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[Interview] Daniel Dyer, Author and Illustrator of “The 99 Names of Allah”

Please share with our readers a little about yourself

Daniel Dyer
Daniel Dyer

Salam! I am a writer, illustrator, and musician, as well as co-director of multi-faith children’s publisher, Chickpea Press. I live with my wife in the Lake District in the UK, where I find inspiration in the mountains, rivers, lakes, and trees.

I was called to Islam after discovering the poetry of Rumi, and do my best to follow the Mevlevi Path based on his teachings. The 99 Names of God could be described as an attempt to share some of the beauty I have come across on this Path to Islam.

What was the thought behind creating this book? and why the focus on the Names of Allah?

For Muslims, the Divine Names are the building blocks of reality. Everything we see around us and within us is a reflection of them. It occurred to me that by learning about Islam through the Names, children would also learn about the world and themselves.

I was also aware that religious education can sometimes be quite dry and abstract, whereas the Names make it much more concrete, symbolic, and poetic – much more engaging to young and old. I also knew that writing about the Names would be a wonderful way for me to get to know them better.

Is there anyone who’s been your inspiration? Or were you inspired by any previous work, when working on this project?

I’ve drawn inspiration from so many great teachers for this book: Muhammad, Khadijah, Ali, Fatimah, Rumi, Rabiah (God bless them all) – the list goes on and on. The inspiration is not just restricted to Muslims: for instance the likes of Shakespeare and Ghandi are in there too, and many more great souls besides. But if there is anything of value in my book, it is surely due to the Mevlevi teachers who have guided me on my spiritual path, Shaikh Kabir Helminski and Camille Helminski, as well as my parents who have provided such an inspirational example throughout my life. In terms of previous works on the 99 Names, a book called The Physicians of the Heart deserves special mention as a prime source of inspiration – it is probably the most comprehensive and profound guide to the Names in the English language.

99-Names-cover

I was amazed by how accessible the book is. It’s a great book for children, but at the same time I’m enjoying it as an adult. This makes me wonder who’s the audience you had in mind when creating this book?

I really wanted to create a family resource, the kind of book that would have some elements children as young as 5 or 6 might begin to digest with the help of their parents, whilst also having more complex and profound elements to stimulate teenagers and even adults. So each Name begins with a simple explanation and gradually becomes more challenging, taking in a quotation from the Quran, then a quotation from one of the great sages of Islam, and finishing with reflections and activities. Hopefully the illustrations are simple and elegant enough to appeal to all ages.

On a general note, I think it is important to realise that children are often much smarter than we think, especially in terms of their creative imagination, and they have an innate knowledge. It is also important to remember that we can plant a seed in a young heart that will bear fruit later: they do not need to understand everything (and neither do we).

Mystery, nuance, wonder, and awe are important qualities for them to encounter, and we should be wary of watering things down. And we actually found during the feedback stages of writing our book that children very easily grasped concepts that we were presenting, sometimes even quicker than adults!

One of the beauties of the book is that I can open any page in the book and start reading. I’m not forced to start from the beginning. And you’ve used both words & illustrations. Did you first work on the text, and then the artwork? What was your process?

Generally I worked on one Name at a time, though occasionally two are treated as a pair. It meant writing the text and drawing the illustrations was a series of holistic encounters with each Name, rather than a fragmented experience. I did not engage the Names in the traditional order; instead, whichever Name came to my heart was the Name I engaged with next, until gradually I had gathered all 99. It felt important to take an intuitive approach rather than systematic one.

The first Name I engaged with was al-Quddus, the Holy. I have always been drawn to that Name and it helped me set the tone. Coming to the end, it felt appropriate that the final Name I engage with be al-Jami, the Gatherer, in recognition that the task of gathering the Names into a book was complete. I think Allah is always inviting us to see pattern and order, and we might weave it into our own lives.

And what was your biggest challenge?

Perhaps the greatest challenge I faced with the book was getting the right balance in a number of important areas. For example, getting a balance between male and female voices was incredibly important. Islam has a rich treasury of wisdom from strong, spiritual women, but too often women have been sidelined in favour of men. I therefore wanted to introduce as many women as I could as sages of Islam, and to quote their words. So in the book, you will find quotes from Khadijah, Fatimah, Aishah, Rabiah, Nafisah, Shawana, and many more (Peace be upon them all).

Another important area to find the right balance was in the use of non-Islamic sources. As the book is about Islam and primarily aimed at Muslims, it was appropriate that most of the wisdom quoted be from Islamic sources, however I also wanted a significant treasury of non-Islamic wisdom to encourage inclusivity and appreciation of other paths and faiths. This is so important given the pluralistic societies we live in today, and is perfectly in keeping with the Quran’s inclusive spirit and its love of diversity. So the “Reflections and Activities” section became an area where non-Islamic wisdom could be offered to widen horizons.

What did you enjoy most when working on this project?

There were so many joys in writing the book. Spending time with two young helpers, Joya and Gabriel, was a real pleasure – they helped me write the reflections and activities for an-Nur and al-Aziz. Another joy was experiencing signs of the Names as I was writing about them. Many people would dismiss what I took as signs to be mere coincidences, but I believe the Quran invites us to take a very different attitude, for the Unseen is always seeking to communicate with us.

For example, the image of a fountain of water had sprung to my mind as symbol of al-Hayy, the Ever-Living, and this led me to use the Quranic story of Moses striking the rock with his staff, for when Moses did so water gushed from the rock to quench the thirst of the twelve tribes. I had begun putting the elements of my retelling of this story together and, later that day, I called my parents to catch up. I discovered that a water pipe had broken in their home and water had been gushing everywhere. I understood this to mean “Keep going – you’re on the right track”!

I love the layout. Quran, Tradition, Art, Reflections. This book is not just inspirational, but also guides the reader to reflect & practice. What do you hope your reader will get from this book?

Firstly, we hope the book will inspire remembrance of God. Secondly, we aim to create an awareness that love and compassion are at the heart of Islam. We also hope the book will help young Muslims realise how Islam respects and appreciates other faiths and celebrates the diversity of God’s creation. We also want to highlight how Islam honours women alongside men, and that it is a dynamic faith responding to the needs of our time.

In the face of the current environmental crisis, we are also eager to show Islam’s deep respect for nature so that young Muslims will become ecologically aware, witnessing the natural world as a playground for the Divine Majesty and Beauty. Finally, we also want them to be aware that the Divine Majesty and Beauty are reflected most fully in themselves.

The questions at the end of each chapter are deep. They make you want to ponder and reflect. What was your purpose of including the questions along with each chapter?

The questions, reflections, and activities have many aims in mind. We try to use a holistic approach to engage all the human faculties: critical thinking, creative imagination, meditation, consultation, research, and so on. No answers are offered to any of the questions.

The important thing is that we learn to ask them and take the time to arrive at our own considered opinion. Besides, often there are no “correct” answers to the questions posed, and we aim to help young Muslims become comfortable with mystery and nuance, and with a reality that is qualitative as much as it is quantitative.

Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers?

Let’s let Rumi speak:
“A life lived without love is no life.
It adds up to nothing.
In reality we should be ashamed of any moment that passes without love.”

Where can our readers get your beautiful book?

The book can be ordered from our website, chickpeapress.co.uk, or from Amazon. It is available as paperback or hardback, and we have also just made available The 99 Names of God Contemplation Cards (also available from our website or Amazon). These activity cards make an engaging learning tool that complements the book. An ebook will also be made available in the coming months, with accompanying video and audio.

 

[Interview] Fatimah Agha on her project Quran for Kids that aims to inspire and motivate children around the world

Fatimah Agha’s new venture Quran for Kids aims to instil the love of the Quran into children who usually run away from it, through a creative series of podcasts and videos.

She recalls her own childhood where the Quran plunged her into a “world of wonders”, as she searched for answers to intriguing questions, such as the fascinating stories of past Prophets and personalities, or amazing facts about the animal kingdom. Yet the Quran lessons she received were not at all engaging causing her to resent it.

Triggered by her own childhood experiences, and her two young daughters Zainab and Zahra, Fatimah began Quran for Kids. This is a series of ten minute podcasts almost everyday, where Fatimah and her two daughters explore different verses and extract lessons from the Quran.

Read my interview with Fatimah as she shares her top tips in producing compelling audio and visual content, her ideas for podcasts and videos, and the challenges in her work and how she overcomes them.

Why did you start Quran for Kids? What and/or who inspired you?

I wanted to inspire my children to be fascinated by the Quran, and it would be a mistake on our part to not introduce the Quran to our children in a good way.  We as parents, teachers and mentors have a great responsibility to instil the love of truth in our children. Quran is a manifestation of the truth and as modern day educationists and scientist would agree, that first impressions need to be curated with great deliberation.

“Whatever touches my heart in my everyday routine and through my personal interaction with my children is what inspires me to prepare each podcast.”

Quran for kids is an effort to not only create a beautiful bond between children and the Quran but also the point  where we can unite as Muslims. We need to instil love of humanity and unity in the coming generations and I use this forum to make sure that all of our children can unite through the Quran.

How do you come up with ideas for your videos?

I like to pick out Quran ayats (verses) that are relevant to children’s everyday practices of good manners mostly, but now for example we are exploring the lives of the Prophets. Whatever touches my heart in my everyday routine and through my personal interaction with my children is what inspires me to prepare each podcast. We look forward to doing more videos in the future.

A snapshot of Quran for Kids Video on YouTube
A snapshot of Quran for Kids Video on YouTube

What are the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?

The biggest challenge while preparing a 10-minute, talk that includes my 9 and 6 years old daughters is to do it in a way that we don’t need to edit it. This is because this way the conversation stays natural and not artificially planned.

“We need to instil love of humanity and unity in the coming generations and I use this forum to make sure that all of our children can unite through the Quran.”

At the same time my aim is for my own kids to enjoy it and that wouldn’t happen if we keep rehearsing or keep on redoing it.  I don’t want my kids to get affected by some sort of “fame fever” or lose their focus from their own lesson and worry too much about creating a perfect show.

The best way to juggle all of that is to make sure that we plan the lesson a little bit before the recording and also that I’m well rested and fresh to take on each podcast, because siblings are siblings and some days are good and some days not so good. You know what I mean.

What advice would you give to others creating similar videos?

Although my current focus is on podcasts, the most important thing with kids is to keep the duration short and sweet, and include information and material, which keeps the children hooked.

Words, expressions, even examples should be pertaining to the things that children can associate themselves with. For instance names of cartoons, fashion trends or activities that most kids can relate to in their everyday routine can help keep their attention.

“There is nothing correct or incorrect with art. Passion and dedication can be enough sometimes!”

Monologue can be a real turn off, so more interactive the show the better with lots of lows and highs in voice to break the monotony that can sound like a lecture. Even psychologists have shown it scientifically that our system of attention adapts to monotones and switches off.

What inspired in you the love of painting and what do you need to be a good artist?

I’ve loved painting since I was a kid. I’ve never really took special classes but I was a keen student and I observed my art teachers closely. I remember trying to replicate great paintings or works of mentors. I would keep trying until I would perfect that technique. Nowadays YouTube and Google can  help one enhance and learn from scratch. Passion and dedication can be enough sometimes!

I always tell my children there is nothing correct or incorrect with art. However taking art classes where they teach various techniques with use of brushes, papers and even special chemicals can really help to enhance painting skills.

Can you share an image of your favourite painting?

Artist Fatimah Agha
Fatimah Agha’s favourite painting – inspired by nature.

I love this painting the most because nature has always inspired me. I want my work to expand the imagination, and include the love of God in everything  and everywhere. I believe that art and Islam should help to unite us and broaden our view of the world.

… And your favourite or most popular podcast/video and why?

I really enjoyed this podcast Quran For Kids #3 Lets Understand Others because this is what I mainly feel passionate about and want to spread to the world: a message of peace love and unity which comes from the Quran.

Last but not least, what do you think of Sufi Comics?

Sufi Comics was like a dream project coming alive. It really gave me this hope that this world is full of new ideas and opportunities. Ideas can be made to come to life. I am in awe of Sufi comics and a die-hard fan. Even though my daughters are young they too love Sufi comics and read them no matter how deep. So far the Wise Fool of Baghdad is their favourite. We really look forward to more from Sufi comics.

Passionate and involved in creative arts and religious studies from a young age, Fatimah is always seeking new ideas and opportunities to implement her creativity. She is an artist and painter, having sold over 200 paintings for kids around the world. She has also been a fashion designer for the past six years, designing a wide range of modest clothing.  At the moment she is pursuing a degree in Psychology online from California Southern University.

Follow the Quran for Kids podcasts here
Check out Fatimah’s website/online shop for more creative work 

Have you read our previous interview with creative artists? Check them out here!

[Interview] Katie Miranda on how her passion and experiences led her to make unique jewelry and draw powerful cartoons

[Katie Miranda Studios] Expressing faith through handmade Arabic calligraphy and gemstone jewelry
Katie Miranda makes handmade Arabic calligraphy and gemstone jewelry
Katie Miranda is making statements, from designing authentic Arabic calligraphy jewelry, to drawing political cartoons that challenge power and dominant narratives.

In 2005, Katie left California for Palestine where she lived in the West Bank for three years dividing her time between being a human rights worker, political cartoonist, and an art teacher for kids. During this time she also studied Arabic calligraphy in Ramallah, with master calligrapher Ehab Thabet. Later in 2010 she started her own Arabic calligraphy jewelry business, and founded Katie Miranda Studios.

An individual with authentic experiences and talents, her work has been featured in the International Museum of Women’s art, Al Jazeera, Mondoweiss, amongst numerous outlets nation-wide.

Read on as Katie reveals how she became a jewelry designer and political cartoonist, the issues she is passionate about, and her top tip to artists.

Please share a bit about your background, work and passions.

I came from a secular family with one parent of a Christian background and one parent of a Jewish background. I always self-identified as Jewish although I wasn’t religious. In 2010 I converted to Islam.

I’m a painter, cartoonist and a jewelry designer. I have a BFA and an MFA from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where I studied illustration and graphic novels. I also studied with master calligrapher Ehab Thabet in Palestine in 2007 and 2008.

I love great design, comics, color theory, sacred geometry and of course jewelry !

How did you become a jewelry designer and a political cartoonist? What qualities and skills do you need to pursue these respectively?

I became a jewelry designer by accident. I took a metal smithing class at the Academy of Art and I loved it. I decided to combine those skills with calligraphy to produce my Arabic calligraphy jewelry line.

I got into cartoons because I was trained as an illustrator and I had strong opinions so political cartoons was a natural outlet for those two interests.

 “Those who stand in the fire, who don’t quit, who ignore rejection are the ones who actually do become artists.”

If someone is interested in pursuing any artistic discipline seriously and successfully you have to have passion for it and drive. Anyone can learn to be an artist through practice, dedication, and repetition. Those who actually do, who stand in the fire, who don’t quit, who ignore rejection are the ones who actually do become artists.

People often tell me “I have no natural talent, I could never be an artist.” This way of thinking is misguided. The people who actually become artists aren’t necessarily those with natural talent. They’re the ones who don’t quit even if they have to draw stick figures for a year before being able to draw anything that looks remotely like a human figure.

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[Interview] Daniel Dyer on his new project ’99 Names of Allah’ that aims to awaken children’s innate empathy & creativity

 

Chickpea Press aims to publish engaging, contemporary and imaginative books.
Chickpea Press aims to publish engaging, contemporary and imaginative books.
Daniel Dyer is co-founder of Chickpea Press.
Daniel Dyer is co-founder of Chickpea Press.

Passionate to share the love and wisdom that is at the heart of Islam and other spiritual traditions, Saimma and Daniel Dyer of Chickpea Press are working hard on a new book.

The 99 Names of Allah’ creatively introduces younger readers to names that describe God, complemented with sacred traditions, activities, and reflections.

I ask Daniel Dyer, the illustrator behind this colourful guide about what makes this book unique, how they have explored Islamic spirituality, and how we can help bring this book to life.

What inspired this book?

The beauty and power of the Names drew me. Something also told me that children need to explore them – not just adults. It began as a simple poem to orientate children to the Names, and then evolved into something much broader and, insha’Allah (God willing), much deeper.

What is unique about ‘The 99 Names of Allah’ book?

I don’t know of any children’s book in English that explores the 99 Names of Allah in way that I would wish for my children. For me, an exploration of the Names needs to be centred on the heart, on awakening children’s innate empathy, creativity and insight. It needs to help children to understand Allah’s attributes and to appreciate the places where these attributes are best reflected: in themselves and the natural world.

As well as helping to foster a spiritual and ecological awareness, it needs to help them appreciate the diversity of modern societies.  It should help them identify with all humanity, not just Muslims, and perhaps help them to appreciate that there is more than one path to God. It also needs to be imaginative, colourful and richly illustrated in order to really engage.

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[Interview] Founder of RainDrop on what inspired him to transform Al-Ghazali’s works into animated videos

 

RainDrop transforms Al- Ghazali’s key works to engaging animated videos.
RainDrop transforms Al- Ghazali’s key works to engaging animated videos.

Most if not all of us strive to attain meaning and contentment in our lives.

Yet in the fast paced society we live in, we can find ourselves faced with many distractions in our pursuit of spiritual fulfilment. Do you ever find yourself wanting to acquire some knowledge or inspiration, but the books and texts you dig into are too complex or confusing to understand? If like me, you are an avid seeker of knowledge, but have had this dilemma, let me tell you about RainDrop.

RainDrop creates short, simple, animated videos of Imam Al Ghazali’s key works. The founder of RainDrop aims to inspire others to seek useful knowledge and increase their closeness to God. He says that is what Al Ghazali calls the path to spiritual happiness emphasized by the title of his book “The Alchemy of Happiness”.

He aims to do this through easy-to-understand media that appeals to people of all faiths and walks of life. What’s more, Al Ghazali’s work personally transformed his view on religion, spiritual happiness, and knowing God, and this inspired him to start RainDrop.

I talk with its founder on the importance of a project like this, why Ghazali’s works are relevant today, and how he overcomes the challenge of turning complex texts into simple animated videos.

Why did you choose to turn Imam Al Ghazali’s works into animated videos? What is it about him you find important or inspirational?

I have been a seeker of knowledge every since my late teenage years when I started learning about God. I only discovered Ghazali’s work many years after starting down the path and I was struck by the powerful simplicity in his writings.

However, when I learned of his masterpiece, the Revival of Religious Sciences, I was intimidated by its over 1,000 pages. Ghazali’s works are very relevant in today’s environment where sectarianism is on the rise. I wanted to find a way to share his message of spiritual happiness with the world and knowing how short the average attention span is lead to the idea of short, animated videos.

What is the process of creating an animated video?

The process is quite simple: read the book, summarize the book, turn the summary into a script, build a storyboard from the script, share the script/storyboard with people who have no knowledge of the topic, incorporate their feedback, send to the animator and voiceover artist, and voila.

“As a disciple myself, I had to first understand the work anew, then explain it to people who are unfamiliar with it.”

Tell us about your educational/professional background. How has this helped you in starting Raindrop Academy?

I believe my weakness and deficiency in traditional Islamic education was turned into a strength through RainDrop. In reality, the purpose of RainDrop is to introduce such powerful and inspirational works to the layperson – those without formal training. As a disciple myself, I had to first understand the work anew, then explain it to people who are unfamiliar with it.

In reflection, I believe my educational background in engineering helped me create structure and my MBA and professional experience gave me the visualization and verbal skills needed to create the short, simple videos.

'Marvels of the Heart' video
‘Marvels of the Heart’ video

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[Interview] Umaar Ejaz on how the humanitarian crisis inspired him to create his new charity project I.Calligraphy

Meet Umaar Ejaz: the founder and artist of I.Calligraphy. Having completed a degree in Engineering at Brunel University (London) and a Masters in Education and Philosophy, Umaar pursued work for various blue chip companies before deciding to embark upon his passions of education, faith and social justice in his current work and projects.

He is now a full time teacher, runs an engineering business, and has recently launched his calligraphy project, creating bespoke artwork on wood and donating the pieces and funds to various charitable causes.

Umaar was inspired to start I.Calligraphy six months ago due to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Palestine and other countries, and feeling a sense hopelessness initially. “I wanted to do more to help, no matter how insignificant it may be. I must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. From this pretext, I have seen I.Calligraphy flourish from strength to strength because of this intention.”

Read my interview with Umaar as he explains how he learnt the art of calligraphy, what makes his style different to others, and some valuable insights and advice for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs. Also, view some of his personalized calligraphy pieces below, they are stunning!

Who and what inspires you?

If I had a flower for each moment my mother showed me kindness and love, I could forever walk in the garden of eternity. My mother was my first teacher, my first friend, my first mentor, everything that I have accomplished in life both personally, academically and professionally is because of foundation that she lay at home for me to be nurtured and grow as a human being. I cannot emphasise the pivotal importance of a mother; she is the root of a family and the foundation from which any husband, child can truly prosper.

There is no faith without humility. My faith inspires me, thus I strive daily to improve my self. Through this seed being at the core of my roots. To develop my understanding of faith through meaning, this compromises of reading the Quran through tafsir and study of the Prophetic traditions.

I cannot express enough gratitude to every single person, who has shown me kindness and supported me the past six months since the first conception of I.Calligraphy. Working with countless individuals, organisations and charities that Interpal, Amirah Foundation, Penny Appeal, Human Relief Foundation, Muslim Aid, Palestinian International Medical Aid, Human Care Syria, CARE Pakistan, Pearl Education Foundation, and Save the Children. All of whom that have attained and retained the pivotal role of making I.Calligraphy into what it has become today.

What is the story and inspiration behind I.Calligraphy?

Art is a universal language and as medium of expression, it allows us to understand a story without words. If there is a profound narrative that reflects the human condition but still retains a personal meaning. I would like to believe that the core of my work is a means to bring myself closer to God and convey the beauty of my faith. Morally, ethically and spiritually speaking, the story behind each canvas resides in reflecting my own akhlaq (practice of virtue, morality and manners in Islamic theology and philosophy) in meaning.

For example one of the calligraphy canvases ‘One Essence. One Soul’ (below) begins with Arabic calligraphy with words that depict a family, consisting of a mother, baby and father. The words are a poem by Saadi and have been written exactly 14 times, the meaning translates to:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

‘One Essence. One Soul’ Arabic calligraphy with poetic words of Saadi which depict a family.
‘One Essence. One Soul’ Arabic calligraphy with poetic words of Saadi which depict a family.

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[Interview] Amin Aaser on what inspired him to create Noor Kids: America’s fastest growing Islamic children’s book series

Co-founders and brothers Amin and Mohammed Aaser
Co-founders and brothers Amin and Mohammed Aaser

“A light for little Muslims”, Noor Kids is an insightful, innovative and fast-growing Islamic children’s book series created by brothers Amin and Mohammed Aaser. From growing up in North America and losing confidence in his own Islamic identity, Amin was inspired to ensure that the next generation of young Muslims grow up with confidence, inspiration and quality Islamic entertainment. Through its engaging and relatable content, colorful characters and quality design, Noor Kids is now the fastest growing Islamic children’s book series in America, and appeals to young people and their parents because of its universal themes and messages.

Meet Amin from Noor Kids and find out which events inspired him to create Noor Kids, what challenges the Muslim youth might face today, and how Noor Kids will help Muslims re-engage with their Islamic identities.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

The community that I grew up in Minneapolis, MN was monolithic. I was one of the few non-white, non-Christian people in my school. Poorly equipped to deal with such an environment, I began to feel weird among my peers. After September 11th, this feeling transformed into something much worse: shame. Time and again, I felt lowly in front of peers because of the faith in my heart. This experience forced me to reflect on faith, establish my belief, and reclaim my identity.

After college, I had a great career working with some of the world’s largest businesses, 3M, Target, General Mills, and Cargill, in finance, marketing, and operations. However, my passion for identity and faith forced me to reconsider by career path. I’ve recently left my career to study faith-based social enterprises at Berkeley.

Why did you create Noor Kids? How did you create it?

We wanted to solve a problem: how can we make sure that little Muslims, growing up in a challenging environment, still maintain confidence in their religious identity? This has much to do with my personal story above… I wanted to ensure that other children don’t experience the same situation that I had.

After researching at Harvard University, we discovered three key items: (a) role models, (b) parents, and (c) critical thinking.

(a)   Role Models: In order for kids to feel normal and build a constructive identity, they must have role models. One form of role model is a character – like Dora the Explorer. These role models help children develop a constructive identity. Further, when kids see themselves in the media that they consume, they feel normal – as if they are just like everybody else.

“My passion for identity and faith forced me to reconsider by career path. I’ve recently left my career to study faith-based social enterprises at Berkeley.”

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[Interview] Absar Kazmi on illustrating humorous comics with a thoughtful message and his take on social media

Artist Absar Kasmi
Talented artist Absar Kazmi

Equipped with a life-long passion for drawing, and an advocate for faith, moral and ethical issues, Absar Kazmi is founder and illustrator of a clever comic series: Life with the Ahmad Family. In the series he explores a variety of issues evident in Muslim societies, as well as stories and messages that appeal to people of all faiths, ages and backgrounds.

All this wrapped in an often times humorous package, Absar says he wanted to create something different with the Ahmad family: “I wanted to show that practicing Muslim families live real lives; no doubt prayer, fasting, reading Qur’an are all extremely important, but Muslims families also joke with one another, we play football, we go on picnics and we like reading regular books too!”

Absar was born in Pakistan, but spent lot of his youth traveling (and sketching) from country to country, from the animals in the wilderness safaris of Kenya to drawings of superheroes. However he soon gave this up, only to renew this passion in later years of university and married life. He then found a way he could sketch that was Islamically permissible and wanted to pursue both his passion for drawing and passion for his faith, “With the popularity of conventional comics and cartoons amongst the Muslim youth – it seemed that there was a real need for Islamically acceptable comics and other media for the youth” he says.

After a few creative pursuits, in late 2011 Absar was given a platform from Hiba Magazine to develop a cartoon for them to attract a wider audience, and thus Life with the Ahmad Family was born. Read my exclusive interview with Absar as he shares his interesting journey, his take on issues surrounding social media and technology, and even tips for the upcoming month of Ramadan.

How did ‘Life with the Ahmad Family’ come about? What led you to create this series, and why?

That’s an interesting story… About seven to eight years years ago while lying in bed trying to go to sleep I had an idea for a story about a boy who has a really bad day. Since I couldn’t go to sleep anyway, I began to type it out. His day starts out bad, gets worse; soon becomes awful, then horrible, and finally downright abominable! I called the story ‘A Bad Time Tale’ and I named the boy Jamal.

A short while later I heard about an international story writing competition to be held by a well-known Islamic books publishing company. I thought this is the perfect opportunity to see how my story does, so I fixed it up a bit and sent it in to the competition. Alhumdulillah, it won first place!

“I wanted to show that Muslim families also joke with one another, we play football, we go on picnics and we like reading regular books too!”

Now I really wanted to have my ‘book’ published; however, I thought to myself, ‘Why in the world would anyone want to read a children’s book by a completely unknown author?!’  So, I just sat on the idea for a few years… not really knowing how to take it further.

A few years later, in late 2011, Hiba Magazine approached me asking me to develop a character or cartoon for them in order to help them attract a younger audience. I agreed to help them, but didn’t really know where to begin. Then it dawned on me… This could be THE opportunity to introduce Jamal to the world. So I developed a comic about Jamal and his family and called it ‘Life with the Ahmad Family’. I was hoping that this comic would allow me to get people accustomed to the Ahmad Family and then soon I could also introduce ‘A Bad-Time Tale’ to this new audience.

Image from Jamal's Bad-Time Tale
Image from Jamal’s Bad-Time Tale

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[Interview] Nur Fadhilah shares her top tips on staying productive, overcoming writer’s block, and stories of inspiration

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Sometimes when I’m set to begin a task my mind races with other things and it can be hard to focus. What’s more with the distractions from technology to social media, it can be quite challenging to ensure and maintain the most productive, focussed and even spiritual state of mind.

So when I was introduced to the talented sister Nur Fadhilah Wahid and came across all her creative projects, not only was I impressed with her passion for life and learning, but also her great ability to consistently strive to stay focused, productive and inspired!

Nur is currently at university studying a bachelors degree in Communications (with a minor in Islamic knowledge). From articles on staying productive and focussed, to interesting stories and theories, she finds writing to be the most effective way of expressing her faith: “I read a lot, I think a lot, and I reflect a lot, and I guess writing just becomes a natural way for me to express my faith.”

Her passion for inspiring and helping others reach their potential in all aspects of life led her to conduct a ‘Deans List Podcast’ “to inspire students to achieve As in both Dean and Deen (faith).”  These consist of  interviews with top dean’s list students from various schools in the International Islamic University of Malaysia. In these interviews she digs out their stories, finds out what inspires them, what failures they have gone through, and more. Nur says: “One of my best interviews is with a sister from Kyrgyzstan, sis Bermet, who made me cry on air!” To find out why be sure to keep reading.

In my interview with the talented sister Nur she shares her useful tips, everything from overcoming writers block to finding inspiration. You don’t just have to be an (aspiring) writer, blogger, or radio producer to find this interview useful. Continue reading for inspiration on living a productive, healthy and spiritual lifestyle and more!

How do you stay productive & motivated during the day? What tips can you share?

“I live and breathe the simplest and yet most overlooked productivity tip: begin your day with a great morning routine.

The Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said in a hadith that the blessings are in the mornings, and nothing can be further from the truth. By beginning your morning a certain way, you are essentially setting the tone of your entire day.

If you are finding it hard to wake up early, in this article, I share 5 tips I implement in my life so that I can begin my day right and be productive and motivated throughout the entire day.”

What’s the secret to balancing your time with your projects?

“I’ve only recently discovered that the secret to balancing time with my different projects is to say “no” to projects that matter less.

By saying “yes” to all the projects that came my way, I drove myself to exhaustion, took longer to complete my daily responsibilities, and lost my heart for each project somewhere along the way. My time for work slowly devoured my time for spiritual activities, relationships, and my personal time to indulge in creative pursuits.

 “My smart phone is silent throughout the day, enabling me to concentrate on the task at hand or situation I am in without any disruptions to my focus – to be in flow and to be mindful.”

So how do I know which projects to say no to? I ask myself these questions, in order:

(i) How many projects do I have on my plate right now? Do I have enough time to take on another project without sacrificing my spiritual/relationships/creative pursuits?

(ii) Will doing the project benefit others, and thus make me happy?

(iii) How do I stand to benefit and grow by taking on this project? Will the experience / knowledge / financial gains be worth investing the time?

If my answer to any of the above question is a “no”, then I say “no” to the project. This way, I get to eliminate lots of projects that come my way, and focus only on those that matter. Balancing my time between projects thus becomes easy when I have only the important, most beneficial projects, to dedicate my time to.”
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[Interview] Adil Imtiaz on creating Muslim Superhero ‘Buraaq’ and aim to introduce a new spin in the entertainment industry

Buraaq: The New Muslim Superhero
Buraaq: The New Muslim Superhero

Introduced in January 2011, Buraaq emerged on the scene as the new and unique Muslim superhero, ready to counteract negative perceptions of Muslims and make the world a better place. 

Buraaq is “Yusuf Abdallah” a regular guy who happens to be practicing Muslim. From his mission to tackle injustice in the world, his role as director of a large relief organisation, to his ability to fly, Buraaq does not fall short of incredible abilities and fascinating adventures.

So as the first ever Muslim Superhero by Muslim artists, how is Buraaq making his mark in the entertainment/news industry? 

I talk with talented co-founder and artist Adil Imtiaz, to answer all your burning questions. Adil’s life-long fascination in comic books and art, as well as witnessing negative portrayal of Islam/Muslims in the entertainment industry, triggered his inspiration to create Buraaq. Read on as he reveals the ultimate goal of his work, intriguing insights, plus exclusive secrets about seeing Buraaq on the big screen!

Brothers: Adil and Kamal Imtiaz
Brothers: Adil and Kamal Imtiaz

Tell us a few interesting facts about yourself? What are you passionate about?

“I’ve always enjoyed sketching and drawing. Especially comic book characters. Even as a kid in 5th grade, I used to draw my own stories and characters. Just a natural passion.

As a matter of fact, back then, I had drawn over 20 issues of a superhero series in a period of a few years. These were stories drawn on simple notebooks, and each notebook was an issue/episode.”

What inspired you to create Buraaq and why?

“Over the past few years, Kamil and I began to realize that the Muslim world did not have an alternative to the secular narrative and heroes produced by the entertainment industry.

In addition to that, there was a growing pattern in the mainstream media of portraying Islam and Muslims in a negative light. We thought there was a need to counter this, and the best way was to use our God given skills.”
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