In this episode, we had a heart to heart talk with a dear friend of mine Chris Abdur-Rahman Blauvelt.
While some of you have heard of his website Launch Good – a Kickstarter for Muslims, do you know his life story?
This is exactly what this episode all about. Enjoy.
Maruf: Hey, Assalamu alaikum. This is my Maruf, your host. Welcome to the show, Muslims On Fire. And today, I have a very good friend of mine from the US and some of you may even know his company launched good.
This is an amazing company and in a nutshell Launch Good, is kind of starting from some Muslims world, right? But today we’re gonna deep dive. He’s one of the co-founders. We got to dive into his childhood and learn what they seem to take and hopefully we can learn a thing or two and we’re going to pick his brain in sha Allah. Assalamu alaikum, Chris. Welcome to the show, bro.
Chris: Walaikumassalam, Maruf. Thank you for inviting me. I’m excited.
Maruf: It’s our honor to invite you here, you know, so they said what we’re going to do. We’re going to dive inside your childhood, what you did and then from there we are just going to go up till today.
So, Chris, tell us about your childhood, your family, your early memories. And then what makes you think, you know, that shaped you as a person today.
Chris: It’s really a good question. I’m going to actually start with my parents childhood. I think that maybe later, my childhood. You know what was interesting that my grandfather was a translator for the American Army for Japanese in World War Two.
But he wasn’t Japanese himself. He was Irish, but he grew up in Seattle on the war and docks and he had large Japanese friends. So as a kid he learned to speak Japanese and when War broke out, you know, that was a very useful skill to have.
And so, after the war he basically settled in Asia and so my mother although she’s you know, blue-eyed white blooded American grew up her most of her child in Asia, her childhood in Asia, and then my father who’s from the Midwest also, you know this, you know very much a white American from Ohio and traditional family, everything, right?
He went through a hippie face. And at one point he went to India and joined the Peace Corps and took part in the Vietnam War. And so he also had this experience growing up in the east at a formative time as I think about three years in his early 20s, and so they later met in Business School, Columbia business school in New York City and when they got married at first they were falling into that typical routine.
You know, I mean it was like they got corporate jobs and bought the little house in the suburbs and then my dad got a really unique opportunity. He’s with American Express, the credit card company. He was doing well in Manhattan.
And they offered him a promotion. But that promotion was to go lead marketing and Southeast Asia.
Maruf: Okay, interesting.
Chris: It was hard moving to Malaysia required my mom quitting her job and it was not something a lot of people would have done at that time. Like this is their time, early 80s.
Because both my father and mother, they both had that experience already living in Asia and kind of been exploring in their own life. It wasn’t a hard decision for the matching. So they moved to Malaysia and that’s where I was born.
Maruf: That’s crazy, right? Is this something you would expect for you to be born? There you go, right?
Chris: Yeah. It’s kind of a joke within launch that gives me three founders myself and Amany and Omar. Amany families from Syria, Omar’s families from Egypt. That I’m you know, the white American.
But I’m actually the only one not born in America, you know Omar’s born in Atlanta and a man who was born in Detroit. And so it’s kind of funny. If you put a picture of the three of us, I have guessed which one of these are boaters.
So, I was born in Malaysia when I was two, my dad’s job got a promotion that had him moved to South Korea. And when I was five he got another promotion that brought him back to New York. So we moved back to New Jersey.
Maruf: Got it.
Chris: That was how it was until I was 13. So, you know most of my childhood, although I had early experience in Asia. Most of it was actually in New Jersey. The interesting thing happened when my mom quit Fizer and we moved to Malaysia.
She’s just such an energetic woman. She couldn’t just stay home for example with the kids. So she started, she took her experience in the pharmaceutical industry and started a small consulting company.
And she kept it going when I moved to Korea and kept it there and every step along the way just grew a little bit until in the late mid late 90s. There was this recession in Asia. And I don’t know if you would know about that. And it was devastating that a lot of businesses closed.
And the economy just came to stand still. But there’s a kind of a blessing that’s kind of like a forest fire that wiped out. You know, let’s say clearing afford but the seeds that are planted or the trees that can survive can really thrive. He’s now the competition is kind of gone.
And so my mother, she didn’t make any money for a year or so, but that was okay. My dad still had his job and then once the economy rebounded but my mother’s business really took off. Okay, and to the point that my father was able to quit American Express enjoying her when about timeouts 13 and at that time. Because they didn’t have to live near New York anymore.
And there’s a lot of drawbacks to live in New Jersey, its nickname is the armpit of America. But New York today. And so they decided they wanted to move up to Massachusetts. It’s a beautiful state. We have a lot of family in that area and my mother went to college there.
And so, that was it when I was 13, my Dad could have expressed that with my mother and then we ended up moving to Massachusetts.
Maruf: So I just couldn’t fit all in my mind. Let me ask that as a young child. I guess, I can see that you had quite a lot of experience right for 13 years old. You guys are changing the country at least two or three times.
And how did it affect your childhood and them mainly like making friends, you know, especially when you’re young you want to create a bond, connection with small friends.
And after a while you just move to another country. Did you see it as a blessing of this or is like a You know, there’s something you would like to avoid and you would have liked more permanent friends?
Chris: Definitely, something at the age. I wanted to avoid. Absolutely. We moved when my parents were saying that we would remove in Massachusetts. I was so upset because it did take a long time to make these friends in New Jersey but not like I moved there when I spy then all of a sudden I’m friends with everybody, right? It felt like it took five years before I had my core group of friends.
And then is like after couple years is like, okay now we got to move again and it’s like, you know and try to told me that my parents and you know, I was like hurting myself and I was you know, we’d throw the for sale sign my tits and I was thrown in the woods and like, you know, we were really people came visited the house and try to scare them away.
And we were really not happy to move. But the irony of it is we ended up moving and we moved to a family called the Dance next door to him to call the Dance and they had a son Michael who was my age.
So he ended up becoming Muslim and I’ll go into I’ll tell that story if you like. He ended up becoming Muslim and then I followed him in Islam. So now in hindsight, I’m so glad my parents moved like if they never moved to Massachusetts.
But you know, I’m never damn it Michael me, but I become Muslim and now my turn and my dad like kind of joking half-joking like regrets that they ever moved to Massachusetts yiu could never become Muslim, you know, so yeah, there’s another top decisions you have to make as a parent.And your kids aren’t always happy in the moment.
Maruf: Looking back, it may seem different.
Chris: Yeah, it’s different than that. Of course, you know, I think even you had that experience moving to Europe as a young. Yeah, that’s a little Pakistan. It’s not easy, but it’s not guilt.
Maruf: Absolutely. So I mean look like when you were growing up, like a little bit. It would like to know about your siblings. You have any siblings while you were gone? I mean if you had siblings probably it was a bit easier for you, I guess, in that sense, even though you move yet still your brother or sister.
Chris: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I guess, yes. I have an older sister and a younger sister and the youngest brother. My older sister’s about three years older, my younger sister a few years younger. And then the youngest brother was a surprise baby. So he’s 13 years younger.
Maruf: Happens, Yeah. You were the number number two?
Chris: Yeah, and for a long time as a middle child. And you know, I think, I definitely had a very close relationship with my older sister and that helped with the move and.
Maruf: I just want to deep dive into Michael the guy. You said that the family that he became Muslim and you become. Can we deep dive into this, like what age were you in the time?
Chris: So this will weird high school like that. We move next door 13 or 14 years old and Mike and I were both you know, white middle-upper class kids, parents went to the same church when the same school, we both are tennis star’s, you know, like for example, we played varsity tennis, which is like the highest level of tennis in high school from the very first year for nine great.
Maruf: I didn’t know that you played tennis.
Chris: Well, I don’t anymore but maybe one day I’ll get back into it. So anyway with Mike it seems like we would be friends in the making but actually, we were very different. So we had all those similarities but unfortunately Mike got into a lot of bad habits like alcohol and drugs from about 10 or 11 years old.
Chris: And he was a mess. He’s caught in a lot of problems in school with his teachers with his parents. I just kept away from him because it was like I pretended as a tough kid, you know, I had skateboards and chains and stuff, but I had to actually like not helping.
I was scared to see my parents. I did well in school. I wanted to do well in school. And so I kept my distance from Mike. And then all of a sudden when he was 15, I noticed that he changed. You know all of a sudden when we were playing tennis, sometimes he’d go off in a corner and put his head on the ground.
And then in school he started, you know, taking the advanced classes and the college preparatory classes and I was like Mike what’s wrong with you know, this is the ability . It was not basic and he said no, I’m in the right place. And you know, I noticed that he was like a different person.
And that when I pushed he told me he’d become Muslim. This was before 9/11 and the way he became Muslims by his tennis coach. At one point, he got so much trouble. I said that he was permanently grounded and he wasn’t allowed to see any friends, except his tennis coach.
The only person is allowed to spend time with his tennis coach who is this 55 year-old African-American Muslim from Elizabeth, New Jersey who would become Muslim way back in the time of Malcolm X.
Maruf: Well, that goes back.
Chris: It goes way back. So he’s old school, he is really a cool guy. And yeah, so you know what he started. Mike would come over from his house. They spent time together and he started giving him books. In fact, the interesting thing is they weren’t Muslim books. They’re actually Christian books.
But it was books about why you need God in your life. And is it General argument? You know, it could slide any religion and Mike could just you know was able to compare his life to his coaches like his men whose life and I mean this really highlights the importance of for young men to have mentors.
Especially outside their family, you know in traditional societies. It’s not like the mother and the father have to be responsible for raising their kids. There’s grandparents, there’s uncle’s you know, just people in the neighborhood.
They’re all involved in racing family raising
Maruf: Because they say it takes a village to grow a child.
Chris: Exactly and you know, sometimes especially in the west, were very isolated. You have your nuclear family and then you have your classmates and all your classmates that they’re exact same age as you and that’s all you have, you know, you don’t have, like strong relationships with your uncles and aunts and cousins usually
And you don’t know people of other ages, but anyway, so Mike had become Muslim and he gradually start, you know, started changing habits and stop drinking. Stop smoking. Stop hanging out with those bad influences in his life.
Maruf: Sure and let me know what’s this?
Chris: I noticed that. And then I was at this time. I was a junior in high school. So I was about 16 years old. I took a class called African-American literature that winter and it really opened my eyes up to the problem of racism in this country.
I had ignorantly thought that racism more or less died with the Civil Rights Act and that yeah, I have it right and I thought we were in this like post-racial society, growing up in my little bubble, having this is now, it’s obviously not the case.
Because you have all these got smartphones with all these videos of just white cops, you know filling and harassing African-Americans, but in the 90s, I mean we didn’t have that, you know, everyone’s like riding and gets some you know, rare severe cases. Someone has an actual video camera on hand and recorded the right.
But for the most part all that stuff was still happening is probably even happening more than it was today, but there was no visibility of it. So what you can’t be he thinks just got this exists and that’s why anyway, that class really opened my eyes up and I was discussed.
Maruf: Why did you take this class, remember? Out of 7 flew over there was some interest and maybe because of Mike’s trainer, you know.
Chris: That’s a great question. I can’t even remember. So, I had a great teacher, I think in general when you’re that age around 16 years old.
Maruf: It opened more open-minded, I guess.
Chris: You’re more open-minded. You’re a bit of an idealist, right? There are saying that like whoever is 25 and isn’t a Marxist has no compassion in their heart, you know, whoever is 35 and is still a Marxist hasn’t intelected. You know, then let go.
You know, there’s somebody says like young people that have this idealism to that they’re very like everything’s black and white and there’s always good and bad took both of course but I probably at that time I was challenged myself to explore and you know, I had to ask an American friends and friends of different races. And so, you know, I think, I just wanted to broaden my Horizon.
Maruf: Absolutely. Yeah, I noticed two things right you know this. Mike has changed because he changed the religion you also notice there’s actually racism going on. So, what did it mean to you?
Chris: Yeah. Well, I just discussed it and I was like we have to get past us as a society. But how? We changed the laws like what else are we supposed to do? And at this point, I read the autobiography of Malcolm X that was actually part of the class.
And I was really touched. Now, the interesting thing about that book is, it’s a fantastic story. The first half of the book is really just like it’s a movie and they literally turned it into a movie.
Maruf: Yeah, I saw it.
Chris: And second have the boys are actually pretty spiritual. You know, I thought that’s how he talks about Islam and that America needs a song because it’s a solution to its problems like racism because it changes people’s hearts and our teacher was like, okay, you don’t have to read the second half the book.
You just have to read the first half book for this class. And I was like why not? Why wouldn’t I read it? It’s so good. And so I’m reading the second half of the book and I’m really thinking about this and I’m like this is true. You know, it’s not enough to change the laws.
We have to change the hearts absolute and how do you change people’s hearts Islam is a way to change people’s hearts because I can see how it’s changed mime. I can see how it changed Malcolm. And so I was thinking there’s something here.
There’s something special in Islam and that’s when I started taking it, seriously. There is a section when Malcolm. Malcolm writes about when he was, you know, one point he went to prison. He wasn’t yet a Muslim and he met some Muslims.
And you know, he’s thinking himself about becoming at that time a black most American nation is on and he was given advice which is almost a heavy its prophetic heavy where he said if you take one step towards Allah, Allah takes two steps towards you.
Chris: And for Malcolm change some things. And that and at that point my own personal journey. I was atheist not group growing up Christian, but not a very practicing family, you know, we go to church maybe for Christmas and Easter kind of like, you know, you Muslims, sometimes they go to church the Masjid for the two Eids, you know, so we call them Christars.
Maruf: Interesting, but your parents were kind of practicing or there also something?
Chris: No, I mean, it’s very cultural. It’s not like they really believe in here and after or even really believe in God I should say which is kind of an interesting thing. And but anyway, I had studied as Christianity a little bit when I was you know, where I was in middle school and there are all sorts of contradictions and all sorts of things that you know right away just told me this can’t be the truth with a capital T.
And growing up in the west, you have this dichotomy of religion versus science. Are you a believer or you a rationalist? You can’t be.
Chris: That’s what you’re I mean sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, but that’s kind of the culture. Especially on the east coast of America and I was just.
Maruf: It cannot be fairitails, right? You cannot be nothing or cannot be ever like science.
Chris: Yeah, and sometimes it’s like, it spits in science’s face, right? It’s like, oh there were no dinosaurs. The Earth is 5,000 years old. The Earth is flat like you know, I mean some silly stuff, right? And you’re like all clearly falls.
And then I started studying a little bit about the history of the Bible. And all you realized that this has changed so many times. We have in its original language and it contradicts itself. And so I was like, this is you know, this is just something, some man, you know men wrote to get power to themselves.
Maruf: So, this is why you exactly became Muslim, isn’t it?
Chris: It is. Because that was it. I was a Christan. I didn’t know that other option. I knew Hinduism which was clearly like made up stories, right? So I thought.
Maruf: You’d have a little bit, knowledge of God, I guess.
Chris: Yeah, my father, you know spent time in India. And so even for school projects. I’d like to cover it like, stuck in. It’s a lot of stories, right? Looks like these fun stories of you know, cutting off elephant baby heads and stuff like what you know, it’s appealing 10 years old.
But it’s also clearly just not true. So yeah, you know at that point is like I never heard Islam. Yeah, I mean it was like Christianity or atheism and for me it was atheism. So, I liked what Malcolm was saying.
I like the change, the transformation that Mike went through. Okay, but I didn’t believe in God. So as much as I was like I want to be like Malcom. I want to put on the boat. I wanna to be a Muslim. It was like why don’t you believe in God.
So I view my brother’s hypocrite. But I took that advice to heart. You know, when he said if you take one step towards Allah, Allah takes two steps towards you. And as a young atheist and rationalist to me that was a hypothesis. So it was only logical to test the hypothesis.
And I quit eating pork, I quit going to parties with alcohol. My intention was that if this is true religion as God really exists and show me, you know, then, guide me to it and it’s not. You know, I’m just going to have a big barbecue bender or something in the summer, right like?
And Mike and I ended up taking. So now you’re kind of going through this progression through the fall time. I’m starting to learn about Islam from like in the winter, I read about auto box and I’ll come back soon, and I’m really starting to get interested in Islam. In the springtime.
I took another English class with Mike. It was, I think a creative writing class or something current. And we had a great teacher from Georgia, Mr. Werthan with a nice Southern drawl and we had to keep a journal every week of anything.
We just had to read something and write about it. It could be anything. And so I told Mike Start, you know, give me some information about Islam if you give me a packet so like literally those old-school campsites.
Remember those you know, what is Islam? Who is Muhammad? What does this Islam says about or what is the Quran ? Every week, I’d read one and I’d write about it and my writing would try to be a way to rationalize it away, right?
So who was the Muhammad Sallalahu Alaihi Wasallam, you know, and I said, well, you know, I read. I say I read this and I’m thinking, you know, maybe he was You know just like a really compassionate person or like maybe he.
Maruf: Wanted to make sense, right?
Chris: You know, I but you try thinking about like some people for example say oh his revelations rocks be like some sort of epilepsy and you know, he’s kind of going through delusions.
But you know, it doesn’t really make sense. Like the rest of the stuff is not like that delusional, you know, people love, fault and he changed. So I really had trouble explaining. Who is this person? You know, why would he give up his whole life at 40 years old, you know, he was very kind.
Good place in society married to a beautiful rich woman, good business, good kid, you know kids like why did he throw that all away. And they offered him kingship, they offered him money. They offered him whatever he wanted exactly.
He wouldn’t stop. So that guy, you know, I couldn’t explain that and then I started to read the Quran and that really surprised me because I was like, wow, this book hasn’t changed.
It’s not like the Bible and it’s in its original language and even you can be, you know, Sunni or here earlier. I don’t care what you are and you know what, it’s the Quran, right? And it’s in the Arabic, right?
And so, you know people memorize this book and then I started studying the scientific miracles of the Quran and I was really like some guy wrote this in the desert, you know, 1400 years ago and there was not University they didn’t have books and there’s not Alexandria.
This was Mecca. You know, and so, you know, I couldn’t explain anyway Islam. And then, one night, I was reading about heaven and hell, okay, so Jannat and Jahannam. And this is actually a different book. You might know it’s called a brief Illustrated guide to Islam.
Maruf: Oh. Yeah.
Chris: Yeah, a very basic book, but sometimes the basic stuff is good. And some reading this at the end of it talks about the Hereafter and at this point, you know, I’m really getting ready for college. So, I’m thinking about where did I want to apply to school, where did I want to study.
And which country do I want to live, You know, what type of career do I want to get into. Something that all these hypotheticals. And at this moment, I’m reading about not a hypothetical but a certainty that I’m going to die.
And I’m like, wow, I’m spending a lot of time and energy preparing for these things that probably will happen. Like I probably will go to college and get a degree and start a career but I’m not guaranteed it but I am guaranteed I’m going to die.
What if I prepared for death? I realize nothing. I hadn’t spent any time thinking about it. I hadn’t spent any time, you know doing anything my life for that moment and I thought to myself I might go out tomorrow and get hit by a bus and it’s over.
And if I die. I’m not sure that Islam is the truth, but I want to die as a Muslim, you know that was clear to me. And so I figured if I want to die as a Muslim than a better become Muslim.
And that was it like I very much feel like I submitted, you know, there’s a verse in the Quran about the Bedouin Arabs, you know, don’t say you believe but that you submitted. Yeah because they haven’t yet entered your heart and I sort of feel I was that way that okay. I knew this Isalm is true.
I could get in my mind that I knew it was true. In my heart, I was like there’s enough faith to enter it but it was not like I was.
Maruf: Wait, I just want that look like so what you’re saying is in your mind, you accept but in your heart you were struggling was it the case is what you’re saying?
Chris: Yes. Yeah.
Maruf: Okay. So usually the way I understand atheist t people, they’re more, they’re thinking with your head. Not necessarily that I believe in their feelings, but what you’re saying that it was opposite to you.
Chris: Well no. As that is what I’m saying in a sense, as it is in my head. I’m thinking about it and I got convinced that Islam is true.
Maruf: Oh. Okay.
Chris: But in my heart, I was still struggling. You know, I was on the first step of rings of the ladder. You know what I think this is a good thing to know like some people they know Islam is true, but they don’t become Muslim.
Because they’re like, they want cash, they want unveiling up, you know, out and they want their whole heart to be filled with faith and it’s like, you know, you have to take the first step. That’s the whole point like you take the first step and then Allah takes two steps towards you.
You know, and I really experienced that like remember making that decision to become Muslim. I went with my friend Mike to the closest Masjid, almost an hour away from those actually in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and I made my Shahada and I believe it was June 3rd 2001.
Chris: And I made my Shahada and Subhanallah, you have this amazing feeling after that like.
Maruf: Something, I think it will be difficult for me to explain I guess.
Chris: Yeah, but your heart is sold with light. Honestly, like.
Maruf: Amazing story. Okay. So like you still keep in touch with Mike. How is he? Where is he? Like, I’m just out of curiosity.
Chris: Oh, yes. Today, Mike and I are best friends. We ended up going together to the University of Michigan where we were roommates, Hamdulillah, and then he you know, I studied engineering business and that’s kind of where my life has led.
He did Islamic studies. Well, then he went to Egypt, Morocco and he went to Princeton, got his PhD in Islamic studies. And today he’s a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a UIUC and you know the both of us. We have married, two kids. So we’re very very close even till today.
Maruf: So you see it’s amazing looking back, right? He was pretty like almost, that you cannot get worse than this. He was fully grounded. He took this thing. He was kind of forced to be only to meet one person. Who is this coach and his coach just gives some books and I think that made him decide enough is enough.
I just want to do something. Look, I think he took the step and you kind of inspired, I guess. It’s amazing. Sometimes, just one small step makes a huge difference in the long run looking back. Okay, Chris, that’s a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing very much. So I guess now yeah, you’re finished, your studies.
So you see one of the things one of the most beautiful gifts in anyone’s life is, I guess discovering the creator, right? And that’s speechless like I would say but it hadn’t said that but some people might have stopped there. But now what’d you guys do today with Launch Good is much on. You guys do amazing, your help.
Then you must own companies or even Charities recently that you know get more funds that you keep on doing more good stuff, right? So I want to, like to get to know the back story. You mentioned briefly your co-founders. I would like to know. Can you tell us the back story? How it all started? And then come to where it is today?
Chris: So I’m going to use the long version since we didn’t long-form podcast, you know, I mentioned I became Muslim in 2001 which is of course the same year as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And that was just three months.
Maruf: Before or after?
Chris: Before, I became Muslim three months before and it was devastating to me because you know, I’m sure you’ve seen it like you’re young convert your very less like Islam is the truth and your soul I would wear crooky and I was just so proud of my Islam.
And then 911 happened and I was like what again? The closest must eat has an hour basically the Muslims that I know are still just like Mike and Malcolm like, you know, we don’t really have a big Muslim Community where we’re from and so, you know the Muslims I know are very good Muslims.
And they are the Muslims, I read about in books like the Sahaba. And now I’m seeing you know, Osama Bin Laden on TV and it’s like who is this guy? You know, and it’s very confusing because he’s quoted in the Quran.
He’s quoting, he’s got a big beard, a turban, a thobe. Like, you know, you’re like wait a second. This is a shack. This is supposed to be who we follow but what he’s called for, he’s crazy.
Maruf: Does it make sense?
Chris: All ends. I cried. I literally cried and I remember I was in Mike’s room after 911. I was like, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, you know.
Maruf: And it was like the crisis. You always said I think the crisis of Faith crisis, whatever you call it, isn’t it?
Chris: Yeah, and I have a lot of sympathy for you know these converts or young Muslims that fall into the traps of Isis and Al Qaeda or whatever because they are manipulative or easily manipulated. I should say they convert themselves.
Because they just want to do the right thing and they’re willing to sacrifice everything for the right thing. Yeah, and what bigger sacrifice could there be than your life, right? And then all you have to do is get someone, you know misquoting the Quran and all of a sudden is like God’s telling you, you need to do this.
And you throw your intellect out of the window, you know, and so that I was struggling at that moment to really figure out what is Islam. What am I supposed to do? Again, I was very fortunate with Mike. He was, you know, he’d been a Muslim about a year or two before me so he knew a lot more than me.
Maruf: I see.
Chris: And he was able to kind of help walk me through that understanding. I mentioned that we went to the University of Michigan with the great Professor. Dr. Herman Jackson in Michigan has a an amazing Muslim Community much better than Western Massachusetts.
And I got exposure to you know, so many wonderful Muslims teachers, scholars and I get to really start to understand Islam. I get to travel the world. I got to go to Turkey, to Morocco, to Jordan, to Malaysia, to make Umra like a lot of great experiences.
And I realized a couple things. One obviously Islam of Osama Bin Laden is not true Islam, right? And we’ve got a big, you know PR problem. We’re not able to tell people what Islam really is and who we are and Muslims are great. I mean, you know, like I’m sure if I came over with you. You’re in Denmark, right? Or Norway? Denmark.
Maruf: Yeah, you’re right. Yeah.
Chris: I came over to Denmark, you would treat me like family, you know. And give me tea and your daily cookies and all that, right? And if we went over on a trip to Uzbekistan, it’d be, probably, even better, you know, like it’s that how Muslims are everywhere they just wonderful people.
And so I felt like on the one hand as Muslims we weren’t doing a good job of explaining who we are and what we know what we’re about and then on the other hand, I noticed something when I and you talked about this a little bit, I believe on your podcast with Shaheed. We’re a bit too much stuck in a victim mindset.
I say that cautiously because as an Umma, we’ve been largely oppressed to the like terribly for the last time.
Maruf: That’s also true.
Chris: So I don’t want to discount like, oh, it’s you know, but there’s something that like, I remember, once I was in a cab in Jordan and as these things go they ask you what’s your name? Where you from and explain from America and the Cab driver starts going off on America where and starts going off on Israel and starts going off on a shape palm like, you know all the problems that his life is caused by being free, right?
Which might be true actually and then goes off for motive or something and I’m like, you know, why don’t we stop when you come in and pray with me and he’s like, no you go pray. I’m gonna have a smoke, right?
And so that’s to me I think one of the issues that we have sometimes, the community is that yes, we have problems and no we don’t have all the immediate solutions, but we’re not doing what we can do.
Maruf: That’s right, you know, on the top of that there is one way, is that you’re right. Like you said we are not telling the world that you see, you sell that, remember, you go back to that feeling as he takes your Sahada that feeling and we kind of all to people we alter people to I mean to non-muslims as Muslim to call them to Islam, right?
And to do that we need to do a bit of best by our actions is the first thing the other thing is, especially what you went through I went through personally when I was in Denmark, so you see you became Muslim 2001. I became Muslim in 2003, right?
So I had a similar experience because when I was in Uzbekistan, I was just a cab driver. I would call Muslim. But I wouldn’t practice, right? But I was in Denmark. I had to go through the steps.
We discover Islam, what Islam is but that image as you mentioned on the TV’s that big burden. People come Muslim. And killing people even makes any sense. I had to make a decision. And part of this guy’s and what you know, and the part of the game, is that the media plays here is that as media in general I think not only about Muslims.
In general what they focus, is dissipating folks bad news because it sells, right? And that’s exactly what they do about Islam as well. But the general people when they look at TV, they say okay, this is Muslims terrorists blah, blah, blah.
But I think I just want to talk too much about the rest of I think that you’re right. So the other part of the story is also media as well. But to do that, the media will keep doing whatever they’re doing. We just need, I guess our own medium, you know and not as you want.
Chris: And there’s one of my very influential teachers, especially his name’s dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah and he wrote an article Islamic cultural Imperative. Have you ever read that one?
Maruf: No, not that one.
Chris: It’s amazing. I mean you just search in google.
Maruf: Is that article or a book?
Maruf: Okay, please share it with me. I’ll put it on the show notes as well, shop.
Chris: Yeah, so Islam in the cultural imperative and he opens up with this metaphor that Islam is like a clear water that flows in a river. It will reflect the color of the bedrock under the water. So Islam in China looks Chinese, in Uzbekistan the back his head probably looks who’s that Islam and in Egypt looks Egyptian.
And you know how to build your mosque, is no Islamic way to build your mosque, right? And that’s what you’ll see that the architecture to varies and that’s part of the beauty of Islam.
Chris: But it’s always connected to culture and Islam has a role of elevating culture. So it won’t go into a place like Indonesia and just destroy the culture and replace it with, you know, Arabian culture.
Chris: But it will go in and take something to might do like shadow puppets and replace it with shadow puppets telling the story of the Prophet Muhammad (S), you know and they’ll take their clothing in the patterns of rather quote and turn them into hijab and modest where you know.
And so I really love that idea that as Muslims we have to create culture, we have to elevate culture and I really thought like, how do we do that? Like, how can we change color because a lot of Muslims are not in the space of culture creation, we’re like engineers and doctors and cab drivers and it’s not anything that’s changing culture, you know.
And then around this time. I had a friend who was a filmmaker, Muslim and he was a filmmaker and he made a film. He made a film that got into the Sundance Film Festival, which is the premier film festival in America and his movie was called Bilal’s Stand.
And it was basically about his life, a young man named, people are growing up in Detroit that wants to go to college and you know, it’s a difficult decision, but the movie was actually pretty funny, very creative.
Maruf: Was it documentary or?
Chris: No, it’s an own narrative film and it won a lot of awards. It is really a great film, it did well. People can see easily on Netflix. Now, it’s on Amazon. So, you know you can find it online, can’t be lost. And you know, Soltan is that Culture Creator, right?
Like he’s a really creative guy and he was doing it and he was having incredible success with it, but he was a disaster come on the business side of things that you know how that goes a lot of times the creative people in the business side. Like there are two opposite sides.
And so I started helping him and he asked me, you know, one thing led to another and asked me if I moved to Detroit and really help him kind of, to establish his company and help him with his work in his films and I was 25 at the time.
I was actually waiting for a job, this job to start with Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah and it’s just taking forever. And if you know the bureaucracy. Like I literally, I was waiting 12 months. I was like crazy and you know, I said, you know what I have to lose.
I’m 25, I’m single. I don’t really need the money, right now that the Development Bank in Jeddah. I say just do this, you know, like it’s like one of those moments you feel like will change your life and you’ll look back and really it has been like crazy.
So if you’re like, in your 20s, and you got nothing to lose. Take those bold risky decisions.
Maruf: That’s the time to do that without family. Single as you said.
Chris: Yeah, you know, there’s actually, I’m all over the place with this interview. Forgive me, but there’s some naveen advice I got when I was 22 when I was in the closet ascending Arabic and closet institute in Amman Jordan. Have you heard of constant institutes?
Chris: I would say it’s the The best Arabic language Center in the Middle East.
Maruf: Interesting. But you had to go there for study on campus, right or online?
Chris: Well, I think they started online now, but at that time it was on campus. I mean, that’s obviously what I recommend because when you immerse yourself in Arabic culture and language, but anyway, I was studying Arabic there that summer and one of the co-founders, his name was Iz Mohamed Meraih.
And This guy when I looked at him and I was just like wow, I want to be like you, you know, he was here. I think we took degrees like maybe Harvard and Berkeley or some and you can be Kingsley consult which is, you know, one of the top premier jobs.
Yeah, and then he was backpacking the world and stopped in Jordan and helped his friend launch this Arabic place and he had like a wife and kids and his Chef I’m like everything like he had his duty and his Deen and it’s just like Yeah, I was like man, how did you do it?
And you seem like the complete package and so I asked him for advice and you know, a lot of times you get generic advice. I keep your head down, work hard, make dua, whatever, right? He gave me very specific advice. His advice was that spend your 20s and learn as much as possible.
And the trick is, what most people miss, when you master something, quit and challenge yourself with something new. So at one point, I was a teacher. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a teacher but it’s very hard.
The first year is really hard like every day you feel overwhelmed and then by the second year you start to really figure it out and by the third year, it’s like cruise control is very easy, you know, so that was the time for me to quit being a teacher.
And then I started an Arabic nonprofit. Now. I’m a nonprofit director, it’s called Flaki. It’s in DC now and that’s again something totally new. I’ve never run a nonprofit before and I’m flying, meeting donors, getting donations, like doing all sorts of stuff, you know.
And then I went from that into film and I am, like no background if I’m not a film junkie, you know, we used to go to these parties with celebrities and you know like very famous actors, directors, whatever and I’m like, I don’t know who any of these people are and I don’t care but not a good quality.
That’s why I was never going to succeed in the film. I was never really passionate about the industry, but when I was in that space because of that movie we had that success with the movie and we wanted to finish it off and turn it into these and sell it online and etc.
We needed money to do that. I had a friend from New York, say there’s a new website called Kickstarter that you should check out. It seemed that could help you. And so we ended up being the first Muslims to use Kickstarter far as I’m aware. This was 2010 and we had a very successful campaign raised about $22,000.
And which was now it doesn’t sound like a lot maybe for crowdfunding Kickstarter campaigns. But in that time, it was a lot of money. We were like the second most successful project in Michigan ever.
Chris: At the time and I realized like I saw something that crowdfunding was transformative. Very transformative. Because before that and you know, maybe our younger list is only remembered if you had an idea and you wanted to get it done.
You better have a rich uncle or some connection. Otherwise, it’s not going anywhere and crowdfunding changed that completely. It was like if you have an idea that you can tell the story of Italian enough manners that convince people to support you.
You know, where your friends, your family, your fans are just strangers on the internet. There’s actually a chance you could build that you could make it come to life. I saw that right in front of me with something called the pebble watch and remember the pebble watch.
Chris: Okay. So there were these guys as smartphones. This is around 2011, I think. Smartphones are becoming more common. And the iPhones have been out, you know for a few years now. These guys had this idea of why can’t we make a watch that is sync to your phone, is like a smartwatch.
Maruf: Isn’t it the pebble?
Maruf: Oh, got it, yeah, I heard like tables.
Chris: They went adventure capitalists and they were told a hundred no. And so they went to Kickstarter and they had a very ambitious project. They said we want to raise half a million dollars to make this watch and they made a really cool video and explained how it worked and they showed the prototype.
And they ended up raising like I think 15 million dollars or something like that like that.
Maruf: It was crazy. I remember that. It was all over the world.
Chris: All right people were amazed and then after that, of course if among ended up coming out with their gear and apple with their watch and but what it did, I think the most important thing Pebble watch did, isn’t the whole Smartwatch Revolution, but the garage entrepreneurship revolution.
You have some idea, like you can actually just kind of put it together and get it out there and turn it into reality. And I thought that was such a powerful product and itself, this kind of storytelling and inspiration engine.
And I thought this is what the Muslim world needs. Like we have all these problems. We don’t have enough people with confidence and the self-esteem to go forward and try to address them. And so that was the inspiration for Lunch Good.
But I just thought what had something like a Kickstarter for the global Muslim Community like a website with all these campaigns of Muslims doing incredible work, really creative work, things that we talked about both never get done and all of a sudden they’re getting done.
And it has the Snowball Effect that maybe it’d inspire more and more people, and you know, I think we’re on the way, you know, I had a lot of success with Lunch Good along those lines now. I mean your own Ali Hooda TV, right?
I mean, I know that was a long campaign. I don’t think that nothing needed Launch Good to get out you were going to get it but you know just having that on launch it for us is a big honor that we can show people like no look here you you talk about why don’t we have like a Netflix for Muslims, you know, almost some kid and if I can actually do. Someone, in Denmark, made it, you know from Uzbekistan.
You know, funded by Muslims from probably dozens of countries around the world. Like that’s the power of the internet for the Umna today.
Maruf: You know, what? Can you tell us more about like, but You know, you could have done Launch Good with your co-founders. Like how’d you guys meet each other like you know, I just like to get a little story on that one. And what is your strength for each of you?
Chris: Yeah. That’s a very good story. So, when I started again, and I know I’ve taken such a long road here. I’ll try to pick.
Maruf: It’s good and beautiful.
Chris: So, when I start getting inside, we did the kick-started 2010 at that time because I was the first Muslim used Kickstarter. I’d see other Muslims that want help with Crowd foundings, they would come to me.
I just organically started helping people. One of those people I helped that was Amany Killawi, one of my co-founders. She had started when she was like Hank 16 or 17. She co-founded an organization called Detroit minds and hearts helping young Muslims in Detroit. And they want to do Crowd Found campaign and I helped them launch it on Indiegogo.
Maruf: Yeah, that’s another one.
Chris: Yep, and we got on the front page and you go goes very successful and I was totally
Like the many even though she’s so young like a teenager, literally a teenager, really immature, really organized like I was like, wow, this person’s really special, very sincere, humble on her faith as well.
And then the next year I had taken this entrepreneurship class and we’re supposed to develop an idea. And so I was developing this idea for Launch Hood and then I found a friend of mine and a mentor. His name’s Horace Ahammed and he loved the idea. He agreed to be our agent investor and invest the funds to help hire some developers in Pakistan to start and to build it.
But we needed someone to design it and so as I’m being the Muslim.In the internet, I found a website called elevate culture actually. It’s a really nice nonprofit Atlanta. It was the best-looking Muslim website ever see, you know, our standards, especially in that time like 2011-2012 were very low.
You know, like we didn’t have good design at all in the Muslim Community. But this website was really impressive. So I contacted Sawdia that was her name behind the websites that you know, who designed your website, said her young brother. He’s great in the lanthanum over, she met him and I did meet him and he was amazing.
He started working with us. He loved the idea of Launch Good. He’s what we call, I think they call inverse thinkers. So he always thinks the things like from the opposite way other people think of it which leads to really creative ideas.
And he was designing Launch Good, a website. He did a great job on the first version. This is 2013. We finally launched it. So he started working with us. I think around this time was 2013. And so yeah 2012, we basically spent the whole year building websites and half and even most 2013. We didn’t launch it until september of 2013.
And it was just basically me and a many with Hearth as our mentor and some developers in Pakistan and Omar had designed it, but then he kept design yet and he was trying to make it mobile friendly like so, you know at that time it’s still like mobile like respond me know it responsive websites or web sites that shit every screen and tablet and phone.
That’s the standard today but 2013 was the rare exception and he had caught it, himself that and so now he was turning our website into a responsive website and I was like, oh Omar, we don’t have any more money. I can’t pay you. He’s like, I don’t care like, I already know you anyway, I’m doing it. Anyway, I really believe what you’re doing.
And you know, he was working so much with us for free. We said, you know, you might as well just be her coach, will be a co-founder at this point, you know, and so we brought him on and that’s the three of us, you know, so Amany is our chief operations officer. She’s really good at being organized making sure that the day-to-day gets done and gets done, right?
That we have project fees sustainable and scalable. She’s amazing at that and Omar is this, you know, I like to call them the Jony Ive of Launch Good. He’s a brilliant designer and a great creative thoughts, he’s always challenging with really different types of ideas.
He has the ideas that I think will take us to the next level. And I’m the visionary obviously and I’m also able to bring together a lot of different parts. So I understand the day, today. I understand the business case. I understand the need for creativity.
You know, I like to think, I’m fairly creative and design, sensible myself. And so, you know, we all balanced each other out really well in that way and I think it’s been our unfair advantage to Launch Good. We’ve had these three founders and I’ve had these two amazing co-founders that really helped us keep everything balanced and focused.
Maruf: Absolutely. So, I mean if you have looked today back now, almost six years, so I know right there’s like I know there’s been a lot of as in any business right, when you launch it. It’s always like it’s not a perfect market fit, but you need to find out a lot of things, your keys.
But you had good heads up because you use Kickstarter, Indiegogo. You had a very good understanding but still there must be a couple of challenges on the way and were there any moments and you guys learned and did something better to improve it or everything was just smooth, you know it is, how was your experience with that?
Chris: It was really good. And you know the entrepreneur I think generally everything is there a lot of aha moments but they happen smoothly. So I have an example of that when I started, I was very much focused on the kickstarter models that I wanted all these products to be creative and entrepreneurial and I wanted to kind of avoid charity.
Chris: Today, Launch Good is mostly charity.
Maruf: Right. That is what I notice. And this is what exactly my question was, but you guys yeah.
Chris: Yeah, and that’s just you have to respond to your market, you know, like you may have one idea of how you want to use your platform, but it’s a platform. It’s actually meant to be used by other people. I think one of the brilliant things about Twitter is that the hashtag wasn’t even invented by Twitter, you know, I mean just kind of people organically came up with these ways of using it
And so we try to be responsive to that so we built the platform but then we also try to respond to how people use it and they want to use it for charity. So we have to accommodate that. Another thing I would say is we’ve had to become payment and security experts that was not something I was expecting and maybe ignorantly I probably shouldn’t hindsight.
It definitely should have but you know, we were using stripe, it was like this great all inclusive payments platform with the security and everything is so smooth and perfect with it, until they just wondering because we’re Muslim, you know, and you’re like that was a rude awakening and one of the town’s largest, you know, welcome entrepreneur, you know that you faces unfair extra scrutiny.
But you know what? It’s real. You have to deal with it. Crying won’t help. You know, the difficult parts of our journey, but we always have the faith that those difficult parts of the journey will look back five years from now and realize how really it was a blessing from Allah.
Maruf: Sure. Absolutely. . Chris, you know what? I lost track of time when I’m just gonna say this.
Chris: One hour, regarding.
Maruf: You know, what? We could do the things. I mean, I know you’re a co-founders Amnay, Omar as well. It’s all on one of the days. I would like to get into them, you know get their story as well. But okay, so tell us where people can find you, can find Launch Good and what would you like to mention? I mean all other things will keep in the notes just briefly mention this and then, you know, we’ll take it from there.
Chris: Cool! So Launch Good is really easy to find. It’s everywhere at Instagram, Twitter and Launch Good Facebook at launch good you can email us support it Launch Good, go to our website and it’s you know, we hopefully it should be really easy to find as it’s not we’re not doing our job. And if you want to reach out to me specifically, I’m just Chris it launched good very easy. Chris is at launch good or you hit me up on Twitter. I think AR for Abdur Rahman.
And you know, the thing I would like to share about Launch Good is we were just about to celebrate a hundred million dollars in all total funds raised which is a crazy milestone for us as just you know, like a dream like, you know, we couldn’t imagine two-three years ago. We were at you know, 10 or 20 million and we’re like, you know one day we’ll get a hundred million.
It just seems so far away and that day, you know here maybe by the time this public podcast gets published it will be live.
Maruf: We’ll update it. Let us know.
Chris: So, we got something special, we’re going to be doing for celebrating that people can visit launch good.com/100 part of that. The next step is to get two billion dollars which again sounds far away, but it’s all five of it will be 2 billion, you know, and we’ll have the next gold ahead of us. So we’re just honored to serve the community.
We seek your forgiveness and patience or the way that we fall short and we’re really really grateful for all the people that support us. And for free if there’s anything we could do to help you and your community, please do reach out and like I said to visit launch good.com/100 to see what that next step is.
Maruf: Sounds good. Having said that I’m gonna say Assalamu alaikum.