India is home to thousands of madrassas who teach, besides Arabic and Islamic studies, modern subjects, English, mathematics and computer studies. Image credit: Tehelka/Vijay Pandey
Besides English, Arabic is the only foreign language that has a complete infrastructure for learning and teaching right down to the village level in India. There are hundreds of thousands of madrassas all over India offering not only religious education but also teaching modern subjects of Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Hindi, English and computer studies etc. These students could help Indian companies reach out to the Arabic-speaking world of nearly 400 million people and more than $ 6.0 trillion dollar economy
TARIQ FAROOQUI | Caravan Daily
In January 2008, I had been in Algiers, Algeria on a business trip. One more Indian, a solid tire manufacturer from Pune and a handsome IITian in his early ‘40s, was also staying in the same hotel.
Next day sitting in the hotel lobby I watched him interact with his clients on adjacent table. It was a total disaster. Neither the Indian manufacturer was good in French or Arabic nor were his dealers able to communicate in English.
In the evening, in a casual chat, he talked of limited capabilities of English in most of the Arabic-speaking world, except perhaps in the Gulf countries, hindering business growth. At the level of dealers of spares parts, cloths, solid tires, industrial and construction goods etc., though, Arabic is compulsory even in Gulf countries.
In the end I asked him, “Why don’t you hire an Arabic and English-speaking salesman in India to cover the Arab world?” He paused for a moment, gave me a meaningful look, and asked, “Are Arabic speakers available in India?”
I said, “Yes”. He asked, “Where?”
I advised him to go to the biggest mosque in Pune and meet the Imam. “The Imam will certainly get you a person fluent in Arabic and reasonable level in English.”
He nodded in understanding. I returned to Riyadh the next day by morning flight.
Last Saturday, I got a call from the same person, calling from a hotel in Riyadh. He lovingly invited me to have dinner with him.
On the dinner table, he introduced a bearded man in his mid ‘30s, his sales manager for the Arab world. He revealed that taking cue from our casual conversation in Algiers eight years back, he had indeed hired an Arabic teacher from a madrassa in Pune who was good in English as well. He trained him in sales and marketing and the same person was now sitting with us on the table.
He looked like any good sales professional. He had apparently made the Arab world as the chief revenue generating region for his solid tire company, accounting for more than half of the company’s revenue.
A group of Muslim madrassa students wave Indian flags in eastern Indian city of Kolkata. Image credit: Sheikh Azizur Rahman/VOA
My friend said that he had hired three more Arabic and English speaking salesmen from the madrassa for his expanding business in the Middle East and they were all doing very well. He was indeed now on the lookout for a fourth one, a Persian and English speaker for Iran and Tajikistan.
The madrassa-educated sales manager also happily shared how the fortune had changed for him. He had never imagined eight years back to own a middle range new car, a good apartment in a middle class neighborhood of Pune and a good status in society.
What was even more heartening that the manufacturer had changed his attitude towards Muslims in general and madrassa students in particular due to utility and hard work of four madrassa–educated salesmen.
Earlier, he used to look towards Muslims with suspicion and hostility but now with immense appreciation and strong sense of partnership. Closeness in business had clearly removed his doubts and developed a situation of mutual respect and interdependence. It was for those reasons that he had now four employees. Eight years back there wasn’t a single one.
Few people realize that besides English, Arabic is the only foreign language that has a complete infrastructure for learning and teaching right down to the village level in India. There are hundreds of thousands of madrassas all over India offering not only religious education but also teaching modern subjects of Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Hindi, English and computer studies etc.
Unfortunately, few of them have official recognition and receive no government aid. There are millions of students getting education in madrassas. Students educated in madrassas have few opportunities of using their knowledge and skills and usually are self-employed in low income small business and trading.
If madrassas are recognized, given necessary aid and support from the government, they could produce quality Arabic and English-speaking graduates who can take ‘Made in India’ products all over the Arabic-speaking region and beyond.
Most of the 22 Arab countries importing most of their industrial and food stuffs. Madrassa students, if properly trained and given opportunity, could be very effective in the vast Arab region of 380 million consumers and with $6.0 trillion economy. Even dubbed Indian movies in Arabic make huge business. Arabization of software, games, and comics etc also has massive potential. At the moment, Egypt is nearly alone in this business.
Unfortunately, right now, Indian manufacturers are too focused on targeting the United States, a $15.0 trillion economy, to pay attention to the $6.0 trillion economy next door.
Tariq Farooqui is a senior Indian management professional based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Director of Bait Ul Baraka Contracting. The views are personal.