1995-2005 | School years
I was good at art as a kid and tried to emulate my elder brother who was elite at sketching. I used to get in trouble a lot for always doodling graffiti at the back of my books.
In school, I was known by my peers for my art skills – and would walk around brandishing my latest graffiti piece or car drawing. I was never able to get the ‘Art Achievement Award’ for all the years of secondary school, due to behaviour issues, lol. But I was blessed with art teachers who stuck their necks out for me and pushed me to be better. School years were the best years of my life!
Finding my purpose
At 15, I went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of my forefather, Imam Ali Al-Ridha, and everything changed. This studio’s name is dedicated to him.
“Use your abilities to serve God and the Ahlulbayt” a wise scholar advised our youth group. I pondered this, knowing that my expertise is art, but how can I apply it in a meaningful way? Over the next several years, a flurry of creative encounters led me to digital art and design. This trip would permanently alter the course of my life, through the brotherhood and mentorship I was able to get…
Inspired and with a purpose, I started teaching myself graphic design and digital art. At 16, I launched my design business called ‘rizviGrafiks’.
I started making MSN profile pictures for school friends – one day I came home with £30 in coins and felt like a boss. At the same time, I was making digital Islamic Art on DeviantArt and community forums – my work started to get really popular. People began approaching me for poster and logo designs. My first logo client paid me $10… by cheque! Later that year, I ‘borrowed’ my mum’s bank card, purchased my domain and learnt how to build a website using Dreamweaver and Flash. Old school.
Making a Documentary
This was a milestone moment, where I developed my motion graphic and video editing skills. I worked on a documentary project which went on to sell 30,000 DVD copies globally!
The documentary was called “Karbala: When Skies Wept Blood”, about the story of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. It was an incredible experience, as it gave me an opportunity to learn many aspects of filmmaking. I was responsible for video editing, motion graphics, and other post-production elements. It was a challenging project – especially as I was sitting exams at the same time. The documentary was a huge success, and it sold over 30,000 DVD copies worldwide!
University of the Arts London
I got accepted into one of the most prestigious universities for a foundation in art and design. Coming from an underprivileged background – it was kind of a big deal!
My teachers let me use my client work as part of my school work, which led me to have a diverse portfolio of both art and design. Despite my art teacher warning me to not apply to Chelsea College of Art &. Design, as the chances of getting in were low, I took the chance – and got accepted!
I completed my foundation degree in art & design. I applied for BA in Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Arts. The guys that interviewed me told me they’d accept me, but told me not to pursue a degree, as I was already technically a designer.
My head was inflated for several days.
I got offered my dream job at 19 – as creative director for a global TV channel. I didn’t go uni – instead of completing my degree. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I made!
The same week I got my degree acceptance letter, I got a call from my best friend and mentor. He told me our dream came true – we were going to launch the world’s first English-speaking TV channel for Shia Muslims. The success of the documentary we worked on a few years prior, had set in motion the creation of a global TV channel!
During my time there, I was responsible for the creative direction, and motion graphics. I also developed my filmmaking skills and wore many hats. Many nights were spent sleeping at the office, grinding to meet gruelling deadlines. It carved me.
I left my job and began pursuing my own startup idea which failed, miserably. That year I learnt some really hard lessons and was put through the grinder. I am thankful for it.
The idea was to create a restaurant-finding app, which back then was still a gap in the market. Essentially this would have been what Yelp! is today. We built the brand and a functioning website (somehow using WordPress!).
My business partner dropped out at the last minute, and I had to pay the developer. I had to sell my car. I would walk around East London to get restaurant sign-ups. I managed to get some, but there was just no way of scaling this on my own. After months of trying, I had to give up and move on. Just as I hit rock bottom, I got a call…
Launching Who is Hussain
I feel like I was dragged out of a dark abyss by a single phone call. That one phone call went on to become ‘Who is Hussain’ – which has now impacted the lives of millions of people.
Let’s go back to 2011. I had just left my job. A week after, I purchased a domain name – whoishussain.org. I had an idea to create a website and campaign to share who Hussain ibn Ali is with the world. But, the idea needed some time so I left it.
Fast forward to Ramadan 2012. I get a call from a brother I once met, telling me he and his friends want to start an organisation, called “Who is Hussain”. After weekly meetings for almost 4 months, we launched Who is Hussain. Who is Hussain is now a *huge* global success, with teams around the world. Many sleepless nights were incurred, but a truly blessed project.
Launching Creative Digital
I launched a design and digital marketing agency with my best friend and business partner. We started from working out of my council estate flat to a shared office space with staff and interns.
It was clear the market for digital marketing was huge and getting bigger, social media was still new and businesses were eager to make an impact. We help small businesses reach and engage their audience, and started specialising in social media marketing for restaurants. We had huge success launching – what went on to be – one of London’s most popular restaurants and Shisha lounges.
Launching The Muslim Vibe
We wanted to use our creative and digital marketing skills for something more meaningful. My business partner and I dreamt up a project aimed at reclaiming the Muslim narrative.
Having built up our experience working together both on Who is Hussain and Creative Digital, we decided we wanted to embark on another adventure. We made a plan and set to work – and after 5 months of hard work, we launched The Muslim Vibe. We published an array of rich media across platforms, from daily articles and social media posts, to documentaries and podcasts.
The Muslim Vibe is now one of the leading digital media publications for millennial Muslims globally.
Starting a family
I got married to my wife in California, starting a new chapter in my life. The next few years were about learning how to balance my multiple commitments and creative sanity.
At this point, I was heavily involved with Who is Hussain which continued to grow and demand more and more attention. At the same time, a lot of my energy was going towards The Muslim Vibe. Not to mention, I was still working with multiple clients for design and marketing.
Balancing all of these things was my main challenge during this phase of my life, and took me several years to master. I was still eager to launch more projects, so it was a harsh reality to conclude that I was pushing beyond my capacity already.
Moving to America
The pandemic gave me a moment to pause and reflect on life and what I wanted. I spent a few months of the pandemic in America. I realised it was time for something different, so we decided to move to California.
I formally resigned from Who is Hussain, realising it was simply time to move on and pass the baton. At the same time, my business partner for The Muslim Vibe also resigned. Strangely everything had aligned itself with my planned departure from life in the UK.
At the end of 2021, I took perhaps the biggest step of my life, and hopefully a fruitful one.
Launching my Muslim Family
Shortly after moving to America, along with a new team – we build and launched an initiative for millennial Muslim parents.
After having my daughter in 2018, it quickly dawned on me that there is a lack of resources for millennial Muslim parents. So I started making plans in 2020 with a friend to launch something that can provide a solution.
Our initial idea of a research think-tank ran into some obstacles, so we decided to pivot and go down the content publishing route. With my background and expertise in this, we were able to set up the brand and launch within a few months. My Muslim Family is still in the process of growing, and there are ambitious