Qurtuba Publishing House: Changing the Western Muslim NarrativeWritten by Muslim Link
Muslim Link had an opportunity to interview Ilhan Ibrahim, who, along with her two sisters Hodan Ibrahim and Ayan Ibrahim, have co-founded Qurtuba Publishing House.
1. Tell us about yourself
My name is Ilhan Ibrahim and I am a 20 year old Somali-Canadian born and raised here in Ottawa. I am currently a 4th year student at the University of Ottawa completing my undergraduate degree in Nursing. I am also the co-founder and CEO of Qurtuba Publishing House.
Hodan Ibrahim is a 25 year old social entrepreneur, author, and publisher who specializes in capacity development for emerging businesses. Her passion lies in helping develop the next generation of social change makers and entrepreneurs by cultivating eco-systems to help them thrive. She is the co-founder and Marketing Manager of Qurtuba Publishing House.
Ayan Ibrahim is a 23 year old writer, aspiring photographer, and registered nurse. Her writings focus mainly on cultural/social, political and global health issues. As a fitness enthusiast and 1st Degree Black-belt in Taekwondo, she aims to cultivate a new generation of health-conscious Muslims through health education and fitness motivation. She is the cofounder and Managing Editor of Qurtuba Publishing House.
2. How did you come up with the idea for Qurtuba Publishing House?
It’s an interesting story. It was about a year before the idea for Qurtuba Publishing House arose, I attended an event run by two wonderful ladies called “Owning Our History”. This event was a panel discussion dedicated to inspire young Muslim woman to pursue positive changes in themselves and their communities. At the end of the event, they gave everyone a piece of paper, and asked us to write one goal that we promise to accomplish within one month’s time. I remember writing “Start changing our narrative”-and by ‘our’ I meant the Muslim narrative. The reason I mention this event is to acknowledge that such initiatives can have a lasting impact on its attendees, especially its younger audience. I cannot say what it was exactly that sparked a passion to work in media that night, however this goes to show that the power and influence of such events should not be underestimated.
My sisters and I have always had a passion to serve and support social growth and productivity in Muslim communities. As Muslims, we are facing challenging times. All over the globe, Muslims are suffering from social polarization, economic decline, and political turmoil. Mainstream media has immensely contributed to the negative portrayal of Muslims, creating a narrative that is neither factual nor representative of the global Muslim community. These challenges are increasing daily, and it is becoming exceedingly difficult for Muslims to reconcile what Islam teaches and the dynamic context of our world today. As any Muslim, we felt that we had a social and religious obligation to counter these growing challenges.
One night, we were discussing how awesome it would be to have an accessible resource for Muslims that focused on discussing relevant issues that Western Muslims are facing. Although there are many resources for Muslims out there, we felt there was a void between the acquisition of knowledge and implementation of knowledge in Muslim communities. We thought about creating a platform for Muslims that not only produced insightful publications, but to provide Muslims with practical tools to be able to develop solutions to the various issues Muslims are faced with. Ideas started blooming as we let our imagination run wild. We spent the rest of our night brainstorming and building upon this new idea, and by the end of the night, Qurtuba Publishing House was born.
3. Why did you choose the name Qurtuba?
We were truly inspired by what is known as the “Golden Age” of Islamic history, particularly the city of Cordoba ( also known as Qurtuba in Arabic). Qurtuba was a city distinguished for its cultural diversity and technological advances, as well as some of the most outstanding and paramount accomplishments in scholarship. This city was described as the ornament of the world because of its architecture, paved roads and streetlights. What truly inspired us to name our publishing Qurtuba was the fact that Qurtuba was titled the most tolerant and cultivated society of its time, which allowed for the exchange of knowledge and religious diversity. It was the scholars, thinkers and creatives of this beautiful city that created a timeless representation of how Muslims can leave a significant and innovative impact in their communities. Qurtuba wishes to carry on this legacy and create knowledge-sharing platforms to support social growth and productivity in Muslim communities.
4. Tell us about your publication "Guide to Entrepreneurship & Business in Islam"
Both in Canada and the U.S., unemployment rates for post-secondary graduate students has been on the rise since the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis. More and more students are having to face the reality of unemployment upon graduating. In fact, in a report by Statistics Canada, one of the leading causes of students returning to school to pursue higher education is due to the difficulties they faced in seeking employment, which in turn increases their student debt load. This is a perpetual cycle that many students feel trapped in. Unfortunately, the conventional system does not provide students with feasible alternatives.
When we look into Islamic traditions, we see that entrepreneurship was an established practice of Muslim civilization dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Not only did entrepreneurship create social stability, but it also provided economic resilience and self-sufficiency for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In fact, our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) hailed from a line of independent businessmen. Unfortunately, the Islamic roots of entrepreneurship have been long forgotten by Muslims for some time. This book, A Guide to Business and Entrepreneurship in Islam, wishes to resurrect this core foundation of Islamic economics and illustrates how entrepreneurship can be integrated as a solution and an alternative course for the contemporary Muslim.
5. Tell us about the inspiration behind "A Guide To Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents". What feedback have you received from readers...and your own parents?
My sisters and I are first generation immigrant children. Our parents migrated to Canada in 1990 in hopes of starting a new life. Like many first generation immigrant children, it was a daily struggle balancing our traditional upbringing and our Western values. Coming from a Somali background, I can say that Somalis from the Diaspora have faced immense social, financial and spiritual challenges. Many of us were expected to pursue careers in engineering or medicine. Undoubtedly, our parents came from a life of struggle and sacrificed everything to provide us with a better life than they had. To them we should show our utmost gratitude and respect, and we ask Allah (swt) to preserve them. However, there is a struggle that often goes unnoticed in our communities. This struggle is an intergenerational conflict between parents and their children that is rooted in misunderstanding and differences in cultural mindsets. This book, “A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents”, provides a simple and practical solution to ending intergenerational conflict. The solution provided may come to surprise many readers. We hope that this book will encourage young first generation immigrant Muslims to aspire to forge a path in life that does not compromise their relationship with their parents, rather strengthen their relationship and create a foundation of mutual understanding and love.
Alhamdulillah, since the launch of Qurtuba Publishing House, we have been receiving a lot of support from friends and family. Our mother has been the foundation of our support. She is a very open-minded woman who is very in tune with the struggles young Muslims, Somalis in particular, are facing. Though this is a topic that is almost considered taboo in some communities, we have received a lot of positive feedback from readers who feel that the book relates to them and provided a solution for them as well.
6. Tell us about your call out for Authors. What type of book ideas are you looking for?
Qurtuba Publishing House wants to be more than a publishing house. We want to bring to the forefront knowledge-sharing platforms on issues that are pertinent to the needs of the contemporary Muslim. By producing accessible and cutting-edge publications on relevant issues to Muslims today, we want to tackle important issues that are often not represented or untapped by our communities. In order for us to be more than a publishing house, we need to do more than publish books. Qurtuba wants to have discussions and create spaces for Muslims to not just gain knowledge, but use that information in a constructive and productive way. Knowledge is rendered fruitless without practicality, feasibility, and most importantly, accessibility. When knowledge becomes accessible to Muslims, our communities become innovative, our youth become leaders, and we are able to contemporize Islamic perspectives into our current reality. That is the vision and spirit of Qurtuba Publishing House.
We recently made a post calling for authors to contribute to our blog. As mentioned, we want to discuss relevant issues, share ideas, and inspire leadership in Muslims. In order to meet this goal, we wanted to create platforms online through blog posts, articles, and online discussions. Alhamdulillah, we are also planning to create live events through workshops and seminars in the coming months. All these platforms are designed to equip Muslims with the tools and skills necessary to address current challenges and counter the growing challenges of being a Muslim our world today.
Many of the book ideas that we have currently produced and are in the process of being produced are topics that Muslims today can relate to on a personal and communal level. For instance, another book we have published is a guide to entrepreneurship for the Muslim woman. Currently, one of our authors is working on a book titled “The Health Conscious Muslim: A Muslim Woman’s Journey of Navigating the World of Health and Fitness” as a means of engaging Muslims to become more health conscious and make positive lifestyle changes inspired by the Qur’an and Sunnah.
7. What have been the lessons learned so far from starting your own publishing house?
Our team has been working tirelessly on developing Qurtuba Publishing House for the past 6 months or so. The most valuable lesson that I have learned so far would be that in order for us as Muslims to witness the change that we wish to see in our communities, we must make a lot of sacrifices along the way. Our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a testament to the power of sacrifice and dedication. Whether it was pulling late hours into the night in order to meet editorial deadlines, or balancing personal commitments and work, our team had to sacrifice a lot of our time and energy for the sake of growing an initiative that we hope would someday play a role in shifting the Muslim narrative. Despite the challenges, we’ve pushed through for the sake of Allah (swt) and for the sake of serving our global Muslim community.
I’ve also learned that we all have the potential to influence and shape the Muslim narrative from a biased and narrow perspective to an accurate portrayal of Islam and Muslims, but we may lack the motivation or direction to do so. Everyone is capable of supporting growth in the Muslim community in their own unique way. I truly believe no action with a pure intention is insignificant, despite how small or big it may be. Insha’Allah, we hope Qurtuba Publishing House may also be a source of inspiration for Muslims to find the motivation and passion in themselves to be productive members in our community.
8. What lessons have you learned about working with family members which you would like to share with other entrepreneurs who work with family members?
Working with your family has its ups and downs. Alhamdulillah, all three of us have always been very close with one another for as long as I can remember. We see each other as sisters, but also as best friends. Working with family members can either be one of the best decisions that you make, or a decision you may regret. Without a doubt, the success of your organization or project is dependent upon they type of relationship you have with your family. If you have an open and honest relationship with family members, then there is definitely a better chance of succeeding. However, if you have a less-than honest relationship with family members, or you feel that there is a distance between you and that family member, then the chances may not be in your favour. I am not at all saying that it is impossible. However, an open, honest and supportive relationship is key to your success. I would advise anyone who wishes to work with family members that your greatest asset in developing a strong partnership and foundation is patience and understanding. If you choose to work with family members, it definitely brings you closer together. You share moments of success, and moments of disappointment. Whether it's good or bad, you will learn things about your family that you did not know before. Through patience and understanding each other, it lays the foundation for a strong and long-lasting partnership.
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