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Peter Gould | The Road to Zileej

Peter Gould | The Road to Zileej

In his early university career, Peter was going through an internal conversation that would radically alter the path of his life to come. Grappling with big questions of existence, Truth and ultimately, God, Peter found Islam gave him deep yet simple answers to these existential questions. After accepting Islam, Peter’s design took on a whole new form and wore the spirituality of his faith. Not known to him at the time, however, was that he would end up as a design celebrity in the Muslim world globally.

Peter’s journey to becoming a design authority was far from conventional. Rather than working for big corporate and gleaning skills from other experienced designers, Peter jumped straight into the deep end and started his own design agency. Initially working out of his garage, Peter made sure to embody one motto – business is about looking after people. And so Peter did just that – whatever client he had, he made sure to look after them well, and slowly but surely, Peter started landing some big names in Australia.

Committed to the Muslim community from the get-go, Peter wanted to translate his design skills to helping the community – but this was not without its challenges. Whilst Muslim organisations knew the value of good design, many suffered from the tragic ‘free sabeel illah’ model – the belief that everything for a good cause should come free (well, not always free – one client offered to find Peter a wife in exchange for a website design…). But with a positive mindset, a lot of travel and a passion for design, Peter worked on some of the biggest Muslim brands in across the globe- from the iconic Sami Yusuf to the prestigious Emirates – Peter has left his mark in many parts of the Muslim community.

Despite his powerful work in helping Muslim clients strategise their brands, Peter felt a gaping hole in his work, and really, within the wider Muslim community. Reflecting on the kind of products out there for his kids to play with, he realised there exists a serious lack of Islamic creative representation in the products used by Muslim families. In 2016, Peter co-founded Zileej – an innovation agency creating the next generation of meaningful toys, games and creative experiences for the Muslim world.

On episode 10 of the Transit Lounge, Peter goes deeper into his vision for Zileej, some past projects that are still running alongside his current work and what lies ahead for ‘Generation M’ and the Islamic economy.

Shahed Amanullah | Silicon Valley, Start-Ups and Muslim potential

Shahed Amanullah | Silicon Valley & Muslim Start-ups

In the late 1990’s, the tech start-up space was absolutely booming. The world was coming to terms with the power of technology, and after seeing some incredibly successful ideas, investors were ready to throw stupidly large amounts of money at tech start-ups. In this environment, Shahed Amanullah saw an opportunity which he couldn’t miss. Teaching himself how to code and desperately looking at ways to get involved, Shahed eventually landed his first gig in the start-up space. He managed to score a job as a creative director for a 40 million dollar backed tech start-up.

Whilst the tech company went under in less than a couple of years, the experience and exposure that Shahed got was invaluable. For starters, Shahed learnt that Silicon Valley was surprisingly Muslim friendly. In fact, it was a competitive advantage to be a Muslim because of all the Muslim connections (and there were many of them) you would inherit. This environment gave rise to Shahed’s first big project: Zabihah.com

Whilst Zabihah.com now hosts thousands of halal restaurant reviews from all over the world, it humbly started off as a way for Shahed to share all the cool Halal places he came across with his Muslim friends in Silicon Valley. As the website stayed up, Shahed started noticing postings from all over the world and knew he was onto something. 6 years later, Yelp.com came to be – and quickly became the standard worldwide restaurant review platform. They did what Zabihah did for Muslims but did it for the entire world. Here, Shahed learnt his first important lesson about the Muslim Start-Up philosophy – products should be “By Muslims, for everyone”.

On the Transit Lounge, Shahed describes that there are two main ways to go about start-ups as a Muslim. Either you go the path that he learnt (“By Muslims, for everyone”), or you do the wrong way – take a Western idea, cripple it and try selling it to Muslims. Shahed believes Muslim start-ups need to move beyond copying other ideas – they need to carry a Muslim spirit and an embedded social purpose. Our belief system is filled with rich values that we can share with the world, and we shouldn’t shy away from those things.

It’s through this desire to see authentic Muslim businesses thrive, that Shahed’s brainchild enters – Affinis Labs.\Affinis Labs seeks to change the Muslim mindset when it comes to start-ups. We don’t need to be mediocre or think small anymore – we have the talent and we can source the funds. According to Shahed, all that needs to change is the way we think about our abilities.

On episode 9 of The Transit Lounge, Shahed delves more into his other start-up projects such as Zakatify, describes his expansive career inlcuding his role at the World Bank and the US State Department, and lends us some hard-hitting truths about the Muslim mindset today and the way forward.

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts and Spotify.

Hanan Dover | PsychCentral, Mission of Hope & a few taboos.

Hanan Dover |Founder of PychCentral

In 1882, a small group of Italian men left Roseto Valfortore and set their eyes towards New York. The village they settled in remained relatively unknown until 1961, when a physician caught eye of a strange fact: People in this village had far fewer heart attacks than the normal population. After rigorous analysis of their diet, genetics and more, nothing could explain their health other than one key factor: community wellness.

The idea of measuring wellness in terms of community was a breakthrough. Many saw it with scepticism and many outright rejected it. Yet with the rise of mental health awareness today, our ears are far more open to listening. A community activist and clinical psychologist, Hanan Dover combines this concept of community and individual wellbeing in a powerful way.

Hanan initially caught interest of psychology as a teenager watching Oprah. Witnessing the power and impact that psychologists on the show had, just by changing people’s perspectives, Hanan knew exactly what she wanted to do. Looking around the Muslim community and the clear dysfunctions, stigmas and superstitions that existed, her journey was community oriented from the get-go.

Despite pure intentions and a passion to make a difference, a young Hanan was constantly met with backlash. As an undergraduate, Hanan would have to hear the well-known Muslim adages; “psychology is a haram field”, “there’s no point”, “people just need to pray more”. Lack of Mental wellness was little more than a talking point for how spiritually poor an individual was, or the punishment they were receiving from God. But it was abundantly clear that people were still suffering and that these explanations were simply not helping.

Hanan set out to change this. Alongside her studies, she went back and forth to multiple Muslim community organisations with one aim: placing Muslim mental health on the agenda. As we sit with Hanan on the Transit Lounge, she describes her thought process after being rejected time and time again: “If no organisation invites you in, you build your own house”. Now the founder of Mission of Hope, PsychCentral and the Vice President of the International Association of Muslim Psychologists, it’s clear that Hanan built several of these ‘houses’.

Central to these organisations is a focus on community health and wellbeing. There is no health problem that is too taboo for discussion. Like the town of Roseto, Hanan moves away from diagnosing problems based on individual actions, and toward analysing lifestyles, nutrition, community and more.

On episode 8 of the Transit lounge, we delve more into the deeper spiritual forces at play which motivate Hanan and try understanding how she plays the role of mother, psychologist and community leader, all the whilst having 5 degrees under her belt!

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Riyaad Minty | AJ+, TRT and everything in between.

Riyaad Minty | Co-founder of AJ+

The AJ+ phenomenon is a familiar sight for anyone using the internet today. Short, flashy and yet compelling, AJ+ videos have become a staple in the modern news industry. Far less known, however, is the young South African who played a major role in building it: Riyaad Minty.

As a first year law student, there wasn’t much on Riyaad’s plate apart from going to classes and participating in the Muslim Students Association. From the outset, Riyaad seemed like a very normal 18 year old. His next course of action, however, was far less typical. With an idea in mind and a vision to achieve, Riyaad decided to drop out of University after his first year. Partnering with his cousin, Riyaad had a start-up idea which changed the way greetings and ringtones were digitised. Despite the success of his start-up at a young age, Riyaad’s journey really kicked off when he was picked up by a global media giant: Al Jazeera.

At 22 years old, Riyaad left everything and moved to Doha as an e-marketing specialist at Al Jazeera. As a strong believer in the counter voice that Al Jazeera provided, Riyaad was able to bear the less picturesque parts of working as a junior in big media; sharing tables, working unrealistic budgets and battling his age to be taken seriously by anyone.

In speaking to Riyaad on The Transit Lounge, we feel a strong sense of perseverance and faith behind his successes – “When everyone is telling you no, that’s when you know you are on to something good”. Almost paradoxical, Riyaad draws his strength from the fact that an idea sounds so absurd – a sure step in becoming a disruptor in any given space.

Riyaad’s creative genius met his unparalleled drive to achieve for one reason: his strong belief that Muslims need to be “going somewhere”. From practically inventing “Live-Tweeting” news coverage with his team, to pushing for coverage of the Egyptian leg of the Arab spring, to finally playing a major role in bringing AJ+ to the world, Riyaad’s philosophy of defying the norm saw no end.

On episode 7 of The Transit Lounge, Riyaad tells us more about the spirituality which led him to refuse job offers from major tech giants, his current projects at TRT World, and shares a personal struggle which we can all derive strength from.

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Mohamad Jebara | Islamic Values and Modern Business

Mohamed Jebara | Co-founder of Mathspace

The Global Financial Crisis is a stark moment in the modern memory. For some, it illustrated the deep flaws within the existing system. For others it meant a lot of lost money. But for very few, it became the site of a deep reassessment of their life’s direction and greater purpose. Mohamad Jebara was one of these few.

A senior partner at a lucrative derivatives trading firm (at the age of 25!), Mohamad profited heavily as the Global Financial Crisis deepened. Whilst not contributing to the crisis itself, the market volatility made for a profitable playground for traders like Mohamad. As the days went by, Mohamad would break profit record after record. To put it mildly, Mohamad was doing handsomely well for someone just 25 years of age.

Strangely enough, Mohamad decided to leave it all. As we sit with Mohamad on the Transit Lounge, we poke at the mindset that led to this perplexing decision. Surely enough, Mohamad describes his dilemma of operating in the zero-sum game that trading was: there was no value created for the Akhirah (hereafter). Sure, he made a killing during his time trading, but he wasn’t adding any value to anyone’s life. As a Muslim grappling with his faith today, that just wasn’t good enough.

Taking a year off travelling, reflecting and spending time with his family, Mohamad knew a couple of things: Firstly, he loved Mathematics and truly believed in its empowering capacity, and secondly, he needed to add value to the world around him. The interaction of these two principles saw Mohamad bring to the world Mathspace: A start-up digital tutoring company which rewards students for learning Mathematics. Whilst Mathspace hosts over 500 thousand active students and 20% of Australian schools now, it was far from an overnight success.

Mohamad debunks the romanticised start-up story: things are never easy, and breakthroughs are few and far between. Interestingly, this wasn’t something that broke Mohamad. Described as an unfair advantage, Mohamad’s Islam bought something to the table that other start-ups didn’t have – Tawakkul. Tawakkul as an unwavering trust in God’s plan, not only lets him get through the tough times, but also keeps him from ever compromising on his principles.

On episode 6 of the Transit Lounge, we uncover more pearls of wisdom about how Islamic values permeate Mohamad’s inspiring work in the education start-up space. We also hear about why Mathematics is critical today more than ever, and how Donald Trump’s election would’ve been prevented with more Math literacy!

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Naz Shah | From Poverty to British Parliament

Naz Shah’s Story

The streets of the UK buzz with cars, laughter and excitement. From the outset, life goes on and everything seems normal. In a small household in Bradford West, however, things are far from normal. A confused 6-year-old Naz Shah sits contemplating the events that had just unfolded. Events which she would only later fathom the full extent of – Naz’s father had abandoned her family.

Living with a pregnant mother who could barely speak English and a younger brother less than 3 years old, Naz’s family found itself in an impossible situation. In pursuit of stability, her mother commissioned a neighbour, Azam, to secure a mortgage with the jewellery she had sold. Although supposedly religious-conservative, Azam raped her. And the abuse went on and on, taking many forms and wrapped in much manipulation, until a tipping point. Naz’s mother killed her abuser.

At this point, Naz went from being a teenage daughter to acting as a mother not only to her siblings, but in her words, a mother to her imprisoned mother. Her time was stretched between working odd jobs like packing crisps, campaigning with activist groups about her mother’s unjust sentence, visiting her mother in prison and dealing with her own abusive husband.

Whilst initially these circumstances brewed anger, hatred and an attempted suicide, eventually Naz steered her life elsewhere. Harnessing a deep strength, perhaps drawn from her mother, Naz said she had learnt to feel gratitude. So much was wrong in her life, but “there were others who had it much worse”. Of course, there was still a burning fire for justice which drove Naz to advocate for many oppressed minorities – but this now sprung from a philosophy of niyyah (intention) which we only discover later.

Her journey to politics was an unlikely but fascinating one. Bradford West faced many problems – a corrupt Baradari politics system, a harmfully patriarchal community, rampant Islamophobia and much more. The story of how Naz Shah went from the woman jumping from squalor to squalor, to the woman who would defeat George Galloway in Bradford West’s election, involves a great many fascinating details. It includes her losing a job over whistleblowing, self-representing an impossible legal case (and winning) and eventually crossing paths with an unlikely advisor. Join us on episode 5 of the Transit Lounge – as we unpack the incredible set of events that has made Naz the woman she is now.

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Mufti Ismail Menk | Struggles of a Worldwide Mufti

Mufti Menk talks about his struggles

There is a popular perception out there that the shaykhs and the mufti’s have it easy. In between the local masjid, the library and classroom, the question pokes at one’s mind – how hard could their life be?

We pose this question to Mufti Menk – a familiar name in any Muslim household in the 21st century – and for good reason. Having been on the ‘Top 500 Influential Muslims’ List 6 years in a row, Ismail Menk is in a good position to shed some light on this issue.

Although his life has been clear of nightclubs, smoking and even the cinemas, the Mufti’s wide reach means he is familiar with how things work on the ground. From the multicultural understandings of a Christian high school to the intimate moral discipline of Indian Madrasa and the unique University scene in Saudi Arabia, the Mufti has reaped rich ways of thinking from multiple institutions.

On the Transit Lounge – a podcast from Toledo Society- we sit with Mufti Menk to beyond his rich intellectual journey. What is it that makes the Mufti so sought after and relatable to Muslims across the globe? As we push further – we notice the Mufti’s life has been no easy journey. In that hardship, there is a wisdom that emerges from lived experience. The Mufti works occasionally at a family business, had felt quite isolated in his distance studying abroad, and has been through a difficult divorce in his life.

Divorce is a particularly intimate, real and raw reality. There are no ways of escaping its grief and regret and it is rare to find a heart at ease following one. As was the case with the Mufti – with a divorce after having 2 kids, there is frustration, animosity and uncertainty. Only after long years, as we learn from the Mufti, do one’s eyes begin to start seeing. Allah had a plan and its wisdom often shows only after a long time. In the case of the Mufti’s divorce, this translates into a contentment and maturity, as he thanks his divorcee for her goodness and raising their kids well.

With the emotional maturity and wisdom arising out of the struggles of the Mufti, his popularity becomes all the more understandable.

In the episode we pick the mind of Mufti Menk and uncover more about what made Ismail Menk who he is today as we trace his struggles, upbringing, intellectual life and some interesting experiences!

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Dalia Mogahed – Muslim Engagement & The White House

Dalia Mogahed On Muslim Engagement

Being a Muslim in the modern world carries multiple dilemmas and paradoxes. Forced into the public spotlight all so suddenly, the political arena which Muslims are compelled to navigate is nothing short of frantic. There are so many questions but it seems there are so little answers: How should we engage? What should we do? Should we even engage?

Dalia Mogahed began grappling with these questions at the tender age of 15. Armed with the autobiography of Malcolm X, and an inquisitive eye into the justice embodied in Islamic scripture, social justice was all that was on Dalia’s mind. Not soon after, an event occurred which made this so much more real than an intellectual endeavour; September 11.

From here, Muslims were thrown into a fast, hostile and confusing political space. Dalia’s activism began in fear – fear for her community, for her child and for her religion. There was a need to act and do something to fight back, to secure a place for the American Muslim. So it started with outreach work – classrooms in colleges, later training law enforcement and eventually advising President Obama on policy related to Islam and Muslims. From the outside at least, things seemed to be moving.

But were they in reality?

As we sit with Dalia on The Transit Lounge, we explore the paradoxes and uncertainties of modern Muslim activism. A seasoned activist, Dalia delivers a deep truth we often lose sight of: it is never about the result, but always about the journey. To stay in the game and prevent burning out, one must recognise that as Muslims, we must strive, but it is only through God that we may arrive.

In the public spotlight having to constantly deal with the stress, death threats and backlash from within the community, Dalia’s unwavering commitment to spirituality is an essential. Whether that be daily dhikr, night prayers or constantly reaffirming her intention, there is a deep inner strength that Dalia appeals to.

In Episode 3 of The Transit Lounge, Dalia delves deep into practical lessons learnt from engaging the Obama administration, the dilemmas and absurdities in engaging the current administration and a peek at her new research on interesting aspects of the Muslim community.

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.

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.