The rise and rise of the UK’s Muslim Mumpreneurs

I was repulsed and insulted by the patriarchal comment and many have expressed their dismay on social media, calling out the 73-year-old president. Aisha Muhammadu Buhari does not ‘belong in the kitchen’. And no woman deserves to be addressed that way.

In spite of this, it is still a fact that many women are still forced to decide whether they want to be a mother or a working woman. But thankfully, increasing numbers of women, including Muslim women, continue to push these boundaries, proving that it is possible to be both, successfully.

Illustrating this trend beautifully is the Muslim Lifestyle Expo (MLE) 2016, hosted by Manchester’s EventCity from 29-30 October 2016. It is the UK’s biggest showcase of the trillion-dollar global Muslim consumer industry, where at least 60% of the 130 exhibitors are female, from more than 20 countries, including the USA, Qatar, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Russia, Turkey, France, Austria, Germany and the UAE will be present.

“It is refreshing to see how these mumpreneurs are shattering the myth that Muslim women are held back and oppressed,”

said Tahir Mirza, the founder of MLE, an organization that aims to “offer Muslim female entrepreneurs the platform and confidence to showcase their products, network and connect with the wider business world.” His wife, Shabana, has been an integral part of the pioneering Expo since its inception in 2013. Through her involvement, the Aylesbury-bred start up moved into international markets, delivered two international class events and won an award for their inaugural 2015 event. “When I mentioned the idea of MLE to Tahir, I never thought it would be this successful,” the mother of two said, adding that she “enjoyed it, learned a great deal and seen first-hand the key role women are playing in Muslim businesses.”

MLE will also feature a live Modest fashion show with leading brands, a dedicated health and kids zone and a live food demo theatre (starring Great British Bake Off’s Ali Imdad). Comedy by British Muslim comedians (like Aatif Nawaz) and BBC Three’s “Guzzy Bear” and performances by renowned artist, Khāled Siddīq, have also been scheduled to be among the weekend’s festivities.

But at the heart of the Expo are the businesses. Business has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated world. However, the UK is currently experiencing a shift in a niche area of the entrepreneurial world.

Say hello to a rising crop of female Muslim mumpreneurs who are shattering stereotypes and inspiring confidence in fellow women to start new businesses.

ibraheem-toy-house-nazia-nasreen

In 2014, Nazia Nasreen, a mother of two, founded Ibraheem Toy House – the UK’s first online Islamic toy store – in Birmingham. In just two years, the number of products it offers grew from four to more than 200 from 30 different suppliers (around the world), selling educational toys and books, Hijabs and colourful prayer mats. “I wanted to teach Islam in a fun way to my children and there was nothing available,” Nazia said. “The idea for the business just came from there and even though it was daunting, the support of family and friends pushed me to do it.” She’s currently working on designing her own products and has plans of further expansion. Nazia advises everyone with an idea for which they’ve conducted research to “just go with it.”

the-mocktail-company

Another mumpreneur who will be showcasing at the seminars is Shahin Hussain. She began her non-alcoholic mocktail enterprise, The Mocktail Company, only three months ago in Watford, UK. It’s no secret that Muslims aren’t allowed to drink alcohol and so our varieties of beverages are always restricted to (sometimes even unfresh) fruit juices, unhealthy sodas and water. “We wanted a premium drink that would be a viable alternative to drinks such as J20, Appetiser and Schloer,” she explained. In a few weeks, they’d launched the non-alcoholic Mojito, Nojito and the consumer response had been promising; it sold 19,000 bottles and is stocked in over 50 outlets. “I have two small children, so it does get difficult to juggle everything, but I’ve managed so far and I’m looking forward to promoting the Nojito at MLE next week,” Sabiha said. By the end of the year, The Mocktail Company hopes to launch two new flavours including a Strawberry-daiquiri inspired mocktail, “The Strawberry Mockiri.”

sabah-nazir-islamic-moments

It is estimated that women currently form up to 50 percent of start-ups from the Muslim community, with this figure set to rise. Also falling into this group is Sabah Nazir. Having been in business for seven years with a small portfolio of 60 mainstream greeting cards, Sabah Nazir, founder of Islamic greeting cards, “Islamic Moments”, redesigned all her products in 2011. “I was determined to create a platform where we became an aspirational lifestyle brand for young Muslim consumers to meet their lifestyle and aspirations in accordance to their faith,” she said. She now has more than 300 Islamic design-led products from greeting cards to notebooks, Eid bunting, banners and balloons, colouring sets, pencil cases, totes bags, mugs to art prints. Sarah – a mother to four – has around 300 “Islamic Moments” stores selling in over 20 countries worldwide.

These women – as well as several others who’ll be presenting at the Expo are reminders that women don’t ‘belong’ in kitchens (and living rooms and the other rooms). They remind us that, sometimes, we need to leave our comfort zones in order to find ourselves and where our hearts belong.

This piece was first published by Melanmag.com on October 27th, 2016.
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