After World War II in 1947, there was a division of British ruled lands into India and Pakistan. Many Muslim families started migrating to Pakistan. Br. Arif’s dad was one of these immigrants. When he came to Pakistan he almost had nothing but a suitcase of books. In other words, he had to start from scratch in a new land. He loved books and the books helped him to rediscover himself again as one of the leading book publishers after many years in Pakistan.
In 1980, there was a change in the air. This time it was a “computer revolution”. His dad bought a computer to learn the new possibilities and what it may mean for his book publishing business. For br. Arif and his brothers, the computer was a new toy where they can play games. The boys soon started learning more about coding to develop their own games.
This sense of curiosity led br. Arif to dive deep into computer programming. Today his company PAK Data is among the pioneers for the Global Muslim market with apps as Quran Majeed and other Islamic apps with over 40 million app installs worldwide. Listen to the full episode to discover how br. Arif started his journey.
Serving to community… is also self learning.–Arif Hisam
Quran Majeed App
PAK Data Website
Maruf: Hey, Assalamualaikum! This is your host Maruf. Welcome to the show Muslims On Fire. Today, I have a brother from Pakistan, brother Arif. He is one of the pioneers who once came to developing Islamic apps for Ummah. You may not know him personally. But I’m sure that you may have definitely use his apps like Quran Majeed, Quran Explorer. Before that we should start from here. Assalamualaikum, brother Arif! And welcome to the show.
Arif: Walaikum Assalam Rahmatullah!
Maruf: How are you, brother?
Arif: Thanks for inviting me in this show.
Maruf: It’s our pleasure to invite you and to learn from you that you are one of the pioneers from the space. You know we’ll dive down into your childhood. What makes you tech? And how you became the person that you are today? With your permission, we’ll dive into your childhood and we’ll start your first question. Are you ready?
Arif: Yeah! Please.
Maruf: Okay, Bismillah! One of the questions that we ask in this show is when you look back, you know? Alhamdulillah, today you have company. You are doing a great job for the Muslims and developing Islamic apps. But the purpose of this show is to get to know the back story, right?
So we’ll go back to your childhood. What made your character, your habits? So, what kind of childhood memories you remember? What kind of things you would say that shaped you that who you are from your childhood? Was it your family or community or something else? Can you tell us more about this?
Arif: Yeah, sure. I can say that from my school days in high school. When I was in class 9 as the schooling system in Pakistan here. It was my father who was very inspired by PCS in 1983. And my elder brother who was also working with petroleum.
He was a petroleum engineer and working with some company and they were using computers. He advised my father to get the computer home so that we kids could learn. So back in 1983 my father purchased a commodore 64.
Maruf: So that’s exactly what I was going to ask. In those days, you didn’t have PCS like we have today. So it was Commodore right? Just tell us your first experience with a computer.
Arif: Yeah, it was very amazing because I was 14 or 15 years old and looked at the computer for the first time. There was no PCS and no these type of thing in this small city here in Karachi. So at that time, it was really amazing and we used to wander that howl these game characters were playing.
And I thought that it was some kind of a mechanical machine, you know, that some strings were attached and you were moving the cursor keys and directives were. So eventually, Alhamdulillah, their passion was born to create some games and back in there.
In that time, we had some network and magazines. They also offered some programming tips. So I had to engage with those reading steps and programming. So I learned Assembly Language for the commodore 64.
Maruf: I see.
Arif: You go and try to develop some games and…
Maruf: Here’s a question, but I reflect. So I just want to understand you were 14 years old, right? So your father bought you a computer based on a suggestion by your bigger brother. And so this is a commodore. I can’t remember the name.
But so I just want to understand. So he that your father brought the computer home and says okay son. Here you go. Just go play go crazy. But how did it work? I just want to know that the atmosphere of family atmosphere. What was it? How was it?
Arif: Yeah. It was my brother. He was also there and which was suggested in purchasing this computer. So he got some software and some games and he installed the system. And they were all looking at it, what was going on?
Then something guided us and then this thing worked. So it was like the first time when you open the Commodore 64 computer. It takes you to the prompt window and you can type some commands. That’s it.
Maruf: It’s like a terminal right? Like you have to type. There’s no user interface.
Maruf: But you guys figure out how to go to the games, didn’t you?
Arif: Yeah. I know how that happened. But somehow we learnt from the magazines that you could do programming but some basic language compiler, machine language compiler and we started developing some you know, this small softwares. So we were really amazed at. And it was performing to our commands. The computer was performing.
Maruf: Listening to your orders, right? Doing what you wanted. I mean, here’s the thing. You see I have three kids Alhamdulillah and so, you know, this is you notice that the kids that they have so many games in their disposal and my son plays some of the, I think Roblox DP and a lot of computer games. I just want to understand you see so what you want what I hear is that okay?
We figured the game, but After you guys were reading magazines trying. Just how to hack this thing. So I just want to understand the transition from consumer from playing the game to be a producer from being a ,you know, to make the games. I just wanted to understand this transition. When did it happen and why did it happen? What would you say to that?
Arif: Well because it was just that we were trying to learn the computer.
Maruf: I see
Arif: And you were playing games. So the best thing that we came to our mind and to build some kind of small game. That’s why we were interested in playing games only at that time. Our father and my brother were working on some word processing software on commodore 64.
I can’t remember the name of that word processor right now. But he used to work on that word processor. And this computer was available to us. We used to play games and.
Maruf: It’s funny. As a 14 years old, your first thing starts. And not to play games to have fun, but then It evolved. Maybe there was some, not many games. You just wanted you guys to do make your own gate. How does it all started? Is it right?
Arif: Yeah, you can say that.
Maruf: So did you may end up making any game at all?
Arif: It was just a baseball game. We were able to build it. But it was not like the game that we were used to playing. So it was not that much better.
Maruf: I see. Okay, so it sounds good. So your first computer was born at the age of 14.
Just walk us through, was it something like you saw them you were immersed in this machine that you could give commands and they could take your commands or order?. So what? Like did you? I just want to know that? I understand you were in love with the computer and doing all the stuff. So what happened with your studies that mean after finishing school. Did you pursue to study this computer more? So you went for IT. What happened there? I just want to know that you know transition?
Arif: Yeah, at that time there was not the IT computing studies available. Computer science was not a subject at that time. So I continued my studies and my college and the University. I think that my father had a publishing and typesetting business.
Arif: So, back in 1986. I remember like about 86 or 87. We brought Apple Macintosh computer when Apple Macintosh was introduced.
Maruf: Is it one of those very iconic like it says hello. Is it the one or is it before?
Arif: That was the first computer with 64k memory available.
Maruf: 64k memory like you know. Isn’t it correct. Yeah.It’s crazy 64 kilobyte. It’s incredible.
Arif: Because he had a publishing business and Apple computer company induced a laser printer for the first time. We also got that laser printer for the publishing. So I had this opportunity to get involved with this publishing and already used some of the programming languages. Then I started to try to learn the Macintosh Programming languages. Pascal was neck bust was available in some see software. And then me and my brother tried to develop Urdu word processor. So we developed some Urdu form.
Maruf: If you don’t mind let me ask. Why did you guys wanted to create a Urdu word processor. I mean, I obviously don’t know Urdu. So was there a need for that? Or we didn’t exist when you guys end up creating this software? Was that Urdu software or what was it, exactly?
Arif: Yeah. Because the publishing business State Fire my father was doing all in English.
Maruf: I see.
Arif: English newspapers and English magazines. And I don’t know how I started to get it. Basically, I tried to understand some of the Arabic Fonts which was available for Macintosh. But Arabic is somehow very similar to Urdu. There were some relational characters or some additional alphabets.
Maruf: I see.
Arif: So I tried to make those in MacIntosh and we came up with this Urdu word processing forms and word processing software.
Maruf: Wow. Okay, so if I understand correctly you were saying, you guys were the pioneers of Urdu script into Macintosh at a time?
Arif: On the Macintosh, Yeah. There’s right.
Maruf: Wow! I mean, it was the beginning of that there’s more big funds but not basically Urdu. So your father involved in publishing. You actually had to. Probably, cause you wanted to publish some you know, books in Urdu, as well. I guess that’s why it didn’t matter at all. That’s why I said you guys were the Pioneers.
Wow, that’s an amazing story. You know, can you tell us a little bit about your father because I am really interested in your father and I understand he was a publisher but somehow he was so that the world was changing, right? So I think he was kind of trying to upgrade his business, wasn’t he?
Arif: Yeah, but father created great vision and he might migrate it from India when Pakistan and India was developed in 1947. And he was very young at that time. But what he told me about that when he migrated from India to Pakistan in that very tough situation, he bought a suitcase full of books. So attraction to read books and read and get more knowledge and do new things.
Maruf: I see. So, many people in that time like Wonder was a separation as you said people start from scratch, right? Almost from nothing. Was it the same case with your father? And he started from scratch as well.
Arif: Yeah, I can say that.
Maruf: Okay, so you guys were the pioneers of Urdu all the work fund system, I guess at a time for the Macintosh. And tell me more about when you know Pak data management system came into being. Was it the part of this thing or it came with little Point?
Arif: Yeah, this Urdu fund and Urdu is dripping in bustani script it is a handwritten telegraphic type script.
Atif: It’s there was no system of able to write on Urdu bustani computers. So when we came up with this for 10 publishing system. My father and my brothers, we were all very amazed that how was this possible that we were typing and using a home computer and using the laser printer. We were typing in Urdu.
Mafuf: So, you guys couldn’t believe what you just created, did you?
Arif: Yeah, it was very amazing. Alhamdulillah I don’t know how it was done. It was a blessing of Allah.
Maruf: So, what does it mean for the Visions? What does it mean for other commuter that time? What do you remember? So, there were more books which were coming to do speaking audience.
Arif: Yeah, we barely saw this software Urdu publishing system being named. My father named it like my grandfather. We named it Nastaleeq Nizami. My grandfather’s name was Nizam Uddin. So we named it. And all the publishers in Pakistan, they were l interested in this Urdu publishing system.
Maruf: I can imagine this. Because this is all l what you guys willing for first software. So publishing system and it was distributed. So, can you tell us more like a little bit, I guess more about. Like I know that Urdu speaking audience is very curious. But how big is the audience were there that we talking about?
Arif: The right population of Pakistan was about 240 million.
Maruf: Okay. Yeah! And that will be the audience. I think it’s more in Pakistan or is just mail in Pakistan.
Arif: Yeah, it’s mainly Pakistani Urdu but not overseas pakistanis all around the world. They are also add up to this or to the audience. In India, Urdu is also spoken but it is written in the Indian language which is different scriptures. Spoken language is similar but written style is totally different.
Maruf: Okay. So the first Urdu publishing software was done. And what time was it? I mean, what year was it? Was it like 90s?
Arif: It was in 1989 being books on Nastaleeq Nizami desktop publishing system.
Maruf: Okay. So, what happened then? By the time you ended your college and you were fully employed in this your father’s business or how was it? What do you remember?
Arif: Actually, I was studying in my graduation. I was doing better in science. And used to work for this passion you know that. So it became my hobby to make software. So then I didn’t have to work and you know those. in 1992, I did my Master’s in Applied Physics from the University of Karachi. But before that were this software were doing a very great, Alhamdulillah, Urdu publishing server.
Maruf: So you still studied science. And you also did you Masters you said in physics but your heart and your focus mainly were there in the softwares and computers, right?
Maruf: So I guess after finishing the university like you just joined your family business in that time?
Arif: Yeah. After completing my masters, I joined this family business office full time.
Maruf: I think the question is I guess more like so that your father is publishing business. Did it eventually become Pak data management system or is it it came up after later time? So can you what was the transitional period or how did it happen?
Arif: Actually at that time around 1985, my father had created two companies. One was Publishers United was doing this publishing business. And other company was named as Pakistan data Management Services the company which is right now. At that time, my elder brother around 1979 or 1978, bought some programmable calculators. So those were program using punch card if you know the history of computing.
Maruf: Yeah. I heard.
Arif: So at that time he developed some algorithm some software for the textile industry here in Pakistan to automate some of their tasks. So they like their solutions very much. He and my father thought that it was time to atleast register a name for this Pakistan data management services company.
Maruf: Because you want to unplug two different types one is focused mainly on publishing. The other one will be soon come, you know, like software. I don’t know Computer Services like it. I see. Okay, so just tell us the story like your father was managing publishing and your brother was managing this new business or you joined them or how was it?
Arif: My father was doing this publishing business and also the software business because my elder brother was working as a petroleum engineer in Saudi Arabia. Once or in every year like for some days, 10 days or 15 days.
Maruf: And he was still managing all those things this amazing.
Arif: He was guiding and advising us.
Maruf: Mashallah! Sounds good.
Arif: I have Six Brothers, total Seven Brothers. So, Mashallah, my elder brothers were also somewhat involved in this publishing business and software business.
Maruf: Okay. Are you there? Are you the youngest one in the family?
Arif: Two brothers are younger than me.
Maruf: Okay, so you are 7 Brothers. Okay. This must be a lot of crowded in the family because I have one side. I know how active he is compared to my daughter so I can imagine. I see. Okay. So tell us like you did a lot of software but you went through creating Quran Majeed app.
So I just want to understand when did it happen you guys try to focus on some software’s websites for you know, the Muslim Ummah. Like did it come naturally or you guys like said, you know what this is? I just would like to know the backstory of those projects as well as if you don’t mind.
Arif: Yeah. At the time when we release Nastareeq Nizami publishing system in 1989, we were all doing development for the Apple Macintosh only. But I think in 1996 or 1997 Apple was getting a step back from the Windows machine and Microsoft Windows and Windows 95.
They were taking over on Apple publishing’s machines and publishing system. So we also got involved with developing our software for Microsoft Windows PC. So we released 298 software back in 1998. At that time it was used to, you know, doing not only the desktop publishing but also Urdo internet order databases and Urdu spreadsheets. To show this Urdu 98 software, we develop Quran majeed website.
Maruf: I see.
Arif: Yeah, to show that this website was working, you could have a big website. Urdo and English at the other translations showing it. You could have different internet and multimedia features. So I will.
Maruf: Okay. Yeah, I won’t understand it. So, around is 1998. Right? So you guys publishes Quran Majeed app to Showcase. As you said you can have the event the written forms on the screen. You guys were one of the first people or it was already done in What do you remember about those times?
Arif: In 1988, I really don’t remember that many Quran majeed based websites. But I think at the time it was really. I’m sure there would also piece available.
Maruf: I see.
Arif: Software and series were available for Windows. Because Windows was quite involved in 1988.
Maruf: Yes, that’s true. They took our apple with the PCS at the time. I see. This is why the project was born. So that it was mainly to Showcase as you mentioned. What about the other projects? Like for example, I checked and also US were involved in developing the Quran Explorer.com.
I think even still today it’s one of the very popular websites to check out the Quran process and reading. I remember it at what time before the mobile apps. It was very popular on those similar websites. What was your experience?
Arif: Yeah. I think Quran Explorer was developed in around 2005.
Maruf: I think so, it was supposed to flash based, wasn’t it? I remember it was mainly.
Arif: Yeah, it was developed the argue portion was developed using flash and actually this Quran Explorer project was done for one of our clients in the US. The Quran Explorer team, they approached us to do the job and it’s very good in here. This job was easy to use interface and we said okay, we will develop this software for you also. So we did development for the Quran Explore project.
Maruf: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean it’s like, you know, then in 2006 or 7 that iPhone came,right? IPhone was born. So you guys were very? Remember you guys were one of the Pioneers in developing and one of the first Quran apps for the App Store as well. Can you tell us a little bit of backstory and that experience? How was it?
Arif: Yeah, when Apple launched the iPhone in 2009 around 2008 and I saw Steve Jobs doing this launching presentation and Apple event and we were all my brothers and we were all shorted this type of phone would work because it offers developers and standard SDK. And if you need any kind of apps so that you can create. So we had experience of developing Islamic software for pork Italian for pirating 450. Back in 2003.
So we knew that this Apple iPhone was really going to keep up and we all had this experience working with Apple Macintosh before. so it felt very good. So we develop this Quran Majeed software in 2009. It was one of the first Islamic app available for iPhone.
Maruf: So, it’s almost 10 years. Mashallah, you guys have more than 10 million downloads and I think is one of the most popular apps as well and I just want to understand one thing like, you know, I’m from my own experience as you mentioned. So before I was was launched a lot of they were some smart apps for smartphones, right?
But what I personally what I didn’t like about them was that there are too many buttons. I couldn’t figure out right. So I used to have a very simple phone, I guess Nokia 3310. It was very simple like 9 to 10 buttons. It just makes the call. But until I saw the iPhone. It just blows my mind like there is no buttons. It’s just all touchscreen and it is you’re saying that you guys saw that the same opportunity like you’re back in 1984, right?
There’s something different is coming up and that’s what you took a chance and make the Quran majeed app. But this is not the only app you just guys end up doing it. But today you guys are whole suit of other Islamic apps. Not only for the Iphone even for android phone. Can you tell us more?What about them? What they are and how are they related to each other? And what was the inspiration behind it?
Arif: Yeah. Alhamdulillah, Quran Majeet app response for coming from the users and they were praising and loving this app and giving us five star reviews and the app were downloading very fast. So we saw that there was a you know, the shortage of Islamic apps you could have many different for these for prayer times and you could have a small stomach apps. So we created a number of Islamic apps for our users.
Maruf: So it was based on the page based on the users feedback, right?
Arif: Yeah, it was based on users feedback. They also wanted to do new things Islamic needs for Muslim needs.
Maruf: Absolutely. As of today, can you tell us? What kind of projects you guys are involved in? Of course you can speak about. Maybe some of the clients do they have in this age and what do you see the future for your company from the apps you guys have?
Arif: Yeah. Alhamdulillah. Right now, the user base has grown. I think it’s about more than 30 million users worldwide.
Maruf: It’s all been together, right? Or is just one?
Arif: Yeah. It’s all Android and IOS. But the Islamic apps. We support other apps for Urdu language and Regional languages for Pakistanis in Pashto. So if we also found it will be more than 40 million users. So we think that it’s for the mobile. So and mobile devices are growing very fast. And right now, people are saying that eventually every human being will be having a mobile device.
Maruf: Absolutely. Matter of time, I guess.
Arif: It’s growing at a very fast rate. At this time, I have read that there are three point six billion smartphones in this world right now.
Maruf: That’s correct. I was also reading your recently report on that as well. And I search this site almost the humanity that we have access to the internet, right? So that’s amazing. Because what really happened I think with the mobile phones. Even though you know if you remember you also mentioned.
It started the PC Revolution, but we have to be realistic. Not everyone could have a PC, right? Because it’s not available. But since the mobile phone, it’s a necessity. So the moment you have the smartphone is almost a small computer, right? You can do many things that just change the whole ecosystem against photo for many people. I guess.
Arif: Yeah, mobile devices. So, you know, it’s you can have it in your pocket and at your bedside. Well you can sleep keeping beside you. You know, Mobile device people when get up from the bed they like to see what message them receive in and what kind of SMS or email is received. So, it is the behavior is changing.
Maruf: Absolutely. I just wanted the last question. I would like to ask you is that I just want to also see a disclaimer that I think so, but your numbers, about your vision as well in terms at some that you mentioned. You guys have about 4 million users. What would you like to see Quran Maheed have another similar apps. What would you like to go? Would you like to see what would say, you know, if you reach that Milestone and how did you do that? I mean, to be honest according like we work with the light.
We also really clients you guys one of the leading Pioneers in terms that you know, and getting more clients. But what would you like to see Quran Maheed app like all the similar apps in the three or five years from now on? Do you guys like a Milestone? Would you like to reach?
Areif: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in the Islamic apps. Annd in next few years, we will see many innovative ideas emerging in the stomach and Muslim at Market. We want to work in many different ideas. So we can have these new functionalities available in Quran Majeed and Islamic apps also.
Because Muslim population is about I think 1.7 billion in this world right now.
Maruf: Sure. It is increasing.
Arif: Western population is 1.8 billion and about 50% have this Smartphone. So it’s huge.
Maruf: There’s actually a huge place to grow, right? You guys find along with you. Still there’s a place to grow.
Arif: So this room is very large to grow. I think.
Maruf: Yeah, I used to the disclaimer as I know it would like to this is well. Mashallah, I think about a year and a half ago. I guess we started working together with a light between your company and since then we have been growing and Inshallah, we want to reach to that muscles together, I guess for the next three to five years together.
So I just want to tell him that is a disclaimer that the Quran Majeed app is one. Alhamdulillah, we are trying to help them to grow. And so with this one of the things we are really get inspired, you know. Alhamdulillah, we do our work, but also every time we enrich more users. We are helping one more Muslims to be more connected to your app and it’s just inspires us. I think that’s one of the things why we are happy to help you grow and because eventually it’s also for us and it’s for the Ummahs as well.
That’s what this mix is very inspiring, I guess. So, I want to ask this question brother Arif, how do you how do you balance your like Deen with the Dunya? How would you do that? Do you understand my questions?
Arif: Yeah, you can say that I give some you know, can we need time in our local Masjid and also try to do some collective, airport for some kind of you can say, studying how to preach. And so like doing 40 days of every year.
Maruf: I remember this, right? I think it was couples months ago. You usually talks like. Can you tell us I mean for me as well for the listeners so what is it about you do? First of all this amazing you can take like 40 days. I know how to run in a, you know, so the companies that it’s taking a lot of things.
You are taking 40 days out of this just forgetting and just dedicating focusing and cold. I want to hear this. If you don’t mind just give us some advice. What would you advise more Muslims to to follow you in your footsteps in this regard?
Arif: Yeah, actually, I find it very encouraging and useful to go to these, you know, what you can say that this party day trips or so. It is for, actually self-learning and while you’re learning you know that for example, if you are a good student in your class and you learn some questions and some topics or some subject.
And if you extend them to your friends, then you will also become very proficient and very you know, in that subject so it’s for self knowing. Because that was Hazrat Muhammad is the last prophet. So I feel obliged to do this part telling other Muslims to join and who they were in their own community and for the whole as well.
Maruf: So what you’re saying is like it’s kind of self flexion, right? You go to the study 40 days like this and that you serve the community but you end up learning more about yourself about anybody else. Isn’t that correct?
Maruf: Yeah. Actually, when we do this work dawat, we see a lot of improvement for doing all the work in our you know, in our University Opera. So we see a lot of improvement in ourselves. And Alahamdulillah, other people take this advice has been you know, changed their lifestyles. And when you see this happen things that also increase youth. And his work is very important.
Maruf: Absolutely. Thank you very much for your time brother. For sharing from way back from 1980s to after today and thank you for being pioneering five years, you know to creating the Islamic apps and creating amazing software solutions for the Ummah as well. Then can you tell us the last note here? Tell us what our users can find more about your projects? Maybe your website’s, your apps. Inshallah in the show notes as well.
Arif: Yeah. The website is www.pakdata.com and apps are also available in the Apple Store and Google Play Store. It’s in the name of Quran Majeed and from Pak data. So you can have all the information from our website.
Maruf: Thank you very much.