SHAFAQNA- Award-winning author Hajera Memon is winning little hearts all over the world through her creative storytelling of some of the most glorious, historical and timeless events from the Holy Quran.
She is the founder of publishing house Shade 7 Limited and author of the first Islamic pop-up book ‘The Story of the Elephant,’ which tells the story of Surah Al-Feel.
Wanting to pursue a career where she could learn more about her faith and make it accessible and enjoyable for others, Hajera started her publishing business after resigning as a finance lawyer in London.
“I loved the stories I grew up with, and the combination of writing and novelty publishing fast became a way for me to rediscover and share these miraculous adventures and timeless lessons,” she said.
“My inspiration came from wanting to establish a long-term source of beneficial knowledge, which was creative and inspiring for children to learn and understand more about Islam.”
Hajera wanted to create something that encapsulated the miracles of the stories in an awe-inspiring way, as “nothing like this really existed on the Islamic publishing scene and so I made dua and started!”
The goal for all publications is to inspire children to learn more about Allah, about the Holy Quran, its people and their incredible stories to develop and strengthen their faith.
The name Shade 7 was inspired by two Ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the first being: “When a man passes away, his good deeds will also come to an end except for three: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased)” and “There are seven whom Allah will shade with His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His.”
“The name therefore serves as a reminder for the overall vision of the company, set up for the sake of Allah, to carry out work which will, insha’Allah continuously contribute to benefitting people and developing a loving relationship with Him,” Hajera said.
Shade 7 has published two titles so far, the first ‘The Story of the Elephant’ achieved phenomenal success as the world’s first pop-up and play book telling a story from a chapter of the Holy Quran. In an artistic and unique fashion, the book brings Surah Al-Feel to life and includes a quiz, a coloring map and a press-out elephant activity for the children to really get involved in.
The second title is a color changing bath book called “My First Wudu Book” and a child’s first introduction to the body parts Muslims wash in the order when making wudu.
The project has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents all over the world, according to Hajera.
“A message that touched me in particular was from a non-Muslim mother who said: ‘My daughter absolutely loves the book and has been reading it over and over again. She has actually said, this is the most precious book she has ever got and would like to hand it down to her own daughter one day! This just goes to show what an impact your book has on children,’” she said.
For Hajera, raising finance for the project was and continues to be an obstacle as is the case with any other start-up.
Pop-up books are hand-assembled, so production costs are fairly high. “Shade 7’s publishing journey started through the crowdfunding platform called Indiegogo. People from all over the world backed the initiative by pre-ordering the book, which helped raise a total of £41,472.
“In the UK, trying to find a halal source of funding has been tough. The grants for the creative industries that do exist are usually national lottery funded and therefore not something I feel would be permissible to accept as well as the many sources of interest based start-up loans. What our community needs is a non-compromised, clear cut solution to raising finance which doesn’t involve interest. Rewards based crowd funding and pre-selling through these platforms is something we’ve used to help us raise the capital we’ve needed so far,” Hajera said.
With an initial print run of 5,000 pop-up books in the summer 2014, Shade 7 has sold approximately 75 percent of their stock to date.
“With the bath books, we did a smaller run of 2,000 books and have sold 75 percent of our stock throughout 17 countries Alhamdulillah — the exciting thing is this has been within 2 months! We hope we will be able to continue to strengthen our distribution channels and grow,” the founder said.
The Holy Quran is rich with magnificent, timeless stories and some of their next titles include Noah’s Ark, the story of Prophet Joseph, and a series on Prophet Moses, (peace be upon them all).
“We’re looking to do our current two books in Arabic in 2016 and continue to develop our baby bath book series as well as other interactive titles. We are also looking at 3D interactive apps to bring the stories to life on a digital platform,” Hajera said.
With the surge in the use of tablets and smartphones, children these days are less inclined toward reading books. Hajera said the interactive books play an important role in promoting Islamic awareness among the young ones.
“Introducing books, story time, role play, bed time stories and particularly creating an engaging experience for both parent and child is something we need more than ever in this digital age. We’ve found that our work, through its interactivity has helped to strengthen this bond within a family unit and develop communication, language skills and most importantly set a framework for children to explore religious topics,” she said, adding “Children learn in many different ways, through many different mediums and this is the reason we do have some interactive digital versions of our titles, to combine our creative work with technology.”
The books are stocked in Harrods, Selfridges & Co. London, the Kinokuniya Bookshop in The Dubai Mall and the Makkah Clock Tower Hotel kiosk in Saudi Arabia.
“We are also exploring relationships with chains like Jarir and do very much hope to have both books available in bookstores in 2016,” Hajera said.
The trailblazing author has a word of advice for women who want to explore publishing for Islamic purposes.
“My sincere advice would be to continuously try to renew your intentions and make Dua at every opportunity, for yourself and for others. Nothing is made easy except what He makes easy. Do it from the heart and with the intention to please only Allah. I truly believe He will make a way for you as you seek to draw nearer to Him while increasing your own knowledge by creating anything of an Islamic nature,” she said.