Step Up, Start Up, and Connect to a New Economy

lp_avatar_300x300As printed in ISNA’s Islamic Horizons May/June 2014

It was April 2013 in southern California, and no one wanted to leave the secret venue which gathered entrepreneurs, investors, and other business people who would serve as mentors. The air was charged with mutual admiration as over $200,000 was secured by some people who had presented their business plans for a mere 6 minutes. Afterward, networking gave critical connections, solutions, and encouragement to several attendees who traveled from all over the nation. This was a solution to resolve an economy in a tailspin–a breakthrough to mend something long broken.

Income inequality in the U.S. was minimal in the 1970s, as Harvard economist Larry Katz described, “Americans grew together.” Since then a world-wide growing disparity has shifted, fueled by globalization, to affect U.S. wealth distribution, whereby in 2011 Michael Norton and Dan Ariely of Harvard Business School noted that the top 20 percent own 84 percent of total wealth.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, The Great Recession saw 9 million American jobs eliminated and cited an income recovery reported for 2009-2010 of 2.3 percent; however, economist Emmanuel Saez corrected that perception by revealing that for 99 percent of Americans, there really was no recovery at all. In fact, most people’s incomes only rose a scant 0.2 percent, while the upper crust–the 1 percent–experienced a recovery of 11.6 percent, as discussed in Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Penguin, 2013).

Freeland writes about Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who in his address, “The American Idea,” at the Heritage Foundation in 2011 said, “[the] true sources of inequality in our country [are] corporate welfare that enriches the powerful and empty promises that betray the powerless.” He disparages “a class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules, and preserve their place atop society.”

The 2008-09 recession left an estimated 24 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, and a lethargy economy threatening a global scale collapse, which can only theoretically be avoided if our mindset is refocused toward entrepreneurship, new business. Gone are the days when one could aspire to a protected job with benefits and comfortable pension. Education–initially conceived to prepare disciplined Prussian soldiers and then corporate workers–has broadened its scope to embrace innovators, creative designers, and problem solvers across a range of integrated disciplines capable of working collaboratively and willing to pursue lifelong knowledge and skills acquisition. It is the new reality, as massive challenges such as global warming, fresh water shortages, nuclear waste, and world hunger call upon us to offer solutions in order to survive. A crippled economy greatly contracts conventional practices, and ambitious initiatives are required.

Luigi Zingales, author of A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Last Genius of American Prosperity (2012), wrote, “When the pilgrims planned their trip, they did not ask the government for money; they asked private investors. When Abraham Lincoln’s family left Kentucky in search of new pastures in Illinois, they did not ask the government for money. When more than 300,000 people rushed to California in search of gold, they were not subsidized by the government.” The reality is that we can only rely on Allah’s guidance and need to step up, take responsibility, and help each other toward prosperity and protection for the common good.

An entrepreneurial dynamism is rising and adaptability is the order. John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig, authors of Where the Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy (2013), met over 200 of America’s entrepreneurs one summer on a cross country road trip, and they found that, although not always stable, new businesses could expand employment rapidly; their policy needs are different from established, larger corporations; and that they need help, which policies could provide as nurturance to start-ups. This spirit is fueling a trend which holds much promise for economic recovery, hopefully of a sustainable sort.

Known to many fans as Baba Ali from Ummahfilms.com, Ali Ardekani loved watching Shark Tank on television, and he had gone to family and friends to fund his idea to create a boxed game product for Muslims. It was successful on a small scale, and he enjoyed meeting new people and making connections. Ultimately, he decided that he could leverage his growing popularity to help other budding entrepreneurs. And so, the California meeting was promoted through a YouTube video by Ardekani using his style of video production and ebullient personality.

On the operational side of Ardekani’s celebrated gathering was Victoria Caldwell, an international online marketing consultant and founder of Barakah Biz Network, who promoted, organized, and supported this event (http://youtu.be/MXhtogWhsX0), and who continues to do so around the country in order to help people make resourceful connections that can take their businesses to the next level. Both Ardekani and Caldwell explain that often times once businesses have a successful start, they run short of resources, both financial and experiential. It becomes imperative to have guidance and to access connectors who have the capacity to make their businesses grow in an ever changing global landscape.

What Ardekani and Caldwell cultivate comes down to a climate of trust. By providing the opportunity for people who are seriously seeking mentors, connections, and investment, they help fuel the growth of an economic shift to self-sufficiency, the type that brings true wealth building and greater employment.

Ardekani says that many people don’t know how to brand their businesses and need advice on legal aspects. They also need help with online marketing and use of media. When asked about what types of businesses usually receive funding, he explained, “Whatever makes money; ideas that are novel are not as likely.” Successful models which are already functional that need growth revenue are mostly selected for investment.

Terms of funding are not overseen by the organizers of these events, as they are privately arranged between parties, but they could provide an opportunity for Islamic financial instruments to be a guide for the design of those terms. Rather than eroding the foundations of equity through charging interest (riba), a prospect of shared ownership with shared risk can be created to cement investor support to those businesses seeking funding and mentorship.

On a larger scale, another system proposed for economic robustness is evolving from LaunchPosse. Known for his founding success at Zabihah.com, Shahed Amanullah and his Georgetown colleague, Richard Ambrose, are partnering to create a model that can leverage social networks to provide resources for knowledge, money, and even moral support. It is the reality of necessity that propelled its inception.

Amanullah explained, “From this point on, there will never be enough jobs for people. How do we as a society address this issue? Either we accept the new reality of a permanent underclass, or we try to get people to start their own businesses, to employ themselves.” He refined his vision, “From those thoughts came the initial concept of LaunchPosse, which will be a platform where ordinary people can take an idea and leverage their social network to turn it into a functioning business or social enterprise.”

Meeting the global perspective of investors and entrepreneurs of the day, Amanullah is thinking big. When asked about if there were a relative age category or demographic he is seeking to work with, he stated, “We’re hoping to launch our new venture globally—we see no distinction between new businesses here or in places like Egypt, Honduras, Uganda, or Bangladesh. We are designing LaunchPosse to appeal to any age, class, or educational background. We are tired of seeing the benefits of technology roll solely to the digital elites.”

Regarding mentors in his system, he has met quite a few through his entrepreneurial and international work with the State Department. “We’ve found the ones that really motivate you, keep you on track, make you believe in yourself are the most important stakeholders in your success. The number one thing most budding entrepreneurs lack is confidence.”

A believer that aspirations can become reality, Amanullah expounds energy and a convincing argument, “We wanted to build a platform that every day, ordinary people could use to make their dreams come true. Entrepreneurship is a right that all people should enjoy, and we intend to make a successful business catering to the 99 percent of those who are not being pursued by VC’s and incubators.”

Many people are familiar with Robert Kiyosaki’s bestseller Rich Dad, Poor Dad which references a quadrant model that suggests the way to get out of the “rat race” and achieve financial independence is through business ownership or investment. Given the current economics, these networking models may be effective strategies to maintain a decent standard of living. If we continue to slide toward increasing unemployment, we will have to adapt to preserve stability and hope to thrive. Never before have common people had such access to the world; the question is how quickly can we prepare and serve it?

So You Think You Can’t Write?

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Sue's kitchen So You Think You Can’t Write?

Yes, I started with “So.” Every day, for weeks now, I’ve been itching to write with funny thoughts, literary lines, and odd ramblings flowing from my brain. I’m the only one who gets to enjoy them.

I’ve struggled to settle on a single topic, and the possibilities range from humorous, reminiscent poetic, didactic, and even exasperated vents. Yet, I rarely sit with nothing to do, as I manage my household of 6, each day slips by without a word etched to my blog.

Want to Be Part of an Experiment? –in a few days I’ll tell you why

While starting my day with the usual morning bathroom routine (ahem), I contrived a strategy for keeping the writing skills juiced, as well as a potential method for those who think they can’t write or have writer’s block. Instead of formally composing, why not simply journal my odd observations and mental tangents to see what would be the result…?

…Looking at my face in the mirror, why do I have creases on both brow bones? I’m a side-sleeper, but should it really take 15 minutes to dissipate that evidence?!

…Why do I have grown children who leave their clothes, even after I remind them countless times, for a week on our bathroom floor (sigh)!?

…Breakfast is my favorite meal. Today, we have tea, bread, olive oil with zaatar (Greek oregano, sesame seeds, sumac), scrambled eggs, and fried sheep cheese from Palestine, which I share with my husband, Riad. Over breakfast, we review happenings on the stock market, the 60-some degree weather this morning, the fact that one of our adult children is leaving for college in one week, and the bank account. Oh, and the prospects of going to a water park, as Riad has never been initiated.

Over a robust cup of freshly ground coffee while enjoying my view from the patio, I calculate and negotiate the options for my schedule. Among them are the following:

  • Capture the chance for a morning bike ride
  • Grocery shop because it must be done today
  • Tackle the long “to do” list for developing my professional work
  • Visit a relative whose mother came recently and deliver to her my Eid gift
  • Pack a box of books from my basement and run them to the Book Rescue

As a former assistant principal, I’m trained to prioritize, constantly reevaluate and prioritize again. However, first I’ll choose to read two pages from Qur’an. It’s better than vitamins, and keeps my Arabic skills intact.

Decided. Pack a box of books, drive in a loop to the next town to drop off, after a bank deposit, and pick up groceries at 3 stores en route before returning home. I have an appointment with my Dad at a wound clinic in 2 hours. The race is on!

…On 2nd thought, the van is still a mess from the Eid weekend camping trip and needs a wash and vacuum. With Dad about 40 minutes away, who am I kidding?! Pack books, jump in van and plan to shop after Dad’s appointment.

While power washing the van to blast off the sticky residue of blackberries—or was it raccoon scat with blackberries?—I recollected the monumental blackberry tree we had in our village in the occupied West Bank. One of the nephews cleared it in order to build some market stalls on the property, which enraged the family, but that led my mind (incredible what thoughts come while washing your car for 3 minutes) to a little flashback.

I had baby #3 in Jerusalem and lived with my sister-in-law and my other two youngsters in the West Bank, while my husband went to explore business prospects in Saudi Arabia, staying with his brother for 6 months. One night, Israeli soldiers came banging on our porch door wanting to take a population survey, a sort of census. In our nighties, we covered in prayer dresses and felt vulnerable because they had rifles, but my sister-in-law stayed calm. She said that the “man of the house” was on a business trip. There was tension in the air. Even the soldier interviewing us seemed a bit uptight. Just then, my 4 year old daughter came to the door, sleepy-eyed; I spoke to her in English to go back inside the house.

The soldier asked in Arabic, “Do you have a car?” At that, my dearly clever sister-in-law covered her mouth with the hem of her headcovering and giggled, Wallah ciara, walla tiara!” (Not a car, not an airplane!). The rhyme gave ease to the situation and the soldier smiled and ended his intrusion, but the realization of potential alternative outcomes stayed with me.

Done with the bank; going to Dad’s– a 30 minute trip from here. The books are in the back of the van. I’m not planning on bringing the wheel chair. He uses a walker now, but we may opt to dose him with a bit of hydrocodone after debriding his heel and Achilles wounds. Today marks 3 months since the tumbling incident that started this.

Waiting at the Wound Clinic for the doctor, Dad came early and is ahead of schedule. After this, he wants to shop for produce; I may shoot two birds with one stone and do some of my own errands this way! His spirits are good and he said that sometimes he forgets his walker when moving about the kitchen. I can tell how active he’s been by how many sticky spots I clean off the floor each visit. Previously, I had to attend to change his bandages each day, except when his home health care nurse would come. Now, my sisters can also schedule in time using a Google Doc we share for that purpose.

The Wound Clinic doctor and main nurse are Irish-American; Dad chose to don his kelly green St. Pat’s sweatshirt. Tick Tock…even though we came twenty minutes early for our 1:00 p.m. appointment, it is 1:05…thinking of all the other things I could be doing. Surprisingly, Dad is not cantankerous yet at the delay. Perhaps he is listening to the court update on Jesse Jackson, Jr. and wife, or the chit chat between an elderly Chinese lady and her attending son, in Chinese. The world has changed a lot since he was a boy in Brighton Park, a neighborhood in Chicago.

1:10 Dad is funny. We have a new nurse today, Elizabeth, who is not Irish. He asked about Kelly, the Irish one, and mentions that he wore his sweatshirt just for her. Kelly is at lunch and may not see him today. For the millionth time over 3 months, he is asked about if he has pain, on a scale of 1-10… He looks at me and rolls his eyes at this point.

Alright, wound doc was optimistic and cited progress. That is only in millimeters, but still positive. He pulled the perimeter scabbing, hurting Dad. Better him than me doing it. Wound dressed and ready to go grocery shopping with hopes to get him back on the golf course by the end of September, if even only on the practice putting green. I had my own first foray of the year on Monday; 9 holes and wishing for more, but the short game killed me. Practice…

2:00 We are on the road again toward the produce market.

3:10 I’m running a tune-up on Dad’s computer because he complained that it was horribly slow. While waiting, knowing he has eaten nothing but a banana, coffee, and orange juice all day, I offer to make him lunch. What does he choose? Corn! “Where’s the wound healing, body building protein in that?” I ask him. We agreed he add some Greek yogurt to that order. Sugar/carb addiction runs in my genes, but fortunately we have no diabetes.

Two of my kids and a friend send texts to me about dinner, my whereabouts, and evening plans. I’d check in with Riad, but assume he is busy now.

Decide to email my siblings about Dad’s doctor visit. We will go to every other day bandaging since his drainage is decreasing. Computer is still in tune-up mode.

3:45 Done! Need to run to buy my Halal chicken and specialty items from the Mediterranean Market close to home and get cooking. Checked in with Riad; business was good today. Whew!

Remembering the books in the back of the van and the folding chairs we packed to see Perseid meteorites a couple days ago by our relatives in the boondocks, exurbs of Chicago.

4:05 Very sleepy, I have 2 more miles till the next tollway exit.

Yay! The Book Rescue was still open to take my donation. Next, I’m going to the health food store to buy some Redmond (UT) salt and coconut oil, then to the Mediterranean Market.

Upon exiting the health food store, I saw a man I recognized as a parent from my former school. “Assalamu alaikum,”  he greeted me kindly. It’s nice to see people in my town that recognize each other. We have a rather large population of Muslims of diverse backgrounds. This man I recalled worked at McDonald’s headquarters nearby.

If you’ve been following this blog, you might ask, “What happened to California?” Well, we would still love to relocate, but the reality is that 3 kids in college and their still unstable, dependent statuses have us pigeonholed here awhile. We also have a teenager who has decent friends, and is still at an impressionable age. It is sensible to keep that support for him. Truth be known, there are many positive aspects to living near Chicago, but I do take exception to the weather, especially the long cold season that inhibits our love of doing things outdoors. For now, if we can afford to escape a few times during that long spell, I would be satisfied. However, I do hold visions of relocating in the future when parental obligations lighten.

Also, this past Ramadan, a segment of my community started a new mosque. Lacking a building for worship though, they contracted the local high school gym during the month long evening Taraweeh prayers and hired a wonderful reciter (Qari) of the Qur’an. There, I saw many former students and teachers that just made me feel wonderful to be in their company. Even a former teacher is First Violin of the DuPage Symphony Orchestra; she was so kind to offer me tickets to their October Tchaikovsy concert. I have invited my nephew, a young cellist, to join me, and I am so much looking forward to that!

At the Mediterranean Market, I saw another lady who referred me to her brother-in-law in Ohio. He was my expert consultant on an article I wrote about keeping fit in Ramadan last year. I noticed through Facebook that he has been having some health issues requiring surgeries, so we had a chance to catch up and I learned more details on his struggles.

I thought about squeezing in a bike ride as I drove home, but Riad greeted me and did not feel like biking. Quickly, I pray the last few minutes possible for Thuhr, the mid-day prayer, and also catch the starting time for Asr, the mid-afternoon prayer. Finding the best way to acquire good habits is to tag on to existing habits, I do 15 push-ups and 30 squats for exercise. We have yet to return to the gym schedule after Ramadan.

Throw the folding chairs from the van into the garage and replace 3 broken slabs of jalousie glass panes before making dinner.

5:00 Time to Cook!

Cooking time usually is when my kids know that they can get my ear when I’m in the kitchen. I really don’t love cooking, to tell the truth, but sometimes I can get into it. During Ramadan, it was not unusual to be stuck there for 5 hours at a time, but my family is spoiled to an extent. The kids generally don’t eat breakfast, but they do want a hearty dinner. That is where I put effort and often about 3 hours of my day, but I have plans for 7:00 p.m. so I have to rush.

Why did the recipe state that 3-4 minutes on each side would brown chicken thighs?! It took 30 minutes! I had Moroccan Chicken Stew (magazine recipe) and a steamed kale, turkey bacon, and apple combo as a side dish. Sure enough, two of my sons take time to brief me on their day while I cook, and one acquiesced to take the picture of me cooking for a new Facebook profile pic.

Wolfing down dinner, it is 6:50 and I have to race to mid-town to see my friend, Yvonne of My Halal Kitchen, present at 7:00 at our local library. My daughter, her friend, and fiancé will attend too.

“Ramadan Food Rituals: 30 Nights of Foods That Nourish”

Presented by Yvonne Maffei, she outlined the basics of Islam, the wide array of Muslims representing many cultures and nations, aspects of the lunar month of Ramadan, understandings of Halal and Tayeb (Wholesomeness), fasting rituals in a typical day, the growth of fusion cuisine in America, Eid traditions, and my favorite…dessert demo: Stuffed Dates with Crème Fraish!

Back Home Again and Still Crankin’

9:00 Home again after Yvonne’s presentation, and I have to perform the sunset prayer. The kitchen needs post-dinner clean up, since I ran out the door with my husband still eating.

9:45 It’s time for a 4 mile walk with Riad, whereby we talk and listen to background tunes on Pandora via our phones.

11:00 Back from our walk; one of my sisters calls with news of a conference she recently attended for promotional products professionals, and we trade opinions on Dad’s care. I’m snacking on grape tomatoes and Gouda cheese. My eldest son comes home from a camping and fishing trip, and he debriefs with me by the kitchen table.

12:15 Time to pray, shower, and then my daughter visits us in the bedroom to re-cap on Yvonne’s presentation and how pictures of samosas inspired her and her fiancé to go to an Indian restaurant for late dinner. I’m really tired, but now everyone has touched base with “Mom” and one kid is still out running a nighttime neighborhood blitz type of game with friends. I decide to finally check in on Facebook, as I’d not had a chance to do so yet in the day.

12:50 My last kid is in and I’m signing off with plans to be up at 4:00 for my thyroid medicine, 5:00 for fajr, the dawn prayer, and start a new day by 8:30. Love the summer schedule!

—Next day—

There never was time to write a formal blog, per se, but time to write throughout the day. Somehow it gave me relief to purge out the extension I wished to make and document what seems like a crazed existence, but a happy one. Would you consider this a valid exercise for getting students/writers to express themselves and practice editing? 

Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

Quran Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

School’s out, but there are plenty of opportunities for learning. With Ramadan coinciding with summer break, I have plenty of thoughts toward trying out some new things. After all, life-long learning is what it is all about, and these ideas are not just for kids.

Cooking

Why not begin with expanding culinary skills? The reality of Ramadan is that we do spend a lot of time thinking about food, cooking extra special feasts, and breaking our very long fasts with family and friends. To inspire you, Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen has published Summer Ramadan Cooking. She hails from a Sicilian and Puerto Rican parentage; and she has such fondness for many cuisines that her cookbook features many traditional and fusion dishes. Yvonne is very much in demand as a blogger, is often interviewed by the media, teaches cooking classes, and is an advocate of a Halal lifestyle. She is also a talented food photographer, and you will enjoy drooling over her pictures even if you don’t lift a spoon!

Quran
In Ramadan, we don’t merely dwell on food, we also seek to improve our knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and the Arabic language. The Qur’an is recited each of the 29-30 days of Ramadan, and hearing a beautiful recitation is one of the best aspects of the month. We usually finish our sunset meal, known as iftar, and quickly clean up the kitchen to ready ourselves for the evening and night prayers, isha and taraweeh. Taraweeh involves reciting 1/30th of the Qur’an each night, and it recharges one’s spirit, commitment, and relationship to Allah. However, I can attest that the benefits of Ramadan are proportional to the efforts one applies to it, and we all could use some supportive reminders to use time well because the holy month features bonuses not received at other times.

The Prophet Mohammad said, “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it, and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif Lam Meem is (considered) a letter, rather, Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” [At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi]

In Ramadan, good deeds are multiplied by 70 or more. The Prophet said, “Whoever draws near to Allah during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times.” [Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, no. 1877]

While for non-native Arabic speakers, the task of reading the Qur’an in Arabic is a significant challenge, take heart. Aisha, who was the youngest wife and frequent transmitter of testimony about the Prophet’s daily life, quoted him, “Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] –Nice to know that I’ll get a generous recompense for my efforts!

Collaboration

Although the mainstay identifier of Ramadan is the fasting, it should be acknowledged that relationships are a priority to reflect upon and improve. Tahera Ahmad, another wonderful soul I have had the pleasure of knowing, wrote about the importance of Relationships to Ramadan, and I was very pleased when the deeper essence of Ramadan and our understanding of it came up in conversation within my home.

My daughter has a friend who recently took a break from college to complete a ten month program in Texas at Bayyinah Institute, and she gained great insights from the esteemed founder Nouman Ali Khan. The girls’ discussions and subsequent study of online resources produced by him evolved in an initial gathering of moms and their kids to open a number of topics related to being Muslim in America, wearing hijab, studying the Qur’an, nuances of the Arabic language, and we hope to continue these meetings with husbands included. We’ll see how it goes; but it occurred to me that this type of gathering, featuring multiple generations and perspectives, may also provide a venue to transmit oral histories and wisdom to be passed to our progeny. It is said that the Devil is locked away in Ramadan, and I hope topics can be discussed with mutual respect, devoid of discord.

Technology & Arts

With these unstructured days of summer, it is my hope that we can all explore some new applications of technology. Whether we are teachers, students, or just casual dabblers in nascent apps, there could be no loss in acquiring practice in something new. This video presents possibilities and features links to further resources.

On a concluding note, it has been nearly two months since my father fell in his yard, and although he has suffered and continues to convalesce at home with me and my siblings rotating constant supervision, our relationships have greatly improved and I have treasured the fortification of our family bonds.

Thoughts of death, and preparation for the eventual absence of my life, have helped the depth of my worship (ibadah) and connection to Allah. I am reminded of my responsibility to prepare myself and those around me for the inevitable journey, and I greatly appreciate the time, people, and experiences that have been gifted to me. I am optimistic that soon my father and children will be able to be more independent by the end of this summer, and I have many things I wish to pursue with a renewed sense of mission and energy. This time of reflection, course correction, salutations from distant souls, and chance to gain exponential good deeds (barakat) and warm memories with those close to me is precious.

Every dua’a that is good is answered, they say, and I have known it to be true. Ramadan Mubarak!

Halal United with the IFANCA International Halal Food Conference

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Food bridges diverse cultures effectively, and it forged bonding at the International Halal Food Conference, hosted by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) April 6-8 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. The event brought a multinational array of corporations; among them were Abbott Nutrition; The Coca-Cola Company; Amway-Nutrilite division; Wrigley-subsidiary of Mars; PepsiCo; Cargill; American Halal Company; Organic Valley; McDonald’s Corporation, and others  lesser known to the public but that have products used by other companies in their formulations.

Several dignitaries from the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and food scientists, export agency representatives, entrepreneurs, and consultants, from the U.S., Canada, U.K., Belgium, Switzerland, Kuwait, U.A. E., Pakistan and India rounded out the program.

The theme of Unity was iterated by several presenters who acknowledged that the former stance of protectionism and competition needs to be cast away in exchange for transparency, mutual support and cooperation. Attending the IFANCA conference were other Halal certifying agencies, and ISNA’s Ahmed El-Hattab called for a unification of Standards and formation of an ISNA Accreditation Board.

IFANCA’s founder and president, Dr. M. Munir Chaudry, stated the objectives of the gathering included import/export requirements; introducing Halal entrepreneurship opportunities; presentations on animal welfare; and advice of food safety and security. Naming brands of their certified products, Cabot Cheese; Baskin Robbins; and Tom’s of Maine, he expressed that although there are 8 million Muslims in the U.S. and 1 million in Canada they are not visible, even though they represent $18 billion in purchasing power.

Adnan Durrani, Chief Halal Officer of American Halal Company, and spokesperson for the hugely successful Saffron Road presented a video with grocery industry magnate Errol Schweizer, senior global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market, who sees “Saffron Road is the fastest growing brand in the frozen category.”

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT) president, Ann Daw, noted in the video that “Halal should be a mainstream concept.” Durrani explained that “70% of our [Saffron Road] customers are not even Muslim.” He has consistently presented Halal as an aspect of Ethical Consumerism, and further explains “It’s about how we conduct our business…how we conduct ourselves in the world.”

Of the $8-9 billion in Kosher food sales, nearly $3.5 is bought by Muslims, and in Whole Foods supermarkets the Saffron Road line is first in frozen entrée sales. Within the larger sphere of grocery stores, the brand is 6th as it enjoys 250% growth. Success has been achieved through synchronized social media with print, online, retail merchandising, and extending to the blogger community.

In the realm of Halal foods, 35% of sales are processed foods and 10% in meats, according to Mian Riaz, PhD., director of food and protein at Texas A&M University. He stated that this is not a niche market anymore, and that 1.5 billion people eat ritually butchered food each day.

Abdalhamid Evans, founder and senior analyst of Imarat Consultants, further defined the scope of the Halal industries as finding shared values beyond religion. “They see Halal as lawful, safe, nutritious, healthy, humane, demonstrating awareness, and equitable,” Evans declared. “These values have commercial worth, and are described as eco-ethical and moral.”

Evans, a global Halal expert knows, “Halal has different connotations in different parts of the world. There are very nuanced contexts that corporations need to be aware of. Certification as a ‘cottage industry’ is going to end. Halal is big business and on the verge of becoming irrevocably sophisticated and complex. Certification is going through changes. Industry is looking for clear standards so there is a checks and balance. They want to see an accreditation industry with transparency.”

A new development is the application of the term to the Finance industry. Evans explained, “What Islamic Finance needs to do is get more involved in the real economy.” His message was that investment and financing should not be sought for gain, but more for building the strength, education, and solid economic stability for all. Halal then becomes an asset class with indexed funds, venture capital, and micro finance.

Emphasizing the need for unity, Hani Al-Mazeedi, Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research, expert in Halal quality, safety, and services, cited that the initial standards will be guidelines. Mark Overland, director of global certification at Cargill, Inc.— IFANCA’s Company of the Year—mentioned that his company has about 200 Halal certified plants out of their 800, based on consumer demand. None are in the U.S. His view is “We should recognize what consumers want, and then deliver that with integrity,” and he has echoed the sentiment for unity by advocating a council.

Underscoring many speakers was the impression that business people, researchers, and religious scholars often have no concept of the realities of each other’s constraints. The current challenge is to establish trusting relationships, communication with good will, and efforts to find equitable solutions.

Susan Labadi is project coordinator of the American Halal Association, president of Genius School, Inc.~A Professional Development Company, consultant for the ISNA Education Forum, and VP of ActionNet Trade, Inc.

Halal Fests Making a Wave in America!

Halal Food Tour Realizing the potential of Halal foodies at their community’s Halal Food Festival, co-founders of the popular web show Sameer’s Eats, Sameer S. Sarmast and Saad Malik, were blown away when the anticipated 1000 attendees swelled to a wave of 4000! Last August’s festival was planned with the local New Jersey Muslim Youth Community Center (www.myccnj.org), and Malik reported that most vendors even ran out of food. Mesmerized by the diverse crowd, Malik turned to his partner and said, “Dude, this is mind boggling. We need to take this on the road.”

Stoked by inspiration, Sarmast confirmed, “We saw that great Halal food brings people together no matter their race, religion, or professional background. This year we’ve decided to spread Halal food across America. We’re putting on five big events in five cities. We look forward to working with local organizations in each city to help their initiatives and more.”

The Halal Food Tour (www.halalfoodtour.com) has them partnered with Yvonne Maffei, the personable and effervescent publisher, cookbook author, and blogger of My Halal Kitchen (www.myhalalkitchen.com). The five city tour will kick off with Los Angeles on April 13th; then to New York in June, Washington DC in August, Chicago in October, and finally to Houston in December.

Besides appearances by Maffei, several other celebrities have signed on to appear at some of the venues. Mo Sabri, singer and lyricist; Preacher Moss, the thought provoking writer and founder of “Allah Made Me Funny” Muslim Comedy Tour; Aman Ali, reporter, storyteller, and co-creator of “30 Mosques in 30 Days;” and Omar Regan, who is best known for his acting and comedy talent. This creative production team is seeking many more popular Muslim personalities and businesses in each city that represent the diverse American Muslim landscape. The ticketed events are expected to bring much publicity to the nascent Halal Movement in America.

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Also inspired by the huge attendance of the New Jersey festival, Irfan Rydhan, the Event Director of Jam-Productions is collaborating in partnership with Atif Qureshi of Zabihah.com ( the world’s largest guide to Halal Restaurants and Products) and Javed Ali, founder of ILLUME Media (www.illumemagazine.com) to produce “California’s First Halal Food & Eid Festival” aka “Halal Fest” (www.HalalFest.com) for August 17th in the main parking lot of NewPark Mall in Newark, CA.

The event is open to the public and is scheduled approximately 1 week after Eid ul-Fitr. Rydhan stated that their intent is to cultivate awareness of delicious Halal food, promote Muslim businesses, and express diversity and cultures in an atmosphere of fun for the whole family with children’s air jumpers, super slide, and merry-go-round. Halal Fest will feature Halal food trucks, restaurant booths, and a large bazaar with approximately 30 vendors selling a variety of clothing, jewelry, arts & crafts, books, and other novelties.

Nationally recognized Chef Jimmy Sujanto of Padi Restaurant in Berkeley, CA that features Indonesian Halal dishes, will be there to conduct a Live Cooking Demonstration. Representing a variety of cuisines, arrangements have been made for Indo-Pakistani , Middle Eastern, African-American Soul Food, and Indian-American Fusion as well as the standard food festival fare of burgers, fried chicken and pizza – all Halal of course. Surely, it should entice everyone to explore some new flavors and bridge cultural gaps to familiarize neighboring communities with Halal food from Northern California.

For the adventurous set, the multi-talented partners have signed on a live skateboarding demonstration by professional American Muslim skateboarder Jordan Richter (read his story here: http://www.illumemagazine.com/zine/articleDetail.php?Wayward-Son-The-Jordan-Richter-Story-13769), and other activities for the whole family to enjoy are in the works.

Will this be the year for Americans to really catch the wave? Don’t miss it; sign up if you are a Halal enterprise or vendor. These events are likely to be the start of something big for Americans who really love food, and who doesn’t appreciate great Halal, healthful delights that appeal?