Over the past six weeks, I have posted a number of cover stories on high profile Muslims who provide great inspiration to other members of our community.
This week, I would like to introduce you to an exceptional young Muslim brother who is a fine example that hard work – and caring about your fellow man – do reap rewards.
Iftekhar Hasan is the owner of the thriving Yilmaz Grill & Bakehouse restaurant in Sydney’s Waterloo area.
He is active on social media, especially Instagram, and his green Lamborghini understandably turns heads as he drives around the suburbs between his various businesses.
To own a restaurant and other businesses – and have three or four nice cars in the garage – at the tender age of 26 is a credit to the affable Bangladeshi native, who puts down his success to faith in Allah….and a lot of hard work.
“It was never my plan to come to Sydney, but my parents insisted upon me having the best possible education, which meant University in Australia,” Iftekhar explained when I spoke with him last week.
“So my intention became to complete my studies here and then return to Bangladesh….but I fell in love with Australia, the beautiful people – and this is my home now.
“I was close to completing my Bachelor of Commerce Major in Professional Accounting course at Macquarie University but I wasn’t enjoying it so I decided to opt out, my logic being that if I worked hard, and with the business knowledge that I already possessed, I didn’t need that piece of paper to achieve my goals.
Iftekhar says that he was interested in how businesses worked from an early age.
“When I was a kid back home in Bangladesh, I participated at a business fair in my Arts School where we basically were asked to sell old household and unwanted items.
“I loved my Pokémon cards which were the big fad at the time, and the going rate for most packs of cards containing 11 cards was 50-70 taka.
“But I always did my best to go the extra mile with my salesmanship and sometimes I was able to sell them for 600-700 taka, or more than 10 times their usual value: these would ideally be the rarer cards and kids were very eager to pay that price!
“At the following year’s business fair, I was organising FIFA & NFS tournaments on PlayStation and I won back to back awards for best sales. My sales were in the 5 digits and a lot higher than other kids.”
As you would have already gleaned by now, Iftekhar has always been very independent.
“My dad helped me out with my university fees when I first came to Australia. I didn’t want to be a burden on my family as 1 AUD was 90 BDT back then!
“When I was studying and then post-Uni, I would do any kind of job to keep afloat…. delivering parcels or pizzas or flowers, working in marketing, behind the counter in grocery stores or as a kitchen hand.
“I was 23 and decided that I’d had enough of working for other people…. I thought that to get ahead, I needed to work for myself.
“To say that I was desperate to be successful is no understatement as my extended family in Bangladesh are all highly educated.
“I didn’t want to be the black sheep of the family and I knew that there would be people on both sides of the ocean who would laugh at me behind my back if I failed.
“Some probably thought that I had ‘lost the plot’ deciding to start my own business at the age of 23 and being thousands of miles away from home.
“But I have never been afraid of hard work and never lacked confidence in my own ability.
“My philosophy has always been ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’ and although there have been some tough times, my confidence – and especially my faith in Allah – has never wavered.”
‘A goal without a plan is just a Wish’
Iftekhar says that he wouldn’t be where he is today, either spiritually or business-wise, without the great advice he has received from some prominent Muslim figures.
“Shaykh Omar El-Banna has been a huge inspiration; his advice was to have faith in Allah and follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad SAW…. Tahajjud prayers were the principle key to my success. As the narration says: A dua made in Tahajjud is like an Arrow that never misses its Target!”
Two other prominent religious figures Brother Mohammad Hoblos and Shaykh Imran Zreika have also had a great influence on Iftekhar.
“They have all played a part in motivating me to be a better person…and a better Muslim,” he says.
The big turning point in Iftekhar’s career – indeed, in his life, came in 2015.
“It was during Ramadan and I was working in security and earning very good money,” he recalled.
“I was standing outside the venue where I was working and I actually had tears in my eyes as I knew I should have been spending a lot more time at the masjid, praying Taraweeh, rather than spending my time making a few bucks.
“So I quit the security job and decided to rely on Allah to guide and look after me.
“I relied on Allah and every resource and strength I was given to keep me going.
“It was in 2018 when I fully committed to starting my own business – and for something to have a good yield, it needs a good foundation, right?
“I had a 1997 Mitsubishi 3000GT, a dream car of mine since back in Gran Turismo Days on PS2.
“I sold that car at the start of Ramadan 2018 with around $11k profit.
“During the last 10 days of Ramadan, I wanted to invest with Allah.
“That $11k I equally donated every single night in the last 10 days to coincide with Laylatul Qadr and the rest I invested to buy a van and started my own transport business.
“No success comes overnight, but I have always tried to make the most of every opportunity that has come my way, been loyal to my customers and clients and worked hard…. even worked around the clock when required.
“My parents have also been fantastic – they have helped me a lot. My biggest support and believers!”
Iftekhar eventually started opening up multiple businesses by the end of 2018.
“Every profit I made; I would reinvest back into my business to grow it. I lived a very simple life.”
Iftekhar has always loved his food and that’s what made him open a restaurant.
“I used to eat out a lot but often found that the portions served were too small and there were many times when I would leave the restaurant still hungry.
“So I decided to do what others weren’t doing – to serve reasonably priced, delicious meals with substantial portions so that my customers go home fully satisfied.
“I took out a lease for a restaurant at 5 Potter St Waterloo and at the end of July 2019, YILMAZ (which I named after the hilarious ‘friendlyjordies’ character on YouTube) opened its doors.
“The business became very big, very quickly and I haven’t had to advertise at all, really….word of mouth spread like wildfire!
“I have received tremendous eat-in support from my fellow car enthusiasts and being located so close to the city, Yilmaz is also strongly patronised by diners using home delivery services like Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Menulog.”
Like so many involved in the hospitality industry, Iftekhar has felt the financial impact of COVID-19 and probably more than most people, given that Yilmaz is less than 12 months old and still establishing itself.
“Although we have been able to remain open for takeaway, we lost our eat-in diners and staffing has been a major issue.
“Two staff members have actually been stranded overseas since COVID-19 hit while others resigned as they were frightened to leave their homes, like a lot of people.
“I’ve also had money owing to me being withheld and my other business interests have been impacted as well.
“So the past few months have been a huge financial strain and it’s also taken its toll on the amount of sleep I get…. I am lucky to get four or five hours some nights as I am currently doing some of the shifts/tasks that my employees were doing, pre-Coronavirus, in an effort to minimise losses.
“But I am certainly not complaining as whatever happens is through the will of Allah, and Allah never lets us down.
“I believe it is truly significant that many of the Government’s decisions to ease various social restrictions resulting from COVID-19 were announced during the last 10 days of Ramadan, which as Allah says are the last 10 Days of Mercy.”
Iftekhar has an admirable take on social media, but while he uses Instagram(@toobrokeforexotics) to successfully network with his fellow car enthusiasts, he is disappointed with a lot of the negative talk on platforms like Facebook.
“Look, I’ve got a Facebook account and it’s great to use to communicate with friends and family, but there is way too much negativity and people spend a lot of time on there; arguing and offering opinions on matters that are none of their business.
“Surely the time they waste they could put to far better use?”
I was delighted to learn that Iftekhar is a great admirer of my late, great brother Ali Banat, founder of the MATW project.
“Ali Banat….. now there is a man who left quite a legacy….such an inspiration and I admire him so much.”
With the bushfires of late 2019/early 2020 and now the Coronavirus pandemic, this has been a period of time that most Australians would much rather forget.
But Iftekhar has done his best to turn negatives into positives.
As already documented, his business interests have been hard-hit by COVID-19 but Iftekhar’s generous response to the setback was to invite anyone doing it tough to enjoy their Iftar at Yilmaz free of charge throughout the entire month of Ramadan.
And earlier, moved by what the fires were doing to Australia and its people. Iftekhar and his friend Omar took the initiative to hire a trailer (which with the help of his local community was filled within three days), then made the long drive to the fire-ravaged township of Willawarrin, near Kempsey, where they donated the proceeds to the townsfolk.
“I thought this was a much better idea than just making a donation to one of the traditional charities where there are usually huge admin fees and no guarantee that the funds will get to where they’re intended,” Iftekhar pointed out.
“Willawarrin is only tiny, with a population of 300-400 but the people welcomed us with open arms and with great warmth and enthusiasm.
“Many of them had never met Muslims before and they were deeply touched by the efforts we had gone to, to help them.
“The feedback they left on my social media was unbelievable!!
“Before I left Sydney it was pointed out to me that there was an element of risk involved making the trip through the fires but I knew that Allah would protect me.
“And if I died doing what I was doing, I would die a hero’s death…so I had really nothing to lose.”
Most people would have rewarded themselves with a long sleep after arriving home after this 16-hour round trip but not Iftekhar, who was quickly back ‘on deck’ at Yilmaz, looking after his loyal customers.
“My main message to anyone reading this story is that if you do good, good will come to you.
“The promise of Allah is true, you just have to sit back and let Allah give you what is promised to you in due time.
“What you would feel shy or scared of doing in front of your family members, do not do that in their absence, as Allah is always watching.
“I would like to thank you Brother Steve Dabliz for giving me this beautiful platform and showing me such great respect.
May Allah continue to bless you and your entire team behind the scenes for showing the world what Muslims are all about.
“Alhamdulillah for everything…. all Praise is for the Most Gracious! None of this would be possible without the support of my mom, dad, sister and last but not least, my lovely wife.”