Rise of the Muslim Entrepreneurs

by Shazia Hussain

In recent decades the landscape and number of small and medium-sized (SMEs) businesses has seen a huge transformation. Many of these businesses are formed and led by Muslim entrepreneurs such as Shahzad Younas (Muzmatch), and Ufuk Secgin (Halalbooking.com). With the growth of Muslim entrepreneurs comes an increase in demand for Islamic finance based lending solutions and strategies.

SMEs dominate the world business landscape. They account for approximately 60% of private sector employment. It therefore makes sense that SMEs will require funding options in order to sustain and succeed as a business. With close to 60% of SMEs failing in the first few years, ensuring they have access to adequate funding is critical.

SME lending has historically been centred on the traditional models of funding that are interest based. However, there has recently been a move towards SME lending based on Islamic finance principles.

In the UK, SMEs are considered to be firms that employ less than 250 employees. UK SMEs play a significant role in the UK economy, and the government is keen to ensure that they are sustainable and successful.


SMEs account for a significant portion of the world economy. They not only contribute to employment and job creation, they also play a leading role in sustainability and community impact. In the UK a staggering 99.2% of the business population comprises of SMEs.

SMEs are considered to be major employers and they drive local economy growth.

Recent statistics found that the total value of loans to SMEs in the UK reached a whopping £65.1 billion in 2022. This was an increase of over 10% on the previous year and was the official highest on record.

New business lending in the UK totals in the region of £259 million. Demand from SMEs for inclusive and diverse lending options continues to grow.


SMEs play a critical role in society and our economy. Not only do they facilitate and generate employment, they also increase the flow of money from individuals to industries and through society.

At the beginning of 2023 there were estimated to be 5.5 million SMEs in the UK, an increase of 0.8% over the previous year. The professional, scientific, and technical industries accounted for 14% of all SMEs while another 10% are in the retail, trade, and wholesale industry.

Beyond contributing to the economy, SMEs can impact different areas of society. They encompass social development, community wellbeing, alleviating local poverty, job creation, innovation, and reducing income inequality.

SMEs also tend to be more forthcoming in embracing sustainable and ethical practices. They foster financial inclusion by providing local opportunities for local people.


There are 1 million SMEs in London and over 852,000 in the South East. These SMEs account for 34% of the UK business population. SMEs account for 60% of the employment in the private sector within the UK. They also account for over 50% of the employment in the UK.

As SMEs have grown, so has the need to provide lending that meets their particular demands. Many SMEs do not have the stellar trading history and records of large business.

SMEs therefore need an innovative approach when it comes to lending and funding.

SMEs can come with limited credit history and collateral but bags of entrepreneurial dynamism and innovation.

Distinct from larger businesses, SMEs have unique considerations relating to scale, financials, structure and characteristics. They may have limited access to capital markets, and therefore need tailored and bespoke financial solutions. A one size approach to lending does not meet the needs of SMEs that provide a range of services in the economy.

This is where Islamic finance really comes forth as a viable option for SMEs.


SME's often demonstrate adaptability and resilience when faced with economic fluctuations, challenges and issues. SMEs are well placed to weather economic downturns and maintaining local communities through change. Lending to SMEs in the UK amounted to £4.8 billion in the second quarter of 2023.

In 2022 36% of SMEs used external funding and finance options. Over 69% of SMEs have stated that they turned to lending options due to cash flow related issued.

For SMEs, obtaining favourable funding options is not as easy as it is for big companies. Perhaps this is the reason more and more SMEs are turning to Islamic finance services.

Islamic finance is a great option of raising funds for SMEs for many different reasons.

For Muslim SMEs that want to avoid interest and want to be Sharia compliant, Islamic finance provides funding options not available in the wider banking sector. Islamic finance is able to adapt to the requirements of Muslim SMEs ensuring compliance and inclusion.

It is also worth mentioning that Islamic finance is based on a risk and profit sharing arrangement. This means that the funder and the SME share the profits AND the risks.

For SMEs, this is a huge benefit as it creates a sense of partnership with support for the new SMEs on the market. SME borrowing has a huge impact on their operations and customer base growth, so it is essential that the SME lending market continues to diversify and educate itself on the needs of SMEs.

Islamic finance is asset backed finance. What this means for the SME is that the financing is linked to tangible assets. In the long term, this is a more sustainable and stable form of financing for them. 


The great thing about SMEs that often goes unnoticed is how impactful they are when it comes to inclusion and diversity.

In 2020, 16% of SMEs were led by women. Almost 24% of SMEs were equally led by men and women.

Workplace diversity is essential for SMEs as they often operate within diverse local environments. With Millennials currently making up 50% of the UK's workforce (and Gen Z accounting for 27% by 2025), businesses lacking diversity are missing out.

When it comes to investment for the future and the business operations of the SME, they need to ensure they recruit and retrain properly.


SMEs are known to encourage empowerment through enterprise. This should be done at every stage of the SME process from project initiations, implementations, cost analysis, research, and education.

The result is that SMEs can ensure that they can recognise and eliminate barriers to growth. Enterprise enables SMEs to plan and prepare, ensuring they have the right insight into how to fund their operations and continue to succeed.

For Muslim entrepreneurs there are additional considerations relating to compliance with Islamic finance rules when partaking in financial services and considering lending options.

Why should Muslim SMEs focus on Islamic finance lending:
  • Adherence to Islamic rules relating to financial transactions
  • Interest free finance options
  • Asset backed financing
  • Profit and risk sharing
  • Flexible finance structures and services
  • Financial inclusion without compromising ethics and religious principles
  • Community impact
  • Flexible payment options
  • Lending is not connected to an industry, product or service deemed impermissible by Islam (ie alcohol, gambling, porn)

Those SMEs that are looking for ethical and sustainable models of finance and lending can find answers in Islamic finance.

Risk sharing, loss sharing, ethical considerations and non-exploitative practices all underpin Islamic finance and support SMEs in a way that traditional financial service cannot. 

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