Archive for : Founder Profile

Quran Academy is building the world’s first smart Qur’an memorization app

The following is a guest post by Bilal Memon, Founder of Quran Academy. Edited by Laila Alawa.

I was 10 years old when I started my journey to memorize the Muslim Holy Book, the Qur’an. I transitioned between 2 schools, Darul Huda in Piscataway, NJ and Darul Ehsan in Suffern, NY, where I finished my memorization. I am very thankful to both schools and especially my teacher, for helping me become a Hafidh. I couldn’t be more grateful for him in my life.

After attending the school, I quickly realized that not too many people memorize Qur’an. Not only was I a minority, I was endowed with a great deal of responsibility to lead the Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan. Initially, the revelation overwhelmed me. Indeed, the task scared me when I first led the prayer, but pushing through, I made it to the other side. Later on, in my reflections on the fear I had towards leading the prayer, I realized it was a fear of making mistakes, which would then cause me to appear as though I was lacking knowledge of the Quran. I progressed through the years, either leading the Taraweeh prayer or correcting the prayer leader on his mistakes. Soon enough, after reviewing the Qur’an for over a decade, and talking to hundreds of Qur’an memorizers, I realized that everybody faces the same issue of making mistakes when they revise the Qur’an, oftentimes repeating the same mistake time and again. A personal struggle, every Qur’an memorizer will testify that Qur’an memorization is not nearly as difficult as retaining what has been memorized. Without constant review of what has been memorized, it will all be forgotten.

One of the critical reasons why people constantly make mistakes is that they don’t have much actionable data on their mistakes. Currently, people track their mistakes in the Qur’an with a pencil and nobody has concrete proof on whether a mistake was a new one or a repeat one.

This is why Qur’an Academy was born. It’s a humble effort to provide smarter data to help folks become more effective with their memorization and revision of the holy book. In an era where “Big Data” is talked about so much, Qur’an Academy has decided to use data and data mining to revolutionize Qur’an memorization.

At Qur’an Academy, we adapt the presentation of learning materials based on any prospective memorizer/reviser’s individual learning needs and habits as indicated by their preferences: usage of a particular version of the Quran, their geo-location, their native tongue, and how they interact with our app. We collect the user’s data and use it to examine their behavioral and linguistic patterns and customize content and presentation to help that individual user memorize the Qur’an most efficiently and effectively.

The user simply kicks off the app by choosing the Qur’an they are most comfortable using for practice and memorization. We offer both Medina Mushaf and the Urdu Mushaf in 13, 15, and 16 line variations. So the user starts with several taps and we will guide them throughout the rest of their journey.

The founders wanted to make Quran Memorization not only accessible to everyone, but appealing to those who may have otherwise found it daunting. Because of Quran Academy, Quran memorization and revision is now mobile, personalized, and accessible to anyone. The app is designed to learn from the user’s interactions with in-app features to make personalized lessons, quizzes, and a host of other recommendations fitted perfectly to that user’s individual learning needs. Whether a user is actively trying to memorize the Quran on a deadline or is simply an enthusiast; whether their native tongue is Arabic, Urdu, English, or Farsi; whether they like to practice at dawn or dusk; and whether they are under ever-changing circumstances; Qur’an Academy delivers the kind of lesson you need when you need it; whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever language you speak.

We envision a world where our technology is at the forefront of helping every Muslim become a more effective Qur’an Memorizer & Reviser! Please help Qur’an Academy become a reality by supporting our crowd-funding campaign at http://www.igg.me/at/quranacademy.

Our Journey to Macy’s

Back in April, I received an unexpected phone call from a Macy’s employee. They were looking to purchase decor for the Macy’s South Coast Plaza store in Costa Mesa, CA. Referred by a loyal modernEID customer, the Macy’s employee explained that after reviewing suggestions from key employees, her manager had approved the possibility of decorating the store for Ramadan.

I was floored! How wonderful, that Macy’s would honor their employees with such a gesture. I let the employee know that we could of course accommodate her request. However, I recognized that decorating a retail environment would involve specific guidelines. She passed on my information to her manager, who would get in touch with me shortly. I awaited the call with anticipation.

Imagine my surprise when I was contacted the next day by the Southwest Regional Director of Wedding Gift Registry. Not only did Gary hold a distinguished position in the company, but he was one of the nicest, most respectful people I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to! I quickly learned from him that Orange County receives a large influx of tourists from the Gulf region during the summer months. Since South Coast Plaza remains the premier shopping destination in California, these guests flock there for their shopping needs. Macy’s was well aware of this phenomenon, recognized the importance of the customer group, and was looking to make them feel welcome. We scheduled a meeting to discuss the store’s needs, and how we could help.

As an Orange Country girl, I hold South Coast Plaza near and dear to my heart. To say I was excited to be going to the Macy’s offices would be an understatement. Jumping up and down in jubilation like a schoolgirl would be a more accurate description!

During our meeting, I learned a great deal about the retail world. We spent time looking at modernEID products and brainstorming ideas for how to celebrate Ramadan in-store. I took the opportunity to give them a quick introduction to Ramadan and Eid. I also let them know that while the Middle Eastern and Muslim tourist demographic was important, there was also a large American Muslim demographic in Los Angeles and Orange County that would also flock to Macy’s, if given such a gesture. At the end of our meeting, it was decided that they needed to discuss the scale of the project, and get back to us.

As I waited a few weeks to hear from them, I was more than a little anxious. Frankly, I was a nervous wreck! The possibility of a major retailer finally recognizing Ramadan or Eid with decor was so close, and yet seemed so far. More than that, such a gesture was unprecedented, and I knew that this would be the first step to seeing retailers take note of the Muslim American demographic. This goal is among the reasons why modernEID began, plain and simple.

After what seemed to be an eternity, I was called in for a follow up meeting to show some designs and meet with Visual Merchandising. I presented a new modernEID design that I felt would work best for Macy’s. They liked it and showed me the tower displays for the signage. Four displays to be divided among the three stores: Women’s, Men’s, and Home.

It was happening. It was really happening. Nowadays, I found myself sitting at my computer, designing a display for Macy’s, The wonder and opportunity is not lost on me, this is a dream come true and a mission realized. As exciting as this was, it didn’t stop there.

Later, I was asked to come in for another meeting, in order to finalize details and discuss the possibility of Macy’s hosting a “Welcome Ramadan” party. I shared with them the dates of Ramadan and my thoughts on what would be optimal for a good turnout. I also met the representative working for Macy’s who was the catalyst behind this whole project. Rima, a lovely Christian Lebanese woman, recognized that many of her customers were Middle Eastern Muslims, and believed strongly that something should be done for Ramadan.

It was set that Macy’s South Coast Plaza would host a “Welcome Ramadan” event in store on June 25th from 2-6pm. modernEID-designed display towers would be erected prior to the event, and up the entire month of Ramadan. Even more, I told the store manager about the small Pop-Up Show that modernEID was hosting with other small business vendors on June 22nd. With enthusiasm and support, he asked if Macy’s could be represented at our Pop-Up to meet our customers and invite them to the “Welcome Ramadan” party.

What started simply as an idea to purchase some modern Ramadan decor evolved into a partnership with a company that I have so much respect for. Everyone at Macy’s South Coast Plaza that I met on this journey, has been so supportive, kind, and excited about the project. Although everyone recognizes that this is good marketing to an important customer base, they haven’t lost sight of the significance. While spearheading this project, the store realized they wanted their Muslim employees to know that Macy’s cares about them. I was told that when one employee heard about the project, she was so moved she began to tear up.

Macy’s is a company that cares about its customers, employees, and community, with such sincerity. They have my utmost respect and dedication as a customer for life. I hope everyone who is moved by this story, shows them the same support they have shown us. This journey is truly a dream realized, and I am grateful to have met so many amazing people who helped this dream come true.

Jomana was selected to present her company, modernEID, on the Entrepreneurship Showcase panel at AMCC 2011. Do you have a company that’s benefiting the American Muslim consumer, either directly or as a byproduct? Apply now for a chance to present your company on this year’s Entrepreneurship Showcase panel at AMCC 2014. Application deadline is August 30, 2014.

American Muslim Filmmaker Michael Wolfe on his new film, Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story

The following interview is posted with permission from the UPF team.

How did you first find out about Noor Inayat Khan and what drew you to her story?

My colleagues Alex Kronemer, Jawaad Abdul Rahman, and I were looking at several stories about Muslim heroes during World War II.  I came across a reference to Noor Inayat Khan, and we all looked into her story.  We were overwhelmed.  There were many Muslims who fought against the Nazis, not only other Indians, but Arabs and Balkan Muslims, too. Her story is not unique in that respect.  But whereas many of these other people were men, often fighting alongside other men of arms, she was a woman, alone through most of her ordeal, with only her courage and, very importantly, her faith to carry her though. It’s that which made her story most remarkable to us.

Besides being a woman at a time when female intelligence officers were few and far between, how else is her story unique and important?

She appeared to be such an unlikely heroine. She was physically slight, very artistic, and aesthetic. She was not an aggressive person. You would not have expected her to have fought back against her captors as ferociously as she did, or to escape twice from Dachau concentration camp. She never gave up one name or even her own name. She was completely, 100 percent opposed to the Axis forces and what Nazi Germany stood for and very dedicated to the task. Everyone who met her felt she was extraordinary.

Despite the fact that many Muslims played brave roles and sacrificed during World War II, the prevailing narrative of that conflict usually doesn’t include any mention.  A person could watch thousands of hours of documentaries and movies and never know that there were any Muslims involved in the story. But there were, and this is one of the stories.

What role does Noor Inayat Khan’s faith play in her heroism?

While experiencing a great deal of racism and religious intolerance herself, Noor’s father, Inayat Khan, preached an inclusive message that welcomed all races and all faiths to his Sufi Center in Paris.  It was this teaching of inclusiveness that made the Nazis so repulsive to her and caused her to risk her life and ultimately die resisting them and everything they stood for. She was very loyal to this work that she did. She died for it and she never betrayed one person who worked with her.  Her choices in life are so often correct choices – difficult, correct choices that she is a mentor for us, particularly for young Muslims. She was not rigid, she had a wide and penetrating point of view on the world and she was very committed to her ideals.

Why was it easy to gather information about Noor Inayat Khan when her work was meant to remain secret?

Her story had good documentation. There was a real record, written and verifiable almost day by day.  The problem with many WWII resistance stories is that people didn’t want to write anything down since they were trying not to leave a trail. This story was an exception because Noor Inayat Khan was member of the Secret Operations Executive, which made a point of recording everything. Since its members reported directly to Winston Churchill, they kept an accurate record of everything.

Who is the primary audience of the film and why?

While we don’t produce films for a specific demographic, we find that they are most popular with three major audiences: mainstream Americans, high school and college classrooms, as well as community centers and houses of worship.  The Muslim community uses our films in mosques in educational settings. We especially hope young Muslims will benefit from sharing stories like Noor Inayat Khan’s that bring to light Muslim heroes in all walks of life. It’s something that is often missing for Muslim youth in schools, books, and other media. There are many films about American heroes but not many good films about heroic people who happen to be Muslim.

How can Noor Inayat Khan’s story relate to the situation and struggles of American Muslims today?

It is a story of fortitude and courage.  The irony of her story is that while she fought the racism of the Nazis, in her youth she was subjected to racism in France, and before her, her Indian father was forced to flee America because of racism.  Despite this, she always drew from her faith and values to do the right thing.  She is an inspiration.

The New Jersey premiere is Sunday, May 4th at 3pm at the historic State Theater located at 15 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick, NJ.  Tickets on sale now