[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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So much inequality. Why doesn’t God do something?

#BAD2014, #Inequality, Blog Action Day

#BAD2014, #Inequality, Blog Action Day

We live in a world of stark contrasts.

A world where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

A wealthy businessman spends £3 billion on a yacht made from solid gold and platinum, while 300 million children around the world go hungry every day.

The richest 300 people in Europe and North America have the same income as 4.7 billion poor people.

Citizens around the world struggle for their basic rights and freedoms, whilst powerful and corrupt leaders still rule.

Inequality surrounds from the top to the bottom. We only have to go outside to witness it.

And it’s depressing. What can one man or woman do? It seems like only divine intervention can get us out of this mess.

But the Qur’an has something different to say. “Allah does not change the condition of people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11)

It’s so true.

Society doesn’t reform, till the individual takes responsibility for their actions. Think about it. How can society reform if the individual doesn’t care enough to take any action?

Change begins with ourselves. It starts with us. It starts with me.

Today is Blog Action Day 2014! Join the global conversation about Inequality, with people around the world. Tweet #BAD2014. 

[Reflection] Is God Hidden or Manifest? Syed Khadri shares his reflections, inspired by comic: In Search of Water

In Search of Water-1

In Search of Water-2

In Search of Water-3

 

Inspired by the Sufi Comic: In Search of Water, Syed Khadri reflects on the omnipresence of the Creator exploring excerpts from the Quran and Islamic traditions. His reflection ends with an insightful conclusion.

In the name of Allah the Merciful and the Compassionate, and peace and blessings of Allah be upon our master the Prophet Muhammed.

Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted is He) has revealed to his beloved Messenger Muhammed (blessings and peace be upon him) in Holy Quran – 2:115:
“And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah . Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.”(Sahih International)

Alhamdulillah, the quest of the fish for finding the meaning of water after reading the ayath of Quran – 21:30 beautifully explains the Omnipresence of the Creator.

“Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?” (21:30, Sahih International)

Have you ever reflected on the names of Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted is He) – Az-Zahir (The Manifest) & Al-Batin (The Hidden)? How do you explain the names of Allah – The Manifest and yet Hidden, and Who is The Hidden and yet Manifest? If you apply logical reasoning – both names are opposite to one another, isn’t it? For how something which is hidden can be manifest or something which is manifest can be hidden at the same time?

But if you look beyond logical reasoning, imagination and see the names through the eyes of the fish in the above story, you will realize that indeed He (The Glorified and the Exalted is He) is Manifest and Hidden.

Look through the eyes of that fish which is trying to find the answer for ‘what is water?’ – though the fish lives inside the water, the water is hidden from her perspective and yet it’s clearly manifest than anything else, similarly Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted is He) is Manifest in this world and yet Hidden.

While reflecting on these, I found another beautiful example which explains Omnipresence of the Creator in Misykatul Anwar (The Niche of lights) of Imam Al-Ghazali (Radi Allahu ‘anhu):

Allah is Manifest and Hidden or Allah is the Light of heavens and earth can be explained in relation to the phenomenal – visible light. Imam Al-Ghazali (Radi Allahu ‘anhu) he quotes an example of Greenary, for example – in the full day light, you don’t have slightest doubt in your mind that you are looking at colors and it’s very likely you will suppose that you are looking nothing else along side with them. And if someone asks you ‘what you see?’, you would say ‘I see green and nothing along with green’. Here while looking at the color, you ignored that fact that light is also present which makes the color manifest for you to view. So, light which is manifest clearly is hidden when you look at things which light makes manifest as in above example.

Imam Al-Ghazali (Radi Allahu ‘anhu) quotes Misykatul Anwar (The Niche of lights):

“If this is clear to you, you must further know that those endowed with this Insight never saw a single object without seeing Allah along with it. It may be that one of them went further than this and said, “I have never seen a single object, but I first saw Allah”;”

You have to be very cautious here and should not take for granted from above fish or visible light example that – “Allah is in every place as light is with everything or water is in every place (as in fish’s example which lives inside ocean).” Too High and Holy is He to be related to any place! You should know that ‘place’ came into existence after the existence of this World but Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted is He) existed before everything and He is prior to everything.

So, we should avoid asking the question about Allah in relation to time and place because He created the time/place from out-of-time and we are the beings of in-time.

Ibn Arabi (Radi Allahu ‘anhu) says in his Futuhat Al Makkiyya (The Meccan Revelations): “So actually we cannot say, in the true reality of things that Allah existed before the world – because it has been established that ‘before’ is a time phrase, there was no ‘time’ (before the existence of the world).”

And Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted is He) and His Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him) knows best.

This post was originally written on the author’s blog. Check it out here!

Do you have some insights or reflections to share on your favorite  Sufi Comic &/or Sketch? Why not write for us?

 

[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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