A self-styled ‘Halal Richard Branson’ is launching Britain’s first ‘Sharia compliant’ airline that serves no alcohol, Islamic in-flight meals and has a strict cabin crew dress code.
Entrepreneur Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, 32, who came to the UK from Bangladesh in 1997 and left school with just one GCSE, hopes to see his firm Firnas Airways eventually fly long haul to the Middle East.
But the self-made businessman, who started with just £600 in his pocket and made his money importing perfumes, is to start flying short haul commuter routes between UK cities.
Mr Rahman, who is leasing a 19-seater Jetstream 32 plane, has lived a rags to riches story after growing up in east London and getting his first job as a cleaner at London city airport.
His journey towards getting his new company off the ground will feature on a Channel 4 documentary ‘How to Start an Airline’ tonight on Channel 4.
Entrepreneur Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, 32, is hoping his dream will take off and one day hopes to see his firm Firnas Airways fly long haul to the Middle East
The entrepreneur inside his 19 seater Jetstream 32 plane that will fly commuter routes between UK cities
He says: ‘I am a British citizen but whenever you pass through security you feel like you have done something wrong.
‘Everyone is looking at you. It needs to change.
‘If we can incorporate a religious culture, it will be a game changer.’
The world’s first ‘Sharia compliant’ airline, Ryani Airlines, was first launched in Malaysia.
It followed strict Sharia laws, with prayers recited before each flight and alcohol strictly forbidden.
But it was shut down in 2016 for breaching aviation regulations after a series of delays and last minute cancellations.
Both Etihad and Emirates airlines, which are based in the United Arab Emirates, where Islam is the official religion, allow alcohol on board, despite it being an offence to drink or be under the influence of alcohol in public.
Mr Rahman has dubbed himself the ‘Halal Richard Branson’ after the Virgin boss (pictured) who launched Virgin Atlantic in 1984
Mr Rahman, who was awarded the British Muslim Awards Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017 grew up in Bangladesh, but lived with his parents, two sisters and five brothers in a three bedroom flat when they moved to east London.
He attended Stepney Green school in Tower Hamlets, until he left in 2000, with just one GCSE.
One of his brothers was living in Egypt and began sending perfume over to London to sell.
Mr Rahman started selling the perfume outside Whitechapel mosque. The business grew and grew as they sold their products at east London markets.
They expanded the firm, and in 2009 Sunnamusk was founded, and they opened five shops, with the flagship store in Aldgate, central London, but also one in Westfield, Stratford.
Mr Rahman, who came to the UK from Bangladesh in 1997 when he was 11-years-old, left school with just one GCSE, and landed a job cleaning toilets at London City Airport
His brother Kazi Abidur Rahman, the CEO of Sunnamusk, tells the documentary: ‘He has haters, but a lot of supporters as well.
If Firnas doesn’t work out, it will be detrimental to reputation of our family. In our community, reputation is everything.’
Mr Rahman’s real passion has been aviation – and he tells the documentary how his dream started when he was a child.
He said: ‘We have grown so fast, it is time for me to explore my real passion.
‘When I see a plane I get all excited. It makes me happy. I realised my passion hen I saw a plane for the first time in my life.’
Mr Rahman’s rags to riches story has seen him start perfume business Sunnamusk with just £600, which now has five retail outlets across the country.
The airline takes its name from Abbas Ibn Firnas, a Muslim inventor from Spain who successfully attempted the first human flight in 875AD.
During the programme Mr Rahman dubs himself the ‘Halal Richard Branson’ after the self made billionaire Virgin boss.
Branson started Virgin Atlantic in 1984 when he was stuck in Puerto Rico while trying to get to the British Virgin Islands.
He told how he hired a plane, and charged other stranded passengers $39 for a one way trip, and he filled up his first plane. He then decided to call Boeing to see if they had any 747s for sale, and his airline was born.
Mr Rahman inspects the ATR 72 turbo prop plane, but his dream begins to fall apart as deals fall through and money becomes an issue
The documentary on tonight follows the highs and lows of his airline bid, as he opens negotiations to operate out of Lydd Airport in Ashford, Kent, and Waterford airport in Ireland
The documentary follows the highs and lows of his airline bid, as he opens negotiations to operate out of Lydd Airport in Ashford, Kent, and Waterford airport in Ireland.
He also starts big, signing a million pound lease for a ATR 72 turbo prop plane, but his dream begins to fall apart as deals fall through and money becomes an issue.
His team also start wavering from marketing their airline as ‘Sharia compliant’ after they receive a barrage of abuse online, asking whether there will be ‘stop overs in Islamic State’ and if they had ‘Kamikaze pilots.’
Mr Rahman tells the programme: ‘Controversy sells. And as soon as you mention the word Muslim. everyone wants to hear.
‘All Muslims are loving it. But on the other hand you have the Islamophobic people.
Firnas Airways is now just months way from operating its first commercial flights, and Mr Rahman believes it could just be two or three years before his dream of long haul is recognised
‘When it comes to the hateful comments, it makes you think, hang on. It makes you think about everything, about the whole approach.’
But his dream slowly turns back to reality and he realises he needs to stick to some of his core principles.
His adviser, veteran aviation consultant John Brayford, who is by his side on his journey, said: ‘It’s not going to be an easy battle for him.
‘But I am backing him. If you look at the airlines around the world, not one of them is successful.
‘His dream is to be long haul. I am loving every minute of working for him.
‘I keep saying to him, when you think you have enough money, you still haven’t got enough money. You could lose a house by chasing a dream.’
Firnas Airways is now just months way from operating its first commercial flights, and Mr Rahman believes it could just be two or three years before his dream of long haul is recognised.
How To Start An Airline is on tonight on Channel 4 at 10.30pm