Suryani Omar/ Deen Hubb
As Muslims, it is obligatory on us to seek knowledge and provide the means of knowledge for the young. And what knowledge is more beneficial to us than the knowledge of Deen (religion). So, we start young. When we were growing up (sounds cliched…I know!) knowledge of religion (or pretty much any study stuff) seemed extremely boring to us kids. It wasn’t as interesting as those story books we wanted to read. It seemed almost like a necessary, daily chore. But now, I look at my daughter, and see her eagerness, excitement and happiness to read educational books. Why? Somewhere along the way, a few of us got sobered to the ground reality, or maybe even remembered our own childhoods, and turned it to facilitate for the children, knowledge which is attractive and interesting. Suryani bridges that gap between demand and supply, bringing closer to the parents various colorful sources, their child would absolutely love.
Let Suryani take us on this fascinating journey of hers.
As a former journalist, I’m used to interviewing entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, policy makers and so on.I’ve always thought that running a business is a lot of hard work, and never saw myself foraying into the world of entrepreneurship. In 2012, I moved to Utah from Singapore to join my husband (he’s also a Singaporean, and he moved to Utah because of work in 2008). Currently, I also teach part time at BYU during the fall semester, volunteer with Al Mustafa Foundation of Utah and I am a mentor with Ohio-based IYDE.
Motivation behind the endeavor:
When I was pregnant with my son, I knew I wanted to introduce him to Islam early. I hope he will grow up with a strong sense of Islamic identity. So my sister started sending me books and stuff like prayer rugs that she bought from Singapore. It hit me, that it’s not just enough that my son has these stuff, but we need a community that wants to instill a deep sense of love for Islam in our young. I would go to the masjid with stuff like kids’ prayer rugs and Islamic cloth books, and people would ask me:
Where’d you get that?
My answer would always be: Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia.
And people would ask me to bring some back for them etc. After a while, I noticed that in Singapore we have tons of Islamic book sellers who sold books from UK, US etc. Parents in Singapore are eager to spend on their children’s Islamic education from a very early age. Seeing that US books were widely available in Singapore, I thought: why don’t we bring what Southeast Asia can offer, to the US! After all, Southeast Asia IS the region with the largest Muslim community. In 2017, a fellow Singaporean who had lived in Orange County, CA, (she moved back to Singapore in early 2017) encouraged me to start DeenHubb. We (my husband and I started DeenHubb where I am the major s/holder) started with selling only kids’ prayer rugs from Indonesia, some canvas art pieces from Malaysia, and books from Singapore and Indonesia. In fact, I had less than five book titles to our collection then. When we boothed at the ISOC Halal Food Fest in 2017, we were heartened by the support. Prior to that, I sold via FB, yes- we didn’t even have a website. So we got serious in 2018 and non-tech savvy me explored the world of Wix.com and tried to come up with the most decent website I could manage (deenhubb.com). Another friend in Singapore would direct me to companies from Malaysia that made their own products. Now, we carry books from Singapore, Malaysia; stickers and novelties etc. We do have a few items from outside of Southeast Asia (like some items from the UK, and when we booth, we reach out to American Muslim authors to include their books. In 2018, we boothed at ISNA, and let’s just say, boothing has been addictive. You meet tons of inspiring people, you feel the community, and it just keeps you going.
We make it a point to meet and get to personally know the authors/makers of the books and products we sell. We want to know their motivation(s) behind writing these books.Our bestseller – Ana Muslim (I am a Muslim) which is a bilingual book in English and Arabic (currently sold out) is written by three Singaporean Muslim women. All three have had Islamic education, and one of them- Ustazah Tan Nurul Hafidzah was a graduate of Al-Azhar University.
Another series of books- board books by Malaysian author Athirah Zainal with whom we personally met with in Malaysia and she shared with us how her books were inspired by her son. He had speech delay, and she could not find Islamic books that were simple yet could grow with a child.
The felt flash cards made by Kuala Lumpur-based MyBabyCanRead is a business owned by Siti Mazlita, a former classmate (when I did my masters) who used to work in an Islamic bank.
The fun line of novelties (magnets, bookmarks, buttons) from Malaysia’s OwhSoMuslim (pronounced Awesome Muslim) are hand-drawn/illustrated by homeschooling mother of three, Illy Muzliza.
The first book we sold, Why Did Allah Make The Rainbow (also sold out) is written by a Singaporean friend, Nur Khairiah, whose husband went to the same school as myself and my husband.
Alhamdulillah we strive to give back part of our proceeds to social causes, not just through zakat but also by channeling part of our proceeds to causes we believe in, including special funds to help those affected by Covid-19, Black Lives Matter etc. Some organizations we support, we do so by giving them products, or reaching out to our suppliers if they want to donate their products etc.
We don’t aspire to be the one-stop shop for Islamic educational items. But we aspire to be that bridge between Southeast Asia (the region with the largest number of Muslims) to the US! Alhamdulillah, via DeenHubb, Singaporean and Malaysian authors have been introduced even to Australia and the UK! I don’t need to be known- but I WANT THESE AUTHORS who have worked so hard to be known, In’Sya’Allah! I want others to be touched, and inspired by the books that they write. I want people to get to know Muslims in Southeast Asia! Also, I feel that I am able to bring some diversity- I’m Malay! In fact I’m a Singaporean Malay- I’m a minority on sooo many levels. Minority within the Muslim community in the US, minority even in Singapore (where majority are Chinese), minority within the Malay community in US (most Malays in the US are Malaysian Malays).
Struggles due to Covid:
Of course, sales have been much quieter. But I believe that during these difficult times, we need to find ways to serve and be there for the community. So we took part in giveaways, I actually went to FB groups looking for new Muslims or frontline workers to send small gifts to. Booths boost our sales, and with no booths to take part in, it is definitely challenging, but Alhamdulillah. I also started to build up my subscriber’s list etc.- I’ve never sent out so many e-mails before! And at times, these e-mails are all just sharing tips, or redirecting them to check out other organizations, blogs etc.!
Last November, together with Asma Hassan, from Hasana Quran, we started a kid’s Quran class where they learnt a surah (Surah al Fiil) via storytelling and hand/body movements to memorize the surah. This was a method I learnt in Singapore in 2018, where I trained under Ustazah Suaidah Salim (founder of Little Quran Kids). The plan was to go all out with classes this year, and just booth once in SoCal, but Allah knows best. We are trying to figure out how to offer these classes via zoom, yet be engaging for kids. God knows kids are already doing so many classes on zoom, we don’t want it to tire them.
There is barakah in working together. In Inspiring love for the deen, the Muslim world needs to think global, figure out how we can achieve economies of scale, learn from one another etc. We don’t need to replicate, but we can support and grow together. While we do not (hardly do) carry US-based and UK-based authors, it doesn’t mean we shy away from supporting them. I carry their books when I booth to help them gain exposure and get sales. I’ve done story time/book reading sessions of books written by US Muslims, I feature their books on my IG etc. It is all about collaboration. Back in March, I had ordered books from a US Muslim author, and even though my booth in SoCal was cancelled (Covid), I told the author that I will not return her books. Instead, I displayed her books on my website, Alhamdulillah.
Suryani can be found on Instagram: @deenhubb
and on website: https://www.deenhubb.com/