Toledo Society

Haroon Meer – Founder of Thinkst: A Method to the Madness

Haroon Meer – Founder of Thinkst

In an age of booming start-ups and overnight triumph, it seems the journey to success is inaccessible at worst and uncertain at best. What it means to be an authority in a field is a question a lot people ask, but not many people answer.

The answer to this question was central to the success of Haroon Meer; a South African Muslim at the helm of Thinkst, a cyber security firm that consults government agencies, big-name internet clients and more. He’s consulted NATO on cyber security before it was an active international threat, and his Canary cyber honey-pot devices are connected to major tech giants. With humble beginnings in the tail end of Apartheid South Africa, Haroon’s success was far from a silver spoon upbringing.
So how did Haroon take off?

On The Transit Lounge – a podcast from Toledo Society, Haroon described the one constant to becoming an authority in his field: relentlessness. Being at the top of the game means just that: putting the time in, keeping up with trends and staying competitive.

Central to Haroon’s philosophy is the idea that money follows value; not the other way around. Almost hard to believe, Haroon failed his first year of Computer Science. However, take this with with a grain of salt, as what followed was a measured and masterful pursuit of passion. He took classes in anything and everything he was interested in: philosophy, legals, sociology and more until he found his passion in computer science and pursued it without fail.

Far from the denizens of Silicon Valley and the West, Haroon operates comfortably out of South Africa, where Thinkst’s main office is located. Haroon reflects on his “Muslimness” during the episode, and the role his cultural and religious identity played in his journey. He also speaks of his early pool addiction and his short stint at the Quantico base!

You can click here to tune into the full podcast interview.

The Transit Lounge is part of Toledo Society – a podcast network dedicated to the English- speaking Muslim millennial.

Episode 2: A Method To The Madness – Haroon Meer

Toledo Society Podcast with Haroon Meer

Haroon Meer grew up in the tail end of Apartheid South Africa, but his future was far from bleak. After almost two decades in information security (and playing a lot of pool!), Haroon founded Thinkst, a start-up responsible for bringing Canary to the world, a cyber-security honeypot used by some of the biggest tech giants in the world including Slack and Etsy. In this interview we reflect on Haroon’s journey that saw him consulting NATO, sleeping on the Quantico base, and everything in between. What does it take to become an authority in one field? Haroon’s experience draws us closer to answering that question.

Prof. John Esposito – Georgetown’s Unlikely Scholar of Islam

Professor John Esposito – Muslim Scholar

You are a 13-year-old boy, wide-eyed and beaming with energy. You live in a semi-enclave of middle-class Italian neighbourhoods tucked comfortably within Brooklyn New York. Neither of your parents made it past a high school education. The question starts to cross your mind – what is it that I want to do with my life?

As was the dilemma of a young John Esposito, who unbeknownst to him, would later go on to become one of the biggest authorities on Islamic Studies in the modern world. Leaving home at the tender age of 14, Professor Esposito spent 10 years with Capuchin Franciscan Church Order in training. At this point, you would be forgiven in thinking the good professor was on the path to becoming a priest.

After leaving the seminary, however, John Esposito took on a master’s program and later a PhD – specialising in a strange and unpopular subfield of a subfield – Islam. To contextualise, during the 1960s, Islam wasn’t a hot-button topic like it is now. Frankly, a specialisation in Islam as an academic was little more than a bad career move. On the first episode of The Transit Lounge – a podcast from Toledo Society – the professor grapples with this paradox. Always a practical person and ‘street smart’ as others eruditely pin him to be, his choice to specialise in Islam is one which the professor still cannot explain.

So, the silence of a niche academic field overtook him, but only for so long.

In 1979, an event in the Middle East transpired; its’ shockwaves would bring Islam to the fore of robust political discussion for many years to come; The Iranian Revolution. From here on, the Professor signed 3 book contracts to start with and went on to publish over 50 more. Quickly gaining momentum in the global Islamic discourse, the Professor became a senior member of the UN Alliance of Civilisations, began lecturing Islamic studies at the esteemed Georgetown University and is now the director of the Bridge Initiative combatting Islamophobia.

Professor Esposito describes his success as a combination of two things: hard work and luck. Part of it is putting in the hours and part of it is ‘being in the right place at the right time’. But how much of it could really be luck? On the episode, we uncover some astonishing coincidences that made Professor Esposito’s career (including a funny story involving an unlikely donor). But there seemed to be something deeper than these two factors at play; an ingredient only uncovered after much contemplation and probing.

In the podcast, we reflect over what this ingredient is, in between the tears and laughter we share with Professor Esposito. Tune in to hear more about the name you’ve heard but the story you don’t yet know in episode 1 of our Transit Lounge podcast.

Toledo Society Introduction – Why Muslim Podcasts?

Addressing a gap in Muslim media.

Muslim minorities in English-speaking societies have been on the forefront of global political discourse. Their challenges, struggles and complexities are known to any Muslim seeking to find their place in the contemporary world. Whether it through political, social or intellectual pressures, Muslims constantly find themselves questioning and balancing multiple identities.

The research reflects this complex clearly. According to a 2017 PEW Research study, 24% of American-born Muslims no longer identify with their faith. Similarly, studies by Yaqeen Institute demonstrate clear impacts of Islamophobia, particularly on Muslim women expressing their religious identity. One thing is for sure; the site of Muslim identity construction is deeply contested – reconciling between Muslim-ness and a plethora of other identities is no easy task.

Enter Toledo Society. Toledo Society is a network of podcasts for a new generation of English-speaking Muslims. We aim to produce quality, immersive content aiming to reinvigorate a rich Muslim identity; not only informed of the realities of the world, but also confident enough to face them. We strive to provoke excellence, creativity and most of all, authenticity within the Muslim today. 

So you might ask; why podcasts?   

Podcast adoption is growing exponentially. And for good reason. Not only is it a convenient way to explore new ideas, but it is an ecosystem that allows for deep engagement with personalities and topics you wouldn’t otherwise have the time to engage with. 

There is a plethora of shows in the pipeline that will talk to a young and spirited audience. Our first show is ‘The Transit Lounge’, where our host Mohamad Zaoud tracks the journeys of people who have had a considerable impact on the Muslim World – whether they be community heroes, founders of businesses with high social impact or influential academics. 

Toledo is led by a team of seasoned media professionals. Moeed Ahmad, Hisham Krayem and Mohamad Zaoud – all highly experienced in driving innovation and growth in modern media networks such as Al Jazeera and TRT World, bring a host of experiences and insight in making sure our content addresses people where they need it most.   

The Transit Lounge is now available on all major podcast apps, and our first episode airs on October 9th with Professor John Esposito.

Episode 0: The Transit Lounge Trailer – Why Transit Lounge?

So you might be asking, “Why Toledo Society? Why Transit Lounge? Why bother?”. We asked our Head of Content, Mohamad Zaoud the very same questions when he first told us about his idea for a Muslim Podcast network. His reply, an eloquent recount of a trip he previously took to an island of random animals. Listen in and you’ll see the snow ball effect of a single thought turning into a fully operational podcast network.

And for those that don’t know Mohamad Zaoud, who is also the host of our first original production – “The Transit Lounge”, you can see his short bio here:

Mohamad Zaoud is a brand enthusiast and consults businesses and NGOs on brand & growth strategies. He’s currently the Manager of Digital Growth – EMEA, and formerly Head of Marketing MENA, at Al Jazeera Media Network where he’s worked on flagship brands including Al Jazeera and AJ+.