, then you might as well live it big.”

On Instagram, Rahman encourages budding entrepreneurs to share their business dreams with family and friends, even if they laugh them off, and to use any criticisms to evaluate their progress.

“When you tell your family and friends they will also ask you every now and then about your plans and how you are progressing when they see you next time,” he writes.

“This is like a barometer to take stock and really ask yourself the tough question about what you were doing which ultimately acts as self evaluation or accountability. The nugget here is, use the criticism to your advantage and don’t get offended or emotional!”

But will Rahman take his own advice? Watch How to Start an Airline to find out.


How to Start an Airline airs on Sunday, 20 January at 6.40pm on SBS VICELAND or stream it at SBS On Demand after broadcast.

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