THE month of Ramadan is especially significant to Anfaal Saari as this was when the 34-year-old mother of four started her first line of greeting cards, not to mark the coming of Aidildfitri but to usher in the fasting month.
“I believe we were the very first to start a line of greeting cards to wish Muslims a ‘Happy Ramadan’,” says Anfaal, director of Brotherhood Arts Sdn Bhd, a merchandise and gifts company.
An active member in the youth division of the Islamic welfare body Ikram, Anfaal was first inspired to spread the message of patience, generosity and compassion in 2004 when she and her husband decided their calling was to spend more time with young people.
Realising they needed a business that could provide passive income while doing outreach programmes for young Muslims, Anfaal started with RM5,000 as capital and the firmest belief that providence smiles on those who seek grace.
Anfaal and her husband started from home, initially selling T-shirts featuring Islamic themes with their workstation next to their bed and an understanding supplier from Ampang who gave the couple two months credit.
The idea of greeting cards for the holy month became a hit when some 6,000 cards, packed in a set of six for RM5 sold out within the second week!
Spurred by the response, Anfaal and her team of graphic designers have since expanded the line to include button badges, door hangers, fridge magnets and stickers. The team has also worked on special edition T-shirts for the Ramadan season. The last, says Anfaal, has been slow to take off as the idea of a tee just for Ramadhan has yet to become an in-thing. However, overall sales for Ramadan alone can touch RM80,000.
For now, she has several strategies in place to ensure the message of Ramadan reaches as many Muslims as possible. These were developed after an especially bad performance in 2010 where they only recorded about RM25,000 in sales due to a late start in promotional exercises.
“The right time to start marketing is a month before. The buying trend usually begins on the second week of the fasting month and stops about 10 days when buyer focus will change towards Hari Raya clothes,” says Anfaal.
To give sales a boost, she is introducing gift boxes featuring combos of greeting cards, bookmarks, badges and guide booklets on how to fast for children. Priced between RM50 and RM90, the company is moving 30 packs a day. Her target for this new initiative is 900 boxes for the month. A lucky draw with an iPad as the grand prize sweetens the deal.
To date, products from Brotherhood Arts have reached the tsunami-stricken areas of Banda Aceh, Indonesia where the company was the main T-shirt and button badge sponsor for volunteers. Sponsorship for the Aceh event alone came close to RM5,000 worth of goods.
Where acts of charity are concerned during the holy month, Hussain Yee, the president of Al-Khaadem Foundation, will be looking at handing out between RM250,000 and RM300,000 to some 300 needy individuals and families near Hari Raya.
The 61-year-old father of three says the Ramadan Aid programme, organised by Islamic outreach organisation Al-Khaadem, is an annual affair. Yee, who started the foundation in 1984 with 12 students, stresses they are not there to encourage the poor to be dependent. Conditions are strict and financial aid is only given to registered individuals and the date of the event is always kept confidential to prevent the presence of beggar syndicates from flooding the Al-Khaadem Foundation’s compound in Kampung Kayu Ara.
“There is a saying that goes: If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life. When Al-Khaadem receives word that a family needs help, we will do our investigations first and all efforts will be made to help the family. In cases where either the parents or one of the guardians has a history of alcohol and drug abuse, our first priority is to help the children first. Our next action to empower the individuals by finding sponsors who can either help with funding for the children’s education or to help with micro loans for small businesses like selling kuih or nasi lemak.
“This is in line with our core beliefs of education and self-help in overcoming poverty,” says Yee, a regular face on Peace TV, a non-profit 24-hour satellite television network broadcasting from Dubai.
To date, the foundation has grown to include a RM7.5mil children’s home in Shah Alam and a religious studies school in Sungai Gabai which is fully funded by donations from well-wishers and corporate entities.
As acts of generosity are seen as a virtue during the holy month, Yee takes an active part in reminding his congregation, which number to no less than 200 people per session during the terawih prayers, to think of the less fortunate. A notice detailing the yearly expenditure of the organisation is also displayed on the public notice board.
At last glance, the yearly upkeep of the children’s home in Shah Alam is recorded at RM851,000. For food alone, the Welfare Department gives the 3-acre facility which houses about 200 children, RM40,000. Elsewhere running costs for the religious school in Sungai Gabai is RM78,000 and the upkeep of the organisation in Kampung Sungai Ara is RM51,200, which includes maintenance, stationery, utilities and miscellaneous expenses.
“No money is collected during prayer time, but there is a donation box where contributions are welcome. Sometimes people remember. Sometimes they forget.
“There have also been times when the entire box would go missing, only to be found abandoned somewhere within the compound with its lock broken and the contents missing,” reveals Yee, a Kedahan native who converted to Islam at age 18 and was former director of the Perkim centre in Hong Kong.
For director and founder of Al-Hidayah group Kamaluddin Ibrahim, Ramadan takes a special significance as this is the time when the teachings of the Quran are especially relevant.
The 58-year-old father of six who started his publishing empire in 1994 from a single room office in UDA Complex in Jalan Ipoh Kecil with 2,000 copies of Nama-nama Islam (Book of Islamic Names) as his first title, has some 1,500 titles now selling at 500 outlets nationwide and reports gross sales of RM20mil a year with 50 full-time employees.
Kamaluddin says Al-Hidayah got the nod from the Home Affairs Ministry to print the Quran 10 years after the company’s inception.
“Not any Tom, Dick or Harry can print the Quran. The Home Ministry insists manuscripts have to be original with no alterations,” says Kamaluddin.
As the verses are written in Arabic, special care also has to be given to ensure dots and notations are correctly placed, as a misplaced dot can change the meaning entirely. Case in point is one copy that had in one word, the letter “a” instead of “u”, changing an entire sentence.
Since the beginning of the holy month this year, Al Hidayah has sold some 6,000 copies of the Quran.
“The Quran is not considered a fast moving item because owners take care of their copies well and thus the book enjoys a long life,” says Kamaluddin.
In addition to books, the group has also diversified into other Islamic prayer-related items like digital tasbih (prayer beads). They are slowly working in a test batch of 2,000 pieces which can be found at Popular Bookstores at RM7 per piece.
Another item are plastic pointers to help young Quran readers focus.
The Al-Hidayah group business is 80% dependent on books focusing on Islamic topics with subjects ranging from fasting guides for diabetics to step-by-step instructions on how to observe prayer rituals.
Another 20% of the business touches on conversational English and grammar.