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Halalifying your investments

Post by Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari. Edited by Mahvish Irfan.

How many of us have wondered about the “halalness” of our investments?

With 6 to 7 million Muslims in America and a buying power of $100 billion, Islamic finance is still in its infancy in the U.S.

We sat down with the perfect person to discuss this matter, Naushad Virji, founder & CEO of Sharia Portfolio, a boutique asset management firm specializing in Sharia-compliant investing.

Ansari_Naushad

After graduating with a degree in Business Administration from University of Florida, Naushad began his career in setting up a small hedge fund. “My focus at the time was only to invest in companies which I believed to be halal. I didn’t want to go outside of my comfort zone which meant no alcohol, pornography, tobacco, gambling, or weapons manufacturing”, he shared. “It was an exciting time for me because I was able to invest yet avoid areas that didn’t conform to my personal values and still do very well. Our initial return was 20% per year. I was happy and my clients were very happy.”

When his wife started United Muslim Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on establishing unity through community service, Naushad became more involved with the local Muslim community in the Orlando area. In discussing what he did for a living and specifically the avoidance of non-halal investing, he realized there was a great interest and appeal in what he was doing. People kept asking him to invest their money. It dawned on him that with all the various regulations pertaining to a hedge fund, he would have to switch to setting up an investment advisory firm and therefore in 2005, Sharia Portfolio was officially launched.

Why the name Sharia Portfolio? With all the negative connotations attached to the word and increasing use of the phrase “creeping sharia”, did that affect his business in any manner? Surprisingly it didn’t. “I decided on this name because in one word it described the company. Originally, we started with a team of three people and we couldn’t keep up with the demand. There was an email that an anti-Muslim group sent out that spoke out against sharia compliant investing and mentioned Amana Mutual Funds, Azzad Investments, and a few other companies, but we weren’t mentioned at all. Frankly I was a bit offended!” laughs Naushad. “I joked with my staff that maybe we should contact them and complain that we weren’t on that list.”

Today Sharia Portfolio, has grown to a team of 10 financial professionals with a total asset management of approximately $40 million. “We hope to be at about $100 million by the end of the year. Our average rate of return over the last 10 years has been about 11 percent, and in the last 3 years, since the market has done very well, it has been about 14.5% to 15%.”

With regards to halal investment growing in America, Naushad is extremely optimistic. “According to a statistic released by DinarStandard, over 80 % of Muslims believe alcohol, gambling, and some of those areas are wrong and haram, but less than 20% actually avoid them in their investments. So that gives me a pretty big market,” he states. “What differentiates us from our competitors is that we see ourselves as financial advisors and consultants and our focus is more heavily on individual stocks as opposed to mutual funds,” he adds. But Naushad isn’t the only one with his eye on this huge market. According to him, four of the large major financial firms have reached out to him to buy out Sharia Portfolio in the past year, but he has no plans to sell.

With Naushad’s diverse background, being born in Italy, brought up in southeast Florida, and raised by parents of South Asian descent, family is an integral part of his leisurely activities. They try to spend as much time as possible together. “We’re going to blink one day and our kids are going to be gone, and when that happens, I don’t want to have any regrets,” he reflects poignantly.

What is Naushad’s advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Be determined, focused and think long-term. Have a clear vision of where you want to be and take the necessary steps to get there. Don’t expect to make your first million right away, my first year when I started my hedge fund, I only made $112!”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer.

Announcing Innovation 4 Impact competition at GIES 2015

In hosting the Entrepreneur Showcase over the last five years, we have found that creativity and ingenuity in producing unique models to fulfill the Muslim market needs result in wide buy-in and success. We also recognize that real entrepreneurs are a unique breed of humans, with an imbued talent of identifying and risking extraordinary lengths to fulfill market needs.

What you’ve been waiting for…

We’re excited to announce the inaugural Innovation 4 Impact Competition, hosted by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) and Thomson Reuters in collaboration with American Muslim Consumer Consortium (AMCC). The competition will take center stage at the Global Islamic Economy Summit from October 5-6, 2015 at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.

The Innovation 4 Impact Competition has been developed to support digital businesses in the Islamic economy across the globe. The competition will serve as a platform for start-ups and businesses to gain support and entrepreneurial advice to further refine their propositions.

Nurturing these innovative entrepreneurs, the entrants will propose disruptive ideas in the following areas:

i4i-categories

We believe that the digital economy will play a crucial role in changing the lives of millions.

We are looking for innovative entrepreneurs across the globe whose solutions will disrupt the status quo.

Learn More & Apply

Application Deadline: August 10, 2015

Muslim Marriage is Mobile

This is a guest post by Shahzad Younas, Founder & CEO of Muzmatch.

After a long successful career as a Trader at Morgan Stanley, one of the large American Investment Banks, I decided to leave the world of banking behind and start my own venture. I had been itching to be my own boss, and be more in control of my destiny. I wanted to do more to actually help others and have some more meaning to my life. I wanted to be even more successful – both in this life and Inshallah in the next.

From my time in Finance, I had many opportunities to network with other similar Professional Muslims in that field across various banks and Institutions. It was here I realised that many Muslims were single, yet despite their success in their careers and chosen field, many of them really struggled to find their other half. I spoke to many ladies and gents on this topic and I realised it was a big problem.

In my later years at Morgan Stanley I started muzmatch. It was a Muslim Marriage website which focused on quality – quality profiles and quality service to its members. Plus it was very affordable and operated on a Pay As You Go model.

Alhamdullilah it was successful and led to over 4 marriages (that I know of!). However from running the website I realised that many users found such web based services to be slow, expensive, inaccurate and very disappointing to use. It was a long process to search for someone, then to message them and then to wait for a response (or none at all). Furthermore there were too many people who used the anonymity of websites to portray a false picture of themselves.

At this time mobile apps were gaining real traction and western style “dating” apps such as Tinder were proving very popular.

Looking at Tinder I could see some positives from its mode of operation – firstly that it would show location based matches, as more importantly that before any conversation can take place, both parties must show mutual independent interest first. I thought, if I could take the good from this, whilst combining this with more Islamic principles, I could really create something which would genuinely be useful, convenient and safe for Muslims worldwide.

I felt passionate about making a real difference and creating something of real quality. I decided to leave Morgan Stanley and pursue a career as a Tech Entrepreneur. I spent the next month learning how to design and build apps for Apple. Four months later the muzmatch app was released! Another month later I learnt how to build Android apps and then released it for the Android platform.

I focused on making the app as Halal, safe and private as possible whilst also catering to the diverse range of Muslim’s that exist – from those who are moderately religious to those who are very religious. I made the focus clearly for Muslims seeking Marriage, whilst particularly paying attention to the needs and sensitivities of Muslim ladies.

Firstly ensuring that ladies can set their photos to be fully private, and only show them as and when they feel it is suitable to do so. Also all members can add a Wali/Guardian to their account, who will then have the ability to watch over all conversations taking place. The principle of mutual interest was key – specifically as it prevents the barrage of messages many ladies will acknowledge receiving from hundreds of men when using traditional Muslim Marriage websites.

Some technological features of mobile phones really lend well to making muzmatch more secure for our members. Firstly we show you other single Muslims who are actually nearby (using your phones GPS). This cuts out those who purport to be from different countries as is often the case with normal marriage websites.   Also we recognised that many people wished to remain private and not connect such apps to their Facebook or other social media, hence we verify each member using their actual phone number. This allows us to permanently block any unsavoury characters as well as to ensure that each person only has a single muzmatch account.

Feedback thus far has been incredible – many of our members love the app and love how it operates. We are constantly tweaking and improving things along the way but Alhamdullilah our growth is testament to the real need there is by Professional Muslims.

We see the process of finding someone for marriage as a real cornerstone of our deen and so we aim to keep this service free to all. We plan to really market the app further and grow our userbase so we can play our role in bringing Muslims together for marriage.

Leaving medicine for the world of art design

This article was originally published on The Muslim Observer. Edited by Mahvish Irfan.

How many doctors do you know would leave behind a lucrative career in medicine and start an Islamic art company instead?

We know one such person.

Graduating from Cornell, completing medical school in upstate New York, and an added internship at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Jontie Karden did just that.

“Throughout the whole process, I had misgivings. By the time I went through residency, it became clear that this wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he explains.

But with all the years he had invested in his education, Jontie still wanted to give his medical career another shot. He spent some years working in clinical research, but here again he faced a dilemma. “I saw some moral and ethical issues that were inappropriate and I didn’t want to be a part of …so I left.”

One day while sitting with his wife, Kunk Pik Liu, he contemplated, “What do I do? Where do I go from here? I know what I don’t want to do….but what is it that I want to do?”

Jontie had created a piece of art for his home some time back. “My wife Pik pointed to the artwork and said, “Why don’t we do that? I’m a designer and can design the artwork. We could create a whole line of products and that could be our business!” “

Hence in 2009, Sakina Design was founded by a creative husband and wife team, Jontie and Pik.

Although we have known them for many years, it was such a pleasure to sit down with this delightful couple and discuss their journey.

At first glance, you can’t help but notice their diverse backgrounds. Jontie, although born and brought up in upstate New York has a unique Circassian background. His parents fled the Caucasus Mountains to Golan Heights and later immigrated to America. Kunk Pik Liu, or “Pik” as everyone knows her, was born and brought up in Hong Kong. She came to the US in 1999 to study graphic design at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

One of the first Muslims she ever came across offered her some books about Islam. She put them away. But, she did decide to challenge herself to try fasting. “I thought a quarter of the world’s population does it, why can’t I?” The first year she drank water while fasting, but the second year, she wanted to fast exactly like everyone did. “I just felt wonderful afterwards, a kind of peacefulness.” But the true clincher came in her second year at FIT when her instructor assigned a design project that could be based on anything, even religion. So Pik chose do it on Islam and after two months of extensive research on the religion, she was ready to take her Shahadah and convert.

So, how did these two totally different people from the spectrum meet? A matrimonial site of course! “I am a very practical person,” says Pik. “I knew that if I wanted to practice my faith the way I wanted to, America was the best place to do it. I couldn’t go back to Hong Kong. Another convert friend of mine had found her spouse online so I decided to give it a chance as well.” In the summer of 2003, they both were married.

“For both of us it’s important to have meaning in our lives and have a cause that we’re striving towards. So the concept of creating a product that melded our Islamic and western identities was very appealing and sharing that with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Sakina Design’s focus is on home décor and gifts that reflect the rich spirit of Islamic art from around the world. Our hope is that our unique designs create contemplation and sakina – tranquility – while offering timeless beauty. We believe in building bridges, Pik comes from East Asia, my family comes from Caucasus Mountains, we’re in America, we’re Muslim, we have this global perspective of trying to connect people to each other,” shares Jontie.

What makes Sakina Design unique? “What differentiates us from others is we have a certain aesthetic. We’re minimalists. We try to bring things down to its cleanest and simplest form while still retaining its authentic origin,” states Jontie.

Alhambra_BLACK_room

But that’s not all, the husband and wife duo believe living responsibly is an integral part of their faith and business. They try their utmost best to ensure that their products and packaging utilize resources wisely, minimize waste and pollution, and even have a Sakina GREEN label to show products that have been produced from eco-friendly and sustainable materials. “We’re Americans and the U.S. has some of the best labor standards, so our goal is to support local businesses and create as many products here in the US as we can,” expresses Jontie.

But as any entrepreneur will tell you, owning a business does not come without its challenges. With all this buzz of the “Islamic Economy”, Jontie and Pik are still trying to understand their market. “It’s so young and diverse and it’s definitely not a homogeneous community,” says Jontie. While most of their customers are based in the US, they have seen increased interest internationally from Canada, Asia, UK, France, and the Middle East.

Jontie and Pik’s advice to budding entrepreneurs, “Just do it! Don’t let fear stop you. It prevents you from experimenting and understanding the market. Go out and try with good intentions. Don’t be content and always look for ways to improve and grow yourselves. A business can’t grow unless the owners grow and that is what we have always strived to do.”

Patchi USA’s chocolate road to riches

This post was originally published in The Muslim Observer.

Two years ago in Ramadan, we received a surprise gift package from a dear friend. Upon opening, we discovered an elegantly branded box wrapped with a uniquely designed fabric ribbon. Attached to the bow was a thin small square wrapped in silver paper topped with a small delicate white flower and a tiny silver “Allah” shaped medallion. There was only one word to describe it. Beautiful!  Inside were individually wrapped chocolates of different flavors. What company made these strikingly luxurious products we thought?

Patchi? … never heard of them!

As founders of AMCC, we’re always on the lookout for unique products to bring to the attention of Muslim consumers, so we did what everyone does when they want to find any information…we googled!

Patchi, we discovered, is a family owned business started 40 years ago in Lebanon which currently boasts 140 retail boutiques in 32 countries situated primarily in the Gulf and Middle East. Their signature style with focus on detailed artistry and premium natural products have made them a household name when it comes to luxury and gift giving in the region.

Ziad Elkurjie co-founded Patchi USA with his wife Soheila Elkurjie in 2008 and led the build out of the online commerce and brand presence of Patchi International, which is still privately held with a revenue of over $250 Million.

We sat down with Ziad to discuss the Patchi brand and what his personal story is.

He was born and brought up in Beirut, Lebanon and came to the states to attend college. After settling here, he took a trip back to Lebanon after many years to visit his family in 2006. Much rebuilding had been done in Beirut after the advent of the civil war. In the heart of downtown, Ziad noticed a beautiful flagship boutique of Patchi chocolates. Memories from his childhood resurfaced as he reminisced the taste and the presence of the chocolates throughout various holidays and special occasions growing up in Beirut.

“Amazing … it has developed into such a well-done brand. It’s beautiful!” he thought. “Chocolate is very much a universal brand … it’s for anyone and everyone! … it’s like fashion,  if you wear denim, you wear denim wherever you are.”

An idea occurred to Ziad. With his degree in computer science and economics from University of Toronto and his many years of experience working in technology startups in Silicon Valley, he wanted to introduce this brand to a larger audience. With just a few more days left in Lebanon, he reached out to Patchi Group Worldwide headquarters and set up a meeting.

E-commerce had matured in the US, but was fairly negligible in the MENA region. This is where Ziad’s expertise came in.

“Technology can be harnessed to reach general consumers’ habits, interactions, and lifestyles, Ziad pitched. “ It has come on board as part of your day to day life, no matter where you live, how young or old you are. An evolution is occurring of how consumers are interacting with the world around them as far as products and consumption habits”

Ziad laid out his background and business plan and proposed a test run in the US with no big commitment or risks. Patchi was sold on the idea. Two years later, in 2008, Patchi USA had its online soft launch around the different seasons and holidays.

“Using technology we were able to leapfrog the brand introduction in the US, a vast market in terms of geographic size and population. Obviously, there are people who reside in North America that have familiarity with the brand, but there are a lot more people who have never heard of it and that’s where the opportunity lies.”

Ziad

Within a short time, Patchi USA achieved significant growth and sales grew by 300% in less than two years. While the clientele is mostly females and Muslims, the consumer base is steadily expanding across the board among American consumers, especially with the acquisition of various corporate accounts such as the Four Seasons Hotels and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The most important brand ambassadors of Patchi are the 75% repeat customers.

Today, Patchi USA has a 10,000 square foot warehouse and offices situated in Santa Barbara, CA with a local team of 10 people. But as they’re part of the larger Patchi Worldwide Group, they have support of the international team behind them.

In his free time, Ziad likes to spend time with his three kids and explore nature. They make frequent visits to the beach, go hiking, and discover new foods and flavors at local markets.

He credits his father as undoubtedly the greatest influence on his life. “My father was a businessman, entrepreneur, and family man. I saw his business affected by the long civil war in Lebanon, but he and his partners would reassemble, restructure, rebuild, adapt and grow. And then do it all over again,” he shares. “This is our faith”, my father would say, “there is always something better to come, you have to be on the lookout and you have to work for it really hard.”

So what is Ziad’s advice to budding entrepreneurs?  “Challenge your assumptions more often, even at the cost of rebuilding. Build a team of believers who are passionate like you early on and pay attention to all your data. It speaks volumes.”

Ahmed Irfan Khan founds booming halal food business

This post was originally published in The Muslim Observer.

After graduating from one of top business schools in the US, would you prefer to work for a Fortune 500 company or run a slaughterhouse? For Ahmed Irfan Khan the choice was very clear. After a brief stint at Bank of America, when the opportunity arose to purchase the only remaining USDA certified slaughterhouse in Chicago, Irfan was quick to take the plunge. Hence, in 2009 he became the Founder & CEO of Barkaat Foods.

When you first meet Ahmed Irfan Khan or “Irfan” as he is known to family and friends, the first thing you notice is his genuine warmth and charm … old world Hyderabadi charm, a city in India where his family originally hails from. So when we were privileged to visit his pristine facility last summer, of course he had the traditional Hyderabadi biryani and Taaza2u lamb steaks waiting to be served to us for lunch. Now that’s hospitality!

Recently we sat down with Khan to have a heart to heart discussion of what his journey has been like.AMCC

The purchase of the slaughterhouse was born out of fulfilling a personal need. “My family and I were always looking for authentic hand-slaughtered Zabihah meat,” Khan said. Many times he, along with his family members would head off to a farm in Wisconsin, personally slaughter the meat themselves, and rent a truck to bring it back to Chicago. He initially bought the slaughterhouse with funding from family and friends. Today, Barkaat Foods is a 40-person operation that supports Zabihah Halal slaughtering of 1,500 heads of lamb, goat, and veal daily. The facility is currently being expanded to include 500 heads of beef weekly as well.

But navigating a business is certainly not an easy task. Khan says he has learned from initial mistakes where he went the traditional route of supplying his products to mom and pop shops. He realized that timely payment was a big issue working with small retailers and ethnic stores. Therefore in 2011, similar to FreshDirect.com, he launched Taaza2u which specializes in customized, marinated meats and ready-to-cook products delivered directly to customers. They later added the popular “We Grill, You Chill” option in which the Taaza team comes to your home, office, or designated venue and take care of all the preps, cooking, and cleaning while you as the host and guests enjoy. Today, Taaza2u has over 7,000 customers. So far, his effort of targeting South Asian Muslims has been successful. His focus on authenticity and a niche market are the key to his business model. He hopes to replicate this model to expand to twenty major US cities with a sizable Muslim population and target other ethnic groups such as the Middle Eastern and African-American markets.

But Khan doesn’t take being authentic lightly and continues to use Islamic principles to run his business. When he needed 2 million dollars to expand, instead of borrowing money from the bank on interest, he worked with a boutique investment firm to structure a Sharia compliant financing deal. This transaction was recently covered on a USA Today article, “Sharia Financing Growing Popular in the West”.

Khan credits his success to his faith, his parents, and his close knit family. “The barakah comes from them.” From his father, who himself was a CEO of a major company in India, he has taken in advice and lessons learned. In his daily life, his brothers keep him grounded. “They are the “yin to my yang,” he states. In spite of their busy respective schedules, the family still takes time out to relax and play cricket together regularly. They even have an official Taaza2u team that is part of a summer league.

As a father of four, the current climate of Islamophobia makes Khan feel “uncomfortable and threatened”, but his advice to budding entrepreneurs is “if you’re passionate about something, then go ahead and take the risk. Be passionate not only about your business, but about being a positive change in the community. We as entrepreneurs and business professionals need to reach out to fellow Americans and educate them about our faith and principles and set a good example.”

According to Pew Research, with the US Muslim population projected to double in the next 20 years, Khan believes, “Halal is definitely here to stay. The younger generation, the upcoming western educated scholars are taking the conversation to another level.” The term Halal is moving beyond just food and is developing into principles that affect the daily lives of American Muslims.

THIS Toothbrush wants to revolutionize the Miswak industry

It all began when I threw away an empty tube of toothpaste. My grad school professor had asked us to redesign the first object we threw out after class and there I stood that evening staring at my trashcan, tasked with reimagining one of the most mundane objects known to man.

Frantically, I went online and began to research: Where did this seemingly universal routine come from? How did people around the world brush their teeth? What was the history behind it?

Eventually I came across an article about the health benefits of the Miswak, and was immediately intrigued. Although I had spent most of my life in the Middle East, I wasn’t very familiar with the Miswak or its medicinal qualities and was particularly fascinated by its anti-addiction effects on smokers, its proven ability to reduce plaque and tooth decay and the natural components in its bristles that help strengthen enamel.

Over the next week, I sketched out ideas and created prototypes of a product that would re-introduce the Miswak to the world by making it easier to cut and peel as well as carry around on the go- and the first version of THIS was born. I presented the project to the class and put it up on my online portfolio, thinking I would never go back to it.

About a month later, THIS accidentally went viral when a popular industrial design blog featured it online, sparking a series of articles and coverage in various publications, blogs and social media outlets. It was eventually voted #27 on The Dieline’s Top 100 Package Designs of 2011, and won the semifinalist award at the Adobe Design Achievement Awards in 2012.

Soon after, I began receiving emails from around the world from curious investors, distributors and supporters asking where they could get their hands on the product. I realized that there were millions of Miswak users who had been waiting for a modern solution to carrying and cutting their miswak, and lots of non-Miswak users who were fascinated by a healthy, natural alternative to dental hygiene. By the time I finished grad school in 2012, my inbox was still flooding with emails from around the world. I decided to take a leap of faith and set off to make THIS a reality along with my partner Omar Farha, a fellow Lebanese entrepreneur based in New York. We revisited the design, ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise money, filed our patents, found the right manufacturers and suppliers, and launched our bilingual brand and website.

We’re excited to share that our first product, the Cutter Case, is finally in production and is expected to launch in early 2015. It features a signature auto-lock cutter cap with two blades that allow for easy cutting and peeling, as well as a transparent tube that keeps your Miswak fresh and clean. Each Cutter Case comes with two all-natural Miswak sticks, with the option of purchasing refill packs of our Miswak whenever you run out. We’ve also partnered with The Miswak Foundation to launch a special campaign that distributes Miswak sticks to people in underprivileged communities with little access to clean water and dental care.

The road to creating THIS has not been easy, but it has been an exciting and rewarding journey to say the least. We hope to become the leading brand for Miswak and Miswak products, and to celebrate this sacred tradition by making it relevant and accessible in our modern age. We want our products to elevate the experience of regular Miswak users, and raise awareness among non-Miswak users about the natural and organic benefits it provides. In our fast-paced world, we believe it is important to value the knowledge of those who came thousands of years before us.

To learn more, visit our website, or Like us on Facebook or email us at hello@thisisatoothbrush.com.

Top 10 Initiatives for Islamic Community Centers

As the American Muslim demographic rapidly expands, Islamic community centers and mosques have failed to provide adequate support to address their growing needs. American Muslims are young, diverse and highly educated. They need their Islamic centers to revamp their basic services and minimal outreach so that they are more inclusive and relevant to their lives.

The following are 10 initiatives every Islamic community center and mosque should look to launch:

1. Install a Welcome Sign

All Islamic community centers and mosques should have a visible sign that reads “All are Welcome” outside their door. This will help more local Muslims and non-Muslims alike feel more eager to visit for the first time. An additional sign explaining appropriate dress code can be installed to help strangers who don’t know much about the faith learn about what to wear when visiting.

2. Accessibility to the Outside World

It should be easy for people inside and outside Islamic centers to communicate and collaborate with one another. All outside parties, whether they belong to other community centers or nonprofit organizations, should be able to get in touch with the administration of Islamic centers without difficulty. Also, setting up good social media strategies can help form much needed unions with outside organizations and help break unnecessary barriers. Simple measures like offering free Wi Fi to members, regularly issuing press releases and organizing press conferences to address major issues impacting American Muslims can also go a long way to strengthening our demographic and communication with our neighbors.

3. Involve Youth with Recreational Space

All Islamic community centers and mosques should have a dedicated space assigned for recreational activities. If they do not currently have one, they should plan on creating one in the immediate future. Without offering space for sports and fun, the youth will not come because there is no entertainment for them. As of now, the majority of the space in Muslim centers is used for Friday sermons and Sunday schools. This space will have to be reengineered so that it is more appealing to the new generation who are our future.

4. Involve Senior Citizens with Relevant Services

The American Muslim community has an increasing number of senior citizens, many of whom feel detached to their local Islamic centers and mosques. Initiatives should be developed to keep them engaged, starting with regular meetings where they can voice what can be changed so that they feel more involved. Weekly lunches can also be arranged where senior citizens can meet with other senior citizens and discuss issues important to them.

5. Feed the Hungry

One in eight Americans face hunger. Islamic centers should offer soup kitchen services where people facing poverty can come in for a good meal at least once a week. Not only will this help alleviate the hunger problem, it will also help us build solid relations with others.

6. Put Up a Suggestion Box

Many members of the American Muslim community, especially women and the youth, rightfully complain that they feel voiceless in their local Islamic centers. A simple solution to this problem would be to put up a suggestion box next to the donation box where everyone can offer their input on how governance and services can improve. All serious suggestions should be taken seriously and implemented. This way, everyone will feel heard and those who aren’t able to dedicate lots of time volunteering can still make a difference and feel included.

7. Get Entrepreneurial

Young Muslims are interested in careers outside of medicine and engineering. They have an array of entrepreneurial interests that Islamic centers and mosques should support. Our community centers can offer classes where successful entrepreneurs guide other aspiring entrepreneurs in their careers. Monthly breakfasts can also be organized so that entrepreneurs in the community have a platform to regularly network.

8. Organize Marital Events

One of the greatest crisis’ our youth faces today is finding a spouse the halal way. We must offer young, American Muslim men and women an Islamic platform where they can seek potential lifetime partners. Monthly breakfasts can be arranged and people can be screened beforehand for safety purposes.

9. Offer Interest Free Education Loans

Education is becoming immensely expensive and soon it will become totally unaffordable for common citizens. Tuition increase will undoubtedly affect American Muslim students, some of whom may not even go to college because of the high fees. Islamic centers and mosques can help combat this problem by setting up endowment funds that offer interest-free loans to needy students.

10. Launch Women Empowerment Initiatives

There is a general consensus in our community, the American population and the media that Muslim women are not treated equally. This is why Islamic Community Centers and mosques need to set up women empowerment initiatives that are led and supported by women in our community. It should be a safe platform for Muslim women to share their issues and challenges and offer services that empower themselves and other women.

These initiatives offer the basic framework to help develop our American Muslim community. Each initiative offers viable solutions to serious problems and should be looked into and redesigned wherever necessary.

Edited by Mahvish Irfan. Photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler.

Here’s what happened when companies catered to Muslim consumers

The Economist conducted a study in 2012 showing that over 50% of businesses who catered to the Muslim consumer enjoyed an “annual growth in revenue of at least 5%, while 34% are registering higher than 15% growth. The same participants are sanguine about the future: over 60% of respondents foresee at least 5% growth in three years, while 43% envisage growth in revenue higher than 15%.”[1]

From Best Buy running a simple Eid holiday greeting campaign which translated into a 13% increase in annual sales, to Walmart opening a store that caters to the Muslim community in Michigan, to Whole Foods’ introducing Saffron Road halal food products into their stores nationwide, it’s clear that there is real growing market potential that these corporations are tapping into. [1] [2] Published research and studies are continuing to show that American Muslim consumers have over $170 billion in buying power, yet the market has yet to fully cater to this buying power by providing targeted products and services. [3]gieWith the current global Muslim population ballooning to 1.8 billion and growing rapidly, very few businesses can afford to ignore this demographic.[4] More than 50% of the Muslim population is under the age of 25, accounting for 10% of the world’s population, and businesses are beginning to understand the vital need to engage this audience while the opportunity is at its peak.

The US Census Bureau reported that there were an estimated 6 million American Jews in 2008, while Zogby International estimated the number of Muslims to range up to 7 million in that same year, and yet a Muslim lifestyle network stated that for every halal product in the US there are 800 kosher products. [4] Therefore it’s easy to understand why a poll found 76% of American Muslims wishing American companies “would provide a wider range of products with specific appeal to the Muslim consumer.” 98% of companies don’t reach out to Muslim consumers, while over 80% of this population claims to be loyal to a product that supports Islamic identity. [5] [6]


[1] http://www.economistinsights.com/sites/default/files/legacy/ mgthink/downloads/The%20Sharia-ConsCious%20Consumer%20-%20WEB.pdf

[2] http://americanmuslimconsumer.com/2013/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Ogilvy-Noor_A-Little-Empathy-Goes-A-Long-Way.pdf

[3] Ibid. 1.

[4] Ibid. 2.

[5] Ibid. 2.

[6] http://www.ogilvynoor.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Lets-Do-It-Our-Way-Muslim-Youth-Redefining-Leadership.pdf

A Message to Entrepreneurs (And a $10k Prize)

At the American Muslim Consumer Consortium (AMCC), we firmly believe that the global Muslim market is under served, yet possesses a great deal of upward potential for entrepreneurs to innovate, create, and avail upon. Through our work, AMCC has found that creativity and ingenuity in producing unique items to fulfill the Muslim market needs result in wide buy-in and success. We also recognize that real entrepreneurs are a unique breed of humans, with an imbued talent of identifying and risking extraordinary lengths to fulfill market needs.

As a result, 2010 saw our introduction of the Entrepreneur Showcase for the first time at the American Muslim Consumer Conference. Since then, we have identified successful entrepreneurs who have produced viable products and services benefiting the Muslim consumer for the last three years. For each of those fourteen unique ventures, we have provided the opportunity to showcase their business to a panel of experts for guidance on how to further improve, in order to maintain their long term sustainability.

In an effort to live up to this year’s theme, “Muslim Market – Global Perspectives: Entrepreneurs Driving Change,” AMCC is looking for entrepreneurs who believe their products or services have the potential of being truly global game changers, entrepreneurs whose work comes from socially responsible ideas that benefit the world of consumers yet comply with Islamic values.

Over the last three years, the hours our team has spent interviewing and reviewing hundreds of ideas and business models has taught us that creating a viable business is easier said than done. As a result, this year, we will be awarding the winner of the Entrepreneur Showcase with $10,000. This prize is being made possible by Barkaat Capital, a company founded by one of our past showcase contestants.

Apply Now for the Entrepreneur Showcase

(Deadline is September 15, 2014)

Applicants will go through a stringent review process, and those selected for the showcase will be coached on their conference presentation. The conference will be taking place this year on November 15, 2014, at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel, Newark Airport, New Jersey. Please visit the conference page for further details.