Interview with Productive Muslim: Baba Ali

Interview with Productive Muslim: Baba Ali - Productive Muslim

We’re pleased to announce a special guest on our “Productive Muslims around the World” show. Our guest is Br. Ali Ardekani – or famously known as, Baba Ali.

 Listen to his interview below or read the transcript.

 

Transcript

Abu Productive: Bismillahi-r Rahmani-r Rahim. Alhamdulillah wa salat wa salam ala’rasool illah wala sahbehi waman wala. As Salamu ‘Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh. Welcome to this interview with another ProductiveMuslim. Today we have one of the Internet’s most loved characters, we have Baba Ali who we describe as productive because he took, he basically started using his time productivity to give dawah, using his skill and talent and his character to give dawah and do something for the ummah. So Baba Ali As Salamu ‘Alaykum!

Baba Ali: Wa’Alaykum as-Salaam wa Rahmatullah.

Abu Productive: Thank you for getting on this interview, so to start off by giving us a little brief about each of the projects you started and why you started them. Maybe one by one would be a good idea.

Baba Ali: The first project that the whole idea started from was Baba Ali games, where I started making board games and this was interesting for me because one day one of my neighbor knocked, which was a Muslim, knocked on my door and said “Do you have any games? We have some friends over and we want to play some games.” And I told them “I’m sorry I don’t play board games” and I went to look in my closet and I had monopoly and when I went back and showed him, I told him “I have monopoly”, they said they are looking for something different. As soon as I closed the door, the idea came to my head, a little light bulb turned on and said, “Hmm maybe I should make a Muslim board game”.

Abu Productive: So the first project was the games and not the films?

Baba Ali: Yeah it was the games.

Abu Productive: Subhan Allah, ok go on.

Baba Ali: So I was like let me try and make games. The first thing that popped into my head was to make another trivia game like everybody else. But I was like wait a second, what’s the point of making the same game that everybody already has. Every time you go to a conference and you see a Muslim game, there are always trivia games, there’s nothing different. And I sure that there are more ideas out there but we’re always scared to take that risk. So I said you know, I’m going to take that risk. So I decided to make something completely different and made a game based on negotiating rather than based on trivia. And when I first tried to shop the game around, I was told “I am not sure these would sell or not because this is not trivia”. And I said that’s exactly why it will sell, because people are tired of trivia and people want something different. You cannot have monopoly all the time, you want scrabble and this and that. You want a variety.

Abu Productive: Did you have any experience of games or was this your first time?

Baba Ali: I had no experience whatsoever.

Abu Productive: So you had an idea, someone came up to you told you the problem and you said “I’ll do something about it”?

Baba Ali: Yes.

Abu Productive: Brilliant, so this idea, did you feel someone else will bother doing this? Why did you feel a) you can do it and b) that you will be successful?

Baba Ali: At the beginning, I am not a game developer or whatsoever, I have never been interested in making games. As I said I only had one game, which I didn’t know if it was mine or not. The whole box was brand new, I actually found it in my closet. Before I started any other project, what I do is research. A lot of research, because even though I’m a Muslim and I’m making a game that it’s going to be game be it fun or successful. So I met this guy who had 300 board games, and he even retired from his job so he can play board games. So Islam says seek knowledge from those who are knowledgeable and if you want to know about board games then go to this guy. So every day for one hour during lunch time, I would spend time with him playing a new game.

Abu Productive: I like that kind of research…

Baba Ali: Yeah it was crazy, and it was fun and I got to see all these weird games from Germany, from this and that country, and my perception of board games completely changed because none of these games you could buy from a normal store. Cutting a long story short, I decided to make my game completely different and that was my first game and I called it Mecca to Medina.

Abu Productive: Masha Allah, so how did that go?

Baba Ali: Well the issue was that to make board game wasn’t like making other things because you need a minimum of 2,500 board games and up to 5,000 of them. So the game was going to cost me close to $18,000 to make and I didn’t have that much money. What I did is that I took the game and I showed it to people and asked them what they think about this game, and the response was, “Can I invest in this?”. In total, seven people invested in the game and I said “Ok, either we sell and you guys make a profit or we don’t sell and you guys won’t make a profit. So we’ll give it a shot”. And Alhamdulillah we sold the game out really quickly and these guys made a 24% return in their money.

Abu Productive: I want to go back, someone had a problem, you had an idea and you said I will pursue this, so you did some research and you said yep I can do this. You worked hard on it and then you didn’t have the money but you still went ahead and showed it to your friend and then boom, money came in and you started. So is this how you do most of your projects or is it different for each project?

Baba Ali: Basically what I do is look at what people are doing with that product or with that service and then I ask myself “How can this be the way better?” Because if you’re going to open a restaurant just for the sake of opening a restaurant, why would it be successful? But if you see that everyone doing a business in a certain way, you have to come out and say “Hmm, I think I can do this better by doing it this, this and this way, and I will operate this service in a unique way”. And I think that’s why people will sign up with me or buy my product versus the next product. So that’s my angle, I never come in and say “I’m going to open a kebab restaurant, and the kebab is just going to taste just like everybody else’s and the price will be just like everybody else’s”. What’s the point? And I guess the reason many people fail in their business ventures is because they try to do something like everybody else. The idea is to be different and unique and that’s why it’s going to pull people in.

Abu Productive: I want to track back a little. I presume you have a day job, so why would you pursue this, with all the business, the risk, the issues and the headaches. Why would you do that?

Baba Ali: You know as crazy as it sounds, the money doesn’t really inspire me. I had 400 orders after the game sold out and I didn’t fulfill any of them because my interest is like, the way a guy who is a mountain climber who sees a mountain and says I want to climb that mountain and if you climb that mountain, it becomes something that is fruitful to keep you climbing it, and then that’s all. As long as you climbed it, it was fun. It’s the part of climbing it that interested me.

Abu Productive: So the learning experience or being active, what drives you?

Baba Ali: It’s the challenge. The challenge of can you take a product that people don’t like and you make it awesome, to make it amazing. And that to me is my inspiration. You know, you watch the YouTube videos before, when people used to make videos and I used to watch, there was no Muslim video bloggers when I first started them. I googled them, I searched them for days and I couldn’t find anyone. And if you watch non-Muslim ones, they’re like “Hi, erm today I’m doing my erm video and you wanna watch me eat a sandwich” and you’re like what?! What did I watch for 13 minutes, and I was like am I that bored with myself? I thought I’m going to do this completely different. This guy is sat there in a static position, I thought let’s move about a little, let’s make short quick sentences. In jumu’ah, the talk will be like one hour long and after the whole thing is done your friend asks you what was the jumu’ah about and you summarise it in 2-3 minutes, so what I’m thinking why don’t we have the summary? Why do we have to extend things for one hour long?

The Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) last khutbah, if you listen to it is short sweet and to the point and has so much information in it. Today you go to jumu’ah and spend an hour listening to the khutbah and then you leave and then you ask the next person what was the khutbah about and they say I have no idea. It happens every week almost, come on!

Abu Productive: So is this how the Ummah Films started? Were you summarizing jumu’ah khutbahs mainly? Or did you start giving random topics and make them funny?

Baba Ali: I would hear the same issues over and over again. You go to almost every jumu’ah and you hear about dhikr, Ramadan, Hajj – depending on which season it is, they basically recycle the same topics and then I think to myself what about the thousand other issues that we have that no one wants to talk about. Like we have all these people at jumu’ah that are men, but have you once heard of the issue of adab (manners), no! Have you ever heard of business transaction? It’s where 90% of these guys work anyway. What do they know regarding halal business transactions – what’s allowed and what’s not? We never talk about that. There are women in the other room, how about we talk about tips on how to keep a successful Muslim marriage? We never talk about that. But ask any imam, any imam, how phone calls they get per week about, or people walking in per week asking about marriage problems? If you go to any website, as ProductiveMuslim, you would know that they have a FAQ section for the issues that constantly come up, why? So they can reduce the number of emails that come in so check their FAQ section. It’s like hey here’s a 100 bucks to answer all your question but stop calling me. Some imams do ten years of fiqh oversees and they come to this country to be marriage counselors and they become marriage counselors. I see vacuums, holes in certain things and I try to fill them up and I get critiques because I’m filling it up.

Abu Productive: When people say that you’re making the religion too funny or you’re bringing down the seriousness, you took a different light and perspective of how you did that and you were able to reach millions of audiences. So as someone who normally is productive, you get some criticism and it’s a good sign that you’re working on the right track, how do you a) make sure you take constructive criticism and feedback and think that was a good point and I will take that b) How do you do filter out plain criticism, how did you do that?

Baba Ali: There is something that the Muslim ummah has in abundance and that is critiques. Unfortunately, the lack of people doing things is the reason that we need websites like ProductiveMuslim because we need more people doing stuff. We have so many chefs but not so many cooks; we have so many chiefs but not enough Indians. A lot of people in masjid, many people come and complain but how many people are willing to do the work that will make the difference? We don’t need complaints; we need people who are going to do the work. So my thing on my website and criticism is not necessarily the “oh, why are you making it funny?”. Most of my criticisms are saying “We don’t like the fact that you’re covering these topics, you should be covering the beard, the music and the halal meat” Why? Because everybody else is doing the same thing and that’s why specifically I don’t cover those three topics or the main topics. I’m trying to cover the topics that people are not talking about and people don’t like that because that’s taboo for them. We want you to talk about dhikr, we want you to talk about tawhid. And I feel like that there are many Muslims are doing that, why do we need 10 more people to do that? It’s going back to the trivia games, we want you to make trivia games and if you don’t do it then we will go on YouTube etc. All those negative comments never changed my angle or agenda of the videos and topics I choose. I choose topics most people are going to hate anyway.

Abu Productive: So how do you stay focused, for example you see a guy who goes into a project and goes out, so how do you sit down and focus and not get distracted by the million other requests that come through and all sorts of things?

Baba Ali: Actually I put something about this on my Twitter (twitter.com/ummahfilms) that if you’re trying to please everyone that’s how you’re going to fail. When you try to please only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), even if you’re doing a business and it’s in a halal way, that’s how you will succeed, even if you’re not making a profit because you may not see the fruits in this life you will see them in the hereafter. Sometimes, for example, last night for Isha I was very tired and I was really late so after I prayed Isha, I just wanted to pray witr and go to sleep and I was thinking to myself, “Shall I pray sunnah or not?” As I’m so tired and then the idea came back to my head, that if I don’t pray this sunnah today then I will not have this chance again to pray sunnah and so on the Day of Judgment, also known as the Day of Regret, I will regret tonight that I didn’t pray sunnah, that would have made a big difference. That’s the battle that goes back and forth in my head.

Abu Productive: I like this idea of the self-talking. Self-talking yourself to action. Do you self-talk yourself to action? I see that sometimes, even with myself, when you want wake up early to do some work or to do tahajjud or actions of being productive, which is helping the ummah but you know you get lots of criticism, sometimes you have to self-talk yourself, almost like self-coach yourself. Any tips on that?

Baba Ali: Yeah, the big thing is that you have to keep yourself in check. You know, at the beginning you may start a project or start an idea and you say my intentions are for this. But just because your intentions start like this from the beginning doesn’t mean that your intention will stay that way till the end. So you have to constantly talk to yourself and check yourself and re-evaluate why you are you doing things. Reevaluate what is my purpose and that’s where the motivations of being productive. You know, we quickly fall into the trap of getting lazy and not doing certain things because we give ourselves excuses. But at the same time we are the same person that gives ourself excuses, at the same time we motivate ourselves. That self-motivation has to be there if you want to continue because you will be constantly, especially when you try something new, you will constantly be thrown criticism, “you should be doing this” and “I don’t like this” – you cannot listen to everything everyone tells you because if you do, as I said, you will never succeed no matter what you do. You have to do what you think is correct based on your understanding of Islam.

Abu Productive: Don’t you sometimes get tired and feel like giving up wanting to go off to live a normal time, so what keeps you going?

Baba Ali: Yes all the time. Sometimes I just get an email from one of the fans of the videos saying, “Don’t listen to anybody, just do it even though a lot of the critiques will say x, y, but some of us fans, even though some of us who are quiet, it doesn’t mean we believe in the same thing”. Sometimes you get criticism and others who are on the same comment page defending you. You know, even the complainers, they’re not that many. Even in our local Muslim communities, they’re not that many. They’re only a handful but they speak with the loudest voice and if you’re listening to them then it will really impact your direction of what you’re doing. It makes you want to give up and they win, but you’re not doing it for them, you’re not doing this to satisfy them. You’re not doing it to satisfy them. You’re doing it for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and everything will fall into place. Some people ask me “Ali, you have 9 million video views and you then have 40,000+ subscribers, you should put on Google add and you know how much money you will make?” I tell the people, “Listen, my intention for this was never about money. If I wanted the money then I would put on Google add right now with all the views, but if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants to give me rizq then He will give it to me in my other ways, in my other projects which are more business projects like the games, and the marriage projects etc. Allah will give it to me that way. My YouTube reminder series were specifically for reminders and they’re not even dawah. And this is another criticism that I get, brother you need to be doing da’wah. And this is not da’wah, this is naseeha. Many people do da’wah, and I do da’wah outside the videos but sometimes we need naseeha (reminders), including myself. Before every video I see my reflection before anybody else’s. I don’t see you guys so I’m talking to myself really before anyone else.

Abu Productive: I think the first video I watched for you was the cleanliness one and I fell off my chair laughing. I’ll admit it, it was hilarious. I feel off my chair and couldn’t stop laughing. What I liked the most is that you were very practical, very down to earth and sometimes, again this is what’s missing as lots of people do a lot of talk and do a lot of theory and many over the head statements, not many people g into the nitty gritty and say this is not right or this thing right here doesn’t make sense and that’s somewhere you hit the head on the nail with you videos. I wanted to ask you about the next project, Half our Deen, a marriage website. You normally say, you usually look for vacuums and you do something. Someone would argue that there’s tones of Muslim marriage websites, so why HalfOurDeen?

Baba Ali: Same idea as before, the same reason I did the games and the videos and YouTube, I see a vacuum. Nine years ago I was looking to get married as well and I couldn’t go through my parents as a convert so I decided to look in my local areas and there were no marriage programs in my local area and because there was a lack of Muslims, they’re spread out here in Los Angeles. So I thought let me do the unthinkable and I went online. And the last thing I wanted was to be online because, this was before I was known as Baba Ali, I didn’t want my friends especially to see me online. I didn’t want to be the ridicule of my friends and them thinking “Have you gone to that point?”. I wanted to look but I can’t look so what am I supposed to do? So I decided I would rather be married and be ridiculed by my friends. But I hated the process. But eventually Alhamdullilah, I found my wife and got married but the process sucked, big time! One day I hoped to come back with one of my projects and tackle this one because I have a whole bunch of ideas on how to make this one better. Next thing that came was the games, then the Baba Ali came, then Ummah Films, all this project kind of sat on the side. So one day I decided to look into this project and give it another shot. I basically wrote down everything that I disliked in about these guys and I did the exact opposite. That was my strategy. So they’re public, so I’m going to make mine private. One time, for once I can go online to get married, and the whole world, including every uncle and every aunty don’t need to know about it. So I disabled the same gender searches, so if you’re a guy you cannot do searches to see the other guys on the website. I never understood what the point of that was. Why are we allowing same gender searches? Especially for sisters, they don’t want every other sister like “Oh look, I didn’t know she’s on it”. They don’t want that, they want to look online for people potentially looking to get married and do it privately. Even though my idea sounds cool on paper, when you actually apply it, it’s good for the members but hard for me because how am I going to advertise something that you cannot see? It’s like hey come into this box, but what’s in that box? Oh I can’t tell you! And at the same time, that’s the reason most of our members have joined half our deen, because they cannot see what’s inside the box, and they can be inside that box without the whole world knowing. We actually sent a survey to all our members a week ago, number 1 reason for joining half our deen was for privacy and two because it’s affordable, we’re one fourth of the price of everyone else.

Abu Productive: So even though the Muslim marriage websites were quite common but you actually found your niche and found what the market needs. You said something about having an idea and then putting it on the shelf and then you picked it up again. How do you manage a project? Do you write them down somewhere and then come back to them? Or do you have a file for them? Practically for a productive Muslim?

Baba Ali: I have a file system sitting in my head. In one of my videos I explained, if you’re married, you may have experienced this; one day you may wake up and your wife is angry at you and you’re like “Why are you angry, you were in a good mood yesterday”, and she starts the conversation with, “You remember 6 months ago, one day you said this this and this” and you’re like “No!” and she’s like “Well I do” – and I can’t remember this. When I shared this story with friends, they say this happens to me too. Stories are connected to an emotion and because women can connect their memories to emotion, they don’t forget it as easily as men. A lot of my ideas are connected to something that I am passionate about. Like when I felt that we have brothers all over but we have nothing to do with PS3 and Xbox, so why can’t we do something unique for the brothers to do while they’re hanging out. And that’s the game idea that came in and I because passionate about many of the issues that I feel that we are not talking about or we feel that as a Muslim community in general we are not talking about. I feel very passionate about it and that is why I have spent countless hours making videos. Sometimes I can take 20 hours just making one video; editing and filming, it’s only one person and there are so many issues with lighting and things. But I did them. I’ve done nearly 45 videos so far.

And now I feel so passionate about this whole marriage issue. I travel a lot and people find me on my website for touring. And they invite me to come and give talks to their colleges or for fundraisers. And I go there. And when I am there I hang out with the people there, the mums, the sheikhs, and the number one thing I hear about is that people are getting divorced or people can’t get married. So I thought what if I start a project to help people get married and then stay married. And that is why I feel so passionate about the videos even though I get criticisms about them, I made 12 videos about what to expect when you get married. Because no one talks about it, no one. No one tells you, this is what married life is going to be like, this is what you should expect. We live in a little bubble and a lot of people have this preconceptions about what marriage is going to be and then 2 years down the line they end up getting divorced because it’s not what they thought it was going to be. And now we have a big Muslim community who are divorced, I know about 14 people who are divorced, and the list keeps growing. We need to stop it or at least lessen it.

Why do our parents last for 20 or 30 years and we barely last for two? And this goes back to the beginning about passion – when you feel passionate about something you want to work for it. If it’s like hey, I want to make a game just for the sake of it it’s only going to last a day or two and then you’ll lose all your inspiration. But if you are passionate about something you work for it because you want to see a difference and that’s what inspires me.

Abu Productive: So I guess you could say that the secret ingredient for all your productive ventures is your passion; your passion drives your productivity. Is that it?

Baba Ali: Yes and interestingly enough, you start pulling in people who have the same passion as you do.

Abu Productive: That shows a magnet for people too.

Baba Ali: You know, negative people pull negative people. Have you ever noticed a group of negative people talking to each other saying, you know, life sucks. I’ve been around some people who have a positive mentality who say yes, we are having issues but you know what, it’s going to work out, don’t worry. When you are around those kinds of people, it drives you and pushes you further. You asked earlier about criticisms and what keeps me going – the people you work with makes a big difference. I’m very selective about who I work with for our projects.

Abu Productive: Do you have a team that works with you or do you do most of your work independently?

I’ll give you an example. On the HalfOurDeen project, even though we charge $5 a month which is nothing, we still try to take that money and put it back into helping not just the members by making a better website but also to other Muslims who have done work for these members. So I would say that this HalfOurDeen project helps to employ Muslims without a job or those who need a little extra money. So we have 3 people on customer service that are answering emails and things 24 hours a day. We currently have 2 programmers at the moment and we are hiring a third. And then we have someone helping with marketing to continuously bring new members in and then there is myself. There is almost a staff of 9 people. And I think that for 9 people we can have 7 people under us helping. We generate revenue and part of this goes towards paying for their efforts, keep making the website better. It’s almost like how you have a small business. Your productivity helps other people become productive as well and it opens doors.

That’s why a lot of governments like to help small businesses start because they know that if one guy starts a small business then he will employ 10 other people.

And we’ve only been running for a few months. Alhamdulillah we have over 1,100 members and we have a team of 7 people and as we grow I will hire more and more people to work for HalfOurDeen. That way they generate some halal income and our members will be able to get married and I try to work on videos to help people stay married. So it’s like a whole package.

Abu Productive: Masha Allah, may Allah bless you and give you success In sha Allah. I was going to ask, do you get involved in the management of people or do you just go with the flow? People ask, does Baba Ali get involved with day to day management or does he set a direction and then just let the guys do their job?

Baba Ali: Well I do is everyone gets assignments. So it’s your job to do this, this, this, and you got to do this, this, this and if everything comes up to contact it’s like just let me know. So my most important thing is to know if I’m in contact with my members for example. So many of my personal emails I email back myself and that is a problem when you have a thousand hundred members. You lose your connection with them. A long time ago. One of my first businesses was a marketing business back when I was 19 years old. And Alhamdullilah my first day my door opens, I made over 300 dollars in the first place which wasn’t bad for a little kid trying out a marketing company. What happened is this company grew so quickly that I had to shut it down.

Abu Productive: Why?

Baba Ali: I accepted too much work, and too much customers. Until I couldn’t handle it anymore, I just couldn’t there was no way a human was able to function. I was doing distribution of advertisement and they were doing it by hand. It all started 100, 200, 3000 customers. Until eventually customers wanted to do like 2.1 million. I was like woah, how is it like 1.2 million advertisements. I couldn’t reply to the email. One by one by hand, and this is just one customer. It was insane and we had to shut down the business because we had too much customers.

Abu Productive: But couldn’t you like leverage people, you know like how sometimes it seems like you grow and reach a point where we have to change the way you’ve been doing things in order to grow more. So like we productive Muslims say a dream becomes bigger than a dreamer. So you’ve been running things for certain time and comes a point if you want to continue this, and want to continue productive and grow you need to change completely your orientation. Is that something you’ve experienced?

Baba Ali: Yeah, I mean that was a learning lesson to me. Every project no matter what fails or succeeds becomes a lesson to me. But you can’t grow too quickly. Even your tactic, because your success because the failure sounds crazy until you actually experience it. If you think no no, I’ll figure it out. We’re just being who we are and can as many people as we are, a translator then you will quickly wake up one day and have thousands of people you can’t manage. This is why we have a staff of 7 people and like 1,100 something members because we want to make sure we’re connected with everyone. Like if you have an idea, like a website and it has this and this is better, and this is a great idea to make this program work like that.

Abu Productive: Really?

Baba Ali: Yeah, we’d work on it. So if we like have 900 members or 5,000 members or million members and they email me. Can you imagine? Like I’d have 1,400 emails in the last 12 minutes. You know who’s going to answer that, it’s crazy. They’d lose the connection with me and that isn’t the point of the whole project. But it’s not the money, I would charge twice as much as I’m charging now and will still be half of the price of my composition. It’s the other things that are so like..

Abu Productive: Yeah service.. So now you mentioned email and part of people get crazy trying to get productive that is with emails. Is there a Baba Ali recipe for managing emails?

Baba Ali: We used to hire people and they used to quit. Every person we would hire to handle my emails we would hire groups of people, every single person has quit. Every single person.

Abu Productive: Is it that bad?

Baba Ali: Yeah it’s that bad.

Abu Productive: What sort of techniques have you, or method have you managed? Okay first of all, how many messages do you get per day, like roughly?

Baba Ali: I honestly don’t know. Like one box would have 13,000 emails, unread. Like unread.

Abu Productive: Like forget the junk, fan, but the actual ones?

Baba Ali: I can’t even tell you. I’m scared to open the inbox. I actually went on my blog a year ago and I put a filing. I think I’m filing Facebook bankruptcy. Because it’s based on friend requests and slowing down my inbox every time I open on Facebook so much that it was hard to use Facebook.

Abu Productive: Subhan Allah..

Baba Ali: It was like 1,200 and constantly coming in thousands of Facebook requests. Facebook just have 5,000 friends. They actually contacted me thinking I’m a spammer. Asking why I have so many friends. Like where did you get all that from?

(Laughs) I think the founder got a bit jealous.

No really, it’s like imagine having 900,000 video views. Imagine how many emails comes with each the video. More like I can’t even open them. I don’t open them, I honestly don’t open them. It’s like once a month out of curiosity I pick out a random email as though I’m picking the lottery and like I said it’s crazy. You know, I never had ambition to be a famous Muslim celebrity or anything or whatever you call it. My goal was never this. My goal was to talk about the issues and no one wants to talk about it and because we’re going in so were the bad guy and I was like holding my breath. Like what, what, why? and for some odd reason many people loved the topics and that was obviously the one that shocked me the most. Because I wasn’t prepared for the worst. I was actually surprised that people supported the topics I spoke about. Today I launched this video on YouTube and it talks about some of things I see on Facebook and Muslims. Like my role now is the matchmaking. So I see a common business in what the business is doing and I can’t do that because for me it’s deceiving but it’s interesting how many people can be tricked because of this tactic. Including myself, 9 years ago I was tricked myself. I fell for the same tactic. So I would talk about the tactic and talk about how aftermath it’s different. Because I’m talking about this tactic you’d be surprised at how many people would come up, and pose at how brother you cannot speak about this tactic or brother you only can talk about dhikr, prayer, this this and this, and if I don’t that I won’t feel I’m being productive.

Abu Productive: So the way you, the way you manage your emails because they are over your capacity, but focus on the what is causing it. And continuing being Baba Ali and continue to talk about the issues that no one is talking about. And giving people the best service they could have. I think that is probably the best you can do. In terms of managing this huge influx of people coming and sort of talking to you. But Masha Allah.

Baba Ali: No Alhamdullilah. I feel like the people close to me, if I’m doing anything wrong they’ll come and tell me Ali you know you’re doing this wrong and I don’t have an ego so I actually do analyze it and see what am I doing wrong and try and change or not change it. I don’t just ignore people giving me criticisms honestly. On the Internet if you sit and read and constantly get into what people are saying good or bad. You’re going to quickly realize that 10% of the people will love you no matter what you say, 10% hate you for no matter what you say and 80% of the people, in the middle, whom you should really care about. When it’s bad you’re bad and when it’s good it’s good. So this is why you should take constructive criticism, and then use that to do the change. You know some people will say I’m tired of watching your videos, you need to add special effects. Well guess what don’t watch the video, the exit button is right there (laughs). If you watch first video, 2006, June 13, and watch today which is basically 4 years later. It’s the same guy, sitting in the same looking chair. Talking about the topics. No special effects, same techniques. Sometimes it’s the simplicity of things that makes the difference.

Abu Productive: Also the consistency. The fact that you’re consistent.

Baba Ali: There’s no talents. I am just a guy with topics I think others should talk about as well. I’m not saying just Baba Ali can do this, I think anyone can do this. All you need to do is get a video camera and talk about the topics you’re passionate about. Get people to start talking about these issues and sometimes it just needs one person. One triggers this effect for others to do something about it.

Abu Productive: Is there a story behind the name Baba Ali?

Baba Ali: My kids call me Baba and my wife calls me Ali.. (laughs) You looking for a serious, quirky answer…

Abu Productive: (laughs) I was looking for some serious.. Yeah come on man..

Baba Ali: I did used to put on my games basically, and where the name Baba Ali came from. Before Baba Ali was on the Internet making videos. So if you have one of my old games it would say on it Baba Ali games.

Abu Productive: Masha Allah, masha Allah.. So now we want to sort of turn to giving advice on Muslims who are young fans, 18-24 year olds and maybe starting university and thinking ideas. Some of them Masha Allah they’re really passionate about topics and want to do something but there’s a thousand one reasons they don’t want, either procrastination or criticism, either money or I don’t know expertise, whatever. So how, what is your advice to ProductiveMuslim?

Baba Ali: Well, sometimes doing stuff by yourself is very difficult. I mean sometimes trying something and you don’t know how, like trying to make a website you’re like let me try and go on a program, but that’s not going to work either sometimes, you want to try and learn or try and outsource to get back. Like with all the topics, how do I sit down and do it? Everything myself? And earlier it’s like I had a scheme of people and used different people in a team and learn different things from different people. Yeah? So there are great tools on the Internet that like for example: let’s say you’re looking for someone who can do work for you, whether it’s from writing something or designing something. You go this website called Elance.com and you just pitch an idea of what you want to do and they say how much they will charge you to do it. So that’s a great tool I use it a lot to making my projects, and for marketing you use different things. One of the companies that I run for is called halal bars. You go round and you tell people about your product and what you’ve made. Because sometimes it’s a great product, but no one really knows about it. So I’d use the halal.com website and more ends. So like Facebook and because I’m not a fan of these websites but I think that’s where people are watching videos and communicating. So remember you need the tools as well. And on the other hand it’s you. You’re the one that came up with the idea. You’re the one with the idea, and got the team to follow you and believe in you. Because if you don’t, the people will be wishy washy. You know there’s this one thing I have the rules that I have for all my projects if that is half your day and is no longer: Is having no volunteers. I wouldn’t accept any volunteer working as part of staff party and the reason I don’t do that is because with the volunteers you can’t hold them accountable because you want quality. You know have you heard of. You know we’ve had those who are like yo brother okay, Fee sabeel ilaAllah.. Fee sabeel Allah. But you know what they’re really saying? Free see billah. Because they’re using that as a ticket, and it’s hard so the tickets should be super free. But, paying a Muslim you’d expect them to be all free. We’re not living in Jannah. We have expenses to pay. So, you are just pulling people in to do free work for you. You’re not going to go so far. So, even if you get to pay them a minimum. Whenever you’re content, pay them something you’re content with. So they’re happy. So it’s been the productivity that you get from them. If they’re only working for free, that’s what’s going to happen. Yeah, yeah bro, you know my friend. Yeah he’s coming over today and playing video games, and I can’t really help you. (Laughs) and this person is getting so passionate, and you don’t want that. You want the best interest in you and other and best interest in your project and you’re so passionate about it, but sometimes your project is meant to be helping but only temporarily. So you need an incentive to push them. So yeah we have all these tools we mentioned earlier But you want to bring in a group of people and make sure you take care of them, because guess what if you take care of them, they will take care of you.

Abu Productive: Masha Allah Baba Ali. That was a wonderful piece of advice and I’m sure we have some Muslim fans will learn a lot from that even by half as much then from your advice. Jazakallahu Khayran Baba Ali for this wonderful interview. And appreciate your time and In Sha Allah wish you all the success and pray to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blesses all your time and everything you’ve put in to help raise issues and help put the Muslim ummah in any way you can. You’ve used the talent, you’ve used the time. You’ve basically been productive to put things together so pray to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to keep you that way. And bless you with all your efforts and all that you do. Jazakallahu Khayran brother, As Salamu ‘Alaykum.

Baba Ali: Wa’Alaykum as-Salaam wa Rahmatullah.


14 thoughts on “Interview with Productive Muslim: Baba Ali

  1. Some gems that I’ve gleaned from the interview (quotes are not exactly word-for-word”:

    “As part of my research for my board games, I would sit down with a man who had over 400 board games and I’d play with him during my lunch break.”

    “Either you do something differently or you improve upon it. If you’re just going to start a Kabob restaurant that makes the same type of food as all of the other restaurants, why will people come to you? That’s why many businesses fail.”

    “I’ve had more than 400 orders come after the “Mecca to Medina” was over, but I didn’t fulfill any of them because I was done with the project. It’s like if there’s a mountain climber who wants to fulfill the challenge of climbing a huge mountain. He feels really good once he gets to the top, but if someone says they’ll pay him to do just do it again, then he won’t feel the same challenge”.

    “Many Khateebs just recycle the same topic over and over, depending on what time of the year it is. What about the other topics, like Adab and Marriage?”

    “Scholars study for years, learning Fiqh and other sciences, but they end up just becoming marriage counselors…I see a large vacuum.”

    “One thing that our Ummah has in abundance is criticism. We need more people actually doing something instead of just criticizing. Most of the criticism that I receive are not from people who say that I’m making the religion too funny, but they want me to cover the beard issue, the meat issue, and the music issue, because that’s what everyone else is covering. That is why I specifically do not cover these three topics”.

    “You always have to ask yourself what your intention is, before doing something. That self-motivation must always be there”.

    “How come our parents were able to stay married for 20-30+ years, but we cannot stay married for 2?”

    “Your productivity helps other people grow. Alhamdulillāh, at HalfourDeen, we have over 7 staff members even though we’ve only been running for a few months”.

    “Sometimes the dream grows bigger than the dreamer” – Productive Muslim

    “It’s important to have teams of people. You can’t do everything yourself. I used to ask my team to research and learn different things”.

    “Sometimes you are tempted by success and try moving too quickly. If you do that, you’ll lead yourself to failure”.

    “You should pay people – I didn’t accept any volunteers for the HalfourDeen project. You will see a large increase in productivity when you start paying people with an amount that they appreciate. If you take care of your team, then they will take care of you”.

    1. Jazaka Allah khyrn for this, very useful information!

      he mentioned something about a brother who has a website called…halal pods? or smthn like that? can u please direct us to it?

      Jazkum ALLAH khyrn

  2. I cannot download the interview. it turned out to be new page with the interview only, no download section. do I have to have anything so that I can download it? jazakallahu khair.

    1. Assalam alykum,

      If you right click when the new page opens, you’ll seen an option saying “save as”. You can save the link through it to your computer, inshaAllah.

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